Prior to the draft, the Patriots stood with a shockingly low five draft picks- their first, second, third, and two seventh round picks. It was evident that, unless a Star fell (get it?), the Patriots were willing and trying to trade down and out of the first round to gather up additional selections. To some this might have reminded them of the 2007 draft, where the Patriots traded away all of their picks for Wes Welker and Randy Moss, grabbed Brandon Meriweather, and kind of just threw the rest of their picks in the air. To me, it seems as if the Patriots knew what type of players they wanted and where to go get them.
The Patriots had few needs when the draft started; they needed to flush out their depth at wide receiver, they needed to bolster their pass rush, they needed a linebacker who could cover, they needed additional defensive backs, and they possibly could do with additional competition at right guard and defensive tackle. When the Patriots were picking at 29th overall (moving up wasn't really an option), they had just missed out of four consecutive players that could have made immediate impacts and would have been tremendous fits: CB Xavier Rhodes, DL Datone Jones, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and DT Sylvester Williams. Without them on the board, the Patriots were left with receivers at second round grades (Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson), and not much else. The defensive tackles worth taking were all gone and the draft was rich with wide receiver and defensive back depth. None of the linebackers fit the scheme or displayed the coverage skills desired.
Minnesota tried to kick down the door to get the Patriots' 29th overall pick and they were too happy to oblige. In an extremely fair trade, the Patriots picked up a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th round pick and moved on to the next day.
Evaluation: The Patriots needed additional draft picks and all of the top talent was off the board. Moving down the board was the smart and correct move at the time and should always be the right move; if the players aren't there, don't overdraft- let someone else do the overdrafting.
Remaining needs: WR1, CoverLB1, WR3, DE3, CB4
The Patriots went into the second day with four selections and the ability to move around wherever they wanted. The day started and most fans expected a run at quarterback, which would push the top talent to the middle of the round, where the Patriots could definitely trade up and make a pick. Surprisingly, no run happened and the Patriots stayed in their spots; it was apparent that the Patriots had an idea of who they wanted and knew where they could get them.
Receivers like Hunter and Woods fell off the board, while the last possible defensive tackle (Kawann Short) was drafted. That meant that the polished receivers and the immediate starting defensive tackles were all off of the board, which would lead to the Patriots taking a less-proven receiver. There was still a glut of defensive backs, but the linebackers were starting to come off the board. Between 38th and 50th, Manti Te'o, Kevin Minter, Kiko Alonso, and Jon Bostic all were drafted, which may have forced the Patriots to make their move and take Jamie Collins at 52nd overall.
Evaluation: Collins is an extremely talented athlete with a knack for making plays. A converted safety, he has the coverage skills the Patriots have been looking for and presents tremendous upside. He complements the linebacker corps extremely well. A projected 2nd round pick, the Patriots got him exactly where they needed to be. The Patriots were forced to taking a linebacker due to the run and, while Arthur Brown was on the board, Collins was the top prospect who filled the role.
Right player, right value. Great pick who filled a need. He could technically meet the need of both coverage linebacker and a third defensive end (if he bulks up another 5-10 pounds).
Remaining needs: WR1, WR3, CB4
Player of note: Linebacker Kiko Alonso of Oregon is another coverage linebacker who the Patriots showed a lot of interest in, during the pre-draft process. Alonso is more polished the Collins and went to the Bills at 46th overall. While Collins has a much greater upside as a pass rusher and as an athlete, Alonso is much more adept in coverage.
The Patriots next pick was at 58th overall and they had a clear target in mind. With the top tier of receivers off the board (Tavon Austin, Hopkins, Patterson, Hunter, Woods), they had to go with a more developmental wide receiver, but one with great upside and great size. The Patriots risked a few teams taking their prospective receiver between their 52nd and 58th picks since most picks were by playoff teams one receiver away from pushing themselves closer to the Super Bowl.
Luckily, the Texans spent a pick on Hopkins in the first, the Broncos have no need at receiver after signing Wes Welker, and the Ravens needed a linebacker more than anything. That left only the Bengals and the 49ers as issues and the Bengals are well invested in their young receivers and the 49ers were rumored to be after a tight end to replace Delanie Walker.
This let Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson fall to the Patriots at 58th overall.
