The NFL Draft is in the rear-view mirror and a few comparatively quiet weeks are ahead of us. That said, the league’s news cycle rarely sleeps. In order to clean out the notebook from last week as it relates to the New England Patriots in particular, please enjoy this week’s edition of our Sunday column.
Today, our Sunday Patriots Notes will take a look back at draft trades past and present, offensive leadership, charity basketball, and more
A closer look at New England’s trades in the 2023 draft. The Patriots were involved in three total trades over the draft’s three days. They moved back in the first round, dropping from No. 14 to No. 17 in an exchange with the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Day 3, they added trades with the New York Jets (up) and Las Vegas Raiders (down).
How the players involved in those transactions will turn out remains to be seen. What we can look at already, however, is the moves themselves: How did the Patriots fare when compared to the five popular charting models (including the one from Pats Pulpit’s own Rich Hill).
What the following table does, is compare the value New England gave up in its three moves to what it received. The results are quite interesting:
On three of the five charts — Chase Stuart, Over The Cap and Pro Football Focus — the Patriots came away with excess value; that should not be surprising given that they traded down twice versus only one trade-up. Nonetheless, the Jimmy Johnson and Rich Hill charts work against the club.
So, what’s going on? To get a better understanding, one has to know the fundamental difference between those two sets of charts.
The first (Stuart/OTC/PFF) is taking a broader look at the value of a draft pick based on several factors such as finances and expected performance; the second (Johnson/Hill) evaluates how teams valued picks in the past and how much they are worth on the market. In the most basic terms, it is “what a pick truly is worth” versus “what teams think a pick is worth.”
That difference is crucial when it comes to reading the charts above, and something Rich Hill himself pointed out recently:
Win Trade Chart, Win Value Chart: Well-received trades by everyone
Win Trade, Lose Value: Indicates FO with outdated way of thinking
Lose Trade, Win Value: Might’ve given up more than needed, but good result
Lose Both: Yikes
From that perspective, New England did fairly well: the team came out ahead on all three of the advanced charts despite losing on the market charts. The teams they were dealing with might look at the results differently, especially if they still use the Johnson chart as their basis, but the Patriots can feel good about what those three trades netted them from a value perspective.
The 2022 first-round trade-down and other moves are now complete. With the 2023 draft in the history books, so is the Cole Strange trade. You might remember that the Patriots moved down the board in the first round in 2022 and ended up picking the Chattanooga guard at No. 29 overall.
The Patriots’ trade partners, the Kansas City Chiefs, ended up with cornerback Trent McDuffie. New England, meanwhile, brought in four players through that trade and a subsequent move involving one of the picks originally held by the Chiefs: besides getting Cole Strange, they also added cornerback Jack Jones and quarterback Bailey Zappe last year, and third-round linebacker/safety Marte Mapu in 2023.
In addition, we now can also put names on some other trades made by the Patriots recently.
Trading running back Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams, for example, resulted not just in 2022 sixth-round pick Chasen Hines but now also fourth-round center Jake Andrews. The Stephon Gilmore trade with the Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, netted sixth-round wide receiver Kayshon Boutte.
Finally, the trade that sent tight end Jonnu Smith to Atlanta earlier this offseason: the seventh-round selection acquired via that move was reinvested in cornerback Isaiah Bolden.
New England added some impressive athletes in the draft. To paraphrase Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh: if you want an athletic team, you better draft athletic players. Well, Groh and company did just that.
As the following table shared by analyst Kent Lee Platte illustrates, the Patriots definitely invested in some intriguing athletes:
The Patriots’ first two selections steal the show.
First-round pick Christian Gonzalez posted a Relative Athletic Score of 9.95 in the pre-draft process, making him one of the most impressive athletes among this year’s crop of cornerbacks. Second-round defensive lineman Keion White, meanwhile, notched a 9.92 and is an elite athlete in his own right.
The Patriots’ penchant for strong athletes did not end there. Third-rounder Marte Mapu did not do any testing due to a pectoral injury, but his Senior Bowl tape speaks for itself; he too is an impressive player from that perspective. The same is true for other selections going all the way down to seventh-rounder Isaiah Bolden.
