Over New England coach Bill Belichick’s 19 drafts in Foxboro, the coach has shown tendencies for picking certain types of players. (You can see some of these tendencies develop in our annual Round-By-Round Review.) One of his go-to’s that manages to frustrate mock drafters, of course, is when Belichick avoids picking for need and goes with the best player available.
The Patriots need an offensive tackle, you say? They pick a guy most projected as a guard. They have to get a pass-rusher? Not in this draft. A quarterback in Round One or Two? No sirree bob. Instead, New England ended up with nine players with chances to contribute this year while trading for a veteran offensive lineman and future picks. These transactions can get frustrating for media and fans because when you spend enough time on something – and many have been hard at NFL draft mocks since February – you might start to think you have it all figured out. This weekend reminds us that no one knows anything.
One narrative of this draft I never understood? That Belichick is looking to retire soon. Listen, he could, but what would he do? I just can’t figure out what he likes more than football. He seems to love all of it: the strategy, the history, and the actual coaching/scouting aspect (hence his visits to colleges and interactions with young players each spring). Plus, he gets to go to work with his sons every day.
Yes, we all know BB enjoys fishing off of Great Point in a boat called VII Rings. But you know what he’d like even more? Fishing off Great Point in a boat called VIII Rings. So maybe let’s table the retirement talk for now.
For a look back on last week’s pre-draft “That Guy” column, please click here. Overall, the predictions did not go well, but (self-horn-toot alert) Christian Sam did show up as a Special Teams Guy. Also, Braxton Berrios made our “That Guy” (Senior Bowl Edition) as a Seventh-Round Slot Receiver, while Keion Crossen got a mention in Part I of our Combine Snubs Series. Eh. Not terrible. Kind of like hitting on your last few blackjack hands of a long night: you don’t come out ahead, but you rap things up on a positive note.
The Picks: Here are the 2018 Patriots draft picks by round (and overall number):
Round One (23): Isaiah Wynn (6-3, 313), Georgia OL
Round One (31): Sony Michel (5-11, 214), Georgia RB
Round Two (56): Duke Dawson (5-11, 197), Florida CB
Round Five (143): Ja’whaun Bentley (6-2, 260), Purdue ILB
Round Six (178): Christian Sam (6-2, 244), Arizona State LB
Round Six (210): Braxton Berrios (5-9, 184), Miami WR
Round Seven (219): Danny Etling (6-3, 222), LSU QB
Round Seven (243): Keion Crossen (5-9, 178), Western Carolina CB
Round Seven (250): Ryan Izzo (6-5, 256), Florida State TE
The Trades (aka The Part You Can Skip): It seems that each year we need a bulletin board, a bucket of pushpins, and about 200 yards of string to keep track of New England’s draft day trades. (ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss did a great job diagramming the trades in this photo.) Before the draft began on Day Two, the Patriots swapped their third-rounder (95 overall) for San Francisco offensive tackle Trent Brown and a Niners fifth-rounder (143: Bentley). During draft action on Day Two, the Patriots traded a second-rounder (43 overall) to Detroit for a second-rounder (51) and fourth-rounder (117). They turned around pick 51 to the Bears for a 2018 fourth-rounder (105) and 2019 second-rounder. New England traded their 63rd (second round) and 117th (fourth) overall picks to the Buccaneers to move up to 56 in the second round (Dawson). Day Two involved more quick-fire exchanges than a “Gilmore Girls” screenplay.
But wait … there’s more! On Day Three, the Patriots started the day early by giving Cleveland their fourth-round pick (105) for another fourth-rounder (114) and a sixth-rounder (178: Sam). They swapped a sixth-rounder (198) with Kansas City for two sevenths (233 and 243, the latter: Crossen). They traded 233 to the Eagles for 250 (Izzo) and a 2019 seventh.
Now for a look at the categories New England hit on, including some of the names I’d put there in other pre-draft columns.
The Solid First-Round Guys: If the NFL Draft is Christmas morning, the Patriots are those relatives who always get you socks. Like, durable, dependable socks, the kind where you look at your feet several Christmases later and realize, hey, these have really held up well over the years. No shiny gizmo he, Isaiah Wynn, one of the best O-linemen in the SEC, served as a Georgia team captain and switched from left guard to left tackle his senior year, managing to earn All-SEC First Team honors. (Nice highlight reel of Wynn vs. Alabama here, with a nifty look at number 77 blocking for number 1 Michel at the 1:24 mark.)
After a successful season at left tackle, Senior Bowl coaches slipped him back inside to guard for their practice week. Many have written him off of the tackle spot due to his size, noting his relatively short arms (33.38 inches) and hands (8.5 inches). However, these measurements compare with long-time Patriots left tackle Matt Light (33.5 and 9.0, respectively). Should provide some entertaining armchair scouting at camp this summer, when we all forget what just happened and become experts again.
