FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. With a week to digest the Patriots’ four-player draft class, here is some insight on each prospect from conversations with scouts and personnel executives around the league:
Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers (83rd, third round): His combination of speed, athleticism and ability to bend is seen as excellent. “He has a ton of ability,” one scout said, projecting that Rivers could initially factor as a situational pass rusher and special-teams contributor and eventually develop into a larger role. A good week at the Senior Bowl, and strong testing results at the combine, helped him in the draft process. “He’s a guy that has to get bigger and stronger,” one evaluator said. “The fact he played at Youngstown [FCS level] and didn’t always play hard or physical at times, would be the knock on him. A lot of times on tape, you were disappointed with his effort and physicality. ... If he can come in and learn from a guy like [Rob] Ninkovich, a true pro, on how to work and compete day in and day out, they might have hit on that one.”
Troy offensive tackle Antonio Garcia (85th, third round): This was widely viewed as a solid value pick based on Garcia’s potential as a future starter and a weak overall draft class at the position. “There were only a couple guys that you’d say are surefire starters, and then Antonio fell into the next group,” one evaluator said. “But here’s the thing: After Antonio, there was nobody else.” That likely explains why the Patriots gave up a third-round pick (96) and fourth-rounder (124) to move up 11 spots to select him. He initially projects as a swing tackle, or even a No. 4 option, but has high upside. “He needs to get bigger and stronger, but left tackle feet and athleticism, he has that,” one scout said, also noting that Garcia has a nasty streak and played well against better competition (e.g. vs. Clemson). “He really tries to finish guys off, but he can’t all the time because he’s not strong enough right now.”
Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise (113th, fourth round): He is a player whose traits and skill set will be valued differently based on what scheme a defense plays. “If you’re going to sit in two-gap, he has the size and length to be able to do that. You might get a little bit of pass rush, but not much,” one scout said. “He’s a big, tall, long guy who was better his junior year than senior year.”
UCLA offensive tackle Conor McDermott (211th, sixth round): One line of thinking is that this was a pick heavily influenced by offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has a strong track record developing prospects. Scouts had concern with McDermott’s performance against Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett (No. 1 overall pick) early last season. “He got destroyed,” one evaluator said. “But Garrett does that to a lot of guys.” McDermott is tall (6-foot-8 1/8) and scouts have questions about his athleticism and strength. Yet if Scarnecchia signed off on him, with a vision of what he could become developmentally, it would explain why the Patriots traded up to draft him, because Scarnecchia's opinion carries significant weight in the organization.
2. Invitations recently went out to Patriots players to save the date of Friday, June 9, for what should be a memorable experience: receiving Super Bowl LI rings. The Patriots are holding their mandatory minicamp from June 6-8, so the date fits well as all players on the current roster should already be in town.
3. Jersey numbers for the newest Patriots players are expected to be finalized this week, with receiver Brandin Cooks’ digits of particular interest. The No. 10 he wore last year in New Orleans belongs to Jimmy Garoppolo, and he isn’t eligible to wear the No. 7 that he donned at Oregon State. The early projection for Cooks is No. 13, which happened to be his assigned number at the NFL combine. Meanwhile, while potentially subject to change, draft picks Rivers (95), Garcia (63), Wise (91) and McDermott (67) were given numbers for this weekend’s rookie minicamp.
4. With the conclusion of the Patriots' rookie minicamp, one of the stories I’m interested to follow is whether tryout kicker Josh Gable showed enough to spark the team to offer him a contract. As of Saturday night, my understanding was that most of the other tryout players had departed town without deals, but Gable’s status was still fluid. Another NFL team has already offered to bring Gable to its upcoming rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, but the Patriots could block that from happening by signing him. It's a fun story based on Gable's unique background.
