Now that we are more than a week removed from the draft, you have probably seen a million things people have written about it and the players the New England Patriots selected. I, however, wanted to add some things that have been kicking around in my head ever since. So without further ado, here are four leftover thoughts on the Patriots’ draft weekend.
New England traded back in the first round, but that was to fill in the gap between the 23rd and 87th overall picks, so that move was easy to predict. What was not easy to predict was that the Patriots would not trade back again in the draft, and instead move up the board multiple times. They would, in fact, trade up four times without trading back again. They also traded a pick in next year’s draft as part of the deal to get Dalton Keene, something that Bill Belichick has never before done on draft day. Lastly, the Patriots did not pick up any extra selections in 2021.
These moves do not seem strange on their own, but when you put them all together, can be seen as quite surprising. Belichick has traded for a future pick every year since 2015, excluding 2017, when he traded a first for Brandin Cooks a month before the draft. The Patriots have also frequently traded up to get players — there are many good examples like Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, and there bad ones like when they traded up to draft Antonio Garcia, and the Detroit Lions used the Patriots’ pick to select Kenny Golladay.
So, while it doesn’t necessarily mean that the players they drafted will be any good, the Patriots did specifically target those players. Even when they traded back, the word was they felt they could get the same player with the 37th pick, and, if that person was Kyle Dugger, they did just that.
Positions of need
Many people had the Patriots’ top needs entering the draft as quarterback and wide receiver. They didn’t draft a player at either one of those positions, so New England clearly had a different opinion on them. Whatever the fans and media think about those two spots, the Patriots are clearly comfortable, at least for now, with the talent they currently have. They did, however, take two tight ends, three linebackers, and three offensive linemen.
These were positions that I thought needed some depth, and the team clearly agreed. With the losses suffered over the offseason — Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins departed in free agency, Duron Harmon was traded to Detroit — linebacker and safety made perfect sense. The tight end position was an embarrassment last season, so that one might have been the biggest need for the Patriots. The offensive line, however, is one that people may not have realized was such a big need.
When we take a closer look at it, it becomes pretty clear why the team thought differently. David Andrews suffered blood clots in his lungs last season, and, while he has been cleared to come back, there is no telling how his body will respond once he gets back to football. Then there’s the guard spot. Joe Thuney is under the one-year franchise tag, and Shaq Mason did not play up to his usual standards last year. Now, Mason was hurt so that could be why he struggled, and the Patriots are working on a contract extension for Thuney, but there are definitely question marks there.
Then, at the tackle spot, you have Marcus Cannon and Isaiah Wynn. Cannon struggled at times last season and Wynn had a good half-year but has been hurt in both his first two seasons in the NFL — he has yet to prove he can be the long-term answer at left tackle. There is certainly some optimism along the line this year, as everyone should be coming back healthy, but, there are also a ton of questions that need to be answered there as well.
The Patriots obviously felt better about their quarterback and wide receiver situations than most people thought they did, but they did address other spots of serious need in the draft — positions that, when you take a closer look, were in much bigger need of an upgrade than both QB and WR.
The Patriots have had an undrafted rookie make the team for 16 years in a row, so it is a good bet that at least one of the 15 players they picked up after the draft eventually ends up making the team. What stuck out to me was the talent that some of the players they picked up possessed:
- QB Ja’Mar Smith: Smith, a quarterback from Louisiana Tech, had some absolutely electric film. He was also inconsistent and made some terrible plays, of course, but the athleticism that he possesses, combined with the arm talent that he has, is still something rare. If the Patriots can coach him up, he could be a solid backup, or even more, in the NFL.
- WR Jeff Thomas: Thomas is a wide receiver out of Miami and another guy that has a ton of talent. A real burner that the Patriots have been lacking for quite a few years, he has had a number of off-field issues, being suspended multiple times, and even being kicked off the team. However, if he can keep his head screwed on straight, he could contribute in New England as well.
- DL Nick Coe: A defensive lineman from Auburn, Coe is another skilled guy with a little bit of a checkered past. However, he has the ability to play inside and out, and could be a rotational guy on the D-line this year, similar to Byron Cowart before he got hurt during his 2019 rookie season.
- WR Will Hastings: Jarrett Stidham’s slot receiver at Auburn, Hastings joined the school as a walk on... as a kicker. No need to adjust your glasses, you read that correct, he was a kicker, an onside kick specialist to be exact, before eventually moving to wide receiver. He also holds the record for the 10-yard sprint and pro agility drill (5-10-5 shuttle) at Auburn.
Will any of these guys have an impact on the team this year? It’s obviously too early to tell that, but it is still fun to be excited about the undrafted rookies coming into the Patriots’ system this year. In 2019, the player people were most excited about was an undersized tight end from Texas who did not end up making any kind of impact. Things should definitely be a little different with the UDFA class this year.
Betting on athleticism
So many times in the past, the Patriots have gone with the guys who were smart players over the super athletes. The example I will use is Jordan Richards: his nickname at Stanford was “Coach” because he could tell you what everyone was supposed to be doing on every defensive play. The problem was, he couldn’t play defense that well, and he wasn’t a great athlete. This year, New England again took a chance on a few guys that people had some questions about, but they went for a few athletic freaks as well.
Kyle Dugger is the clearest example of that. A Division-II kid who will have to take a big leap to play against NFL-caliber talent, but one whose athleticism is at or near the top of all defensive backs in this class. Josh Uche, meanwhile, is another example of a great athlete that can come in and bring some real versatility from Day One. Are there questions about those picks? Of course, there always are, but I like the fact that, for this year at least, the Patriots decided to take a swing on athleticism. Hopefully it wll pay off.
That is all for now, but I had to get those final few things about the draft out, as they’ve been rattling around in my head for a week or so. This is going to be the longest offseason of our lives, but hopefully, when it ends, there will be some young talent that we can all get excited about.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
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