O-line is a rare first-round pick for New England, as they’ve only taken Logan Mankins (2005) and Nate Solder (2010) during Belichick’s tenure. (Not a lot of folks got too excited about those guys, either.) Rarer still? Running back. Laurence Maroney (2006) remained the only back to get the call from the Patriots in Round One until Thursday, when Sony Michel picked up his phone.
You want an entertaining pick? You want an example of “best talent available?” Here you go. New England already has solid running back depth on their roster, including three potential starters. Right now, though, especially with the departure of Dion Lewis in free agency, Michel looks like the most dynamic Foxboro back. In the Rose Bowl, he ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns vs. Oklahoma (on – hold up – 11 carries? Yeesh) and caught four passes for 41 yards and a TD in the Bulldogs’ 54-48 OT win. (See Michel highlights from that game here.) In the national championship, he rushed 14 times for 98 yards, a ganh-inducing average of 7.0 yards per carry against Alabama, whose defense allows about as much room to run as a veal pen. On the season, Michel rushed for 16 touchdowns, totaling 1,227 yards on 156 carries, a ludicrous 7.9 yard average. Also noteworthy: Michel has gotten praise for his pass-blocking ability and is viewed as an underutilized weapon in the passing game (nine catches for 96 yards and one TD last year, 64 for 621 and six TDs in his career).
One final word on these Bulldogs: with Georgia alums David Andrews and Malcolm Mitchell as bellwethers, Wynn and Michel seem on track to figure out New England’s offense in a short amount of time and contribute as rookies.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Harrison Phillips, Stanford DL; Taven Bryan, Florida DL; Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State TE
The Second-Round Defensive Back: I have to admit, the Duke Dawson pick took me by surprise, forcing me to create this category. This subset of picked Patriots is actually nothing new. New England has taken plenty of D-backs in Round Two, as Eugene Wilson (2003), Terence Wheatley (2008), Patrick Chung and Darius Butler (2009), Ras-I Dowling (2011), Tavon Wilson (2012), Jordan Richards (2015), and Cyrus Jones (2016) prove. Dawson made All-SEC First Team for the Gators, with 34 tackles, four interceptions, and nine pass break-ups. He showed decent speed (4.46 40-yard dash) and solid strength (15 bench reps) at the NFL Combine. He had three interception returns for touchdowns in his career. Has experience at safety, nickel, and corner, the type of carnival-child-we’re-amazed-by-yet-also-concerned-for flexibility that Belichick appreciates. (For a highlight reel with hype music chock-full of racial epithets, consider turning the sound down and clicking here.)
Defensive back looked like a well-stocked position for the Patriots, making this an unexpected pick. Still, Dawson’s ability to exceed at the highest levels in college made him too tantalizing to overlook. (I’m assuming: again, I saw this coming about as well as Wile E. Coyote sees the locomotive.)
The Special Teams Guys: The Patriots picked linebackers Ja’whaun Bentley and Christian Sam on Day Three, at spots where they typically pick up special teamers (2008 fifth-rounder Matthew Slater, 2012 sixth-rounder Nate Ebner). Unlike the career ST guys, though, these linebackers have potential to contribute regularly on defense. Bentley got overlooked by most pundits (me included), in part because he got snubbed by the combine and seemed to lack the speed that we figured the Patriots would seek out at the position (he ran a decent 4.75 40 at his pro day, back when the reported 260-pounder weighed 246). He did show decent quickness (7.12-second 3-cone) and notable strength (31 bench reps), which feeds into his personal description as a “thumper” (and we’re not talking about Bambi’s buddy). Bentley earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention with 89 tackles (9.5 for loss), three pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, and an interception return for a touchdown. He played off the line at Purdue and showed some prowess as a defensive lineman during Senior Bowl week. Again: flexibility. (The phrase “blown up by Ja’whaun Bentley” occurs repeatedly in this highlight reel.)
Sam also got Honorable Mention in his conference (Pac-12) with a wait-let-me-double-check-that 127 total tackles in 2017, with 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two passes defensed, and one forced fumble. Sam had similar athletic measureables to Bentley at the combine, with a 4.75 40-yard dash, 7.03-second 3-cone, and 28 bench reps. (If you want to see a linebacker work his way through traffic with the determination of a bike messenger on commission, these highlights are for you.) Sam may have fallen down draft charts after missing his junior year with an injury. Most interesting to see how these players get used in coverage and vs. the run. More football fodder for us couch scouts.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Kenny Young, UCLA LB; Fred Warner, BYU LB; Sam (woohoo!)
The Alabama Guy: No freaking Alabama guys picked in this draft? What the hell is going on?
(Sorry. Had to vent. Please, continue.)
