The New England Patriots were Super Bowl LIII Champions last year. The Patriots have gone to the Super Bowl 4 times in the last 5 years. And if you know how the draft works, you know that the Patriots draft picks goes south when the team wins and moves up when they have a lousy year. Knowing how that works, that suggests that Bill Belichick and his staff are pretty good at draft picks, and pretty good at getting players through trades and free agency. They also excel at developing players very quickly. As Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff says, Belichick is still the “lead dog in the NFL.”
All that being said, if you read “the papers” as they say, the New England fans are worried about the loss of Rob Gronkowski, the indefinite state of suspension of receiver Josh Gordon, and the loss of other Patriot talent. Their draft choices suggest that Belichick is making some moves to fix what he believes he needs to fix, but you don’t see a lot of panic. The Patriots had many draft picks this year (through trades) and for every player they picked, the sports reporters suggest that there are no sure bets for any of these candidates. They will still need to prove themselves under the Patriots system. Personally, I don’t believe that is an idle threat, that is the way it is.
I also see where the Patriots are adding 10 undrafted free agents to the team who will be sorted out at camp. I suspect there is a little art involved in the undrafted free agents you bring into camp and how many you take.
New England had the 32nd pick in the first round of the draft and they selected N’Keal Harry, a wide receiver from Arizona State. He played 3 years at ASU and last year had 73 receptions for 1088 yards and 9 touchdowns. Born in Canada, moving on to Saint Vincent in the Caribbean, and then to Arizona, N’Kean has lived with his grandmother, Felna Harry, a nurse, for most of his life. Much of the family focus has been on N’Kean’s future. Felna has sacrificed a great deal for her grandson.
If Belichick and his coaches hunches are correct, N’Keal will be making a contribution next season and beyond. On the Patriots, Harry will have to earn his place on the roster by doing his job. He will have to show versatility, competitiveness, and respect their system. A speedy 6″ 4″ and 225 pound receiver whose 4.53 time in the 40 yard dash at the combine solidified his potential value in the pros. His other combine stats were impressive as well. In New England, players have to learn the playbook and then pass another test, earning the trust of quarterback Tom Brady.
N’Keal was an interesting pick for Bill Belichick in that it is unusual for Belichick to take a receiver in round one. Is it that N’Keal has exceptional talent and potential or was Belichick just determined to shore up an important need from the start? Or both?
In the second round, the Patriots traded up to the 45th spot to select Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams–in exchange for their 56 and 101 spots to the Rams. This would suggest, Williams is someone the Patriots really wanted. Williams is described as a lanky 6-foot-3 corner who is expected to improve the Patriots ability to cover larger mobile receivers.
The Patriots first third round selection, Defensive end Chase Winovich was an excellent pass rusher at the University of Michigan for Jim Harbaugh. Winovich is a tough instinctive defensive end who plays with energy and enthusiasm. He is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds and his combine time for the 40 was 4.59. Winovich is said to be a versatile athlete and is also likely to help out on special teams. He looks like Clay Matthews (long blond hair) and he is roughly the same size. I suppose it is not unusual for pro football players to have grown up hyper competitive and Winovich fits that mold big time.
A thousand yard rusher on one of the best teams in the country for three years running, is another third round pick, Damien Harris. The Alabama back has been solid and consistent on the biggest football stage in college. It is likely Harris came highly recommended.
Another third round pick for the Patriots was Yodny Cajuste a left tackle for West Virginia. He is 6-foot-5 and 312 pounds.
Forholdt is an offensive guard from Arkansas and was selected in the fourth round. He is 6-foot-5 and 306 pounds. Froholdt played under current Patriots assistant Bret Bielema who was at Arkansas. Froholdt is from Denmark and came over originally as an exchange student.
Another fourth round selection for the Patriots is quarterback Jarret Stidham from Auburn, who also played at Baylor. Stidham had a great 2017 season and his game retreated in 2018. He is someone who probably needs work, but he is 6-foot-3, calm, decent arm and can run when he needs to pick up a few yards. I’d have to assume Belichick sees something in him.
Byron Cowart played at Auburn and then transferred to a junior college and then to Maryland for a year. He is thick muscular defensive end at 6-foot-3 about 300 pounds drafted in the fifth round. Cowart was expected to excel right at the start of his college career, but that didn’t happen and he reset his career. He is a fifth round selection who saw himself as a first round talent.
Another fifth round pick for the Patriots is Stanford punter Jake Bailey.
Ken Webster was a seventh round selection for the Patriots from Ole Miss. A cornerback whose college career was set back by a knee injury in 2016.
I saw clips of the draft and the draftees all seemed happy to be signed by the Patriots. The good news is being selected by perhaps the premier team in football, the bad news is that it is awfully difficult to earn on a spot there.