Good news for PATRIOTS fans. The team actually had a Draft this year picking 9 players. More good news. Little Bill traded around a bit, as is his way, and got a couple extra Picks for 2019 in the process. The question now is whether or not it’s enough, or is it a case of too little, too late. Sports empires are hard to sustain and this franchise looks like it might be fraying around the ages. So let’s have a look at what the team may have accomplished with their latest Draft effort.
At Pick 23 the team surprised a bunch of folks (not yours truly) with a talented, but often overlooked OT from Georgia, who has OG size from an NFL perspective; ISAIAH WYNN. Let’s get it out there right away… WYNN is 6’3/313. But before you write off his ability to possibly play LT in place of a long guy named SOLDER (VFA), go watch some tape of him from this past season where he toiled at LT. Then note that his 33 3/8″ arms are pretty close to the NFL “spec” of 34″. He shows excellent technique in his pass-pro and run blocking. He was at the Senior Bowl and was the best OL overall during practices. Then he left before the game and we found out it was because he needed surgery on a torn labrum that he suffered during the regular season. Some tough dude, in addition to talented. SOLDER and WYNN standing side by side might look like Mutt and Jeff, but don’t bet against him replacing SOLDER at LT as a Rookie. Unsung by many, but a very solid Pick.
At Pick 31, with their second first round pick they likely got the replacement, and then some, for DION LEWIS at RB, in SONY MICHEL/Georgia. The 5’11/220 MICHEL teamed with NICK CHUBB for the Bulldogs and was a team captain. He runs with urgency and perhaps subjects his body to excessive punishment with his refusal to go down on contact. Last season he averaged 7.9 ypc, and scored 16 TD. He clocked a 4.57/40 at the Combine, but looks faster than that in pads on the playing field. He is a natural pass catcher, with great moves in the open field after the catch. He is also a solid blocker in pass-pro which is an essential for a NE RB in protecting the Franchise/TOM BRADY. It will be a shock if he doesn’t see a lot of action and touches right away as a Rookie. Some higher priced vet RB is going to lose his roster spot to Michel in Training Camp/pre-season.
In Round 2, at Pick 56 the team took DUKE DAWSON/DB/Florida. Dawson is a feisty, 5’10/208 do-it-all defender who can play wherever they want/need him between CB/NB/S assignments. He’s a smart and confident athlete. In case you haven’t noticed an awful lot of DB are coming out of the Gators program and making a living at the NFL level in the past decade or so. His 4.50/40 is adequate for all their DB spots, given his FBI and perhaps cocky attitude. His overall play may be similar to the McCourty twins, now together in NE. He’s not the same guy as recently departed MALCOLM BUTLER, but he may be able to contribute as much to their secondary overall. Solid player and another useful Pick.
By now Belichick was in his trading back mode to accumulate extra Picks for now and later. The next Pick didn’t come until Round 5, Pick 143 when they took an ILB named Ja’WHAUN BENTLEY/Purdue. He’s a strong, stout guy ala HIGHTOWER, but with considerably less athleticism. He really stepped it up under the new Purdue coaching staff of HC JEFF BROHM in 2017, with 97 T, 11.5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PBU, 1 INT. He stands just under 6’2, and packs around 250 lbs. on his frame. The PATS LB group took quite a hit over the past two seasons and many of us felt they would add some draftees to the talent mix. BENTLEY was at the Senior Bowl and was a solid performer all week. He may also make a solid Special Teams player with his size, strength and 4.75/40-time. He may surprise some folks when Training Camp opens.
Their next Pick at 178 may be even more likely to make some waves this summer. He’s CHRISTIAN SAM/LB/Arizona State. He was a pretty highly thought of player after being a soph-starter in 2015. But he then spent the entire 2016 season out injured. He returned to his starting job in 2017 and had an outstanding season for departing HC TODD GRAHAM, helping the team post a 7-6 record after 2 straight losing seasons. SAM recorded 127 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 PBU, 1 INT to lead the Sun Devils He is 6’1/244, and when he learns to use his hands better to move and shuck people he may have starter potential as a pro. He has nice big 10″ hands, and decent length arms at 31 1/2″. He posted a 4.78/40 time at the Combine, but IMO he plays faster than that. He also looks like a guy who might be a very solid contributor on Special Teams. I like this guy’s playing style and athleticism, and see him as a very good value at the Pick.
I know a lot of Draftniks who shook their heads knowingly when the team tabbed BRAXTON BERRIOS/WR/RS/Miami(F) as their Pick at 210. BERRIOS is a little (5’9/186), do a bit of everything guy not unlike WES WELKER, DANNY AMENDOLA and JULIAN EDELMAN. He is small, tough and has decent hand size for his frame at 9 1/4″. He will be a small target for BRADY at his height and with only 28″ long arms. But BRADY is used to finding little receivers who run precise patterns. He looks like a natural slot receiver who will win with quickness and burst out of his cuts. I expect him to find multiple jobs once on the roster. He may also be a locker room favorite. He could also turn into a serious Punt Returner like those names mentioned above. In 2017 he averaged 15.9 yards per return in 13 chances. Could also carve out a niche as a new fan favorite before his Rookie season is over. BERRIOS runs a 4.65/40-time but his quickness trumps that number easily.
These two 6th Round Picks could make this Draft something special for the PATRIOTS. They will work hard every day for Coach Belichick, and fit the schemes that the team runs. They are both good value and good fits at their respective Pick slots.
Round 7 was kind of a grab bag. You have the much maligned PURDUE/LSU QB DANNY ETLING at Pick 219. He looks like a Practice Squad candidate but don’t write him off automatically. He has a good arm and can move around a bit. He completed 60% of his throws last season (a first) and threw only 2 INT, compared to 16 TD. I have no clue regarding Pick 243, KEION CROSSEN/CB/Western Carolina. But the little guy (5’10/180) is reportedly feisty against the run. At Pick 250 the team took RYAN IZZO/TE/Florida State. He’s 6’5/256 with a 4.94/40-time. He flashed a bit in their OTAs after being drafted. He has the size to block and was a decent 3rd down target at FSU. This may sound crazy but could he have a chance to save the team a bunch of money and beat out disappointing 2017 VFA DWAYNE ALLEN, who was pretty much a non-factor for the team in 2017. Just thinking out loud and perhaps outside the box a bit.
The team clearly has seen the errors of their ways from 2017 when they spent their time and money courting way too many premium VFA in their attempt to repeat their previous Super Bowl win. Adding hungry talent through the Draft, in conjunction with a group of selected, affordable VFA short-term talent has been their style most of this millennium, and has worked just fine overall. This Draft would indicate a return to that proven formula. The smallest coaching staff in the NFL will once again be challenged to develop young guys in the PATRIOTS WAY of doing things. Now if the 41-year old BRADY can just outrun Father Time for another season!