Revisiting Patriots’ past draft patterns and seeing what held true to form in 2013
|04.28.13 at 5:35 pm ET|
We wrote a piece a week ago that detailed six fundamental beliefs of the Patriots when it comes to their overall draft approach. As a way of following up — now that the draft is in the rearview mirror — here’s a look at how they did when it comes to sticking to what we’ve come to know as their traditional beliefs:
LOOKING FOR PATTERNS IN PRE-DRAFT CONTACT IS A FUTILE EXERCISE
In years past, the Patriots were able to do a pretty good job disguising their intentions toward one draft pick or another. (In 2011, Nate Solder‘s pre-draft visit was canceled at the last minute, but he ended up going in the first round to New England.) This year, the Patriots had at least some sort of pre-draft connection with each one of their picks this spring. Linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive end/linebacker Michael Buchanan had private pre-draft workouts with Bill Belichick, while wide receiver Aaron Dobson came to Foxboro on a pre-draft visit. Defensive back Logan Ryan had a pre-draft workout with New England, while wide receiver Josh Boyce visited Foxboro but didn’t work out.
WHEN — NOT IF — THE PATRIOTS MAKE A TRADE, CHANCES ARE GOOD IT’LL BE WITH OAKLAND ‘¦ AND NOT THE AFC EAST
The Patriots made two draft weekend deals, one with the Vikings and one with the Bucs. The deal with Minnesota was a bit of a surprise in that they are not a usual trade partner with Belichick and the Patriots — it marked just the second time New England and the Vikings were involved in a draft weekend deal. (The only other time came back in 2001 when the Patriots dealt their third-round pick to Minnesota for the Vikings’ third- and fourth-round picks.)
The other deal involving the swap of unwanted running backs (Jeff Demps-for-LeGarrette Blount) was hardly a shocker. Belichck is tight with Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, and in Schiano’s brief career with the Bucs, the two collaborated on the deal that brought cornerback Aqib Talib to New England. (They also exchanged Kellen Winslow early last season.)
As expected, this marked the 11th consecutive year that the Patriots didn’t make a draft weekend deal with an AFC East foe. (The last one came in 2002 when New England shipped Drew Bledsoe to the Bills for a 2003 first-round pick.)
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A COLLEGE CAPTAIN, BUT IT CERTAINLY HELPS
Heading into the 2013 draft, 15 of the last 28 players the Patriots selected in the draft were college captains, including 10 of the last 16 players drafted. This time around, of the eight players they took, four of them have experience as captains, including Dobson and Rutgers linebacker Steve Beauharnais. Rutgers defensive back Duron Harmon was a game captain for the Scarlet Knights this past season, while Boyce also filled the same role with the Horned Frogs.
THE PATRIOTS TREASURE AGILITY IN THEIR DEFENSIVE BACKS AND WIDE RECEIVERS
As has been the case the last several years, the Patriots went after defensive backs and wide receivers who showed great agility and footwork. That’s not to say they don’t treasure great straight-line speed as well, but the ability to fluidly change direction is perhaps an even greater asset in the eyes of the New England braintrust.
To that point — and understanding that anything under 6.9 is considered exceptional — several players the Patriots have targeted over the last few years have starred in the 3-cone drill as collegians, including Julian Edelman (6.62 seconds). Jeremy Ebert (a seventh-round pick in 2012) had a 6.7 before being taken by the Patriots last spring. Deion Branch was 6.71 (at the 2002 combine), Chad Jackson was 6.74 (at the 2006 combine) and Wes Welker was 7.06. That also translates to the defensive side of the football, as Nate Ebner had a 6.59 time in the 3-cone as a collegian, and Devin McCourty‘s 6.7 in the 3-cone drill at the 2010 combine put him second among all corners.
With that in mind, it wasn’t a surprise to see the Patriots select three of the Top 10 finishers in the 3-cone drill at the combine this season, with Mizzou wide receiver T.J. Moe (second overall at 6.53) going as an undrafted free agent and Boyce (fifth at 6.68) being taken in the fourth round and Ryan (seventh at 6.69) selected in the third round.
THEIR TEAM-BUILDING PROCESS DOESN’T STOP AFTER MR. IRRELEVANT COMES OFF THE BOARD
Prior to the draft, the Patriots had 29 undrafted players on their roster, including several key pieces on both sides of the ball: cornerback Kyle Arrington, defensive lineman Kyle Love, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, linebacker Dane Fletcher and running back Brandon Bolden. This time around, the Patriots have apparently signed 15 undrafted free agents to compete for a spot on the roster. (For more on them, check out the blog posts here and here.)
At first glance, four of the more intriguing pickups are Moe, Missouri offensive lineman Elvis Fisher, Penn State offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch and Nevada tight end Zach Sudfeld.
‘¢ Moe is a 5-foot-11, 204-pounder who is an undersized slot receiver in the Welker mold, who had 40 catches for 399 yards and one touchdown as a senior at Mizzou. Like Boyce, he certainly helped himself with a fantastic combine performance: he had the top 3-cone time among the receivers, and also had the best time in the 20-yard shuttle (3.96). He added a 10.87 in the 60-yard shuttle, which also was the top time, and had maybe the sweetest catch of the weekend.
‘¢ Stankiewitch: The second Penn Stater that signed with New England — and given the Belichick-Bill O’Brien connection, hardly a surprise — he’s a 6-foot-3, 302-pounder who started the last two years for the Nittany Lions. He wasn’t a stud right out of the gate, but had a steady rate of improvement over the course of his college career. In 2011, he started all 13 games and led the team in snaps played with 966. In 2012 spring practices, Stankiewitch was named the offense’s Most Improved Player, and as a senior, he started all 12 games for Penn State. He was named to the Coaches All-Big Ten first-team.
‘¢ Sudfeld: The Nevada product is massive — 6-foot-7, 255 pounds — and started all 13 games this season for the Wolfpack, catching 45 passes for 598 yards to go along with nine touchdowns. He’s also gained some measure of notoriety for his blocking skills, and given the medical uncertainty surrounding Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez this spring, could certainly get his chance to impress the coaching staff prior to the start of training camp.
‘¢ Fisher: Already one of the best Twitter feeds on the roster, Fisher is an offensive lineman who excelled at the collegiate level with Mizzou, but has been hampered by injury. Fisher was an All-Big XII honorable mention at left tackle in 2009 and 2010, but struggled with injury over the last two seasons: first, he missed the 2011 season with a ruptured patella tendon. He was hurt again in 2012, suffering an MCL strain that forced him to be carted off the field. (Also, did we mention his Twitter feed? If there’s a rookie who could challenge Brandon Spikes for the role of most interesting Tweeter, Fisher could be the one.)
ALWAYS GET A QUARTERBACK
Since Tom Brady took over as the starter in 2001, the Patriots have drafted six quarterbacks: Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury, Matt Cassel, Kevin O’Connell, Zac Robinson and Ryan Mallett. In addition, they’ve signed undrafted free agents Brian Hoyer and Matt Gutierrez. But for the first time in several years, the Patriots didn’t pursue a quarterback in the draft or as an undrafted free agent. This could bode well for current backups Ryan Mallett and Mike Kafka.