5. With ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reporting that free-agent wide receiver Michael Floyd is talking with the Minnesota Vikings and others about a contract, with the hope of having a deal finalized by the end of the week, it serves as a reminder that Floyd won’t be back with the Patriots in 2017. Floyd provided the Patriots important depth late last season when he unexpectedly became available in mid-December. And while the team might have entertained his return this year if other options didn’t come to fruition, once Cooks came aboard it essentially closed the door on the possibility.
6. The post-draft edition of the "Patriots All-Access" television show is always a must-watch, as it includes a peek inside the team’s draft room. One nugget that seemed worthy of mention is that as the Patriots were on the clock with their lone fourth-round pick, at No. 113 overall, director of player personnel Nick Caserio picked up the phone and seemed to be informing another team (he referenced the name “Mike”) that the Patriots intended to make the pick instead of presumably trading down. Based on that, one could draw the conclusion that the Patriots were pleased to see Arkansas defensive end Deatrich Wise available to them at that point, and the value of trading down for more picks didn’t trump what the Patriots felt they were getting in the long-armed, powerful Wise.
7a. It has been well documented that the Patriots draft room is smaller in numbers than the norm around the NFL, perhaps the smallest across the entire league. In addition to Bill Belichick and Caserio, along with owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft, the Patriots (via "All-Access") had football research director Ernie Adams; director of football/head coach administration Berj Najarian; director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort; college scouting coordinator Brian Smith; national scouts James Liipfert and DuJuan Daniels; and director of pro scouting Dave Ziegler in the room this year. Ossenfort, Smith, Liipfert and Daniels might not be as well known to Patriots fans, but Caserio made sure to single them out after the draft. “They deserve a lot of credit,” he said, echoing words he had also spoken before the draft. “You only pick four players, it doesn’t seem like there’s really much that goes on, but it’s a lot of work for four picks.”
7b. Liipfert, a native of Marshallville, Georgia, was profiled in the Macon Telegraph before the Super Bowl. It’s always nice to see the behind-the-scenes, hard-working scouts receive that type of public recognition.
8. The Patriots probably didn’t go into the draft with the intention of trading up twice to select two left tackles -- Garcia in the third round, McDermott in the sixth round -- but that bottom-line result had to catch the eye of starting left tackle Nate Solder. When a team invests four draft picks to bring in two players at your position, that’s obviously notable. Part of that is naturally tied to the way the draft unfolded, as it easily could have been a different position had other players fallen to the Patriots. But now the development of Garcia and to a lesser degree McDermott should ultimately determine how aggressive the Patriots are in attempting to extend Solder’s contract, which expires after the season.
9a. With Tony Romo landing with CBS as its top game analyst, and Jay Cutler replacing John Lynch as an analyst on Fox’s No. 2 team, which Patriots would be my top choice to ultimately make a similar transition in retirement? Couldn’t go wrong with safety Devin McCourty, with defensive end Rob Ninkovich right there as well.
9b. From the “inside the media” file: NFL teams aren’t required to open their rookie minicamps to reporters, so it’s little surprise that Belichick elects to keep the Patriots’ camp closed. That is being passed along for those curious as to why there has been limited on-the-scene media coverage of the team’s camp, compared to the camps of other clubs around the league.
10a. If you’re a Tennessee Titans fan, and read this touching story by Jim Wyatt on the team’s official website, how can you not come away impressed by the person leading the franchise? General manager Jon Robinson worked his way up the Patriots’ scouting ranks from 2002-2013, elevating to director of college scouting. He’s one of several fine personnel evaluators, and people, that the Patriots have had (and continue to have) working in their personnel department.
10b. Speaking of the Titans, one of the most frequent questions Patriots followers have asked in recent weeks is whether there is still a chance that former Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty could sign in New England and join his twin brother, Devin. McCourty remains a free agent, and it doesn’t sound like he’s in a rush to sign anywhere until he’s convinced it’s the right opportunity. That could arise quickly, or it might take some time. Meanwhile, the Patriots are currently deep at the position, with Malcolm Butler’s status now having more clarity, so it remains in the “stay tuned” category as circumstances can sometimes change with injuries etc.