Seventh- Sixth-Round Slot Receiver: Okay, fine, I’m off by a round. But so close. When we mentioned Berrios for this category (aka the Julian Edelman Pick) in our Senior Bowl edition of “That Guy,” it had very little to do with his receiving skills. Berrios had only one catch in that game, but he returned five punts for 70 yards and looked like a water bug among slow, giant bullfrogs. Berrios ran a faster-than-expected 4.44-second 40 at his pro day, adding a quick 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle and an Edelmanesque (Edelman-adjacent?) 6.72-second 3-cone. In 2017, Berrios got All-ACC honors as both a receiver (55 receptions, 679 yards, nine touchdowns) and punt returner (15.9-yard avg.). He also received the Jim Tatum Award as the ACC’s top scholar athlete.
It’s a crowded field at receiver for the Patriots, but as a punt returner, they have a guy to consider. (For a highlight reel somehow devoid of punt returns yet loaded with impressive catches, click here.)
Previously Mentioned Guys: Berrios (yay!); Jeff Badet, Oklahoma
The Backup Quarterback: Here’s where I act like I know a few things about Danny Etling. Despite an oddly feverish call for the Patriots to draft a quarterback high, Bill and Co. seemed content to pick a late-rounder and see how he develops. Seems they chose a smartypants: Etling was named SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2017 with a 3.72 GPA. He completed 165 of 275 passes (60 percent) for 2,463 yards, 16 touchdowns, and two interceptions. He’s only the fifth QB in LSU history with back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons. (Looking for a highlight reel that will tell you nothing about Etling’s ability to read a defense? Here you go.)
Fun Fact: The Patriots drafted LSU QB Rohan Davey in the fourth round in 2002.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech; Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
The 3-Cone Guy: Another category that can be referred to as The Edelman Pick, based on the receiver’s 6.62-second 3-cone performance in 2009. Not sure how much exposure Crossen got at Western Carolina, but the cornerback stuck out at his pro day with a 6.67 3-cone that would have been the fourth-quickest among combine corners. His 4.33-second 40 also would have been fourth-fastest among CBs. (A 39.5-inch vertical jump? Also not too shabby). For the Catamounts, Crossen totaled 67 tackles and seven pass break-ups. He shows tons of potential as a special-teamer and backup corner. (This highlight reel demonstrates Crossen’s ability to press and get to the pass before his opponents do.)
Previously Mentioned Guys: Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma CB
The Backup Tight End: Just about everyone figured New England would bring in a rookie tight end to try to develop; most (like me) thought they’d try to get one in a higher round. Enter Izzo, who forewent his senior year to enter the draft after catching 20 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. Athletically, he’s not going to burn down any gyms, with a 4.86-second 40 and a 7.15 3-cone drill. Looking at this highlight reel, Izzo shows prowess and toughness as a blocker, both on-line and out of the backfield. Interesting to see if he can stick around as a prospect, especially given the fact that New England already has a handful of blocking tight ends on their depth chart.
Previously Mentioned Guys: Ian Thomas, Indiana; Will Dissly, Washington; Andrew Vollert, Weber State
Our annual “Who’s The FA? UDFA!” column on New England’s undrafted rookie free agents will post once signings get confirmed. In the meantime, let’s all try to cut down on some of the hysteria, shall we? I understand criticism of picks; it’s a fan’s right to complain, a reporter’s job to critique, and human instinct to say things like, “Well, here’s what I would have done instead.” Makes sense. What fails to make sense is the seemingly prevalent idea that the New England Patriots have lost any and all ability to evaluate talent and stick to a plan. I won’t link to them, but I’ve read accusations that Belichick is actively sabotaging the team to spite Kraft because the owner made him trade Jimmy Garoppolo. I’ve also heard that Belichick intentionally obfuscated the return on the Garoppolo pick because he doesn’t want to look bad. (These two points contradict each other, for what it’s worth.) But really, it’s not like the coach has ever shown concern over what other people think. Do these seem like the actions of a man who wants the media to love him, or do you think he just wants to stick to the business of coaching football?
The sad aspect of this for me is, had I foreseen the direction sports media has headed, I could have come out with “Is Belichick losing his touch?” or “Does Tom Brady hate his job?” columns years ago and proclaim myself a Voice Of The People Unafraid To Go Against Convention. Hell of a lot less research to do that way. (Flashback to last year’s column “Why Is Ron Borges In Phoenix?”)
My statement to those who see the Patriots as underachievers headed toward their dynastic demise: one day, your doomsaying will come true. This team will devolve into an approximation of what it looked like before 2001. When that happens, you’ll reminisce about 17 winning seasons in a row (and counting) and wonder why you didn’t settle in and enjoy it more.
Relax, it’s almost summer. See you in Foxboro.
Chris Warner looks forward to getting to a training camp practice this year. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @cwarn89