Well, here we are. Day 3 of the 2014 NFL Draft has just ended. And my feelings on the Patriots’ haul is…mixed.
If you had asked to me make one sweeping prediction about the New England draft, I’d say “They’re loading up on the front seven: an edge rusher, an interior tackle, a sub linebacker.”
I’d then say: “Oh, well then they’re going to grab some big-time weapons for Tom Brady. A big tight end, a red zone threat, maybe another pass-catcher out of the backfield. Diversify the offense, give Josh McDaniels a ton of pieces to play with and throw out some different looks.”
Nope, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots pretty much defied all prior expectations of what this draft would look like, which, in the end, isn’t a bad thing. But more on that later.
Let’s go pick by pick, now that we’ve had some time to look at the group as a whole.
Round 1, Pick 29: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
This pick is looking better and better in the past few days. My earlier questions about whether Easley would still have been available if the Patriots had traded down were quickly answered by reports that the Seahawks were set on picking Easley, and traded down only after New England took him.
The big question is whether Easley can replicate his success prior to his ACL injury this past season (coming off another torn ACL on his other leg two year before). But if he can do that (which his Pro Day, and previous recovery off of his first injury, would suggest), he’s the steal of this draft outside of Teddy Bridgewater. Dominique Easley is an ultra-versatile defensive lineman, with Top-15 talent, who will add a new pass-rushing element to this Patriots front line. With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly getting up there in years, Easley will both be able to spell them on third downs, while also being a long term fixture on the line. Great pick.
Round 2, Pick 62: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
After freaking out last night (read my early reaction here), I’ve calmed down a bit on the Garoppolo pick. Do I think the 2nd round was too early to pick a QB? Yes. Do I think there were more pressing needs that could’ve been filled with that pick? Yes (though in the context of the Patriots’ motives behind this group, not as much). Am I still hazy about the contract situation that means the Patriots will have to make a big decision about Garoppolo when he may not have started for a full season? Yeah.
But the truth of the matter is, Jimmy Garoppolo is a perfect fit for the Patriots, and that means something. Garoppolo has tremendous game IQ and is a big enough player to take hits when he needs to, and shake off the odd couple. He has one of the quickest releases in the draft class, and can adapt his throwing motion to the play easily. His hero is Tom Brady (pre-requisite to being a Patriots backup) and the few years under his tutelage will help him immensely.
In a vacuum? It’s a great pick, he’s a great fit, and, even if he doesn’t stick with New England long term, he’s one of the best backups in the league and a hot trade commodity.
Round 4, Pick 105: Bryan Stork, C, Florida St.
With Weston Richburg (damn you Giants), Marcus Martin, and Travis Swanson all of the board, Bryan Stork was a logical choice to nab a center, even if it was a tad of a reach. While not as athletically gifted as some of his counterparts, Stork was still the leader of one of the best offensive lines in the nation, a national champion, and winner of the 2013 Rimington Trophy, given to college football’s best center.
The traits that Stork will bring to New England are versatility, intelligence, and leadership qualities. Stork isn’t more than average at any facet of the game, but he’s solid all around, and will immediately jump in to challenge Ryan Wendell for the starting job. Stork, with his 6’4/315 frame, can play center, guard, and even tackle in a pinch. He’s a solid, if unflashy, pick, which happens to be the Patriots’ specialty.
Round 4, Pick 130: James White, RB, Wisconsin
James White is another super-solid, unflashy pick, but one that raised more than a few eyebrows. Looked at as a late Day 3 pick, White was always part of a running back committee in his time at Wisconsin, not starting a game until September of his senior year, and being overtaken consistently by Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon.
But what James White will bring to the Patriots is consistency. White rarely fumbled, only twice in 700+ carries, and his low center of gravity will mean he won’t lose too any yards. He doesn’t project as a great pass-catcher, and he’s not a speedster by any means, but the Patriots may go to White in the 4th quarter when they’re trying to run out the clock. A fine, if unspectacular, pick.
(Also, and I cannot stress this enough, next year’s running back class has the chance to be stacked. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen set to hit free agency, the Pats may buck the trend and take a major bell-cow early next year.)
Round 4, Pick 140: Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
When the Patriots took Cameron Fleming with their compensatory pick today, I was surprised, mostly because Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder are Pro Bowl talents, when healthy. Then those last two words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I figured it out. Fleming immediately steps in as the primary backup at tackle, while also allowing Marcus Cannon (soon to be a free agent), to focus on guard for next year, where he’ll battle with Dan Connolly.
There’s a lot to like about the 6’5, 323 Fleming. Mostly that he’s 6’5, 323. The dude is huge, can create running lanes in a hurry, and has long arms to protect the pocket. He’s also a genius (majoring in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford) and has a game IQ, accordingly. His lack of agility may see him move inside long term, and he’s not great when he gets to the second level, but he’s a big imposing figure who’ll protect Brady/Garoppolo for years to come.
