Breaking down the New England Patriots' 2018 draft class.
Round 1, No. 23 overall: Isaiah Wynn, OT, Georgia
My take: The Patriots' top need entering the draft was left tackle, and if Wynn ultimately fills that void, this will be a pick in which top talent meets top need. I had listed Wynn as a potential Patriots target at guard, which is where some teams projected him because he is short for a tackle (6-foot-2 3/8). One NFL general manager described him this way to me: "Undersized with different body type; good football player." Wynn is considered a technically sound player, and with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia having one of the best reputations in the business, his endorsement of Wynn goes a long way toward the feeling that this is a solid pick. Former New York Giants offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who now works in the media, also endorsed the pick with authority; he views Wynn as a left tackle.
Resetting the depth chart at left tackle: The Patriots entered the draft with a left tackle depth chart that included six-year veterans LaAdrian Waddle and Matt Tobin; second-year players Cole Croston and Antonio Garcia, five-year veteran Ulrick John and developmental prospect Andrew Jelks. Wynn will slot in behind them based on experience, but his upside is the greatest of all, and the main question is how fast he can rise on the depth chart.
Coming off labrum surgery: Wynn told reporters in New England he underwent surgery on his labrum in January but said Thursday night he believes he will be ready for June's minicamp. Regardless, the team won't rush him. Wynn showed toughness to play through the injury, was a captain in his senior season and went up against some of the most NFL-ready players in college football in 2017. The St. Petersburg, Florida, native is a rare player in that he could probably play all five spots on the line.
Close bond with Andrews: Wynn was teammates with starting Patriots center David Andrews at Georgia, and Andrews shared his admiration for Wynn after the pick. In his conference call with reporters Thursday, Wynn said of Andrews: “Coming in as a freshman at Georgia, he was one of the guys who was like a big brother to me and took me under his wing. I just learned a lot from him. As a person, it's kind of rough getting adjusted. David Andrews helped me a lot.”
Round 1, No. 31 overall: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
My take: The question wasn't whether the Patriots would select a running back after going three straight drafts without doing so, it was a matter of when. This is earlier than some anticipated, but after losing Dion Lewis in free agency, the Patriots had a big need for more playmaking ability and explosion at the spot. Michel, if healthy, is the team's most dynamic threat at the spot. The key words are “if healthy” as Michel's injury history and the condition of his knee gave some teams concerns. Best-case scenario: It's similar to what unfolded in 1995 with Curtis Martin, who had similar questions coming out of Pittsburgh. Overall, the selection of Michel -- along with that of offensive tackle/guard Isaiah Wynn at No. 23 -- reflects how the Patriots place a high priority on “football character,” as both are leaders and highly respected among teammates. They were also roommates at Georgia.
Resetting the depth chart at running back: Michel joins James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden at the position. Some analysts have compared Michel's game to Saints running back Alvin Kamara, and if Michel brings that type of dual-threat skill set to the Patriots, it will add a big-play dimension they don't currently have.
Patriots not concerned with fumbles: Michel had 12 career fumbles in college, which could be an issue, but director of player personnel Nick Caserio said late Thursday that the team isn't alarmed. Caserio used Patriots Hall of Famer Kevin Faulk as an example of a player who had ball-security struggles early in his career before turning things around. “We spend a lot of time when a player gets here on ball security,” Caserio said. “Right now, I don't think it's an issue.”
Round 2, No. 56 overall: Duke Dawson, CB, Florida
My take: Dawson was one of the Patriots' pre-draft visitors (the team is limited to 30), and director of player personnel Nick Caserio said his versatility, competitiveness and sure tackling appealed to the team. The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Dawson projects as a slot corner, but Caserio also noted he has played safety and on the perimeter. The Patriots are in their defensive sub packages 80-90 percent of the time, so versatile defensive backs are especially valuable. Dawson will be part of the answer to the question many will be asking in future years: "What did the Patriots receive as part of the Jimmy Garoppolo trade?" Dawson is part of the answer, as this pick capped off a flurry of three trades that began with the original Garoppolo pick.
