Pretty much no matter which draft grade you want to read, the New England Patriots finished at the bottom or near it. And that’s where the problem begins.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been doing things their own way for 20 years, probably going back to cutting Lawyer Milloy when everyone thought they were crazy. It turned out pretty well for them. They’ve done it their own way, and their way resulted in the greatest dynasty in major American professional team sports.
Therefore, every grade comes with a disclaimer. Everyone dislikes the Patriots grades, but … it’s the Patriots. They’re just smarter than everyone else.
But what if they’re not this time? What if reaching a round or two on just about every pick actually isn’t the right call? Tom Brady isn’t around to cover up issues anymore; this is a new Patriots era.
It’s possible all the grades are right and this was just a bad draft, right at the time New England needs to be pushing forward.
The Los Angeles Rams laughed at the Patriots’ first-round pick, Tennessee-Chattanooga guard Cole Strange (and if you want to believe the Rams reaction was misunderstood that’s fine, but it reflected the opinion others held). The Patriots traded down from No. 21 to No. 29 and took Strange, who wasn’t on anyone’s radar for a first-round pick. Belichick said the Patriots might have taken him as high as 21st had the team not traded down (“Probably a good chance it would have been him,” Belichick said). Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton was seen as a reach by at least a round and if there is one negative thing about Belichick nobody can argue, it’s that he struggles to draft receivers.
There’s nothing wrong with being unconventional, but the whole draft seemed to be a reach.
“As a rule of thumb, most of their picks – other than Marcus Jones – were taken about a round higher than we would have liked, and there was repetition (Jack Jones, Bailey Zappe) to pieces they have already on the roster,” Yahoo Sports draft expert Eric Edholm wrote.
There were small-school picks and picks that looked like reaches and others that don’t appear to fit a need. Of course, the Patriots don’t care what you think about it.
“We try and ignore the noise around here,” Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh.
This is a Patriots’ draft, for better or worse. It will rely heavily on their own scouting views, which has worked out in the past. But it might be the most fascinating draft class of them all. Either Patriots haters finally get to laugh at New England or, as this usually goes, the Patriots will be the ones laughing last.
Here is our look back at the NFL draft and selecting the overall winners and losers:
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are really, really good at drafting.
The Ravens stayed put and got Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with the 14th pick. It wouldn’t be a massive surprise if Hamilton ends up having the best career of any player in this draft class. Later in the first round after trading receiver Marquise Brown they got their starting center, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, who slipped a bit but is a really good player. Second-round pick David Ojabo is a risk, because the Michigan edge rusher is coming off an Achilles injury, but he could hit big if he recovers. Defensive tackle Travis Jones, a third-round pick, was considered by some a borderline first-round pick.
Every pick seemed like a fastball batting practice for the Ravens. They filled needs, got value, landed day-one impact players. The Ravens were a good team last season that got decimated by injuries. They’ll be back in contention this season, with a nice rookie class to help.
Malik Willis: Willis, the Liberty quarterback who many figured would be the top quarterback off the board in the NFL draft, couldn’t have been happy to slide all the way to the third round, but it could work out pretty well.
The Tennessee Titans took Willis with the 86th pick. That’s not the worst thing. First-round quarterbacks are expected to play. There is nowhere near the same pressure on teams to play third-round quarterbacks. Willis has tremendous skills but will need some time. The Titans aren’t going to displace Ryan Tannehill anytime soon, but he is turning 34 years old during the season. If Willis comes in and picks up the NFL well, there could be a clear succession plan without him being under undue pressure to play too soon.
“I am just blessed to have somewhere to go, somewhere to call home,” Willis said, via Titans Wire. “I am appreciative of the opportunity to play at the next level, and I’m just ready to go in and work hard and be the best teammate I can be.”
The draft slide had to be frustrating, but Willis ended up in a great spot.
Jalen Hurts: The quarterback who might have been the biggest winner in the first round was probably Hurts.
A healthy AJ Brown makes any quarterback look better. Hurts is entering a key third season, still not assured to be the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback of the future but he has had some good moments. The Eagles made the playoffs last season. And now they have Brown, DeVonta Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert and a strong running game that had the most yards in the NFL last season. All of that helps a quarterback.
Hurts has a great opportunity. Brown is going to make him better. There’s nothing keeping the Eagles from making the playoffs again. With a big season Hurts could establish himself as the Eagles starter for the foreseeable future, right when his rookie contract is a year from expiring. He’s in a good spot, and the Eagles might be too.
Tennessee Titans: Maybe the Titans don’t need anyone on offense other than Derrick Henry. We might find out.
The Titans lowballed AJ Brown and then traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles, saying there was no way they could bridge the gap with his contract demands. With that, the Titans lost their second-best offensive player.
It might end up looking smart, especially if Treylon Burks has a great career. The Titans picked Burks with the first-round pick they got for trading Brown. But a No. 1 seed in the AFC last season all of a sudden is pretty thin in the passing game. Burks is physically impressive but might need some time to adjust to the NFL game. Robert Woods, acquired from the Los Angeles Rams, is a very good player but he’s 30 and coming off an ACL.
We’ll see where the Titans go from here. But giving up Brown does set them back.
Justin Fields: There is more than one way to help a quarterback. Drafting a good defense to take pressure off him can help.
But the Bears didn’t go all-in on putting pieces around Fields before his season. They had three picks in the top 167 and used their first two on defense. The third pick, receiver Velus Jones Jr., could pan out but he’s more of a gadget player than an alpha receiver. It’s a big year for Fields and practically speaking he’ll have the same offense around him, but without Allen Robinson II. We’ll see how that goes. You might be hearing a lot this season about how the Bears haven’t done enough to help Fields’ development.
Jets haters: It’s fun to crack jokes about the New York Jets. They make it easy sometimes.
But it’s hard to do so after this draft. Yes, making three first-round picks will make any team’s draft look better, and it’s not like the Jets didn’t pay for those picks. They did well with the picks though, with the first four being players who should start right away and make an impact: cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, receiver Garrett Wilson, pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II and running back Breece Hall. Many would agree that Gardner, Wilson and Hall were the best at their respective positions in this draft class.
Last year’s Jets draft was deep too, and those players should continue to make strides this season. The development of quarterback Zach Wilson is enormous and we’ll see how he comes along. But the Jets got him some help, and improved the roster as a whole. The AFC East is tough but the Jets are coming on strong with a core of young talent. They could be contenders soon.