The Patriots spent their first round pick on a defensive tackle. It might not have been the biggest need, but it was the result of the best player still remaining on the board. Dominique Easley was one of the top defensive tackles in the draft and the Patriots were fortunate to grab him.
This isn't about Easley. Well, it's not entirely about him. But you can see how Bill Belichick has stacked the dominos in the Patriots' favor.
This draft was strong at wide receiver and at defensive back- two positions that Belichick invested in heavily during the free agency period. Fourteen players at WR, S, and CB went in the first round. There are plenty more to come. That's the landscape of the draft and it's how Belichick effectively prepared for the second day of the draft.
Of CBS Sport's top 30 remaining players on the board, there are six wide receivers and four defensive tackles- ten players that are likely off of the Patriots' drafting radar.
Of the remaining players in their top 30, there are three quarterbacks, three offensive tackles, a cornerback, and three running backs, which is an additional 10 players that are likely not in the Patriots' view.
The final 10, and the likely targets of the Patriots, are made up of three interior offensive linemen, five defensive ends, and two tight ends (Troy Niklas doesn't make the cut).
So while other teams might try to take advantage of the depth at wide receiver, or the remaining scraps in the secondary, or at the inevitable run at defensive tackle, the Patriots are looking in a different direction. Belichick knocked over the first domino when he selected Easley. Now he just has to wait for the players to fall down.
Keep in mind that the evaluation of prospects becomes less and less certain as the draft wears on. Players who are unanimous top 30 picks aren't that difficult to determine. But when the caliber of players decrease, teams have more variability in their grades and that's why you see surprise picks.
I've done some base studies and when it comes to prospect evaluation, it's pretty much a league-wide crap shoot after the first 70 players. The range between a player's expected selection and where they're actually picked starts to grow (except for inside linebackers; for some reason, they go exactly where they're expected).
So when the third rounds comes on the television, don't be shocked to hear a few names that seem out of place. It happens and it happens consistently.
As for the Patriots approach, it will definitely come down to how the second round plays out. The likelihood of a top interior lineman, tight end, or defensive end seems pretty reasonable, which means that we can look for the team to address whatever position they don't take in the second. Which makes sense.
Belichick rarely spends high draft picks on centers or right guards (he hasn't in the past decade), and, In my opinion, he's not going to start this year. There have been no interior linemen drafted (unless you count Zach Martin to the Cowboys), which means that the value and the core of the draft class is entirely in tact. So expect some more of these players to slip into the 3rd and 4th rounds and be the Patriots' target to open up day 3 of the draft.
There, I expect the Patriots to take the best player available of the defensive ends and tight ends. Here's the list of targets:
Tight End: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro, Troy Niklas, C.J. Fiedorowicz
Defensive End: Demarcus Lawrence, Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton, Carl Bradford, Kyle Van Noy, Kareem Martin, Jeremiah Attoachu, Trent Murphy
This list of twelve players all make plenty of sense for the Patriots. They have different skill sets, but they represent a fairly level tier of players. Look for the Patriots to take advantage of this pool in round two.
Similar to wide receiver and defensive tackle, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Patriots select a tight end in round two and take advantage of whatever defensive end falls into range in round three.
My dark horse picks are the two centers, Weston Richburg and Marcus Martin.