Tomase: Draft the next Jimmy G? Tom Brady could turn 60 before that happens

Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo
Photo credit Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports

The Patriots attended this week's NFL combine with one clear mission, at least in the eyes of their fans: Find the next Jimmy G.

They've already done it once, so how hard could it be? Identify a diamond in need of a little polish, draft and develop him, and add another decade to the dynasty.

Just four short years ago, the Patriots used the 62nd pick on an anonymous QB out of Eastern Illinois with a cleft chin and great cheekbones. Within three years, Jimmy Garoppolo was playing like Tom Brady and making a fanbase giddy. He remains unbeaten in seven career starts.

Just one problem: he's a franchise player in San Francisco, not New England. Trading Jimmy G. for a meager second-rounder because the Patriots couldn't justify pulling the plug on TB12 is why we're undertaking this exercise in the first place, and it's time for a sobering bucket of water to the face:

Jimmy G.'s replacement might not exist.

Imagine playing hide-and-seek with a kid who hopped in a car and drove away and you can understand the challenge facing the Patriots between now and draft night. Saying they must identify the next Garoppolo presupposes that he's corporeal, and a little history is in order.

Unless they trade up, the Patriots will pick 31st in the first round. Since 2000, when the Pats selected Brady in the sixth round with the 199th pick, only 15 quarterbacks chosen 31st or lower have made a Pro Bowl.

That list includes such greats as David Garrard, Derek Anderson, Matt Cassel, and Tyrod Taylor, so even using Pro Bowls as a bar is low. If the goal is to find something better than an average QB, it's entirely possible the Patriots will be S.O.L. From 2006-10, for instance, only one quarterback drafted after the first round posted a winning record: Drew Stanton (11-6). Good luck building your next champion around him.

Those five drafts are illustrative for another reason. They produced only three quarterbacks of note: Matt Ryan (3rd overall, 2008) Joe Flacco (18th, 2008), and Matthew Stafford (1st, 2009). A woebegone franchise hoping to find the next great arm during that timeframe instead landed the likes of Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Vince Young, JaMarcus Russell, or Matt Leinart. By that standard, the Broncos actually did OK with Tim Tebow, who went 8-6 and won a playoff game.

Those sobering actuarial tables help explain why Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wanted no part of trading Garoppolo. Since the turn of the century, the number of elite quarterbacks taken after the first round is depressingly small.

Brady is obviously one and he's the greatest outlier in history. Then there's Drew Brees (32nd pick, 2001), Russell Wilson (75th, 2012) . . . and that's about it. The best of the rest include some very good QBs -- Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins -- and one Super Bowl champ (Nick Foles). Even the Pro Bowlers thereafter are borderline JAGs -- Marc Bulger, Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel.

The truth of the matter is great quarterbacks are overwhelmingly selected in the first round for obvious reasons, and usually in the top five picks at that. Of the 26 QBs drafted since 2000 to throw at least 100 touchdowns, 16 were selected in the first round and 10 were chosen in the top four picks. Of those picked later, Cassel, Kyle Orton, and Ryan Fitzpatrick never proved much more than serviceable.

So where does this leave the Patriots? Doing a whole lot of hoping and praying. It's one thing to trust your ability to maximize the potential of otherwise overlooked players. The Patriots at least boast a track record in that arena with Cassel and Garoppolo (and Brady, for that matter), and we shouldn't underestimate the impact of their coaching on a prospect's development.

It's another, however, to make something out of nothing, and history has shown that in as many as drafts as not, by the time the Patriots pick, all of the viable quarterbacks are gone. The odds suggest it will be years before they get a shot at another one.