With the 2018 NFL draft over, the focus has shifted to evaluation and analysis of each team's additions. A popular part of this process is grading the selections made, even though a draft class cannot be properly judged until at least a couple of years down the road. Nevertheless, every sports media outlet – and we are certainly no exception here – uses a grading system to assess the initial impact of a draft class.
With the power of Google on our side, let's track down what the self-proclaimed experts said about the New England Patriots' 2018 haul:
Patriots 2018 rookies
|6||178||Christian Sam||LB||Arizona State|
|6||210||Braxton Berrios||WR||Miami (FL)|
|7||243||Keion Crossen||CB||Western Carolina|
|7||250||Ryan Izzo||TE||Florida State|
|--||--||A.J. Moore||CB||Ole Miss|
|--||--||Shane Wimann||TE||Northern Illinois|
|--||--||Corey Bojorquez||P||New Mexico|
|--||--||Trent Harris||DE||Miami (FL)|
|--||--||Chris Lacy||WR||Oklahoma State|
Let's dive into what the analysts think of the Patriots' rookie class.
Hold on, the Patriots may have just made another trade. It’s clear how New England viewed this draft. With two first-round picks, they perceived the value at the top as good and then the middle rounds as bad.
In the first round, New England got starters in offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel. Wynn was arguably the best blocker in the SEC a season ago and gives the Patriots a player who can play at tackle or guard. Michel is the definition of a Patriots running back. He’s fast and agile, and plays with more power than you may think. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield. If his health holds up, a lot of people expect Michel to be this year’s Alvin Kamara.
In the second round the Patriots moved up to take Florida cornerback Duke Dawson. It was strange the Patriots traded up for him, and that he was the choice over some other cornerback prospects.
Christian Sam was a sneaky good choice at No. 178. He should be able to play inside and outside linebacker for the Patriots and has good size and athleticism. It was not a shock that the took Braxton Berrios in the sixth round. He’s an asset as a punt returner, and you know he’ll be coached up as a slot receiver.
Out of this draft the got 2019 picks in the second and third rounds. Getting the third rounder also means they ultimately got defensive tackle Danny Shelton for free.
The last time I saw Tom Brady on a football field, he threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns against a good defense. If the draft told us anything, it’s that the decision-makers in New England think No. 12 can continue to defy age for at least another year, because unless you think seventh-rounder Danny Etling is a great developmental prospect (I don’t), Brady has no Jimmy Garoppolo pushing him. In fact, the Patriots had a focus on helping Brady out. Isaiah Wynn (pick 23) has traits that say he might be better at guard, but he can play tackle. And if it wasn’t such a crowded backfield, I’d peg Sony Michel as a Rookie of the Year candidate – he’s an explosive SEC-tested running back who is scary in space. I’m typically down on first-round RBs, but he was No. 28 on my board, and the Patriots nabbed him at 31.
The Patriots’ defense – the secondary in particular – was thrashed too often last year, certainly in February, and Duke Dawson (56) could help. He’s best when he can play press-man, and seems like an immediate help in the slot. Linebacker would be a major concern if I were a Patriots fan, and Ja’Whaun Bentley (143) at least has a chance to stick. Braxton Berrios (210) seems cut from New England wide receiver central casting. No surprise if he sticks and finds a way to help – though don’t expect early returns.
Every year we ask if the Patriots could have done more, but this team annually picks at the end of Round 1. You have to develop when you pick where they do, and to their credit, they do. The big question will be whether they could have used the Michel pick for needed defensive help.
Day 1: The Patriots kicked off the night with Isaiah Wynn who played left tackle exceptionally well at Georgia last season and may stick at tackle for the Patriots despite being undersized and looking more like a guard. He allowed only five pressures on 330 attempts in pass protection and he finished with the No. 3 grade in the nation as a run blocker at 91.0. Wynn has three years of strong grading, both at guard and tackle, and he adds positional flexibility to the New England offensive line. They went back to Georgia to take Wynn’s teammate, Sony Michel, who adds a quick-cutting back with receiving potential to the offense. He ranked sixth in the draft class with an elusive rating of 95.1 last season, and despite seeing only 80 targets in the passing game in his career, Michel’s quickness should be a nice fit for New England’s scheme.
Day 2: The Patriots spent most of Day 2 trading down, but they did make one selection as they traded back up to get Duke Dawson. He allowed a passer rating of only 41.0 when lined up in the slot last year, eighth-best in the nation, after allowing a rating of only 64.6 (38th) in 2016. Given the value of slot defenders in today’s NFL, Dawson fills an important need for the Patriots’ defense.
Day 3: Ja’Whaun Bentley is a downhill thumper who posted the nation’s top grade against the run at 95.0 while ranking fourth in the draft class with a run-stop percentage of 13.3. He has work to do in coverage, and may be limited to early downs at the next level. Braxton Berrios ranked eighth among receivers in the draft class with 680 yards gained from the slot. Danny Etling posted a career-high 78.9 overall grade in 2017.
The Patriots did a lot of moving up and down this draft, and ended up with nine selections. They had two in the first round and used the first of those on Georgia tackle Isaiah Wynn. He is short to be a left tackle, but he’s a good player. They then took Georgia runner Sony Michel with their other first-round pick. He is perfect for their system. Both Georgia players do come with injury concerns. They traded up in the second round to take Florida corner Duke Dawson, which was probably a little high for him. After that, they addressed linebacker need and then took Miami receiver Braxton Berrios in the sixth to play the slot.
