The New England Patriots traded up to draft UCLA OT Conor McDermott with the 211th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, finishing off the team’s final draft picks. McDermott is just the team’s fourth pick, the smallest draft class in the Bill Belichick era.
McDermott also plays the same position as third round pick OT Antonio Garcia, representing the second double-dip in the draft, after taking both EDGE Derek Rivers and EDGE Deatrich Wise Jr.
Here are my initial thoughts.
The Patriots really did not care for the talent in this draft
Despite receiving praise as one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, the Patriots decided to punt the volume of draft picks in exchange for a select quartet of prospects, along with a group of proven veterans.
The Patriots had needs at linebacker, safety, and along the offensive interior, but most of those top prospects were off the board by the end of the second round. So instead of using draft picks on players that might not make the team, the Patriots added a small number of draft picks that are likely to make the final roster.
Think of it: which linebacker prospects would beat out Elandon Roberts on the Patriots depth chart? Haason Reddick, Jarrad Davis, Reuben Foster, Raekwon McMillan, and Zach Cunningham are the only ones that come to mind and they were gone in the top 60.
Why use a third round pick on a linebacker if they wouldn’t improve the roster?
The Patriots addressed just two positions in this draft
When we were looking at the Patriots needs entering the draft, they only had three top level needs (EDGE, OT, LB), where a starter would be needed in 2017 or 2018. The other needs (IOL, TE, SS) were all depth roles for which the Patriots can find competition in the undrafted rookie pile.
As mentioned above, this was not a deep linebacker draft, and so the Patriots turned their attention to their other two needs at edge defender and offensive tackle. The Patriots added Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr., who represent the future of the Patriots defensive front, out of an extremely deep edge defender draft.
This offensive tackle draft wasn’t very strong, though, and the Patriots felt comfortable adding two of the prototypical offensive tackle prospects.
The Patriots have multiple free agents at both edge defender (Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy) and at offensive tackle (Nate solder, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle) for the 2018 season, so the Patriots are definitely preparing for the future.
The Patriots found OTs that succeeded, despite their technique
If you look at draft reports of both Garcia and McDermott as prospects, you’ll find two common criticisms.
First, both lack NFL strength and size. Garcia and McDermott both need to gain weight to compete in the NFL (roughly 10 pounds, each) and both lack the necessary strength to start in 2017.
Second, both struggle to be consistent in their technique as they lose leverage and utilize poor hand placement.
Both critiques are absolutely fixable. Give both players a year in the Patriots strength and conditioning program and under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and they should be ready to play large roles in 2018.
Why am I so confident in that claim? Both Garcia and McDermott thrived despite their poor technique and frames. They are both excellent athletes with fantastic footwork and their flaws are correctable.
The duo combined to allow 1 sack, 4 hits, and 9 hurries over the course of the 2016 college football season to pass rushers not named Myles Garrett (Garrett took McDermott for a ride with 1 sack, 4 hits, and 6 hurries).
If they were able to succeed without the necessary strength, weight, and technique, how good can they be under the ideal circumstances?