The first day of the 2018 NFL draft certainly was a surprising one, at least in relation to the New England Patriots' perceived current needs. Instead of adding to its defense, the team opted to invest in offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel in round one. Following the conclusion of the round, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio stepped in front of the press to talk about his team's haul.
The underlying message was simple: The Patriots drafted two players who they felt would help the team, regardless of the position they play or the need they might have helped address. “We need good players,” Caserio said. “If it’s on offense, it’s on offense; if it’s on defense, it’s on defense. [...] You look at the player, you look at the rest of the players you evaluated, and you try to pick the players that you think make the most sense.”
Prior to the draft, the belief was that the players would make the most sense for New England were defensive ones. As Caserio once again made clear yesterday, however, the team does not necessarily operate the same way outside observers do: “There’s no template in terms of how we put it together,” he said when asked about how the previous approach and the team's general history factor into the equation.
“Our thing is each year just to pick good players and try to get as many good football players on our football team as possible,” continued Caserio. “Our need is to draft good players.” Yesterday, those players both came from Georgia and will bring high upside and starting potential to a New England offense that already is among the best in the NFL – and that might not have been in immediate need for an infusion of more talent.
The Patriots, ever surprising as they are, viewed things differently and stuck to their blueprint of drafting for talent and not for need. The result of this were the aforementioned Wynn and Michel. “Both these guys are good football players and have good football traits that we hope fit our program,” Caserio said about the two rookies. “The expectation is that these guys come here, they work hard and they do what they’re asked to do. Nothing more, nothing less.”
A recurring theme in the 42-year old's remarks were the program and conference – the SEC – the two players originated from: “Both these players, they’re playing against some of the best players in the country on a weekly basis and they were productive players,” noted Caserio. New England's respect for what is arguably the best conference in college football is of course well documented – as is the respect for the people playing and coaching in it.
“He had to block a lot of good people in that conference,” Caserio said about Isaiah Wynn – and it was far from the only thing the Patriots apparently found attractive: “Lot of experience. He’s started for three years, he’s played guard, he’s played tackle, he’s played multiple spots, he’s been productive in both those areas.” New England's player personnel director continued by saying that the team will put the 6'3 Wynn, who started his college career at guard before moving to the outside, in the mix to find out where and how he fits.
“Our whole philosophy on offensive line is put the best five guys out there and however it sorts its self out, it sorts itself out.” When it is all sorted out, Wynn will block for one of his former teammates in Sony Michel, a player whose traits also were intriguing to the Patriots – despite running backs per se being sort of a high-luxury commodity to spend round-one draft picks on in today's NFL.
“Our responsibility is just to pick good football players,” Caserio repeated when asked about selecting a running back at 31. “We think he’s a good football player, so we picked the player. He’s got pretty good skills, he’s athletic, he’s good in space, he’s a strong runner for his size.” As such, Michel became an integral part of one of college football's best rushing attacks and finished his 2017 season with 156 carries for 1,227 yards and 16 scores.
Obviously, though, past production means little when it comes to the NFL. “All these players regardless of when they’re picked, who they are, they have a long, long, long way to go,” said Caserio. “It doesn’t matter what round you’re picked in, when you’re talking about the draft essentially you’re talking about developmental players.” Yesterday, New England invested in two of those developmental prospects.
And even though it might have been surprising, it was typical Patriots.
“In the end we pick the players that we feel are best for us.”