It’s been four years since the 2016 draft, which means most of the New England Patriots’ draft class was headed for free agency this year. Late-round picks will be graded on a generous curve and undrafted free agents will not count towards this regrade. I will also be grading trades based on the outcome of the draft picks that were traded, but I’ll only be covering trades down in the first four rounds of the draft.
Cyrus Jones: F (Worst Pick)
Jones was drafted to be the team’s next great slot cornerback and punt returner, but it never materialized. In addition to being unable to hold onto the ball on punt returns, Jones showed questionable decision making and struggled to stay with NFL receivers. A disastrous rookie year forced the Patriots to replace him at the punt returner position with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, followed by a preseason ACL injury in Year Two that sealed his fate with the team. After high hopes as a possible four-down contributor, Jones was cut by the team after his third preseason. Ironically, another SEC cornerback by the name of Jones, who was an undrafted free agent from the same year, would end up developing into the player Cyrus Jones was supposed to be: Jonathan Jones.
Decision to trade 61 for 78 and 112: A+
The Patriots would get this selection as part of the Chandler Jones trade to the Arizona Cardinals. After New England took Cyrus Jones 60th overall, the Saints traded up from 78 to 61 to select Vonn Bell from Ohio State, which netted the Patriots the 112th pick of the draft. The Patriots would go on to select guard Joe Thuney at 78 and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell at 112. Turning one draft pick into two key contributors for a Super Bowl-winning team is why I grade the trade so well.
Joe Thuney: A+ (Best Pick)
Thuney was one of the best interior O-line prospects in the 2016 draft due to elite athleticism and high football IQ. That earned him the starting left guard job at the beginning of training camp as a rookie, a role that he still holds to this day. While he struggled with the strength and speed of NFL defensive linemen early in his career, he has made steady progress every year and molded himself into a second-team All-Pro and a key cog on two championship teams. His best game might have been Super Bowl LIII, when he helped neutralize Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Thuney was scheduled to reach free agency, but the Patriots made the last-minute decision to apply the franchise tag and are working to keep him around on a long-term deal.
Jacoby Brissett: B-
The Patriots added Brissett in the draft as insurance in case Jimmy Garoppolo might get injured during Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. Brissett started the final two games that Brady was out and went 1-1 with a really good performance against the Houston Texans and an injury-plagued performance against the Buffalo Bills the following week. The following year, Brissett was traded for receiver Phillip Dorsett, a former first-round pick that had disappointed with the Colts. The Patriots would exact a little bit of value out of Dorsett in the 2019 postseason en route to a Super Bowl LIII title.
Vincent Valentine: D-
Valentine had trouble staying healthy, especially after a promising rookie year as a rotational defensive tackle. The reason he doesn’t get an F is because the expectation was a solid rotational piece and he has a couple solid plays in his career. The signature play of his Patriots tenure came in the 2016 AFC title game, when he stuffed DeAngelo Williams at the goal line after the Steelers had driven inside the Patriots’ 1-yard line. That set the tone for that particular set of downs as another negative run and an incomplete pass forced the Steelers to kick a 20-yard field goal and kept it a two-score game at the time.
Malcolm Mitchell: B
Mitchell is going to be a what-if pick because his knees couldn’t hold up due to the amount of injuries and toll they underwent in his playing career. When he was healthy, though, Mitchell was an X-Factor for the Patriots in the second half of the 2016 season and in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI. After looking like a fourth-round steal after his rookie year, another major knee injury would end his career before it ever really started. Given that Mitchell had severe long-term health concerns and he had a solid Super Bowl performance, I’m grading this pick on a curve.
Elandon Roberts: A
Most sixth-round picks don’t make rosters, but the Patriots were able to get a rotational linebacker and special teams player out of Roberts. Roberts is a terrific run defender and sound tackler, although he had his problems in coverage. Even with limited upside, his overall reliability was worth having. In 2019, he was able to play fullback in a pinch and will end up being known the last player to catch a Tom Brady touchdown pass in his Patriots tenure. Last week, Roberts eventually joined the Dolphins in free agency.
Ted Karras: B+
Karras was the top interior O-line backup for three years before stepping up as the starting center when blood clots ended David Andrews’ 2019 season. Karras held up when pressed into duty at center, starting all 17 games for the team. Like Roberts, he will play for the Dolphins in 2020.
Overall Grade: B
Cyrus Jones and Vincent Valentine busting hurt the overall draft grade, but the other players that stuck around were all excellent picks. Thuney has developed into a franchise cornerstone at left guard, which keeps the grade high, and the team got solid value out of a pair of sixth-round picks in Roberts and Karras. The contributions from those three players helped enable the team to capture its fifth and sixth Super Bowl titles.