The New England Patriots added four rookies in the 2017 NFL Draft, but they also added veterans WR Brandin Cooks, EDGE Kony Ealy, TE Dwayne Allen, RB Mike Gillislee, LB Kyle Van Noy, TE James O’Shaughnessy, and TE Michael Williams through various trades involving 2017 draft picks.
While acquiring talent in such a manner isn’t sustainable in the long-term, the Patriots believed themselves to be in a strong enough position to take proven veterans, instead of adding younger rookies to the roster.
ESPN interviewed various “coaches, executives and evaluators” to get an insider opinion on each franchise’s draft process- and the Patriots are lauded for their decision making.
"I do understand [acquiring veterans] from [Bill] Belichick's standpoint," an evaluator said. "It is easier to evaluate pro players in the pro game than to project a college player in what he can become in the pro game. College is projection."
Does this signal a philosophical change for New England that other teams could model?
"I think it is circumstance, where they are on a time limit with their quarterback and they decided to reload in certain areas with what they deem as sure things," the evaluator said. "The brilliant thing about it is, like with Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy, you could let them leave in free agency and wind up getting a compensatory pick back. In a roundabout way, it is kind of being smarter than everyone else."
While most are focused on the immediate contributions from both Cooks, Ealy, and company, versus the growth potential of rookies, this evaluator decided to highlight the compensatory pick process.
Cooks is going to be on the Patriots roster for the next two seasons at a minimum, but if he continues to play at his current level and hits free agency after the 2018 season, then he will net New England a 2020 compensatory third round pick. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots tried to work out an extension with Cooks, but the receiver is going to be a hot item whenever he hits the open market.
Ealy is a less desired prospect, but he just needs one solid season in New England to see his value skyrocket. Think of the quality of Jabaal Sheard’s contributions to the Patriots, including his reduced role in 2016, and then also note that Sheard’s contract with the Indianapolis Colts is projected to net the Patriots a 2018 compensatory fourth round pick.
If Ealy can put together a moderately successful season, then the Patriots will have made a major profit when they traded down from 64th overall to 72nd overall to pick up the pass rusher.
These talent evaluators also mentioned the Patriots when analyzing teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions, but one quote about the Philadelphia Eagles selection of RB Donnel Pumphrey stood out.
"Scouts do not like [Pumphrey] because he is undersized, but production carries the day," the evaluator said. "He is super productive. He is a finisher. Will he last? I think he will be very much in the image of how New England uses their backs. With where they got him [fourth round], they only need to get four years out of him, just like the Patriots do. He is a perfect fit for a team that knows how they want to use him."
This quote is talking directly about RB James White, who coincidentally signed a contract extension meaning the Patriots plan on getting more than just “four years out of him.” The only other running back the Patriots have selected in rounds three-to-five over the past decade is RB Stevan Ridley, who was fairly productive in his four years with New England.
The evaluator might also be referring to the Patriots use of a third-down back, like the Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis, and James White mold. If the Eagles can make Pumphrey a contributor with a defined role as a fourth round pick, then that is a smart way to spend draft assets. The Eagles are hoping to find a successor to Darren Sproles and Pumphrey is a pretty good option.
But whether executives are looking to build a team, or for ideas on how to approach the draft, everyone always looks to see what the Patriots are doing to learn about the latest trends.