The 2018 NFL draft stands just over two months away. And as things stand leading up to it, the New England Patriots have five picks to work with before the compensatory formula potentially doles out another.
That doesn’t provide much leeway for an organization that walked away from the 2017 draft having made the fewest number of selections in franchise history. But each year is different. Each class is different. And here are eight trends, notes and other musings to monitor as New England assembles its front and back boards ahead of another.
Original picks, undrafted signings on end-of-year roster
Between the 53-man roster, 10-man practice squad, five-man non-football injury, and 12-man injured reserve, New England ended the year with a pre-free agency list of 80 players. And of whom, 55 percent were “homegrown,” so to speak: 29 originally entered the league as Patriots draft picks and 15 others signed their first NFL contracts with the club as undrafted rookies.
Four quarterbacks drafted before the fourth
The Patriots’ war room has drafted nine quarterbacks since Bill Belichick was named head coach in 2000. Just of four whom were taken before the fourth round – Jacoby Brissett in 2016, Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014, Ryan Mallett in 2011, and Kevin O’Connell in 2008 – and none of whom any earlier than Garoppolo at No. 62 overall. A reinvestment of draft capital is expected under center with scheduled selections at No. 31, a coin flip between No. 41 and No. 43, as well as No. 62 overall. Tom Brady, who’ll turn 41 in August, and Bryan Hoyer, 33 in October, make up the current QB room like it’s 2010.
Draft draught at running back
With Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead set to his unrestricted free agency at 4 p.m. ET on March 14, it’s conceivable to think New England will be looking at the rushing class regardless of whether either one re-signs for 2018. That’s been a seldom-trekked route for the Patriots in recent memory, as the team has drafted just one running back – Wisconsin’s James White in 2014 – since taking California’s Shane Vereen and LSU’s Stevan Ridley in the second and third rounds of the 2011 draft. That’s one over the course of the last six drafts – with an abundance of backfield options upcoming in this year’s.
Defense-first attack in 10 of past 12 drafts
The Patriots have gone defense-first in six of the last seven drafts and 10 of the last 12. The only two times New England went with an offense-first approach over that stretch? Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder in the first round back in 2011 and Minnesota tailback Laurence Maroney there in 2006. From 2007 through 2017, the Patriots brought aboard four defensive backs, two linebackers, two edge-rushers and two defensive tackles with their initial picks – and that is if excluding Dont’a Hightower four slots after Chandler Jones in 2012. Given the impending renovations at all three levels and the departure of coordinator Matt Patricia, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that continue.
One first-round tackle in Belichick era
Solder, not-so-arguably the Patriots’ top free agent this offseason, remains the highest-drafted tackle of Belichick’s tenure. The former No. 17 overall pick is also the only first-rounder the organization has invested at the bookend spots over that span if accounting for Logan Mankins' turn-key switch to guard in 2005. The second-rounders include Hawaii tackle-slash-guard Adrian Klemm in 2000, Purdue’s Matt Light in 2001, and Houston’s Sebastian Vollmer in 2009. Four other clear-cut tackles have landed in Foxborough in the third round or beyond dating back to 2011: Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott last spring, Cameron Fleming in 2014, and Marcus Cannon four rounds after Solder in 2011.
Most turned-to programs from 2014 on
That whole Rutgers pipeline isn’t exactly in 2013 form, when New England drafted cornerback Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon and linebacker Steve Beauharnais over the course of two days in April. But there are other schools of note since then. From 2014 on, the Patriots have drafted prospects from a total of 24 programs. And while there haven’t been any more Scarlet Knights, there have been two each from Georgia Tech, Florida, Stanford, Florida State, Eastern Illinois, Alabama and North Carolina State. The only program with three over that stretch? The Arkansas Razorbacks with tight end AJ Derby and defensive ends Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise.
Seven draft-day trades over last two
New England has struck seven draft-day deals during the last two drafts alone. And those don’t include moves like the ones for wideout Brandin Cooks, defensive end Kony Ealy and tight end Dwayne Allen a month earlier in 2017. Last year, the Patriots made an additional four trades between April 28-29, acquiring No. 83 and No. 124 overall from the Tennessee Titans, No. 85 overall from the Detroit Lions, tight end James O’Shaughnessy and No. 216 overall from the Kansas City Chiefs, and No. 201 overall from the Dallas Cowboys. Then in 2016, New England acquired No. 78 and No. 112 overall from the New Orleans Saints, No. 147 overall from the Miami Dolphins, and No. 225 overall and a future fourth-rounder from the Seattle Seahawks. That’s four trade-downs and three trade-ups in only the last two drafts.
Of New England’s last 24 picks, 15 remain
The Patriots have made 24 selections altogether since Round 1 of 2015. Fifteen of those selections are still with the organization in Malcom Brown, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, Flowers, Shaq Mason and Joe Cardona from 2015; Cyrus Jones, Joe Thuney, Vincent Valentine, Malcolm Mitchell, Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras from 2016; as well as Derek Rivers, Garcia and Wise from 2017. Only 10 of those 15 played a regular-season snap this past campaign and just seven started a game on offense or defense during it.