The New England Patriots kind of, sort of, maybe addressed the needs on their roster in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft and it will be interesting to see if the risks taken pay off down the road.
Problem: Isaiah Wynn is too short
The Patriots selected offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn with the 23rd overall pick, which makes some sense. Wynn is an outstanding prospect that played both left tackle and left guard. The Patriots have a current hole at left tackle and potentially need a replacement at guard if they are unable to reach an extension with right guard Shaq Mason.
So where’s the risk with Wynn? He’s a hair shorter than 6’3 and there hasn’t been a successful tackle in the NFL over the past decade at his height. Here’s the full list of tackles shorter than 6’4 with 20+ starts since 2008:
Kelvin Beachum: Beachum has started 39 games at tackle for the Steelers, Jets, and Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s pretty good when healthy.
Marshall Newhouse: Newhouse has primarily played tackle over 70 starts for four different teams.
None of these players are world beaters, but both Colon and Beachum were serviceable.
Teams want more than serviceable from their first round pick.
Well, Wynn’s height won’t be a problem because...
Wynn has long arms for his height. In the same way that Patriots edge defender Trey Flowers is short at 6’2, but uses his long arms for leverage, Wynn’s arms are more similar to a player that is 6’5, which is a completely respectable height for a tackle.
Wynn’s arms are 33.375”, which is shorter than other prospects like Orlando Brown (35”), Tyrell Crosby (35”), Chukwuma Okorafor (34.5”), Kolton Miller (34”), Mike McGlinchey (34”), and Brian O’Neill (34”). But they’re longer than Connor Williams (33”).
And with respect to other Patriots left tackles, they’re not like Nate Solder’s (35.5”), but they’re almost as long as Matt Light’s (33.5”). They’re also longer than Joe Thuney’s (32.25”), so flipping the two might not work out too well.
Wynn is a nasty blocker that had plenty of success in the SEC against the most difficult defenses he could possibly face. If Dante Scarnecchia liked him, that should be good enough for everybody.
He should have a shot at playing tackle in the NFL and, in the worst-case scenario, Wynn could also play guard.
Problem: Why did the Patriots use a first round pick on a running back?
The Patriots have so many other needs. They need a linebacker, or a cornerback, or a wide receiver, or a tight end, or LAMAR JACKSON WAS STILL ON THE BOARD, BILL, WHY DIDN’T YOU TAKE HIM?!
But instead the Patriots selected a running back in the first round. The running back position has been one of the most fungible under Bill Belichick, meaning that the team has never struggled to find a cheap and easy replacement for the starting job.
They acquired LeGarrette Blount (3,054 yards from scrimmage) for a seventh round pick. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2,356 YFS) was an undrafted free agent, while they signed Danny Woodhead (2,181) and Dion Lewis (2,109) off the street. Stevan Ridley (2,963 YFS) is the only other running back to gain more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage for the Patriots over the past decade and he was a third round pick.
The Patriots already have Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill on cheap veteran deals, and Rex Burkhead and James White are penciled in as the top one-two combo for the next three years according to their contract lengths.
So why did the Patriots spend one of their precious first round picks on Sony Michel when they’ve had so much success with players off the street or on the cheap? Why didn’t they trade down with Michel and Derrius Guice and Ronald Jones II and Nick Chubb and Kerryon Johnson and Royce Freeman all on the board?
It looks like poor draft capital management, right?
Well, draft stock still matters for running backs because...
I’m going to choose an arbitrary milestone for this example: 1,000 yards from scrimmage (YFS).
Over the past decade, there have been 28 running backs that gave gained 1,000+ YFS on three or more separate occasions. I am using three or more seasons to represent the player had longevity in their success and that they weren’t a flash in the pan.
Of those 28 running backs, 13 were first round picks. An additional six were second round picks and three were third round picks. So 22 of these 28 running backs would have been selected in the first two days of this current draft schedule.
Only two running backs make the list that were undrafted: Arian Foster and Fred Jackson.
When we look at the number of running backs with three or more seasons with 1,000+ YFS over the past five years, we find that all eleven running backs were taken in the first four rounds.
What does this tell us? If the Patriots or any team wants a bellcow back, they have to use a pick in one of the first three rounds. Not all running backs are the same and running backs taken early are generally more successful than those that are undrafted.
Don’t get me wrong- the Patriots are taking a major swing with Michel and he will have to develop into a lead back in order for this selection to be worth it. But if the team is willing to give Michel the opportunity, similar to how they gave Dion Lewis two-thirds of the snaps down the final stretch of 2017, then he could show why running backs are still valuable assets.
