It wouldn’t be right to sit here and lie to you. So, let’s be honest. No one knows what Bill Belichick is going to pull from his sweatshirt sleeve with the New England Patriots’ 32nd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Not even Belichick knows at this point, and predicting the Patriots’ draft strategy is nearly impossible. A million mock draft simulations could have been run in 2012, and not a single one would have placed Tavon Wilson with the 48th pick in that year’s draft.
But I have inklings. I’ve heard rumblings, reached out to well-connected sources, and many of them seem to be saying the same things. It would be silly to set up fans for disappointment and tell them Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson is going to fall to the Patriots at 32nd overall. So, here are some realistic options for the Patriots at the 32nd overall pick.
It takes two to tango. It also takes 31 teams to not select players Belichick values with first-round grades. If the players Belichick likes are off the board, he won’t hesitate to trade out of the first round.
This also is a top-heavy draft. You can get relatively the same value from, say, pick 20 as you can in the third round. Is Alabama tight end Irv Smith drastically more talented than Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger? Is TCU defensive lineman L.J. Collier more of a sure thing than Iowa’s Anthony Nelson? Is Duke quarterback Daniel Jones leaps and bounds better than North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley?
In my opinion, no. So, if there’s not a game breaker at No. 32 overall, then pick up an asset for next year’s draft or where you can gamble on more players with the same relative value.
Patriots fans will grumble and grouse if Belichick trades down. But if the right guy isn’t there, it’s probably the smart move this year.
One of the guys I believe Belichick would pick at No. 32 overall is Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence. I don’t take Belichick to be a liar, so when he said the following last season about then-New York Jets/now-Patriots defensive tackle Mike Pennel, I believe him.
“How many 330-pound guys are there? There’s just not that many of them. So, they’re always hard to find. Those guys are always hard to find. I don’t care if they’re tackles, offensive tackles, defensive tackles. For every guy that’s 330, there’s 20 that are 290. So, if you can find the 330 guys, or whatever the number is, that are as athletic and have the skill of guys that weigh 40 pounds less that play the same position, generally speaking, those guys are probably going to outperform the guys that are lesser.”
Lawrence is 6-foot-4, 338 pounds and runs a 5.05-second 40-yard dash. He’s a relatively safe pick. In an ideal world, he could push the pocket on third down a la Vince Wilfork or the Green Bay Packers’ Kenny Clark. And if he can’t, he’ll be a space-eater on first and second down. Belichick values run defense more than most teams. So, despite Lawrence’s impressive athleticism, he might still be there at the end of the round.
Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery offers more upside at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, but it’s tough to gauge how the NFL grades him. Some analysts have him falling to the second round. Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons is another defensive tackle with more upside. He tore his ACL in the pre-draft process, and there’s a videotape on the internet of him punching a woman from 2016. It’s tough to take that player and make him the face of your draft with your top pick. It’s much easier to make that player your second pick and not have to put him on a podium with the team owner after the draft. That’s especially true when the team owner is Robert Kraft, who’s fighting two charges of soliciting prostitution.
Covering the Patriots is weird.
I keep hearing the Patriots love Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams. He’s 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and ran just a 4.6-second 40-yard dash but impressed athletically otherwise. He registered a 6.92-second three-cone with a 4.07-second short shuttle, 10-feet, 7-inch broad jump and 36-inch vertical leap.
Cornerback shouldn’t be high on the Patriots’ priority list, and fans will flip out if one is selected in the first round. They have Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen at the position. It’s difficult to cut one player from that group, let alone two. And the Patriots typically only carry five cornerbacks.
But Williams might be regarded more as a defensive back than strictly a cornerback. He could cover “F” tight ends, big slots and tall outside wideouts. There are a ton of massive receivers coming out of the draft. Williams could take on the D.K. Metcalfs, Hakeem Butlers and N’Keal Harrys of the world.
The Patriots like to pick players they foresee filling a specific role on their team. Williams could be the guy who covers bigs.
Williams is widely regarded as a third-round prospect, but sources are saying he’s more likely to go off the board in the 25-40 range.
Whether you like it or not, the Patriots need a quarterback for the future, and given the fifth-year option, it makes far more sense to take one in the first-round than it does anywhere else in the draft.
Like with Tillery, it’s tough to gauge where some of these players will be selected. It seems unlikely Jones will be available at No. 32 overall. But if he is, it would be unsurprising if he was in play at this spot.
A report came out this week that the Patriots could take West Virginia’s Will Grier at No. 32 overall. If that’s the Patriots’ guy, then yeah, it probably makes sense to grab him in the first round so they have that fifth-year option in his contract. Tom Brady wants to play until he’s 45 years old. Brady would be in his age-45 season when a rookie quarterback is in his fourth year. In this scenario, a first-round rookie quarterback would start for one year on his rookie contract after Brady retires. The rookie contract of a quarterback selected in Rounds 2 through 7 will run out before Brady’s optimal retirement age.
The Patriots have five Day 3 picks. And remember that note about value in this year’s draft? If a quarterback is rated only slightly lower than a player at another position, it probably makes sense to grab the signal-caller in the first round since this is filling a future need. Quarterback also is typically one of the shallowest positions in a draft. Belichick is going to take the best player at the thinnest position.
Crazy stuff happens in the draft, especially with the Patriots. Their biggest perceived present needs are at wide receiver, tight end, defensive end and defensive tackle. They could also use a quarterback, offensive tackle, interior offensive lineman, linebacker or safety for the future. So, based on that, almost anything is in play at the No. 32 overall spot. Only running back, kicker and punter weren’t mentioned. Watch them take a first-round running back for the second year straight.
Patriots fans desperately want a wide receiver. We’d be surprised if that’s where the Patriots went with this pick, though Harry, a wideout out of Arizona State, could be appealing. This draft has great wide receiver depth in the second and third rounds.
It seems unlikely Hockenson or fellow Iowa tight end Noah Fant will be available. Smith and Sternberger would be reaches in the first round.
There are two highly regarded defensive ends who could fall in this draft — Michigan’s Rashan Gary, who reportedly has a torn labrum, and Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, who reportedly has a heart issue. If they fall to No. 32 overall, they’d be worth the risk. If one of the Clemson defensive linemen — defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and defensive end Clelin Ferrell — start to fall, would the Patriots consider a trade up? They have the draft capital.
The Patriots are the masters of taking surprising offensive linemen, so a tackle like Washington’s Kaleb McGary or Kansas State’s Dalton Risner or a guard like Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom or Oklahoma’s Cody Ford can’t be ruled out.
There are plenty of safeties ranked around the top of the second round like Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Maryland’s Darnell Savage, Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram, Delaware’s Nassir Adderley, Virginia’s Juan Thornhill and Alabama’s Deionte Thompson. Given that draft depth, it’s a safe bet to bank on one of those players being available in the second round.
It would be most surprising if the Patriots took a running back or linebacker in the first round accounting for draft rankings and need.
So, there it is. Almost everything on the table for the Patriots at No. 32 overall, but Lawrence or Williams, if available, would be our best guesses with New England’s top pick.
Thumbnail photo via Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports Images