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Enough Time Has Passed to Objectively Evaluate the 2019 Draft

Tennessee v Vanderbilt

The general rule for the NFL Draft is that you can’t judge how well a particular team did right away. These things take time. The pick that feels like a future first ballot Hall of Famer fades with time and the guy you thought would be fighting for a roster spot ends up becoming the franchise-changing transcendent talent with eyes the color of the sky in heaven, the bone structure of a the statue in a Greek temple and a genetically perfect family. So if you rush to judgment on these things, you do so at your peril.

I think 48 hours should just about do it. So let’s dive in.

–For starters, I’m not here simply to remind everyone I accurately predicted the Pats would take Joejuan Williams. Reminding everyone that I accurately predicted the Pats would take Joejuan Williams isn’t the thing you do when you’re a true expert on how this team built and maintains this dynasty. It would be beneath me. Just like it would if I worked into the conversation how I told you they’d take Dont’a Hightower, Nate Solder, Darius Butler, Brandon Spikes, Pat Chung, Dominique Easley, Duke Dawson, Aaron Murdnandez or any of the others. So I’m not going to mention that The Belichick Whisperer is was right again and that he and I have a psychic and emotional bond so powerful that if he said “Darcarys,” I’d start spitting fire at his enemies. Blogger. Author. Comic. Family man. Draft pundit without equal. But … Hero? That’s for others to decide. I’m not saying it.

–For as long as I’ve been doing this, the default setting of seemingly everyone else covering the Pats is that their biggest need was at wide receiver. And year after year when the team didn’t use a high pick on one, they’d lose their minds. (When I close my eyes, I can still hear the screaming.) And this year, it changed. Just as a reminder, I thought if ever there was a year it could, this might be it:

Most teams draft about 2.5 WRs for every one TE. … Well in 19 drafts the Patriots have taken just 16 WRs to 10 TEs. … Only three of their WR selections have been in the top 65. And they’ve never taken a wideout in the 1st round.

But as little as they value the position and treat it like the detailing on a car when they’d rather spend their money on filters and lube, I agree this is the year they need to address it. …

And I remind you like I do every draft: It’s not about field stretching and defenses’ tops being taken off. It’s about making the same reads as the quarterback, anticipating, getting open, running precise routes, pulling defenses’ tops down and motorboating them all the way to the Super Bowl.

And I’d say that description fits N’Keal Harry’s game as well as anything I’ve read. He’s a powerfully built, precision route runner who thrives going across the middle and back shoulder throws who will fight for every contested ball.

So why the change? Why take a wideout in Round 1 for the first time ever? I’ve got a theory and I credit my man Kerry Byrne of Cold, Hard Football Facts who has always been dead against the idea and has the data to back it up:

You should add a flashy wide receiver only when all the other pieces of a great team are in place. …  [Jerry] Rice was drafted in 1985 by the 18-1 defending champion 49ers, who annihilated Dan Marino and the Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. The best team in 49ers history.

And it took the Niners 10 years to get back to the level of offense that ’84 team had. Harry makes sense because the Pats are solid at places like QB, the O-line, the Front 7, the backfield and the secondary. So they can afford the luxury of working outside the numbers.

–For what it’s worth, all the national sites love the Patriots performance like you love Arya Stark right now.

NFL.com:

Day 1 grade: A
Day 2 grade: A-
Day 3 grade: A-
Overall grade: A

CBS Sports:

New England Patriots: A+
The Patriots nailed it again. Even though I didn’t love the Harry pick, he will be a producer. The rest of the draft I loved. Williams and third-round edge rusher Chase Winovich are vintage Patriots players. The only flaw: They took a punter in the fifth round.

I could go on, but I really only care what I think.

–Speaking of Winovich, Belichick has a thing for reducing large, Norse gods-looking men to puddles:

Holy smokes. Winovich and Hjalte Froholdt both look like Thor made a baby with Lagertha Lothbrok (I’ll need a moment … I’m back), and with one phone call he can turn them into me watching the Sarah McLaughlin song from “Toy Story 2.”

–Fun fact: Froholdt is just the second player from Denmark to get drafted into the league, after only Morten Andersen. It’s hard to think about the guy and not see a smaller Sebastian Vollmer, who came to the pros by way of the U. of Houston. The difference is Seabass was considered wildly overdrafted in the 2nd round, and ended up being as good a right tackle as their was in the league. They took Froholdt 118th. And while he’s just a depth guy with a lot of competition for a spot, I’m looking forward to seeing if they’ve found something. And next year, when they draft a guy from Lichtenstein or Monaco.

–Any time you take a quarterback, he’s obviously going to draw all the attention. No matter where you draft him. That position is like the cleavage of any team’s draft class. You can look up your own scouting reports on Jarrett Stidham. And your guess as to whether he’s the next Matt Cassel, who sticks around and has value on the trade market or the next Kevin O’Connell, who’s never heard from again, is as good as anyone else’s. I look at the now 11 QBs Belichick has drafted and, aside from them all being between 6’2″ and 6’5″, I’m damned if I can find a common trait. Late rounds, early rounds, big schools, small schools. My guess is they most value football IQ and arm accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws, but who knows? All we know for sure is that if Stidham lasts to the final year of his rookie deal, he’ll be traded for a 2nd round pick and get paid $40 million a year.

–I might take a run at sorting out the three dozen or so trades Belichick made. But the short answer is they started out with 12 picks and ended up making 10 while adding one for next year. The much more interesting part of the deals is how the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo for the 43rd pick of last year’s draft has worked out. Thanks to Belichick taking that pick to the teller’s window, asking them to make change, then spending the smaller bills on other other picks, pocketing the difference and throwing in some loose change, they effectively have turned Jimmy G into:

CB Duke Dawson (2018 3rd round)
LB Christian Sam (2018 6th round)
CB Joejuan Williams (2019 2nd round)
RB Damien Harris (2019 3rd round)
OL Yodney Cajuste (2019 3rd round)
QB Jarrett Stidham (2019 4th round) and
The Bears 2020 4th rounder

So far, not the worst return for a backup quarterback they couldn’t possibly afford to keep.

–I thought that if ever there was a year to turn against your entire belief system and draft for need, this was it. But not one tight end. Not even a Day 2 guy like Jace Sternberger of Texas A&M or Kahale Warring of Houston, whom they had several cracks at. I get they have their core philosophy and its served them pretty well so far. It’s just that as it stands, their best tight end on a tight end-heavy offense is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a thought I will repress until some other move happens. The Vikings took Irv Smith Jr. of Alabama, so there’s always the chance they are less interested in a 2-TE system with him opposite Kyle Rudolph than they are in getting younger at the position. This is a time of year the Patriots start filling in the mortar between the bricks of the castle, so stay tuned I guess.

–Belichick moved up in the 5th to take a punter. And Jake Bailey is a right footed punter, something they haven’t had in like 10 years. So he probably sees the league trending toward guys with a counter-clockwise spiral and wants to go back to a clockwise spiral. That is the most Belichickian move since he drafted Joe Cardona with the 166th pick just to long snap.

–I’m sure I’ll be diving into one or two of the other picks as the offseason rolls on. But at the same time, I’ve got to get started on being right about the 2020 draft. There are No Days Off for The Belichick Whisperer.