The Patriots are also gearing up to run the ball a lot
Another signal for Michel’s value is how the Patriots are building their roster. Their offensive line is flush with run blockers, they have a great backfield, they traded away last year’s top wide receiver in Brandin Cooks, and while Tom Brady is coming off an MVP season, there’s no reason to put such a great weight on his shoulders to lead an encore performance.
The Patriots probably watched the New Orleans Saints trotted out Mark Ingram (28th overall pick) and Alvin Kamara (cost the Saints a 2018 second round pick) last season as they combined for 3,094 yards and 25 touchdowns, while Drew Brees had an incredibly efficient season with much less wear and tear than usual.
Why not extend Tom Brady’s career? The Patriots didn’t draft a quarterback in the opening round, so they’re definitely not rushing Brady to the finish line. Why not give Brady an incredible do-it-all duo of Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead (and James White as a blocker and receiver) to take away some of the pressure?
The Michel pick isn’t just with 2018 in mind. It’s with the rest of Brady’s career in mind.
There also weren’t too many other players to draft at 31st overall
Sure, the Patriots could have drafted Lamar Jackson, but New England clearly wasn’t interested because they passed on him twice. And if they removed Boston College edge defender Harold Landry and Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst from their draft board due to their respective injury concerns, then the only first round prospect still available was cornerback Josh Jackson.
After Rashaan Evans was off the board, there wasn’t a first round linebacker available. There weren’t any first round tight end prospects. There hadn’t been many wide receivers or defensive backs drafted, so there was no rush to address those positions. There were no blue chip players that had slid down the board that teams were clamoring to add.
And if there aren’t any first round prospects on the board, then the Patriots wouldn’t have been likely to find a trade partner to move down, forcing them to stay and make a pick.
With Jackson available, and Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver, Auburn CB Carlton Davis, Stanford S Justin Reid, and Alabama S Ronnie Harrison still on the board and potentially better fits for the Patriots, the team opted to punt the defensive back position- why not see which player is still on the board at 43rd overall?
Meanwhile, there were good options at running back in Guice, Jones, Chubb, and others, but Michel was the most well-rounded prospect. Guice and Chubb weren’t used on passing downs, while Jones is considered too small and is less powerful of a runner than Michel. Michel was the best and was also likely to come off the board before the 43rd overall pick- so the Patriots had to make the pick in order to get that well-rounded talent.
Here’s what the Patriots should do on Day Two of the draft:
The Patriots filled one need with Wynn and they bolstered their offense with Michel. They still need:
- A linebacker that can cover, especially with Marquis Flowers a free agent after this year and Dont’a Hightower constantly battling injuries. Based on the projections of best players available, the sweet spot for linebackers is the middle of the third round.
- A defensive back (or two) that can provide depth in 2018 and serve as a possible replacement down the road with Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe free agents after this year and Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones coming off injuries. At safety, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are under contract, but Jordan Richards holds a roster spot that could be upgraded. Defensive backs are still plentiful and should be available at all points of the next few rounds.
- A tight end since Rob Gronkowski’s future is seemingly in limbo and it would be nice to find another all-around tight end similar to what Martellus Bennett provided in 2016. This is a luxury and there doesn’t seem to be too many of these players in the draft beyond South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert.
- A wide receiver since Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell are coming off injuries, and the rest of the wide receivers will be free agents after this year. This sweet spot looks to be in the second round.
- A quarterback to be the heir to Tom Brady. Is that too much to ask? There is no sweet spot for this, but I think Kyle Lauletta or Logan Woodside in the third or fourth round would make some sense.
With this in mind, I think the Patriots should trade down from 43rd overall to gain a third or fourth rounder- dropping from 43rd to 50th should get them a fourth round pick, while dropping to 60th would get them a third round pick.
Armed with these picks, they should draft a wide receiver (Memphis WR Anthony Miller or Washington WR Dante Pettis) and a cornerback (Florida CB Duke Dawson or UNC CB M.J. Stewart) in the second round, followed by a linebacker (USC LB Darius Leonard or BYU LB Fred Warner) and a quarterback (Lauletta or Woodside) in the third round. They can use their extra pick on whatever player falls into their lap.
The Patriots probably won’t be able to address the tight end position and that will be okay. They have some camp options with Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Will Tye, and Troy Niklas that are all better than the prospects in the draft.