Home / NFL / Patriots draft grades . . . a much-needed talent restock

Patriots draft grades . . . a much-needed talent restock

I got a lot of “What the hell are they dooooiiinnggggg?!?!?!” directed at me in person and on social media the last few days. I gotta say, I just don’t see the 2018 Patriots draft as the 9-car pileup that many fans seem to.

There are many types of Patriots fans but two in particular are the most vocal. The first is perpetually on the lookout for slights and negativity and — when triggered — treats the perceived offender as if he started giggling at Ma’s funeral mass. Like this fella.  

The other would spend a day at the beach complaining about all the sand. He’s confused negativity with objectivity and — as a result — is an unpleasant person with whom to exchange ideas. This gent may be one of those.  

Heard a lot from the second group over the weekend.

In my view, when it comes to the draft, you have to defer to the people who are doing the hiring. Even if we cover the team or passionately follow it like it’s our job, the team did the research and the interviews and the workouts and understand their current employees a lot better than we do.

Because the Patriots are habitually good, I defer to their logic and try to figure out why what they did made sense to them. I presume their moves have sound logic. I think they’ve more than earned that. (Malcolm Butler notwithstanding . . . ) 

I can’t pretend to know which individual players are better than others. And, while it sucks to wait for them to pick and then have them trade down, I get the approach. If the board at that moment looks blah, the next guy you like is going to be on the board later and somebody wants to give you extra picks to select right away, do it. Do it every time.

With the caveat of not overestimating the guy you currently have. For instance, Isaiah Wynn might not go until later because he’s less than ideal height? Fine. But he’s better than Joe Thuney at left guard and will be better than La’Adrian Waddle at left tackle so screw it, take him.

Going into the draft, I thought they needed a huge injection of young talent.

Last year, the only draftee who played for them was the 131st pick, Deatrich Wise. The other two draftees that made the team were third-rounders Antonio Garcia and Derek Rivers. One guy went to Troy, the other went to Youngstown.

In 2016 their first pick came at 60 and it was Cyrus Jones, who struggled as a rookie and was injured in 2017. Among the other picks, Joe Thuney is an OK guard at this point and Malcolm Mitchell is a talented but injury-prone receiver. Stretch it back to 2016 and they got three really good players — Malcolm Brown, Shaq Mason and Trey Flowers.

So three-to-five frontline players out of the last three Aprils. They’d been using draft picks as spackle rather than support beams. This year, the first three picks were SEC players, the fourth was from the Big Ten, then it went Pac-12, ACC, SEC, small-school ACC.

Even though they made a boatload of trades, they took a fleet of players. And they have ammo to take another mass. As it currently stands, they could have as many as a dozen picks next year with five in the top three rounds (including compensatory picks).

Not only was this roster getting fallow from 30 through 53, it’s very best players are past or approaching 30 (Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Donta Hightower) or approaching free agency (Flowers and Mason).  

Asked Saturday night about weighing the option to trade or select, VP of Player Personnel Nick Caserio said, “We might say, ‘You know what, [trading] doesn’t really make a lot of sense right now. We’re just going to focus on the pick.’ So, you don’t go into it and say, ‘Well, we’re going to try and stockpile.’ I mean, this is kind of the tale of a couple of years. We go from having basically no picks — like last year, what did we pick? Four players . . . ? This year we picked [nine] and then we have some other assets that we’ve accumulated here that we have X amount of picks for next year.”

With few exceptions, I can’t get on the, “Why didn’t they take X player here?” train.  I thought Rashaan Evans, the linebacker Tennessee jumped ahead of the Patriots to grab, looked really good and filled a need. He was gone. Should the Patriots have made that deal? I’ll tell you in a couple of years.

As for the guys they did draft, this is my read and kneejerk review on each one.

23. Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia. You and I may have had the same reaction when Isaiah “Stubby” Wynn was selected. How the hell can a guy who’s under 6-foot-3 excel at left tackle? Then I watched about 10 plays and said, “Ohhhh . . . I get it now.” He just muzzles pass-rushers and is a Hummer as a run-blocker. He may not be able to change light bulbs as easily as Nate Solder did but if he is the left tackle of the future, he’ll be fine. The shortest LT in the league currently is Charles Leno Jr., a seventh-rounder from Boise in 2015 who’s 6-foot-3. The addition of Trent Brown, a former seventh-rounder who reported sloppy to the Niners, is incidental to Wynn’s presence. And if Wynn isn’t a tackle he will be an upgrade over Thuney, who got walked back into Tom Brady’s kitchen way too often in 2017 or the conceivable replacement for Shaq Mason if Mason flees in free agency. . Grade: A-

31. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia. It’s the Patriots own fault that there was initial pushback on Michel. They’re the ones that proved running back-by-committee worked just fine and that you could find usable players other teams left at the curb. But most of those players were one-dimensional. LeGarrette Blount meant run. James White meant pass. You can go on. Defenses could respond accordingly with personnel. Dion Lewis and Danny Woodhead were the best dual-threat guys they’ve had in recent years. Replacing Lewis with Michel could be an upgrade (I refuse to slander Dion Lewis) because he’s bigger and a more versatile pass-catcher. When he’s on the field as a running back and motions out to the slot, for instance, the linebacker is meat. And the Patriots offense is consumed with creating matchup issues for defenses. . Grade: B.

56. Duke Dawson, CB, Florida. I don’t think corner was a big need. Stephon Gilmore has one side locked down. Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty will man the other side. Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones can spar over the slot spot. Disappointing as Cyrus has been, Jonathan’s the other side of the coin – capable with upside. This feels like a “best player on the board” selection of a kid who the Patriots had considered taking at 43 before trading out. He can also play in the kicking game which – as the kicking game is gradually phased out by the league — becomes incrementally less important by the year. Because it’s not a yawning need even it’s a good player . . .  Grade: C-plus.

143. Ja’whaun Bentley, ILB, Purdue. I love the size — 6-2 and 260. Elandon Roberts is currently the Patriots go-to thumper and he’s 6-0, 235. Obviously, Bentley is going to get dusted frequently if he’s on the field and matched with a running back in coverage but part of the embarrassment of Super Bowl 52 was the Patriots inability to take down LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. If Bentley overachieves to an absurd level, maybe he’s a poor man’s Donta Hightower. Has a lot of experience calling defense and being the lead communicator.  Grade: A-

178. Christian Sam, OLB, Arizona State. At 6-2, 244, Sam ran a 4.75 at the Combine. I don’t know if sixth-round talent is the way to go in addressing the simple lack of speed, smarts and athleticism that rears its head at linebacker when Donta Hightower isn’t out there. The need was there. And it was a big one. We’ll see if Sam fills it or if the need remains. Grade: C.

210. Braxton Berrios, Slot WR, Miami. The Patriots are deep at receiver but not at slot receiver. It’s Julian Edelman and then . . . that’s it. And Jules is 32 next month. Betting against Edelman coming back strong in 2018 would be foolish. But recognizing the time is right to find a replacement for one of the most important spots in the offense is smart. Berrios is going to require years of improvement to get where Edelman is. He’s not nearly as fast, quick or strong as Edelman. Huge curve. Grade: C.

219. Danny Etling, QB, LSU. Camp arm. Need ‘em, so that’s fine, but he is not a very good thrower in terms of fundamentals or velocityGrade: D.

243. Keion Crossen, CB, Western Carolina. The epitome of taking a flier. “The way this guy kind of got on the radar screen initially was he worked out at the Wake Forest Pro Day, so that’s where he showed up and tested extremely well . . . He showed up on a big stage just from a workout perspective. It really blew it out of the water. He’s undersized, just from a size standpoint, but he’s athletic. He runs well, he’s explosive, he’s real competitive, probably more of a perimeter corner,” said Caserio.

250. Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State. He’s 6-5, 256 and barely under five seconds in the 40 (4.94). The kid loves to block, though, and — with Cam Fleming gone as the extra tackle in the running game — maybe Izzo can fill that role while also adding some formational diversity when he’s on the field.

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