Going into the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Patriots were sitting pretty with two picks on opening night, but they had the most question marks too as they continue to rebuild the roster on the fly while dealing with the inevitable task of replacing Tom Brady in the next couple years. Do they take a quarterback first, maybe even move up to get one? Or do they sit tight, pick who they like, and select a quarterback on the second or third day? Well, we got our answer when the screen in Dallas proclaimed “the pick is in” at 23.
The Patriots drafted for the here and now, and the future. Isaiah Wynn, the left tackle selected with the 23rd overall pick, was ranked as high as 11th by some draft experts, and he is known to be technically sound, plays to the whistle, and he packs quite the punch in his small (for NFL tackles) 6’2, 306 pound frame. There are some who are worried he’ll have to move inside , and that is why NFL personnel people look for taller tackles. His arm length is average, but I don’t think being slightly under 6’3 will matter. He is going to play from Day One and will be another excellent pick.
With the second pick, New England threw a curveball that most people didn’t see coming, but if they looked back at Bill Belichick’s drafting history, this was not that big of a surprise. With the 31st selection, the Patriots took Sony Michel, who is a stud running back out of Georgia who just happens to be the former college roommate of….you guessed it- Isaiah Wynn. In four years at Georgia, Michel ran the ball 590 times for 3,613 yards, 33 touchdowns, and he averaged 6.1 yards per carry (7.9 ypc in ‘17), and he also had 64 catches for 654 yards and six touchdowns. It is important to remember that he split time with Nick Chubb (Chubb had 67 more carries), and he was still able to produce excellent numbers. Michel isn’t just an outside runner/home run threat either. He is strong running between the tackles, and his one cut style goes very well with his ridiculously quick feet. Michel replaces Dion Lewis, and he might be a better player- right now.
Third round pick Duke Dawson will come in and compete with Jonathan Jones for the nickel corner spot, and he could also be used on outside receivers depending on matchups. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam, two linebackers, were taken as developmental picks in the 5th and 6th round respectively, and then they scooped up a player that fits their mold for slot receiver/punt returner in Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios. Berrios will have the chance to pick the brain of slot specialists like Julian Edelman, Jordan Matthews, and Josh McDaniels, the man who runs the show on offense.
The seventh and final round of the draft brought three guys that could possibly make the roster, but they’ll most likely be roster bubble players that could possibly clear waivers to be on the practice squad. LSU quarterback Danny Etling has good size (6’3, 220) and has improved every year in college, but he has a long way to go before being an NFL quarterback, if it even happens at all. The second pick of the seventh is very intriguing. Defensive back Keion Crossman was the best athlete in the draft. Yes, he played at a small school in Western Carolina, but the NFL has seen plenty of terrific athletes come out of small schools, get coached up, and turn into at least a contributive player. The last pick of the draft was tight end Ryan Izzo of Florida State. Izzo is more of a blocking tight end, although he has shown up in big games against good teams (three catches for 46 yards versus Alabama, the most they allowed to a tight end all year.)
So for all the rumors and madness that led up to the draft, the Patriots stood pat early, made their picks, and gave their star quarterback one necessity and one toy. It was like Christmas morning for Brady, and fans should feel the same way because they got two gifts. Then they did what they always do- accumulate assets for future drafts while finding the players THEY like to develop, not who the supposed experts like. It looks like they found three starters in the early rounds, plus Berrios and Crossman, in my opinion, have a chance to contribute right away on special teams.
Before the draft New England was also active, as they always are, in the player trade market, and they moved picks to acquire players they believe can help in 2018. Here are those players they traded other ’18 picks for:
RT Trent Brown- 32 career games, 28 starts.
NT Danny Shelton- 46 career games, 42 starts
KR/WR Cordarrelle Patterson- 80 career games, 24 starts; 2013 and 2016 1st Team All Pro KR
LB Marquis Flowers- 48 career games, three starts.
CB Jason McCourty- 122 career games, 104 starts.
Those are five legit NFL players, with three of them being legit starters (Brown, Shelton, McCourty), a special teams ace that is improving rapidly at linebacker, and a KR/WR who is an All-Pro returner with ability in the passing game that the Patriots plan on taking advantage of. The other positive- four of the five are still 25 and under, playing under their rookie deal. That is becoming commonplace in the NFL, and one theory is that coaches want players who are still young enough to grow but have had a good amount of NFL practices under their belt.
Practice time has taken a hit since the last bargaining agreement, so getting a young player at the end of his rookie deal is worth a 3rd round pick if he is a starter because he’s going to buy you time to develop Isaiah Wynn or Antonio Garcia, assuming those two can beat out the talented and GIGANTIC Trent Brown. The same goes for Danny Shelton; the Patriots needed to replace Alan Branch, the effective version from 2016. Shelton brings that stoutness at the nose and tackle position that clearly plagued the Patriots in 2017.
First they traded picks for players, then traded players for picks (goodbye, Brandin Cooks), and they get to the draft and ship out all the picks they simply don’t want, acquiring a 2019 2nd Round pick from the Bears, a 2019 3rd Round pick from the Lions, and a 2019 7th Round pick from the Eagles. New England will most likely receive two 3rd Round compensatory picks for the free agents they lost in ’18, so that gives them a 1st, two 2nds, and four 3rds in the first three rounds in ’19. That would give them the ability to go up and get a quarterback, or allow them to target their quarterback, take him when they want, and continue their re-tooling with the plethora of picks they acquired.
When one steps back and takes a look at what they have done as a whole, it is impressive. Fans and media were losing it when the Patriots were allowing free agents to leave that had helped win Super Bowls, and the blinders came on. Those guys got PAID, and that happens to great teams. It is the teams that know how to withstand these types of losses that continue to succeed, and the Patriots have shown that they are second to none in that category. The masterpiece they have put together this offseason isn’t a complete product yet, but as of today, the roster is considerably better than it was on February 4th.
-Christopher Simoneau is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @chris_simoneau.