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‘Too much talent’ to pass up: Why the Patriots drafted QB Joe Milton III in the sixth round

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Milton intel: The Patriots’ executive vice president of player personnel Eliot Wolf said on “The Adam Schefter Podcast” that University of Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III had “too much talent” to pass over him in the sixth round of the NFL draft (No. 193), even though the Patriots had already selected North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye at No. 3.

Few had a closer behind-the-scenes view of Milton’s talent than Joey Halzle, who enters his fourth season on the Tennessee coaching staff — first as the quarterbacks coach (2021-2022) and then offensive coordinator (2023-present). Halzle, 38, played QB at Oklahoma (2006-2008) before starting his coaching career at the school. And he has shared quarterback rooms — as either a player or coach — with Sam Bradford (2010 first-round draft pick), Landry Jones (2013 fourth round), Drew Lock (2019 second round) and Hendon Hooker (2023 third round), among others.

“He is physically the most talented quarterback I’ve been around, and I’ve been around a lot of guys that have been drafted really high,” Halzle said of Milton. “The arm talent, everybody knows about. The strength, flexibility, ability to run — high, high, high-level athlete. He’s a physical specimen on the football field.”

He tells the story of a 2021 summer practice in the Volunteers’ indoor facility in which Milton was executing a play-action pass from the left hashmark and throwing a ‘go’ ball down the right sideline. Milton’s delivery ended up in the rafters, hitting one of the spinning fans.

“It was like, ‘Oh, that’s a little bit different right there,'” Halzle said. “That was the first of many; the ball coming off his hand is absolutely insane.”

Wolf took note of the same thing while watching Milton warm up before last season’s Tennessee-Vanderbilt game.

But at the same time, it takes more than a powerful arm to be a successful quarterback, which Halzle relayed was one of the first conversations he had with Milton when he transferred from Michigan in 2021. They talked about being judicious with “things that showed off his arm” and committing to a laser focus on fundamentals.

“He was an upper-body thrower when [he came to Tennessee] and one goal was to make him a lower-body thrower — driving off the back foot and letting the arms put the ball where it needs to go,” Halzle said, identifying the change as a catalyst for Milton’s improved accuracy over time.

“It was all about ‘You have to invest in parts of the game that wasn’t just a natural gift to you. You have to invest in understanding defenses. Understanding the offensive scheme. Understanding protections.’ I think he always did, but he took that to a different level last year.”

Milton, in his first full season as a starter, finished 229-of-354 for 2,813 yards, with 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions. He added 78 rushes for 299 yards and seven touchdowns.

In explaining the Patriots’ thinking in drafting Milton after already landing Maye, coach Jerod Mayo noted Milton’s “cannon for an arm” and how the team is “in the business of trying to get good football players through the door” as its strategy.

“One thing that we preach is competition. Nothing is given. All of it’s earned,” Mayo said, adding that Milton could also potentially provide value as a scout-team quarterback because “having a guy that size, we’re going to play some of those [type of QBs] as well.”

With veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett and Maye locks to be on the 53-man roster, Milton and third-year pro Bailey Zappe could be competing for one spot. That is, unless the Patriots take the unconventional step of keeping all four, similar to what the team did in 2000 with Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz, Michael Bishop and sixth-round pick Tom Brady.

Few expected much from Brady that year as the 199th pick, which is similar to the spot where Milton — who along with the rest of the rookie class arrived in town Thursday — finds himself.

Halzle pointed out that even though Milton is 24 years old, he has less experience than other prospects, in part due to “a little bit of a bad shake” in which injuries contributed to him twice losing his grip on the No. 1 spot on the depth chart — first at Michigan, then initially at Tennessee.

“To me, it’s less about the age and more about how many times have you stood back there behind center,” Halzle said. “I think one of the main things for the fan base to know he’s still a project and very, very new to full-time starting at the position, so the ceiling for this guy is very high.”