How he fits: Dawson potentially helps both the safety and corner positions, which were ranked as the seventh and eighth top “need” positions entering the draft. At corner, the Patriots have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz on the depth chart. Dawson's arrival could duplicate what 2016 second-round pick Cyrus Jones potentially brings to the team, putting Jones' spot in possible jeopardy. Jones' career has yet to ascend, and he's coming off a torn ACL that cost him the 2017 season. At safety, the Patriots have Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, David Jones and Damarius Travis. Dawson's presence shouldn't affect the top three on the depth chart but could have a trickle-down effect on Richards, a 2015 second-round pick.
Round 5, No. 143 overall: Ja'Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue
My take: Bentley (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) is a physical off-the-ball linebacker who delivered some thunderous hits, but wasn't highly rated by some teams because of concerns about his speed. He wasn't invited to the NFL combine, but did participate in the Senior Bowl, where he played on the line of scrimmage. Such versatility could appeal to the Patriots, perhaps similar to Jonathan Freeny when he was with the team from 2015-2016 but with more potential upside. Bentley was a three-time captain at Purdue and former Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, a Purdue alum, used the word “contactor” to describe his physical style of play. Meanwhile, Bentley described himself as a “thumper” and said his best time in the 40-yard dash in the pre-draft process was a 4.64. Off-the-line linebacker was rated as the Patriots' No. 2 position of need entering the draft, and time will tell if Bentley -- whose contributions on special teams will be critical to his chances of earning a roster spot -- can be part of helping to address it.
How he fits: Bentley seems to have a similar profile to 2016 sixth-round draft choice Elandon Roberts, whose strength is playing downhill against the run. The Patriots often took Roberts off the field in obvious passing situations in favor of more speed and lateral movement at the position, and Bentley could be viewed similarly. The Patriots now have Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Roberts, Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Nicholas Grigsby and Harvey Langi (hybrid edge) on the off-the-line linebacker depth chart.
Round 6, No. 178 overall: Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State
My take: This is a patented Patriots “double dip,” when they pick two players at the same position in the draft in hopes of increasing their odds at least one of them can stick. The Patriots selected the 6-foot-1, 244-pound Sam 35 picks after drafting fellow off-the-line linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, which is a reflection of how the position was one of the team's top needs entering the draft. While it's easy to be skeptical of a sixth-round pick possibly becoming a contributor to the group, one thing to consider is that the difference between the fourth round and sixth/seventh round in this draft is considered negligible. If Sam was taken in the fourth round, would the perception change? He was productive last season, totaling 127 tackles. It doesn't always work out, but past productive “double dips” for the Patriots included WRs Deion Branch/David Givens (2002), DBs Eugene Wilson/Asante Samuel (2003), TEs Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez (2010) and RBs Shane Vereen/Stevan Ridley (2011).
How he fits: Whereas fifth-round pick Bentley described himself more as a thumper, scouts have noted Sam's active athleticism, so the Patriots landed two different types of linebackers back-to-back. Sam could fit a similar profile to fifth-year linebacker Marquis Flowers, who played more in the dime package and on special teams. The Patriots now have Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Roberts, Bentley, Sam, Flowers, Nicholas Grigsby and Harvey Langi (hybrid edge) on the off-the-line linebacker depth chart.
Round 6, No. 210 overall: Braxton Berrios, WR/PR, Miami
Prospect Profile: Braxton Berrios
WR Braxton Berrios came down with some sweet grabs in his time at Miami.
My take: Berrios fits the profile of successful Patriots slot receivers from a physical makeup standpoint (5-foot-8 5/8, 184 pounds) and also has potential as a dynamic, quick-cutting punt returner. Because of that, and how the Patriots' offense has brought out the best in slot receivers going back to Troy Brown in the early 2000s, Berrios was a natural pick to include as a Patriots target leading into the draft. Furthermore, Berrios seems to be the type of person the Patriots like to bring in to their culture, as he was a team captain, graduated as the valedictorian of Miami's business school with a double major and was named the ACC's top student-athlete.
