Even though the Patriots did not draft in the first two rounds for the first time in franchise history, the Patriots ended up with a very eventful 3rd round. Bill Belichick traded down from 72 to 83 and then trading up from 96 to 85. The Patriots traded 72 and 200 for 83 and 124. Afterwards, they traded 124 to move up from 96 to 85. So at the end of the day, the Patriots ended up making two picks.
83rd overall: Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State. Rivers is a small school prospect that dominated the competition, setting a school record of 41 sacks and 56.5 TFL. Rivers was invited to the Senior Bowl and impressed there, earning a combine invite. He was another strong tester with a 4.61 40, 35” vertical, 10’3” standing jump, and a 6.94 3-cone. While he’s undersized as an edge rusher, he has solid technique and an explosive get-off. Rivers checks off all the boxes for a small school prospect, and could prove to be one of the steals in a draft that’s deep in pass rushing talent. Patriots will play him on and off the ball most likely to take advantage of his plus athleticism.
85th overall: Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy. Garcia followed a similar path to Rivers to get into the NFL. A small school prospect that had plus foot quickness at the position, Garcia earned a Senior Bowl invite. At the Senior Bowl, Garcia shined in pass protection and has the ability to mirror pass rushers on the edge. The biggest concern is adding functional strength as Garcia weighed in at 293 at the Senior Bowl and 302 at the Combine. Garcia easily displaces La’Adrian Waddle off the roster when final cuts begin. The Patriots now have their long term replacement for Nate Solder, who will most likely be the top tackle on the free agent market next offseason.
Overall, the Patriots had a very exciting draft. Pass rusher and tackle were very high on the needs list, listed #1 and #3 on my mock draft, which is now entirely inaccurate this year. However, I did include both Rivers and Garcia on my 3rd round board, so it’s not a total loss this year. The Patriots opted to go with two small school guys with tremendous upside and unlike most of their 3rd round picks in the past, were incredibly productive in college.