As sketchy as their early picks can sometimes be, hitting big in the later rounds, where most other teams are just filling quotas, is a time-honored tradition for the New England Patriots.
Players from current starters like Alfonzo Dennard and Julian Edelman to renowned overachievers like Tully Banta-Cain, David Givens, Matt Cassel to special teams aces Matt Slater and Nate Ebner were all major contributors found in Day 3.
Plus there was that one quarterback taken with the 199th pick in 2000 who you might have heard of.
There, of course, have been plenty of Mr. Irrelevants surrounding these diamonds in the rough. But there are still plenty of players, especially in a draft as deep as this, who could be found late on Day 3.
Here are some of my favorite sleeper picks:
Dexter McDougle, CB, Maryland
I swear, I feel like Dexter McDougle was made in a laboratory that churns out players for the sole purpose of being drafted by Bill Belichick. With the high number of iffy secondary picks recently (Ras-I Dowling, Patty Chung, Terrence Wheatley, etc.) and the superb find in Alfonzo Dennard with the 224th pick, the team may follow suit and draft another corner late in the game. And if so, McDougle would be an awesome choice.
McDougle has some durability concerns after a season-ending injury to his shoulder after only three games. But otherwise he’s prime Patriot material. He’s a super-intelligent player with a knack for being in the right place at the right time, hyper-aware of his surroundings. He has a sturdy build, and can hit violently when needed to. But his intangibles are damn near untouchable: even after his injury, McDougle attended all team meetings, traveled with the team, sat in the coaching booth, and helped out the other corners in practice. He was a beloved teammate and head coach Randy Edsall adored him so much he created the “Deter McDougle Ultimate Team Player Award” in his honor.
Let me repeat that. He has an award named after him because he was such a good teammate. Dexter McDougle is like Belichick catnip.
Trey Millard, RB/FB/TE, Oklahoma
If you’ve read any of my mock drafts in the last few months, you know that I’m wildly fascinated by Trey Millard as a potential Patriot. Heavily recruited as a linebacker/tight end prospect out high school, Trey Millard was primarily used as a fullback in his four seasons at Oklahoma. Because of the league-wide move away from the traditional fullback and Millard’s ACL injury in October, he could be available on Day 3. But, of course, Millard is no traditional fullback.
The 6’2/247 two-year captain saw time in-line, at single back, h-back, and in the slot, as well as being a special teams ace. Over 38 games, Millard accumulated 538 rushing yards on 98 attempts (5.49 ypc) and 70 rec. for 707 yards (10.1 ypc). Despite being an able blocker, and a powerful north-south runner, Millard might actually be the best use to New England as a pass-catcher, possibly helping to fill the need for a “move” tight end. Most importantly he’s a team leader on and off the field, with tremendous character and intelligence. Think of him as a Delanie Walker type next to James Develin’s Bruce Miller: a true Swiss Army Knife whose versatility will make the Pats’ offense even more dynamic. Josh McDaniels will love him.
Avery Williamson, MLB, Kentucky
While he certainly won’t miss New England, the loss of Brandon Spikes does change the look of the Patriots defense a bit. Mayo/Collins/Hightower should form one of the top linebacking trios in the NFL, but should one of them go down, depth is extremely thin, especially with Dane Fletcher moving on. As a backup linebacker, especially one focusing more on run defense, Avery Williamson could help out quite a bit.
Wiliamson doesn’t necessarily have one standout skill, but he is quite good at just about everything. The 6’0/244 Kentucky captain is extremely athletic, showing off his ability at the combine, a top performer both in the 20-yard shuttle and 40-yard dash. He has the agility and fluidity to stick with running backs and tight ends in coverage, but his calling card in college was in run defense, where he piled up tackles at the line of scrimmage (237 total tackles in 2012 and 2013). He’s another team leader that Belichick loves, and can refine his inconsistencies with a few years as a backup.
Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska
The Patriots’ track record in drafting wide receivers is really spotty. Outside of Deion Branch (in 2002) and Julian Edelman (in the 7th round), Bill Belichick has made some unfortunate choices: Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Bethel Johnson, and Taylor Price were all picked in the first three rounds, and none were exactly game-changers. Of course with three wideouts entering their sophomore campaigns (Dobson, Boyce, Thompkins) and the acquisition of Brandon LaFell, it seems doubtful that they’d go early on a WR this year. But a player like Quincy Enunwa could be useful and available late.
Enunwa, a team captain at Nebraska, is a big, fast, physical dude. You look at his tape, and you see countless jump ball situations where Enunwa either outjumped or outmuscled opposing corners, and is completely unafraid to go over the middle. He’s an extremely intelligent player, who uses his awareness of defenders to make good plays in space. He also relishes being a downfield blocker, where he was used often in the Cornhuskers’ run-heavy offense. He needs some work in his route-running and too often makes catches with his body, but after spending a season or two at the bottom of the depth chart he can develop into a very useful player in New England.
Shamar Stephen, DT, Connecticut
Shamar Stephen is a big dude. At 6’5/309, Stephen would seem perfect as a nose tackle in a 3-4 front. And even though the Patriots mainly use a 4-3 base, like Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III or Penn State’s DaQuan Jones, Stephen could eat up space on the defensive line bolster last year’s shaky run defense, and play behind one of the great nose tackles in the NFL, Vince Wilfork.
Despite his massive frame, Stephen is surprisingly athletic and when he fires off the ball he can cause some havoc in the backfield, which led to his 10 tackles for loss and 3 sacks in 13 games last year. While he only projects as a two down player and sometimes his technique saps some of his power on contact, Stephen has the raw talents to be a steady contributor on an NFL team. And, because this is a Patriots article, it should be noted that Stephen was a Huskies captain in 2013 and was well liked by teammates and coaches alike.
Garrett Gilbert, QB, SMU
Anyone who’s reading this from Texas just hissed in disgust and possibly threw their laptop across the room (sorry). In fact, I actually think that the reason Garrett Gilbert has practically no draft buzz is because his time in Texas was so unbelievably disastrous, that it’s left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. But let’s be clear: when Gilbert was thrust into the BCS Champ game as a freshman against an absolutely monstrous Alabama defense, he was being set up to fail. He struggled to find any momentum, with a horrific starting campaign, before transferring to SMU.
And in a new environment, Gilbert positively flourished. In his senior year the Austin native put up some school-record numbers, with 3528 passing yards, 21 TD, and a 67% completion percentage. He’s got a highly projectable 6’4/221 frame, and has good arm strength. He’s also surprisingly athletic, running a 4.81 at his pro-day (where he also completed 87/88 passes, wowing attending scouts). He’s also improved immensely in his decision making at SMU, and has put his rough start behind him. An apprenticeship under Tom Brady would be the best thing for him, and he could be a dependable backup.
Let me know if you have any sleeper picks of your own by getting at me on twitter @isportspeters or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org! With only a week and a half til the draft, you can look for my final mock draft early next week.
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