Predicting New England’s draft picks provides more setbacks than predicting spring weather (Hello there, 70 degrees! Nice to see you, sleet!). However, forecasting what types of players they usually pick has gotten easier.
In our previous, pre-draft “That Guy” piece, we touched on several different kinds of athletes the Patriots tend to bring into the fold. They remained true to form, as we’ll see below.
Just to review, here are New England’s picks by round (and overall number).
Round Two (60): CB/PR Cyrus Jones (5-10, 197), Alabama
Round Three (78): OL Joe Thuney (6-5, 305), N.C. State
Round Three ( 91): QB Jacoby Brissett (6-4, 231), N.C. State
Round Three (96): DL Vincent Valentine (6-4, 329), Nebraska
Round Four (112): WR Malcolm Mitchell (6-0, 198), Georgia
Round Six (208): OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill (6-2, 208), Eastern Illinois
Round Six (214): ILB Elandon Roberts (6-0, 235), Houston
Round Six (221): OL Ted Karras (6-3, 307), Illinois
Round Seven (225): WR Devin Lucien (6-2, 195), Arizona State
Trades: Ah, yes. On draft day, Coach Bill Belichick tends to go the full Monty Hall, wheeling and dealing in his search for the best value. New England entered the draft with 11 picks and wound up using nine, at one point trading up to the fourth round by swapping picks 196, 204, and 250 for Miami’s 147. They later used that to get an extra pick in 2017 (a Seattle fourth-rounder).
So, what kinds of players did they end up with?
The Alabama Guy: Our lone correct hit of the day came in the second round with Jones, who will join fellow Tide alum Dont’a Hightower on New England’s defense (and if Hightower could start as a rookie, expect Jones to contribute this year, too). Jones lacks height but has bulk and quickness (a head-turning 6.71-second 3-cone at the combine). He nabbed two interceptions last fall to go along with eight pass break-ups and 37 tackles. Where he’ll make his mark, though, is on special teams, as he averaged 12.6 yards per punt return in 2015, bringing four punts home for dinner.*
*Still working on a catchphrase for a return TD. It’s not going well.
The Offensive Line Double-Dip: Last year, rookies Shaq Mason and Tré Jackson started several games on the interior; the year before, Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming shored up the line. This season, Coach Belichick and returning OL coach/wizard Dante Scarnecchia hope to continue the trend with their two-fer of Thuney and Karras.
Thuney projects as a guard, but his speed (4.95 40) and upper-body strength (28 bench reps of 225 pounds) allow him some flexibility. Most importantly, he made All-ACC First Team last year as a left tackle after playing left guard in 2014 and right tackle, right guard, and left tackle in 2013. The man has more versatility than a Swiss Army knife with a Humanities doctorate.
Karras, who may or may not be able to knock out a horse, should compete for a guard spot. Though he lacks quickness (his 5.34 40 and 8.15 3-cone were timed indoors – on a couch! Right?), his 32 bench reps would have come in fourth overall at the NFL Combine, third for offensive linemen. Karras made All-Big Ten Third Team in 2015, filling in briefly at center as a senior. He started at right guard for 43 games in his career .
The Backup Quarterback: Well, this came as a surprise. With 2014 second-rounder Jimmy Garoppolo in the fold, we figured New England would wait until the later rounds to nab a third-string QB, and that they’d try to address an area of need (namely, anything but a rookie play-caller). Brissett became the number two third-round quarterback picked during Belichick’s tenure (Kevin O’Connell got the call in 2008). He’s an interesting prospect, with prototypical size (6-4, 231) and notable quickness (7.17 3-cone). Last year, he passed for 2,662 yards and 20 touchdowns vs. six interceptions. Had a 60 percent completion rate.
This is a “friend of Bill” pick, as both former Pats offensive coordinator Charlies Weis and former Pats coach Bill Parcells have mentored Brissett over the years. Interesting to see how this all works out.