Evaluation: The Patriots didn't risk by waiting to take a receiver as the teams in between all had distinct needs that weren't wide receiver- and there were still talented enough players on the board that a trade wasn't a concern. Dobson is a perfect combination of size and speed, with great hands, fluid routes, and a humble mind. He's willing to learn and he's a solid team player. Belichick ran him through the ringer and passed, so hopefully he can keep up with the playbook.
Dobson was the best receiver on the board who fit the exact requirements of a WR1, which makes him a clear choice at 58th overall. While he may not be as polished as some of the other receivers (Keenan Allen was available at this point), perhaps only Justin Hunter provided the same size, speed, and explosion as a WR1 in the whole draft (Da'Rick Rogers too, but he was clearly not on their, or any team's, draft board). Dobson will have a lot to learn, but he seems willing and able.
Dobson was regarded as a 2nd/3rd round selection, so the Patriots took him at the higher end of his range- but they couldn't afford to risk losing him.
Solid player, solid value, definitely fit the need.
Remaining needs: WR3, CB4
Player of note: Cornerback Jamar Taylor of Boise State was selected 54th overall and was considered by some to be the best press corner in the draft. He might not have presented the rounded skill set the Patriots want from their corners, but he was available and an option to fill a clear need.
The Patriots went into the third round with two more picks and, like before, had the ability to move around the draft board if they wanted to. They didn't pick until 83rd and 91st overall, which meant that there was a solid patch of 25 players who would be selected if the Patriots didn't choose to move. By the start of the third round, the run on the second tier defensive backs hadn't yet happened, while the run at defensive end never started. 25 picks is a long time to wait and could have encompassed the runs on both positions, but the Patriots decided to sit and wait.
In that span of picks, the run of the second tier receivers (which the Patriots started by taking Dobson) started and finished, while the run at cornerbacks had started as well. Five of the picks between 60 and 70 were cornerbacks, and the run was evident in the early 60s- which meant that the Patriots had time to move up and grab their guy if they wanted. They had two options: sit tight take their cornerback at 83 out of whatever players were left, or trade up and make sure their corner doesn't go somewhere else.
The Patriots opted for the latter and wound up with Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan at 83rd overall.
Evaluation: Some might argue that the Patriots had other needs that could have been addressed by packaging picks and moving up, but to me it seems like the Patriots got the guy they had on their board the whole time. Much like how they traded down in the 2010 draft and still grabbed Devin McCourty, the Patriots seemed to have Ryan in their crosshairs and knew what it would take to conserve value and still get him.
Ryan has CB1 upside, having defended 30 passes in his final two seasons at Rutgers, finishing 3rd in the NCAA with 17 this past year. He definitely doesn't have the athleticism of McCourty (or else he'd have been a first round lock), but he has plenty of accolades for his play, finishing the season First Team All American and First Team Big East. His physicality and 6.69 3 cone split might make him an early competitor for a slot position in case of injury.
Great player who can learn from his college mentor, Devin McCourty, and could make an immediate impact in the secondary. Solid value and fits the need, and then some. Thus far, the Patriots first three picks have all addressed immediate needs and have been used on prospects with tremendous upside.
Remaining Needs: WR3
Player of note: Wide receivers Keenan Allen (76th) and Markus Wheaton (79th) were both possible targets for the Patriots should they have fallen any further. Allen is a first round talent, while Wheaton would be a fantastic WR2 for the Patriots. Both would have filled needs, but were taken right before the Patriots had a chance in the third round. However, since there was a run at both cornerback and wide receiver, the Patriots could only choose one. I think they chose correctly by going after a cornerback.
The Patriots next pick was eight picks later at 91st overall. With most of their needs off the board, the Patriots could likely look to the best player available in order to bolster the depth of the roster. Talented receivers like West Virginia's Stedman Bailey, Kansas State's Chris Harper, Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton, and Texas A&M's Ryan Swope were all still on the board and were all considered 2nd/3rd round talents. They all present solid size and fit a clear need, adding depth at wide receiver.
Additional players like interior linemen Brian Schwenke of California and Barrett Jones of Alabama were still on the board- and both could have been starters next season if current center Ryan Wendell or current right guard Dan Connolly depart in free agency.