Round 6, Pick 179: Jon Halapio, G, Florida
You can already see the pattern here. Bill Belichick clearly came into this draft intent on revitalizing the offensive line, something he hadn’t done via the draft for a few years. Logan Mankins is getting up there in years, and the right guard spot, at this point, is entirely up for grabs. In the long term, Halapio has some promise.
The 6’3/323 Halapio is already a bulldozing run-blocker, using his massive frame and low center of gravity to violently make room for running backs. Where he needs work is his pass-protecting, where his need to improve his footwork and technique really shows. He’ll have time to work on it though, showing the motor and blue-collar attitude to improve. The two-time team captain’s mixture of intelligence and bruising strength will be a real asset when focused into proper technique. He showed up in one of my mocks in the fourth round, so this is great value for the former Gator.
Round 6, Pick 198: Zach Moore, DE, Concordia St.
To be 100% honest, I had no idea who Zach Moore was before today, mainly because of his playing in DII, and as such can’t comment too much on him. That being said, his stats (again, remember the competition), are fantastic, amassing 33 sacks and 45 TFL in 39 games over his career.
His combination of size (6’6/259) and speed (4.84) is promising for an edge rusher, and his two-time captaincy suggests strong leadership schools. My one worry are centered around his academic eligibility issues, as he was recruited by a number of Big Ten schools, but failed to qualify out of high school. Everything I’ve read in the last few hours (again, I cannot stress how little I know about Moore) suggests that his mindset in that regard has improved, and he’s devoted to the game, but it’ll be interesting to see how he transitions to the NFL. A developmental project, to be sure, but a good one. And now begins my feverish research of the young talent.
Round 6, Pick 206: Jemea Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech
The glass half-full approach to Jemea Thomas is he’s super-versatile, seeing time at cornerback, nickelback, safety, and special teams during his time at Georgia Tech. He has a compact, strong frame, that can deliver blows in the running game. He’s aware in zone coverage, and has the speed to react towards the ball. He’s a team leader and was willing to help out wherever he could.
The glass half-empty approach is that he doesn’t have a home, forcing him into versatility. At 5’9/192, Thomas may be overwhelmed by bigger offensive players (despite his impressive 37.5” vertical), and lacks the fluidity to really succeed in man coverage. This seriously limits his ceiling, most likely relegating him to a nickel corner long term, but at the very least he’ll be a key special teams player, and he’s clearly motivated to succeed. I’m leaning more towards the half-full approach, but time will tell.
Round 7, Pick 244: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan
To be honest, I thought about knocking down this pick a whole grade, since Trey Millard, one of my favorite players in the draft, was taken by San Francisco with the next pick (where he’ll fit really well. Ugh)
That being said, Gallon does have a lot of qualities that make him a fit in New England. He’s a terrific route runner, with remendous quickness, who ran a full tree at Michigan and is very aware of defenders around him. He has strong, reliable hands, and can be very dangerous after the catch. Sound like Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, or Danny Amendola? It should. Gallon was ultra-productive at Michigan (89 receptions for 1373 yards and 9 TDs his senior year) and his time as a high school quarterback easily helps his understanding of the game. The problem is his size: at 5’7/185, Pats fans will be wincing every time he goes over the middle, and he won’t win a ton of 50-50 balls. For the time being, he’ll be a special times contributor, but with a crowded slot receiver group, and his size limitations, we may not see a lot of Gallon early on.
Looking back at this draft as a whole, it’s clear that this wasn’t a draft for this year, but more the future. Personally, as someone who easily gets swept up in the “Player X can help this team NOW” discussion, that takes some getting used to. It’s unsettling that we may not see most of these players get game time in the next year, but Bill Belichick went out and picked a group of players who add depth and flexibility for next year’s offseason. The offensive line picks, especially, are intriguing, as it seems to hint at a change towards a power-running game (might we see a rookie running back next year? Quick fans, run to your Todd Gurley highlight tapes!!).
But still, this team had needs for this year that went unfilled. The team desperately needs a fourth linebacker, not only to add versatility on third down, but in case of injury: if any of the starting trio goes down, there’s no Jamie Collins to jump in (I was shocked that Telvin Smith, who Gus Bradley and the Jags will turn into a stud, and Jordie Tripp lasted so long, and that the Pats passed on them continually). Likewise, the Pats’ choice to stay out of the tight end race might mean Dustin Keller is a real possibility to be signed, but if not that’s a thin group considering Gronk’s injury worries (also this may mean Mark Harrison could be moved to a “move” role, which would be interesting to say the least).
Overall, a solid draft, and one that will undoubtedly look great one, two years down the road.
I was thinking of writing a companion article about the Top 10 UDFA the Pats should target, but that’s already started getting crazy as always, but I’ll be back with a follow-up once the dust settles.
I want to know what you thought! Leave comments below or hit me up on twitter @isportspeters or at firstname.lastname@example.org