How he fits: The Patriots lost No. 3b/4a receiver and backup punt returner Danny Amendola in free agency and Berrios will compete for some variation of that role. The Patriots' receiver depth chart is crowded with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Cody Hollister and Matthew Slater (special-teams captain), but Hogan, Matthews, Dorsett, Britt and Patterson all are going into the final year of their contracts, so Berrios could add a longer-range layer to the depth chart if he can make the roster. His style of play seems to be similar to that of McCarron, the Iowa alum who spent most of last season on the Patriots' practice squad.
Round 7, No. 219 overall: Danny Etling, QB, LSU
My take: One of the first things that director of player personnel Nick Caserio mentioned about Etling was how he limited turnovers (just two INTs in 2017), which was something that naturally appealed to the Patriots. It is often said that accuracy and decision-making are the two traits the team values most at the position. Essentially, the Patriots' view of quarterbacks in the draft seemed to be that there were a few starting-caliber options and everyone else fell into the same category as developmental backups. Because of that, they didn't want to overdraft at the position and that explains, in part, why they waited until the top of the seventh round to make Etling the 11th quarterback selected. On top of Etling's on-field performance, another thing that likely appealed to the Patriots was his maturity. He's an older rookie, set to turn 24 in July, and it takes a wise-beyond-your-years mentality to walk into a quarterback room with Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer. That gives Etling a chance.
How he fits: The Patriots have shown they are willing to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster in years that they draft a quarterback, with the latest evidence coming in 2016 when third-round pick Jacoby Brissett joined Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo as the No. 3 option. Brady is naturally entrenched in the top spot in 2018, followed by Hoyer. So Etling first has to convince the staff he is worthy of a roster spot, and if not, perhaps he finds a spot on the practice squad. "We knew we were going to add a quarterback to our team at some point," Caserio said. "It's relative to what other options you might have, relative to other positions, and there's no template [of] 'We're going to take one here, we're going to take one there.' You just evaluate the player and we think Danny has some traits and some decent qualities to work with. We'll put him in our program and see how he does."
Round 7, No. 243 overall: Keion Crossen, CB, Western Carolina
My take: The numbers "4.32" jump off the page, as Crossen's time in the 40-yard dash highlights how he has impressive speed. When picking late in the seventh round, teams often identify a standout trait to work with and then hope it blossoms into something greater. The Patriots have had several players fall into that category, and Crossen -- who wasn't invited to the combine, but showed up on the Patriots' scouting radar with a strong performance at Wake Forest's pro day and then was invited for an in-house visit at Gillette Stadium in which his upbeat personality made an impression on the team -- is an intriguing prospect to watch in that regard.
How he fits: The Patriots have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz on the cornerback depth chart, and Crossen fits a similar physical profile as 5-foot-10, 190-pound Jonathan Jones, who is one of the fastest players on the team. Jones is recovering from a season-ending foot/ankle injury sustained in January, so Crossen could compete to fill his slot corner/core special teams role until his return to health. Crossen played more of an outside corner role in college, but his size might make it challenging for him to play that spot in the NFL. "He's undersized, but he's athletic, runs well, he's explosive and real competitive," director of player personnel Nick Caserio said.
Round 7, No. 250 overall: Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State
My take: The 6-foot-4, 256-pound Izzo was described by Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio as more of an inline tight end who brings an element of toughness to the field. His consistency and strength caught the Patriots' eye in recent years, which makes him worthy of taking a late-draft flier on. Even if he doesn't stick on the roster, it's always good business to have a tight end developing behind the scenes on the practice squad.
How he fits: The Patriots have Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Will Tye and Troy Niklas on the tight end depth chart, and Izzo's physical makeup and style of play most closely aligns with Allen, the venerable seven-year veteran who is scheduled to earn $4.5 million in base salary this season. As Caserio often says, they'll put all the players in the mix and let the competition dictate. It's a solid competition at tight end.