The Patriots could have also traded down if they didn't like any of the players remaining on the board and could have picked up a 5th or 6th round pick (which they didn't have) while gaining a future selection. Heck, they could have taken one of the top round quarterbacks and tried to flip Mallett for a future pick.
Instead, the Patriots decided to draft Rutgers safety Duron Harmon.
Evaluation: Harmon projected as a 6/7/UDFA type of player due to lack of interest surrounding his post season. He flew well under the radar- surprising since he was named First Team Big East each of the past two seasons (Logan Ryan only managed to be named to the second team two years ago). Physically, Harmon matches up with all of the other top safeties, running a solid 4.5 40, jumping an explosive 10'5 broad jump, and a good 7.01 3 cone split. Mentally, the coaches trusted Harmon, letting him run every single safety position for the 17th best passing defense in the country.
Harmon covers in the slot, he plays centerfield, he plays cover two, he plays in the box, he plays free safety, he plays strong safety- and Belichick trusts him to continue to grow. Harmon can develop into the player the Patriots wanted Pat Chung to be (and Harmon is actually more athletic).
Of course, the Patriots need at safety is questionable, with Devin McCourty playing free safety and Steve Gregory as his likely back-up, while Adrian Wilson and Tavon Wilson will likely split time at strong safety. Still, Harmon can play special teams and can eventually take over for Adrian Wilson once he's unable to perform- and don't be surprised if you see Harmon supplant Tavon Wilson this year.
Harmon is a solid player, but he wasn't on most radars, which means that he was likely overdrafted when it comes to value. He doesn't really fit a need either. Belichick's first questionable pick after a stretch of three great ones, Harmon has a lot to do to earn the trust of the fans- and I think everyone will be surprised with how much of an impact he'll have.
Remaining needs: WR3
Player of note: Quarterbacks Ryan Nassib and Matt Barkley, both considered first round picks, were still available. I had a late first grade on Nassib and a third round grade on Barkley. The Patriots have not been secretive that they're shopping Mallett for a second round pick and taking Nassib would have let them flip Mallett for a future second- which a team like the Browns might have been willing to do.
Day three began with the Patriots selecting 102nd, the 5th pick of the day. It seemed likely that the Patriots were looking to trade to try and find a way to gather a couple more picks on the day since their next picks weren't until the 7th round. The day opened with the Eagle trading up to grab Matt Barkley to start the day, while top talent players like Schwenke, Barrett Jones, Patton, and Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams remained on the board.
Instead of moving down, the Patriots decided to jump immediately to take their future WR3- but it wasn't Quinton Patton. They decided to take TCU's Josh Boyce.
Evaluation: Boyce's physicals compared to the rest of the draft's wide receivers from the combine:
2nd best bench press (22 reps) [UDFA T.J. Moe was 1st with 26]
3rd best 3 cone drill (6.68s) [UDFA T.J. Moe was 1st with 6.53s]
4th best 40 time (4.38s)
4th best broad jump (10'11)
Boyce did all of that with a broken toe. Boyce falls into the same category of player as Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman and will likely push Edelman for playing time. He can line up in the slot and he can kick outside. He has the wheels that will give the Patriots a deep threat they haven't had in a while- and speed that will likely give him time over Edelman.
Boyce won't be a WR1 and might not ever be a WR2- but he's definitely a great WR3 and grouping him with Dobson (eventual WR1), Amendola (WR1/2), Edelman (WR3/4) and Donald Jones (WR4/5) suddenly gives the Patriots offense some size on the outside, along with some speed and youth.
Boyce is a fantastic fit for the Patriots offense. He was rated as a 5th round prospect so the Patriots might have reached in order to grab him- but without any later picks, the Patriots did what they had to do in order to get their WR3.
Remaining Needs: None.
Player of note: Tennessee Tech WR Da'Rick Rogers fell from grace this draft- a WR1 with proven production, but with plenty of off-the-field issues. He went undrafted, but his slide into the fourth wasn't too surprising. He was rated as a late second talent, but his issues could have easily dropped him to the fourth round (similar to how Aaron Hernandez fell due to his failed drug tests). At this point, Rogers had to have been on every fan's draft board, so when the reason for his plummet comes to the surface it will be interesting to see why. Rogers seemed like a bargain selection at this current point in the draft.
