The New England Patriots didn’t have a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft thanks to commissioner Roger Goodell, which limited the impact that the Patriots could get from their rookies. New England didn’t make a selection until 60th overall (CB Cyrus Jones).
Well, ESPN’s Mel Kiper is re-grading the results of the draft and he’s improved his draft grade for the Patriots from a C+ to a B+.
“This is a classic Patriots draft so far in that they made a pick I considered a total head-scratcher but also had some big hits,” Kiper writes. “And when you get rookies to contribute to a Super Bowl champion, it's hard to complain. As I wrote then, ‘They did get some good players, but the grade suffers just because they didn't have the opportunity to add as much talent.’ Blame Deflategate for that.
“The hits? Joe Thuney was a stud, starting all 19 games and piling up 1,283 snaps. He ended up No. 7 overall on my All-Rookie Team. Jacoby Brissett ended up being forced to start two games after Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt, and the Patriots went 1-1. You'll take that. He's a nice little project for Josh McDaniels. Malcolm Mitchell was a classic Belichick pick, a guy who can play receiver pretty well, as we saw, but also started as a cornerback at one time while at Georgia. Elandon Roberts also got some starts as the Patriots turned over their linebacking corps, and Vincent Valentine saw action. That's good!
“Cyrus Jones is the mess here. He didn't help the defense and was a fumble machine (five total) when he returned the ball. Overall, however, they have to be thrilled with the early contributions from this class.”
In Kiper’s defense, a big reason he gave the Patriots such a low grade following the draft was that he didn’t anticipate the rookies to contribute in 2016, especially without a first round pick. He considered Thuney “depth” at the time and, well, who could have guessed that Thuney would play almost every single snap as a rookie?
Jones burned out as a rookie, but he has time to bounce back as a sophomore. The third and fourth round quartet of Thuney, Brissett, Valentine, and Mitchell all probably exceeded expectations with regards to their contributions, with Valentine coming closest to his projection. No one could have anticipated Brissett starting two games or Mitchell starring in the Super Bowl.
Except maybe Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
The Patriots did a pretty good job fleshing out the roster with the 2016 NFL Draft, with one major starter in Thuney, and a few rotational players in Valentine, Mitchell, and Roberts. There’s a chance for all four players and Cyrus Jones to take on larger roles in 2017.
Evaluating drafts are nothing more than a fun and not-very-meaningful exercise until you get two or three years beyond the draft being evaluated. I’m sure these grades will change yet again over the course of the next year.