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2020 NFL draft: Patriots should try to get back into the second round

Related: What became of Patriots’ traded-away 2019 draft picks?

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The last time the New England Patriots ended a season earlier than the divisional playoff round, they went on to build the foundation for their second dynastic run: in the 2010 NFL draft, the Patriots selected defensive back Devin McCourty in the first round (27th overall) and tight end Rob Gronkowski in the second (42nd overall) — thus acquiring cornerstones who played key roles in helping New England win three of the last six Super Bowls.

One important aspect of that draft was the Patriots’ capital. After being awarded the maximum four compensatory picks, New England headed into draft weekend with 12 total selections — four of which on the first two days of the event: the Patriots owned the 22nd overall pick because of their early 2009 playoff exit, and also were in possession of three picks in round two (44th, 47th, 53rd) due to a pair of trades made during the previous draft.

Fast forward to 2020 and you find a similar scenario: the Patriots currently own eight picks, with four more expected to come their way through the NFL’s compensatory process — including two selections at the end of the third round. This, in turn, will give New England plenty of ammunition to again get impact players onto their roster. While finding the same success as in 2010 is unrealistic, the team has positioned itself well.

And yet, there is a major difference between the 2010 and 2020 drafts from the Patriots’ perspective: New England is expected to hold four picks on the first two days of the draft once more, but three of them will come near the bottom of the third round after the team traded away its second-round selection last year — the 55th overall pick as it turned out — to acquire veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons.

If current compensatory projections by Over The Cap hold up, New England will therefore enter late April’s event with the following capital on days one and two:

  • Round one: 23rd overall
  • Round three: 87th overall
  • Round three: 97th overall (compensatory)
  • Round three: 99th overall (compensatory)

Being in possession of three picks in round two compared to three picks in round three is quite the difference when looking at it through the lens of Rich Hill’s draft value chart: the Patriots entered the 2010 draft with 618 value points over the first two days; this year the team is expected to own only 367 points — a difference in value that is roughly worth the same as the 22nd overall selection in the draft (253 points).

The chances of coming away with two high-impact players as in 2010 are therefore noticeably lower from the Patriots’ perspective this year, especially when also comparing their capital through round three with Rich’s expected value chart:

via Rich Hill

As can be seen, the whole second round is roughly equivalent when it comes to expected value. However, there is a drop-off near the top of the third round that continues through where New England is currently expected to pick thrice. So, what does this mean for the team? Basically that it should try to get back into the second round, either by trading up from one of their third-round picks or by moving down from the 23rd overall selection.

Both will be possible if willing trade partners can be found. Judged by precedent, however, it seems more likely that the Patriots will be able to move down in round one by engaging with teams trying to get back into the action on the first day of the draft. New England did that twice in 2010 and still ended up with one of the best safeties of its generation: the team moved down from 22 to 24 and later to 27 before selecting McCourty.

Along the way, the Patriots picked up two additional selections — a fourth-round pick that would later turn into tight end Aaron Hernandez and a third-rounder that would become wide receiver Taylor Price — while also giving away a fourth round pick and still ending up with McCourty. Having considerable space to move back from the original 22nd overall selection while still making a first-round pick allowed the Patriots to do that.

The circumstances are obviously different in 2020, but New England could still end up with considerable capital by moving back in round one or even trading out of it altogether. The expected value calculations plus the fact that this year’s draft is expected to be a deep one with plenty of first-round talent possibly available early on day two would make this a good battle plan for a Patriots team that has never shied away from making a move when opportunity presented itself.