So what do the Patriots do now that they've addressed every need they had entering the draft and with only three more picks- all in the seventh round? They make fans wait six hours for their next pick. Luckily for the Patriots, there weren't too many top prospects still available. Barrett Jones and Jesse Williams fell due to injury issues. Perhaps consensus All American cornerback Jordan Poyer's fall into the seventh round was a surprise- but the Patriots already took Logan and have no space for Poyer.
I have no issues with the Patriots sitting and their hands and waiting for the seventh round to take some of the better size prospects. And that's what they di-TRADE FOR LAGARRETTE BLOUNT.
The Patriots acquired Buccaneer's running back LaGarette Blount for a 7th round pick and
Patriot Hall of Famer Jeff Demps.
Evaluation: The seventh round is primarily for teams to get their hands on the top of their PFAs and taking Blount is as good of a pick as any. Blount (6'0, 240 lbs) is a beast of a running back. In 2010, he broke the 1000 yard barrier as a rookie. In 2011, he didn't crack 1000 yards due to a knee injury, but he still displayed his power and ability, breaking 34 tackles on 184 attempts. In 2012, he saw only 93 snaps due to the emergence of rookie sensation Doug Martin and become disgruntled.
Looking further, Blount fumbled 9 times in his two seasons as the feature back- a fact that Belichick is sure to not approve of. His clear skill set includes his size, so one would hope he gets the job done in short yardage. in 37 attempts in downs with 2 or fewer yards to go, Blount made a first down on 20 of them- which is a 54% conversion rate.
In comparison, here's a list of last season's attempts leaders (30+) in the same scenario:
Shonn Greene 73% (33)
Ahmad Bradshaw 69% (35)
Frank Gore 67% (36)
Arian Foster 66% (61)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 65% (51)
LeSean McCoy 63% (30)
Stevan Ridley 63% (54)
Ray Rice 62% (39)
Marshawn Lynch 60% (40)
Adrian Peterson 53% (34)
Michael Turner 53% (34)
Trent Richardson 43% (30)
So you can see that out of the league's starting running backs, Blount is towards the bottom in converting first downs in short yardage situations. So what does Blount add? He adds competition to the running back position and lights a fire behind Brandon Bolden to ensure that he stays focused and improves.
What more can you ask for a seventh round pick?
And as the seventh round commenced, the Patriots decided to go for size/speed players with potential upside. They went after Illinois DE/OLB Michael Buchanan and Rutgers ILB Steve Beauharnais. There are no top prospects that these player were selected instead of- these players are to be considered preferred free agents and not expected to make the roster.
Still, both players actual present a real chance of making the team. Buchanan is a freak at 6'5, 250 lbs. He runs a 4.7 40 and a 6.9 (!!!!!) 3 cone. He played the bandit role at Illinois, which means that he knows how to attack the quarterback from all directions and also that he's okay with playing in space. Buchanan can be considered a double dip with Jamie Collins as they both can play either OLB or DE, both are athletic monsters, and both have tremendous upside. Makes you wonder if the Patriots have something new up their sleeve, or if they're looking for another Rob Ninkovich. Either way, they're certainly stocking up on potential 3-4 OLBs.
Beauharnais is another roster long shot, but he provides potential special teams value. Look for the Patriots to try and stash him on the practice squad, a la Jeff Tarpinian, if he doesn't earn his roster spot as the special teams linebacker outright. Beauharnais had 16 tackles for loss as a junior, and plays and leads with fire- something the Patriots love in their linebackers. Consider him a long term contingency plan should something ever happen to Brandon Spikes.
Overall, the Patriots did a fantastic job of addressing their positions of need. They clearly thought their activity in free agency was enough to cover the defensive tackle position, while the right guard position looks to be held down by Dan Connolly for another season (unless Marcus Cannon can unseat him).
While you may debate about the players, the Patriots are walking away with a top wide receiver, coverage linebacker, pass rusher, and cornerback and have little else to fill until training camp begins. Look for the Patriots to try to sign John Abraham to provide a veteran presence on the defensive line, but beyond that, New England looks ready for the off-season programs to get fully under way.
The Patriots started the day with the fewest picks, yet still managed to find value and fill their needs. While there may have been a head scratcher on day 2, the rest of the picks in the first four rounds all filled exactly what the Patriots were looking for.
Let's hope the new members of the New England Patriots impress as we move forward.