Bill Belichick has been at the helm for 18 NFL drafts with the New England Patriots. Heading into 2017, the fewest players Belichick had ever taken in a draft was six in 2002. He had averaged nine selections per draft in New England.
So it was a surprise to many that the Patriots entered the 2017 NFL Draft with just five selections after they gave up their fifth-round selection to sign restricted free-agent running back Mike Gillislee. It was even more shocking when, after some typical wheeling and dealing, the Patriots came out of this weekend with just four rookie draft picks.
Of course, you can’t bring up the Patriots’ 2017 draft haul without mentioning the veteran players they acquired through picks. They brought in wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive end Kony Ealy, tight end Dwayne Allen, Gillislee and tight end James O’Shaughnessy by sending away draft picks this offseason. They acquired linebacker Barkevious Mingo, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and tight end Michael Williams in previous seasons by giving away 2017 picks.
The draft also is mostly a crapshoot. Check out the entire 2013 draft for proof. Busts like Mingo and Dion Jordan were taken in the first round while Pro Bowlers Jordan Reed and David Bakhtiari were selected in the third and fourth round, respectively. Teams, especially the Patriots, usually like to use more draft picks to combat this crapshoot.
The Patriots (at least believe they) know what they’re getting out of Cooks, Ealy, Allen, Gillislee and O’Shaughnessy. They can turn on their NFL tape. There’s still some projecting, but far less.
The Patriots also unexpectedly drafted players whom fans and the media actually had heard of. There’s typically one selection per year — Vincent Valentine in 2016, Jordan Richards in 2015, Duron Harmon in 2013, Tavon Wilson in 2012 — that leaves the media scrambling to open new tabs in Chrome, Googling to find out exactly who these players are.
The Patriots were downright predictable in 2017.
The Patriots very clearly have a type of player they prefer at each position based on measurables and testing numbers. That allowed us to whittle down the prospects to players they would be interested in.
Derek Rivers was slightly undersized at 248 pounds, but he met their standards with his 4.61-second 40-yard dash, 1.61-second 10-yard split, 30 bench reps of 225 pounds, 35-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump, 6.94-second three-cone and 4.40-second short shuttle.
Deatrich Wise met the Patriots’ standards for being 6-foot-5, 274 pounds with a 35 5/8-inch arms and 10 1/2-inch hands while benching 22 reps, broad jumping 10 feet, 5 inches and running a 7.07-second three-cone and 4.36-second short shuttle.
Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott both have the height, speed, explosion and agility the Patriots like in offensive tackles while being underweight. Garcia has slightly shorter arms and a slower short shuttle than the Patriots usually like, while McDermott didn’t hit their vertical jump standards.
The Patriots might have mortgaged some of their future by picking up so many veteran players via draft picks. But if those players succeed in New England, and if the Patriots hit on a couple draft picks and one or two undrafted free agents, then the approach was a success.
And looking at Rivers, at least, it’s hard to imagine the small-school pass rusher failing with the Patriots.
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