The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: New England usually pulls this off in the second round, with Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, Tavon Wilson in 2012, and Jordan Richards in 2015 as examples of Day Three prospects getting Day Two treatment. The highest rating for Valentine that we could find (NFLDraftScout.com) measured him as a late seventh-rounder. Speaking of measurements, apparently 329-pound D-linemen do not grow on trees (because surely they would break the branches). And men of such size who submit 5.19-second 40-yard dashes and 29-inch vertical leaps grow more rarely still.
Valentine could have crossed into another category as “The Injured Guy” after playing only 10 games last season as a junior due to an ankle injury. He notched a mere seven tackles in 2015. As a sophomore in 2014, he tallied 45 tackles (6.5 for loss) including three sacks, and forced a fumble.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The Patriots took a shot on Mitchell in the fourth round, and it feels like their best chance for pass-catcher production out of a draftee since a certain seventh-rounder in 2009. (Back then, I dismissed Julian Edelman in part due to his name. Even worse, that year my favorite pick was Tyrone McKenzie. I had more misfires than a wet musket. You can read all of them here.)
Mitchell has decent size and good speed (4.45 40). His 3-cone is fine at 6.94 seconds – he certainly seems to get open on film. As a senior, he led the run-heavy Bulldogs with 58 receptions, gaining 865 yards and scoring five touchdowns. He’s also got intangibles, earning numerous honors in community service, such as the 2015 AllState AFCA Good Works Award and the 2016 Community Spirit Award.
Plus: 10.5-inch hands! Those are, like, Goliath birdeater tarantula hands.
The Sixth-Round Small School Defender: No, Eastern Illinois isn’t as small as Concordia (Zach Moore, 2014) or Central Arkansas (Markell Carter, 2011), but as a 1-AA school in the Ohio Valley Conference, it’s not exactly Ohio State. The Pats got themselves a nifty athlete in Grugier-Hill, whose pro day performance should have been included in our Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em column. The strong safety ran a 4.45-second 40, a 4.20-second 20-yard shuttle, and a 6.89-second 3-cone drill. All three times would have made top five for safeties at the NFL Combine.
For the Panthers, Grugier-Hill made All-Ohio Valley Conference First Team with 62 tackles (a noteworthy 14.5 for loss) 5.5 sacks, and one interception.
The Special Teams Guy: Looks like Roberts can join Matthew Slater (2008) and Nate Ebner (2012) as athletes drafted in later rounds for their potential special teams prowess. At 235 pounds, Roberts weighs less than most Patriots linebackers, but the kid has skills: his 4.60 40 would have tied for the fifth-best time among combine linebackers, while his 25 bench reps would have been top three at the position. Best of all, he had more stops than a five-page telegram, leading the Cougars with 142 total tackles in 2015 (the next guy had 50 fewer). His whopping 88 unassisted tackles led the nation. He had 19 for loss, with six sacks. Throw in five pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, and an interception, and you’ve got yourself a defensive “Mark Twain Live!” (In other words, a real one-man show.)
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy(?): Besides Edelman, the Pats have drafted a couple of Jeremys – Ebert (2012) and Gallon (2014) – to fill this role. We’re shoehorning Lucien into this category like Cinderella’s stepsisters’ feet: his college (and now pro) teammate D. J. Foster gets the glass slipper here. In fact, we said as much in this year’s first “That Guy” column after Foster’s combine performance. Lucien has solid numbers from his pro day (4.49 40, 6.93 3-cone), but his production at ASU says much more. He led the Sun Devils in receptions (66) and yardage (1,075), while tying for the team lead in receiving TDs (eight). He averaged 16.3 yards per catch.
Lucien graduated from UCLA and transferred to ASU. Before Super Bowl 49 in Arizona, Belichick praised ASU coach Todd Graham, which may have helped Lucien get drafted (and Foster get a call as a rookie free agent).
That sums it up for this year’s selections. Later this week, please keep an eye out for our annual undrafted free agent piece “Who’s The FA? UDFA!”