The only below-average athlete from an RAS point of view is sixth-rounder Kayshon Boutte. Nonetheless, gambling on him might be worth it: under different circumstances, he might have been a top-five wide receiver in this year’s class, and remains a high-upside player despite an inconsistent college career and disappointing testing results.
Bill O’Brien likes the leadership on offense. Speaking to the media on Day 2 of the draft, new Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien gave his take on the team’s leadership on the offensive side of the ball. While asked specifically about starting quarterback Mac Jones, he did not hesitate mentioning others as well (despite not actually naming any names).
“I think offensively, we’ve got some good leaders here,” O’Brien said. “Obviously, at the quarterback position, Mac has done a good job here in the offseason, coming in; he’s worked very hard. But I would say at every single position we have good leadership, and we also have younger players that have leadership qualities.
“And I’m not saying it just to say it. In the experience that I’ve had — which is only two weeks — with the players that have been in this offensive room — which is most of them — there are a lot of good guys that have a lot of leadership qualities. And when you have good guys like that that care about the team, and care about how things operate on a day-to-day basis, that’s a good thing.”
The Patriots started Phase 2 of their offseason workout program three days after O’Brien’s media availability, but it seems unlikely that the uptick in contact will have changed his opinion on the types of characters he is working with.
Mike Vrabel only ever tried to prove that he belonged. Former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, who was just voted into the club Hall of Fame, spoke with the media earlier this week about his accomplishment. He talked about his unique road to becoming a part-time tight end, and also touched on his mindset joining the team as a free agent in 2001 and leaving it as a three-time world champion eight years later.
“I tried to prove that I belong there,” he said. “I think every day, every week, I wanted to try to be there and be productive and know as many positions as I could and play special teams and embrace playing special teams. Learning from guys like Bill and learning the history of football from Ernie Adams, learning special teams from Brad Seely, watching Dante Scarnecchia coach and the passion and what he put into it.
“Obviously, the defensive coaches that we had Dean Pees, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Rob Ryan, Pepper Johnson, all these guys that we got to be associated with. It was fun coming to work. Obviously winning makes it fun, but it was something that we’re all better off for having spent time there.”
Wide receiver/Running back splits are worth taking a look at. Since the days of Kevin Faulk, the Bill Belichick-led Patriots have always valued multi-faceted receiving contributions and positional flexibility out of their running back corps. That will likely not change anytime soon, even with that role seemingly up for grabs at the moment.
Nonetheless, from an effectiveness perspective it might be better to scale back the responsibilities tied to the receiving back and instead increase the use of wide receivers:
There is a stark difference in sample size, but the numbers presented are still interesting. Whether or not this will be something teams will try to exploit in the future — and some are already experimenting — will be seen.
As far as the Patriots are concerned, they have never shied away from using their personnel in less-than-traditional roles. With Bill O’Brien now back in town, it would not be a surprise to see a continuation of that — one that might also include wide receivers such as Kendrick Bourne or Tyquan Thornton seeing semi-regular snaps lined up in the backfield.
Matthew Judon’s charity basketball game has a distinct Patriots flavor. Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon held his first ever charity basketball game at Emmanuel College in Boston on Saturday, and there were plenty of connections to his team both on and off the court:
Judon, and fellow Patriots Josh Uche, Mack Wilson, Jabrill Peppers, and Lynn Bowden all participated in the event as players. Meanwhile, quarterback Mac Jones, running back Rhamondre Stevenson, wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton, offensive tackle Trent Brown linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, and defensive backs Marcus Jones and Jalen Mills all watched from the bleachers.
The safe assumption is that all of them are also among the players participating in New England’s voluntary offseason workouts.
Setting up the week ahead. The Patriots are still in Phase 2 of their voluntary offseason workout program, and will remain there for two more weeks. With a majority of the roster in town, there is a chance for more media availability this coming week.
What we will definitely get is a schedule: the league is set to release it on Thursday, May 11. We already know New England’s 2023 opponents, and the team they will go up against in their Germany debut in November.