The New England Patriots’ 2017 draft was known for two things: the lack of first- and second-round picks and the class of four. The team executed a lot of trades in the offseason, picking up Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, Kony Ealy and James O’Shaughnessy while another late-rounder went to the Detroit Lions in the Kyle Van Noy trade at the 2016 trade deadline. New England also lost a fourth-round pick in Deflategate, and got a fourth back from the New Orleans Saints in the Cooks deal.
The Patriots opened the draft holding the 72nd, 96th, 131st overall picks through four rounds. The ended up only taking three players, although there was some moving up and down on the boards to get there. After an exciting free agency period that saw them add Stephon Gilmore and Lawrence Guy, among others, the Patriots really didn’t do much in the draft because there were so few roster spots available.
No. 83: Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State, Grade: D
The Patriots would move down from No. 72 to No. 83. Rumor had it they were locked in on Indiana guard Dan Feeney before the Los Angeles Chargers ultimately selected him at No. 71 overall. The Patriots would execute a trade back to No. 83 before taking Youngstown State edge rusher Derek Rivers.
Rivers was an intriguing small-school prospect who tested extremely well and had dominant numbers despite playing at the FCS level. He figured to be part of the Patriots edge rush total for at least the 2017-21 seasons, but ultimately it never happened.
An ACL tear in joint practices with the Houston Texans his rookie year would set the tone for what would become a disappointing pick. With the injury happening in a critical point of his career, he just never recovered the same level of athleticism and explosion he had pre-injury and would be at the bottom of the roster for the rest of his New England career.
Rivers would play three-plus seasons with the Patriots, tallying up 2.5 sacks and six total pressures as a bottom-of-the-depth-chart player. In subsequent seasons, the Patriots would draft Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, and Ronnie Perkins to fill the same role they had in mind for Rivers. He signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Houston Texans this offseason.
The reason I didn’t give this pick a failing grade is because, for a mid-round pick, Rivers actually provided some marginal defensive value. It was a high-upside gamble pick that didn’t work because of injuries.
No. 85: Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy, Grade: F
After trading down from No. 72 to No. 83, the Patriots would instantly make another draft-day trade by moving up from No. 96 to No. 85. The Patriots would go on to select Troy offensive tackle Antonio Garcia. Garcia ultimately never saw the field with the Patriots, although it was a non-football illness that ultimately ended Garcia’s career before it started. After missing the first week of camp without any notice, the team announced that Garcia developed blood clots in his lungs. The treatment ultimately would cause Garcia to lose weight and ultimately not able to work himself back into football shape again. He was released before his second year with the Patriots and claimed by the New York Jets.
This is another pick where the present-day value was excellent but circumstances out of the team’s control prevented his career from ever beginning. However, I have to give a failing grade because it’s a bottom-line business and Garcia never played a meaningful down in the NFL. I liked the fit had he stayed healthy. The team has since spent three mid-to-late-round picks at the tackle position, taking Yodny Cajuste in 2019, Justin Herron in 2020, and William Sherman in 2021.
No. 131: Deatrich Wise Jr., DL, Arkansas, Grade: B
Wise is the only hit from this small draft class, but he has slowly worked his way from the bottom to near the top of the depth chart on the defensive line the past four seasons. Wise entered New England as a long and lanky defensive end who had some room to add weight before transitioning to more of a two-gapping style. While that was happening, there were some inconsistencies in his play but he eventually worked his way through them.
So far in his career, Wise has produced 14 sacks, 56 QB hits, a forced fumble, and even had a fumble recovery for a touchdown last season against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Patriots rewarded Wise by re-signing him a four-year, $22 million contract this offseason with the expectation of being one of the top early down defensive ends. Wise has developed into one of the leaders on the defensive line as one of the most tenured players at the position.
I gave this pick a B instead of an A because Wise more or less played to expectations over his rookie deal. You can argue an A grade because he played well enough to get a solid second contract with the team, but I wanted to reserve that grade for someone who overwhelmingly exceeded expectations and Wise more or less was just slightly above average in that regard. It will be interesting to see how he functions in a prominent role in 2021.
No. 211: Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA, Grade: None
Conor McDermott, who is not related to the author of this article, got dinged in the draft because of one really bad game against the first overall pick of his class, Josh Rosen’s incompetence at quarterback, and his own physical limitations. McDermott was a developmental tackle who the team took in the sixth round and gave prominent snaps in his first preseason. The team tried stashing him on the practice squad, only to see him get snatched by the Buffalo Bills on waivers. McDermott has bounced around the AFC East his entire career, most recently appearing for the Jets last season. He is currently a free agent after serving out his rookie contract.
I didn’t give this pick a grade because sixth-round picks typically end up on the practice squad or out of the league by Year 3, with Tom Brady being the obvious exception.
GPA: 1.3 (D)
The Patriots gambled on the upside for smaller school prospects in Rivers and Garcia, but both were never able to get any footing in New England, Rivers suffered a really bad knee injury in the second week of preseason in a joint practice and was never the same player coming back. Garcia would suffer a medical condition that put him so far behind in development that he did not recover either. Wise has developed into an early-down rotational defensive end who may see a bigger role in his fifth year with the team, as the only relevant player left in this draft class.
The failure to develop Garcia and Rivers ended up creating a domino effect in future years, as the team has drafted a player at their respective positions in the past three drafts. Those create opportunity costs where the team could have addressed a different position in that range. While the team didn’t have much draft capital that year, only one contributor out of three picks in the Top 4 rounds is not
Notable Undrafted Free Agents:
- DL Adam Butler: Butler was a rotational interior linemen who was able to leverage his height, athleticism, and length to be a disruptive option in the pass rush. He didn’t offer a lot of early down value against the run, but you’ll take a rotational pass rusher for an UDFA.
- TE Jacob Hollister: Hollister would make the initial opening day roster, but was seldom used in New England. He’s bounced around in the NFL, seeing some time with the Seattle Seahawks as the No. 2 tight end.
- LB Harvey Langi: Langi was a development linebacker prospect who caught the Patriots attention after testing well on his Pro Day. A life-threatening car accident his rookie year should put his career on hold, but he was able to bounce back last year and placed some meaningful snaps with the Jets. The Patriots brought him back into the fold this offseason and he could compete for a spot on the linebacker depth chart in the preseason.