With all due respect to the hardworking men and women doing the yeomen’s work of scouting and analyzing 21 and 22-year-old football players for a potential career with the team that’s been historically successful for literally as long as some of these prospects have been alive (PSSSSST: I’m referring to the New England Patriots), sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
A Day 3 pick in the draft isn’t really supposed to trip the radar. It’s a depth pick at best, usually, and a camp body pick at worst. It’s definitely not usually supposed to produce a starter, or a Super Bowl MVP or a multiple-time Super Bowl MVP or....you get the idea. You’re USUALLY not going to pick up a crucial player in the later rounds. As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell venerably put it in the heyday of Grantland “.....a drunk blackjack player hits on 16 against a five and wins sometimes, but it’s not an optimal strategy”.
And yet, out of PFF’s 8 best “Late-round Draft Steals of the PFF Era”, the New England Patriots have 25% of them. Both of whom got (clears throat) PAAAAIIIIIIIID, one of whom by the Patriots, and one of whom got paid by the Patriots, Detroit Division.
Those of you that think Pro Football Focus grades are inferior to Watching The Tape have probably already X’ed out of this browser window, so, for those of you that enjoy this sort of thing, the (air quotes) “PFF Era”, starts in 2015, according to them. Admittedly that’s a very small window, and in the Patriots’ case, it includes the 2017 draft class in which New England happily traded their first-round pick (among others) and only made 4 total picks all weekend. And suffice to say, none of the 2017 draft class are the ones PFF is raving about as steals now, Day 3 picks or otherwise.
All right, let’s get to it. You’ve almost certainly already guessed who the two Patriots players PFF decided Falcon-Punched their expectations and became some of the best values of the last 5 years of football.
Starting with the man who, among other things, did this!
Yup, that’d be 2-time Super Bowl champion Trey Flowers, who got this glowing retrospective review from the PFF gang:
101. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – ARKANSAS EDGE TREY FLOWERS (2015)
Reason He Fell: Flowers simply wasn’t the athlete teams often covet on the edge early. His 4.93 40, combined with a 4.4 short shuttle and 7.34 3-cone, were downright bad numbers. Bleacher Report noted that his “lack of speed is an issue, and it shows up often.” Sometimes good tape can’t overcome the NFL’s preference for athletic measurables.
PFF’s Take at the Time: We were firm believers in Flowers and had him going 21st in PFF’s first-ever mock draft. He earned a 91.2 overall grade his final season at Arkansas with a 90.9 run defense grade and 83.1 as a pass-rusher. His 61 pressures were the fifth-most of any player in the country back in 2014.
What We Learned: Since Day 1, Flowers was the type of edge prospect we’ve believed in more than most. He didn’t have the elite athletic profile, but he had an elite production profile and a bonafide “way to win” at the NFL level with his blend of power and hand usage. If you want to be a player who consistently wins off the edge, athleticism is necessary, but that was never Flowers’ game. His game was more on the bull-rush, and we’ve seen that translate to the NFL.
It’s funny cause if any NFL team deemed Flowers worthy of a first-round pick, as Pro Football Focus has him listed above in retrospect, New England would’ve never even had a snowball’s chance at having him play in blue and silver, much less being able to pick Trey after passing on picks like Tyler Lockett, Ali Marpet, and instead drafting that Stanford safety that....you know what, nevermind.
Moving right along, let’s give some props to the man that earned the coveted eight-figure Belichick extension in 2018, right guard Shaq Mason!
Again, here’s the PFF retrospective:
131. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – GEORGIA TECH IOL SHAQ MASON (2015)
Reason He Fell: This one is obvious: Mason was the definition of a project coming out of Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. He fired off into a cut block most plays and only had 242 pass-blocking snaps his final season.
PFF’s Take at the Time: Mason didn’t make either the first or second round of PFF’s mock drafts that year because we had no clue what to do with an offensive lineman coming from that offense. Mason graded out exceptionally, though, with a 90.3 run-blocking grade and 72.4 pass-blocking grade in 2014.
What We Learned: Mason is such a unique case that I’m not sure there’s much to glean. If there’s anything, it’s that offensive line coaching is so important at the NFL level. There’s little chance that Mason becomes the Pro Bowl-level guard he is today without being paired with a line coach like Dante Scarnecchia.
If that “Pro-Bowl-Level” comment rang a bell, it’s cause Shaq was a PFF All-Pro as recently as 2018, beating out the venerable and possibly/probably-Hall-of-Fame Cowboys guard Zack Martin, so, yeah, they’re on board with how good Mason is at the peak of his powers.
Equip this ammo in your quiver when someone at the bar (when they reopen and you can attend responsibly, obviously) says Bill Belichick can’t draft and Tom Brady carried him to all those Super Bowls.