The Patriots kept making trades, pushing some of the picks to next year. That’s generally smart. The picks they did make weren’t slam dunks. Assuming Isaiah Wynn can play left tackle (he doesn’t have ideal height and many thought he’d be an NFL guard), that should be a good pick. The first-round selection of running back Sony Michel, ignoring some defensive needs there, was curious. The Patriots might be the best team in the league at identifying cheap running back talent and it seemed strange they’d invest a first-round pick in one. Cornerback Duke Dawson isn’t considered a can’t-miss NFL starter, but the Patriots needed cornerback depth. And the Patriots previously traded picks for veterans like Danny Shelton and offensive tackle Trent Brown, which helps. Bill Belichick’s moves could pay off down the line, but it’s hard to get excited now.
Instead of using their considerable early-round draft capital to find the next Tom Brady (which, by the way, may never exist, and couldn’t be found in this imperfect class of rookie QBs), the Patriots decided to replenish the talent around the actual Tom Brady, who is coming off an MVP season, which many seemed to forget this offseason. Brady’s departure—whenever it comes—will force a drastic resetting of this franchise one way or another. Instead of investing valuable draft picks on guesses for how to minimize that discomfort, New England spend those picks on players who can help collect more Super Bowls right now.
With Isaiah Wynn, the situation at offensive tackle becomes less direr. And this selection was amplified by the Day 2 trade for gigantic 49ers right tackle Trent Brown, which could allow Wynn to slide to left guard, where his body type is better suited. That would give the Patriots an alternative to re-upping inconsistent pass protector Joe Thuney in 2020. Sony Michel, Wynn’s teammate at Georgia, offers dimension to the stable ground game that free-agent signee Jeremy Hill couldn’t be trusted to provide.
Cornerback Duke Dawson is a more traditional slot cover guy, ending the experiments of guys like Patrick Chung and Eric Rowe playing slightly out of position inside. Bill Belichick traded away the rest of New England’s second, third-and fourth-round picks—usually he gets overzealously lauded for this, but not here. The grade below has nothing to do with the trades and everything to do with a once-again Super Bowl ready franchise having the wisdom to build around its legendary MVP QB rather than taking guesses at how to one day replace him.
Their evaluation always requires a deeper dive, though Bill Belichick did fill several needs (even if he’d cringe at that framing). Isaiah Wynn, assuming he can handle an NFL tackle’s responsibilities despite projections he’d fit better at guard, could take over for Nate Solder. RB Sony Michel is far more explosive than Dion Lewis was. Second-round CB Duke Dawson eases the Malcolm Butler divorce. The Pats also swung a deal for San Francisco RT Trent Brown, who’s started 26 games over the past two seasons, and picked up Chicago’s second-round pick in 2019. The head scratcher was the decision not to take a quarterback who could develop behind Tom Brady ... unless LSU’s Danny Etling surprises on a Brady-esque level.
There’s not many sub-6-foot-3 tackles in the NFL. But Wynn’s length and athleticism allowed him to excel at the position with the Bulldogs, and there’s no reason to think he can’t be a solid player there in the NFL. He also plays with a nasty streak. Just another four-year, high-character player for Bill Belichick. His college teammate, running back Michel, will join him in Foxboro. Michel has the versatility to be a star in the Patriots’ system, working as a receiver and slashing through defenses as a runner. On Day 2, the Patriots made only one pick, but moved down a couple of times to get fourth-round picks and Chicago’s 2019 second-round pick. They also swapped third- and fifth-round picks for 49ers right tackle Trenton Brown. They did select Dawson, a slot corner and trouble-maker for receivers, trading away a fourth-round pick to Tampa Bay to select him. He’ll contribute right away. New England traded out of the fourth round to pick up a 2019 third-round pick. Bentley and Sam were picks the Patriots needed to make to aid the second level of their defense. Berrios was the perfect New England pick on Day 3. He’s a quick slot receiver who will fight for passes from Tom Brady. Picking Etling in the seventh round based on his physical traits made sense, though his college resume was not spectacular.
The trade Trent Brown and the Wynn pick gives the Patriots options to replace Nate Solder at left tackle. Michel, Dawson and Berrios are built like the three veterans they lost in Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Danny Amendola. Bentley and Sam help them hedge their bets with Dont’a Hightower. They also got their developmental, efficient QB to sit behind Tom Brady, a mild surprise in Etling.
The Patriots are always a difficult team to assign post-draft “grades” because they view the draft differently than other teams, using their picks as bait to acquire proven veterans and trading down to collect more chances to hit. They take this approach because they understand the NFL draft is a low-probability, luck-driven event. RT Trent Brown, NT Danny Shelton, KR Cordarrelle Patterson, LB Marquis Flowers, and CB Jason McCourty must all be included in the Pats’ draft class because they were acquired for 2018 picks. New England also landed the Bears’ 2019 second-round pick and the Lions’ 2019 third-rounder in trades down. The Pats still solved their left tackle need by selecting Wynn, who allowed just five QB pressures in 15 games at the highest level of college football last year, and added playmaking ability via Michel. Dawson should push for slot corner snaps right away. My favorite late-round stab was Berrios, a twitchy slot prospect with punt return value who will compete to replace Danny Amendola.
With all that in mind, which grade would you assign the Patriots' draft class?
How would you grade the Patriots' 2018 draft?
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