FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Despite thoroughly scouting the quarterback position from top to bottom, the Patriots didn’t select a signal-caller in the draft until the top of the seventh round, when they made LSU’s Danny Etling the 11th player at the position to come off the board. But in a reflection of how aggressively the team explored all options, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels traveled to Austin, Texas, the Monday before the draft to meet one-on-one with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, as first reported on NFL Network's broadcast. The visit highlights that the Patriots invested heavily and were prepared for all scenarios to fill an obvious need behind soon-to-be-41-year-old Tom Brady and 32-year-old top backup Brian Hoyer, from the No. 1 pick in the draft (Mayfield) to No. 219 (Etling). In the end, based on their actions, here’s how I’d sum up the Patriots’ overall view of the 2018 quarterback class: a few starter-caliber options who weren’t in reasonable range to select and then mostly backup types. They clearly didn’t want to overdraft at the position because of that.
2. I spoke to one NFL defensive coordinator Saturday, and he shared his view that the 2018 draft was top-heavy on defense but thin on talent from an overall perspective compared to past years. The rest of the NFL seemed to agree because after the Titans selected Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans 22nd overall, 17 of the next 22 picks were on offense. That’s a huge run on offense, and it had a big trickle-down effect on New England. The Patriots had the 23rd and 31st picks, and though they might have preferred to go defense, they probably felt that the price to trade up was too high and so they stayed true to their board with left tackle Isaiah Wynn (No. 23) and running back Sony Michel (31). In fact, if the Patriots hadn't selected cornerback Duke Dawson in the second round (No. 56), I wouldn’t have been surprised if they picked an offensive player because of the dearth of quality defensive options at that point in the draft. That’s why they probably traded back up for Dawson, as they might have been worried about losing out on him after a mini-run on cornerbacks from 53-55.
3. One team I spoke with viewed Dawson, the Patriots’ second-round pick, as the best cover nickel corner in the draft, noting that he is an efficient mover and shows the ability to mirror receivers with reactive athleticism. But that team had two concerns that lessened Dawson's value a bit: At his size (5-foot-10, 197 pounds), there was a question as to how he could hold up in a full-time nickel role (more than in a specific matchup in a game plan), and he had multiple head injuries in college that might have been a result of his tackling technique.
Trader Bill worksheet: A team-record eight draft-day deals which also set up a potential haul for 2019. pic.twitter.com/HxcMWVX1cz— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) April 29, 2018
4. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said late Saturday that the team didn’t go into the draft with a goal of adding 2019 picks, but it organically ended up securing the Bears’ second-rounder next year, the Lions’ third-rounder and the Eagles’ seventh-rounder. While it wasn’t their intention, it sets the Patriots up with an impressive haul for 2019:
Second round (via Bears)
Third round (via Lions)
Third round (projected compensatory pick)
Third round (projected comp pick)
Sixth round (projected comp pick)
Seventh round (via Eagles)
Seventh round (projected comp pick)
Maybe that collection of picks will put the Patriots in position to land their quarterback of the future or simply help build the foundation at a time when adding more young, ascending talent is crucial toward the goal of sustained success.
5a. When the Patriots were picking at No. 23, Rams general manager Les Snead played a highlight reel of receiver Brandin Cooks in his team’s draft room, as that was the selection the Rams traded to the Patriots for Cooks. Those are the types of behind-the-scenes stories that make an already-fun-to-cover event that much more enjoyable.
5b. One other nugget from around the NFL with a tie-in to the Patriots: Lions general manager Bob Quinn, picking No. 20, seemed to hint that the Bengals (21), Ravens (22) and Patriots (23) might have been ready to pounce on Arkansas center Frank Ragnow if he slipped past them. “We got some word from a few teams after us that they were interested in him as well, so I think the time was right to pick him,” Quinn said. If it had been Ragnow versus Wynn for the Patriots at No. 23, that would have been an interesting call.
6. A book on Bill Belichick? Yes, please. Best of luck to Ian O’Connor on its fall release. For those who haven’t read O’Connor’s work, his Super Bowl feature on Patriots linebackers coach/de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores is a solid place to start.
7. Three behind-the-scenes Patriots draft nuggets:
My view of McDaniels' being in the Patriots draft room, as shown in videos on all three days on Patriots.com, is that it's a change from recent years and reflective of his being more involved in the team-building process after agreeing to return to New England this offseason. McDaniels was also a guest speaker at the team’s draft party, alongside Belichick, Caserio and team owner Robert Kraft.
Caserio, the director of player personnel, lauded the work of director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort multiple times (“He’s an immense help. We’re lucky to have him”), which shined a spotlight on an ascending personnel evaluator who most recently was on the Texans’ radar for their general-manager opening.
Video from the draft room, on Patriots.com, showed research director Richard Miller as a contributor. Like Ossenfort, he’s another unsung member of the team’s staff.
8a. One scout familiar with the Patriots' program relayed something that resonated, and it’s an area I believe New England nailed in the 2018 draft: As much as the on-field evaluation is crucial, scouts and personnel officials have to dig deeper than ever to determine the mental makeup and character of players in the iPhone/social media era. Wynn and Michel are top-notch in that regard, almost like throwbacks. Those who spent time with them on their visit to town Friday relayed that they made as positive of a first impression as anyone in the past two decades.
8b. One follow-up on Michel: As much as the merits of selecting a running in the first round can be debated, I feel confident saying Michel wouldn’t have been around much longer if New England hadn't picked him. I spoke with one team that was ready to pounce if Michel made it a bit further down the board. The team also had no concerns with Michel’s knee. Note to fantasy football owners: Sony Michel could be this season's Alvin Kamara.
9a. Everyone saw Deion Branch (2002-2005, 2010-2012) and Ty Warren (2003-2010) announce the Patriots’ second- and third-round picks during the NFL draft, and one of the nice backstories to that development is how the two have maintained their friendship from their time together in New England. “We’re always around each other. Our wives and kids all get together. He has a house full of women, and I’m the same boat,” Branch relayed with a laugh. Players often talk about how their bonds in the locker room are enduring, and seeing Branch and Warren during the draft was one reminder of that.
9b. Nice video here, from Patriots.com, which ends with the team’s draft room watching Branch and Warren announce Dawson as the second-round pick. Lots of smiles.
10. A few things that stood out from Caserio’s Saturday draft wrap-up news conference:
The Patriots used four of their 30 pre-draft visits on their late-round draft picks: linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley (fifth round) and Christian Sam (sixth round), Etling (seventh round) and cornerback Keion Crossen (Western Carolina). Those visits gave the team comfort in making those selections.
The Patriots will host their rookie minicamp May 10 and are in the process of finalizing some undrafted signings to fill out their 90-man roster.
Etling first showed up on the Patriots’ radar last spring, when the team was evaluating other LSU prospects, and the team followed him through the Tropical Bowl (a lower-profile all-star game) and really took note of his work at LSU’s pro day. “He threw like 150 balls," Caserio said. "It was a pretty extensive workout."