With the Super Bowl over, the NFL Draft order is officially set. Of course, the Patriots spot was determined after the conference championship games, but now the whole draft is set.
The Patriots draft 29th overall, and due to the tied record with the 49ers, will alternate order every round. The Patriots received the higher first round pick due to weaker strength of schedule.
While the 29th pick is at the bottom of the opening round, the picks in this range have been extremely successful, and a little bit surprisingly so.
Of the players selected 27th to 31st over the past five years (so twenty-five players), I'd say the verdict is still out on two of them (2013: Broncos DT Sylvester Williams; 2012: Packers LB Nick Perry [inj]). They've either had limited snaps early in their careers or are still waiting to show their full potential due to injuries.
Of the remaining 23 players, 8 have become league leaders in their position, even if they're still young into their careers. Running back Doug Martin ('12/31st) is an overall stud, while guard Kevin Zeitler ('12/27th) is a fierce competitor. The laughing stock of center Travis Frederick ('13/31st) paid off as he quickly has become one of the top centers in the entire league.
On defense, Jerry Hughes ('10/31st) just needed a change of scenery and once he was traded from Indianapolis to Buffalo, he became the most productive pass rusher in the league. Our own Devin McCourty ('10/27th) switched positions and is now one of the top safeties in the game. On the defensive line, Jared Odrick ('10/28th), Muhammad Wilkerson ('11/30th), and Cameron Heyward ('11/31st) have all become blue chip players at their position.
Looking at the players who can be considered "busts", you're left with three running backs, two with promising careers cut short by injury. You have Mark Ingram ('11/28th), who's floundering in New Orleans. But Jahvid Best ('10/30th) had his career unfortunately cut short due to concussions, after a 1000-yard-from-scrimmage rookie season. Beanie Wells ('09/31st) is in a similar boat, where he followed up a 1000 yard 2011 year with an injury-plagued 2012 season and his knee never fully recovered.
Beyond those three, there's wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who was a total flop in San Francisco and ended up traded to Kansas City, and offensive lineman Gabe Carimi, who I totally misjudged in the pre-draft process.
The final ten players? They're consistent. Or they're young.
The consistent players are center Eric Wood ('09/28th), running back Donald Brown ('09/27th), and wide receivers Hakeem Nicks ('09/29th) and Kenny Britt ('09/30th) [assuming this past season was a total anomaly). I would add cornerbacks Kyle Wilson ('10/29th) and Jimmy Smith ('11/27) into that mix as well, as their roles are just starting to flourish.
The final four players are safety Harrison Smith ('12/29th), and a trio of rookies in wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins (27th) and Cordarelle Patterson (29th), and linebacker Alec Ogletree (30th). All played admirably and look to have extremely bright futures. In fact, I wavered between placing these four in the "verdict still incomplete", but felt that would be a disservice to their early contributions. I wouldn't be surprised if two or three of these players found their way into the "stud" category.
So the Patriots are picking at a position that has produced players who, if they aren't at the top of the league at their position, are at the very least valuable contributors.
Looking at this season's draft crop, it looks like there's a glut of wide receivers and linemen who fall into the 25-35 range, as well as unique athletes at the tight end and defensive tackle position.
The Patriots are a team that proved their depth this past season and could look into drafted a few stars who, if healthy, can push this team over the peak.