2. Practice with Eagles: Mayo and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni have discussed holding a single August joint practice in Foxborough, per sources. The teams have been frequent preseason foes over the years, and if they meet up again this year as expected — which would be the second week — they plan to practice together. It would be the Patriots’ only joint practice of the preseason.

Word is that Mayo prefers just a single practice, in part to limit fighting that can sometimes become prevalent on a second day.

3. Schedule chatter: The NFL plans to reveal the 2024 regular-season schedule on Wednesday, and while nothing is official until it is announced, some of the buzz around the team facility in recent days was that the Patriots were preparing for Mayo’s head-coaching debut to come on the road. Their third preseason game is also expected to be on the road, which would give the team a dry run of how it plans to handle travel.

4. Wallace-Robinson duo: Could the Patriots have an all-rookie left side of the offensive line? That was one thought that came to mind from watching Saturday’s rookie minicamp practice, with third-round pick Caedan Wallace (Penn State) opening at left tackle and fourth-rounder Layden Robinson (Texas A&M) at left guard.

With left tackle a big question mark (veteran free agent signee Chukwuma Okorafor is the projected starter) and the injury/rehab status of starting left guard Cole Strange creating a level of uncertainty, Wallace and Robinson have a potential opportunity to seize.

“We started texting right after the draft, and we’ve been inseparable since we got out here,” Wallace said.

5. Baker reaction: The Patriots had six rookies answer questions from reporters after Saturday’s practice, and receiver Javon Baker — the fourth-round receiver from Central Florida — wasn’t one of them. Baker generated headlines on Day 3 of the draft by telling Patriots fans to get their popcorn ready, so perhaps that wasn’t by accident.

Mayo’s reaction to Baker’s comment: “Honestly, for me, I want these guys to have a personality. I want them to feel free to talk about certain things. Look, we’ll have rules of what to talk about, but now once he puts it out there, he has to show it every day on the football field. If not, he’s just a talker and you lose the respect of the locker room.”

6. They said it: “When I came on my [pre-draft] visit, I didn’t even know he was the head coach until they told me it was him. Because he was like one of the players. I like coaches like that; that hang out with their players around the building. It’s cool to be around a coach like that — a player-led coach.” — TE Jaheim Bell, the seventh-round pick from Florida State, on his first impression of Mayo

7. Godchaux says bye-bye: With NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talking about a possible 18-game regular season, with just two preseason games, Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux was open to the discussion as long as it came with a key consideration.

“If you’re going to talk about 18 games, there needs to be two bye weeks. Because 17 is a lot already, with one bye week,” he said last week at a Mother’s Day luncheon he hosted with his wife, Chanel Iman. “It can be done, as long as guys are professionals and take care of their bodies.”



Davon Godchaux on offseason workouts, the possibility of an 18-game season, and

Davon Godchaux on offseason workouts, the possibility of an 18-game season, and Jerod Mayo. Video by Mike Reiss

8. Pop explains ‘3’: Patriots receiver DeMario “Pop” Douglas changed his jersey number from 81 to 3 this year. He wore 3 in college at Liberty, as well as in little league, middle school and high school, and explained why it has added meaning to him. “It’s big because I was raised by three strong ladies — my mom, grandma and great grandma,” he said.

Indeed, Happy Mother’s Day to all.

9. McAfee over Edelman: Raiders general manager Tom Telesco shared a story on ESPN Radio last week about a significant part of Patriots history that could have played out very differently. He was serving as Colts director of player personnel in 2009 when the team was on the clock with the first of its two seventh-round picks — No. 222.

“I wanted to draft Julian Edelman. I’ve never forgotten that one. I just didn’t present it the right way,” Telesco said. “When New England drafted him [232nd], that was tough because they were our huge rival.”

But Telesco said the sting was lessened because at pick 222 the Colts hit on punter Pat McAfee, who locked down the position from 2009 to 2016.

10. Did you know: The Patriots have drafted 55 quarterbacks in their history; only three of them were picked in the sixth round: Joe Milton III (2024), Kliff Kingsbury (2003) and Tom Brady (2000).

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