How Patriots Rookie QB Joe Milton Is Handling ‘Humbling’ NFL Reality Check

Joe Milton is freakishly talented, but does he have a future with the New England Patriots? Here's how the rookie QB is adjusting to life in the NFL.

FOXBORO, Mass. — Joe Milton was a star at Tennessee. The famously strong-armed quarterback, who might’ve been the most famous student on campus, led the Volunteers to a 9-4 record last season and a blowout win over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl.

These days, he’s a fourth-stringer who might not even make it through his first training camp with the New England Patriots. After Tuesday’s OTA practice, Milton spoke to reporters about the “humbling” experience and how he’s handling it.

How Joe Milton Is Adjusting to NFL Reality Check

Things can change, but at this juncture, Milton is the fourth QB on the Patriots’ depth chart.

Jacoby Brissett is the projected starter until further notice, according to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. Drake Maye, the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, is the potential future of the franchise and already seeing an uptick in practice reps.

Bailey Zappe’s days in New England might be numbered, but he repped ahead of Milton during all OTA practices open to reporters.

During Tuesday’s practice, Milton didn’t see a single rep during 11-on-11 drills. And when he was on the field, he was as advertised: big on arm strength but light on touch and accuracy. Milton’s infectious personality was on display — he seemingly never stopped dancing — but so were all the flaws in his game.

From overhauling his footwork to learning the West Coast offense, the sixth-round pick has a long way to go. But he has the right mindset.

“It’s been very rewarding, but also a very humbling experience as well,” Milton said after practice. “Coming from Tennessee, being the starter, and then coming here, you have other guys taking reps, it humbles you. At the same time, that’s always been me — learning from the older guys, and when my time comes, I’ll be ready.”

Milton has spent a lot of time watching during practices, but he still sees the reduced role as an opportunity to improve.

“It’s cool, to be honest. I’m more of a visual learner anyways,” Milton said. “Seeing guys take the reps and learn from those guys mistakes if they have some, it’s learning that way and then, I go back and watch the tape to understand the footwork. Then tomorrow, we’ll come in for meetings and I’ll have a lot of questions.”

Whether Milton, whose draft slide might’ve been due to reported off-field concerns, has what it takes to make the Patriots’ roster remains to be seen. New England surely wants to keep him around, but they’re not going to bend over backward to roster a sixth-round project.

Could Milton Change Positions With the Patriots?

One option that isn’t on the table is a position change. At 6-foot-5, 246 pounds, Milton has freakish size and athleticism for a quarterback. Many look at him and wonder if the Patriots, who have a history of converting QBs to other positions, could develop him as a tight end or receiver.

However, Milton has no intentions of changing positions.

“You’re the first person I’ve actually heard that from, to be real with you, but that’ll never happen,” Milton said during a post-draft interview when asked about potentially playing tight end.

Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo sang a similar tune after drafting Milton.

“We’ll have to see how that plays out once we put the pads on,” Mayo said in April. “But we drafted him as a quarterback.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s practice, Mayo was asked for his updated thoughts on Milton’s development.

“The number one trait with any quarterback, in my eyes — this is, I guess, a philosophical thing — it’s just decision-making,” Mayo said. “It’s nice to have a big arm, but if you can’t make the right decision, I mean, you’ll be throwing cannonballs to the other side, to the other team.

“Accuracy, competitiveness, all that stuff is definitely important.”

Milton and the Patriots will be back in front of reporters next Monday when they begin mandatory minicamp. It’ll be interesting to see whether Milton sees an increase in reps or continues being an entertaining afterthought.

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