It was an NFL draft weekend unlike any other around the league. In New England, it was nothing short of surreal. With unexpected picks, guys being taken rounds earlier than the experts thought, supposed areas of need being ignored, butt tons of trades and controversy. In other words, business as usual. A few random observations:
The Pats went for immediate help in Rounds 2-5, and depth plus size after that.
Safety Kyle Dugger, linebacker Josh Uche, edge defender Anfernee Jennings should all be rotational players at the very least from Day One. Tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene and kicker Justin Rohrwasser will all be starters. From there they went with three interior offensive linemen and a linebacker, beginning with Uche's Michigan teammate Mike Onwenu, who's 344 pounds. Even with David Andrews returning and one of the best guard tandems in the league with Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney, they continue to use these later rounds to develop their next potential starters a season or two before they need them.
The draft grade crowd seems to think they did well.
Take it for what it's worth, but the general reaction seems to be that they get decent, not spectacular grades. Pro Football Focus and NFL.com gave them a B, CBS Sports and Yahoo give them a C+. The consensus is that the reached a few times, such as taking Rohrwasser, whose existence nobody seemed to be aware of, in the fifth. And I'll add that sometimes these "reaches" don't work, but when they do, they can yield outstanding returns on the investment. For example, I was in a bar filled with Patriots draft nerds the night they took Tavon Wilson with the 48th overall pick, and there was literally not one of us who had ever heard his name or could find him in a draft preview magazine. And he didn't make 80 tackles in his four seasons here. But in 2009 they supposedly reached for Sebastian Vollmer at 58, and he anchored their O-line for seven seasons and a championship. It's a risk/reward thing and it takes years to know if your wager paid off.
The analytics geeks are particularly high on Uche.
Josh Uche and the New England Patriots are one of the perfect prospect-team marriages we saw. He fits the mold of the Patriots’ scheme. As PFF’s Ben Linsey said, “Getting those players who can win as pass rushers lined up on the edge, as well as off-ball linebackers who can fill gaps against the run and do what they’re asked to in coverage, has been at the backbone of New England’s defense (one of the best groups in the NFL) for years.”
GM Nike was a very, very busy Good Boy.
The Patriots went into Thursday with 12 picks. They ended up making 10 selections, only one of whom, Jennings at 87th overall, coming with a pick that originally belonged to them. It's a long tradtion around here for the team that has had the least amount of draft capital in the league for 20 years to make deals to increase their value, like Dwight at the Dunder-Mifflin Garage Sale.
And yes, I admit, sometimes they end up with a bag of miracle legumes. Nike will probably just need one walk today and should spend the rest of the day sleeping in his crate.
We've finally gotten to the end of the return on Jimmy Garoppolo.
The most hotly debated, controversial and divisive trade for a backup quarterback from a DII school with six quarters of total career experience is finally over. The Jimmy G trade brought back the 43rd pick in the 2018 draft. That pick was traded for two more and began to sprout tendrils and roots and offshoots like an invasive species of plant that takes over a whole ecosystem. I would try to go through all the machinations of the more than 10 trades, but I'd be risking an epileptic seizure like that time I watched Anime on a 4K system. Suffice to say that the last picks were Keene and Wake Forest guard Justin Herron, whom they took at No. 195, a pick they got from Denver in exchange from Duke Dawson, who came with one of the earlier trades. If that makes sense. Anyway, ultimately Garoppolo yielded them Jarrett Stidham, Joejuan Williams, Damien Harris, Yodney Cajuste, Keene and Herron. As well as Brian Hoyer. Never, ever forget that Cleveland never offered a first rounder, much less several. Knock of the revisionist history.
Belichick is happy with Jarrett Stidham.
I went into the draft surprised by how many people had raging draft boners for them to move up into the top of the first to grab one of the top four quarterbacks. And I'll add that I believe that Josh McDaniels would've sold his soul to get Justin Herbert, but a human soul is only worth 30 points on Jimmy Johnson's old Draft Value Chart, so it only would've gotten them up to No. 13. I had them maybe taking a mid-round flyer on Georgia's Jake Fromm (and subjecting us to a billion terrible State Farm dad jokes on sports radio) as a developmental player. But Fromm's lack of arm talent dropped him all the way to Buffalo with the 167th pick. The fact is, scouts saw a huge drop off after those first four QBs. There was no Lamar Jackson sitting at the end of the first and beyond. Green Bay took Jordan Love at 26 to give Aaron Rodgers a backup/someone to resent. No other QB went again until Jalen Hurts at 53. Then not another until Jacob Eason at 122. If Belichick thought any of them would be a better option than Stidham, he had ample opportunities to grab one. He passed because Stidham is his quarterback and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne of Brady.
There are current and former scouts who believe that if Stidham had been in this draft class, he'd have been one of the five best quarterbacks. And that if he had been able to stay at Baylor, instead of having to transfer thanks to their sexual abuse scandal, he'd have been up there with Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. And that the QB who led Auburn to 56 points in the first half of their final bowl game, is closer to who he is than the guy who struggled with coaching turmoil all season. They finally did add J'Mar Smith as an UDFA, but the job is all Studham's (not a typo).
Belichick is happy with his wideouts.
There were 35 wide receivers taken, none by New England. The Pats signed UDFAs Will Hastings, Isaiah Zuber and Sean Riley. But other than that, the depth chart remains the same. Last year, when Belichick used his first ever first rounder on N'Keal Harry, signed Jakobi Meyers and traded his second for Mohamed Sanu, was investment enough. And a bit of an outlier. This remains an organization whose core philosophy is that WR is an overvalued position. And that quarterback's make receivers, not the other way around. Even if that belief system caused them to lose Brady to the sexy allure of throwing to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Belichick's staff is confident they can win with what they have.
Like with all political issues in 2020, this Rohrwasser controversy is bringing out the worst sort of hypocrisy.
I can promise you that inside the Patriots organization they are weapons grade pissed off to be dealing with the issue of a rookie kicker sporting a tattoo of a conservative group of mostly pro-2nd Amendment former military and police. And were it any other year and any other franchise, it would probably blow over in an afternoon. But that is not our reality in 2020.