With the draft in the rear view mirror and OTA’s starting this past week I think it’s a good time to break down each of the Patriots draft picks from this year and what can be expected from them.
Round 2, Pick 60: Cyrus Jones, Cornerback Alabama
This is a player that many predicted would become a Patriot before the draft. First of all, Jones went to Alabama, and Bill Belichick’s love for players from that program and his connection with Nick Saban are no secret. As for the on field reasons, Bill loves players who can do multiple things and play multiple positions. At Alabama Jones played on the outside, matched up on the opponent’s top receiver, but projects as a slot corner in the NFL due to his size and quickness. Not only was he a stud at corner, he was also the best punt returner in the country, with 4 return touchdowns last season. His punt return skills are most likely why the Patriots were willing to pick him a little earlier than most expected. Julian Edelman is a phenomenal return man, but with his injury history the risk now outweighs the reward of putting him back there all the time, and Jones should be more than capable of filling his shoes.
Jones will be much more than just a punt returner though. He checks every box the Patriots look for in their corners. He played in a press man coverage system in college, which is what the Patriots play. His physicality is not just in the pass game, and Jones is an aggressive run defender which is a requirement to play in the Patriots secondary, as evidenced by Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler tallying 74 and 67 tackles respectively in 2015. Finally, Jones is a ball hawk, he came to Alabama as a 4 star recruit at wide receiver and it shows in his game.
If you want to see Jones’ explosive play making ability check out this video.
Prediction: Jones is the punt returner from day 1 and eases his way into the starting slot corner job
Round 3, Pick 78: Joe Thuney, Offensive Lineman North Carolina State
Joe Thuney is a classic Patriots pick. He is super athletic, has played every single spot on the line, and was a captain for his team. This pick should be a wakeup call to pretty much everyone on the Patriots offensive line except for Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. The Patriots drafted guards Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason last year, signed guard Josh Kline to an extension, and have centers Bryan Stork and David Andrews on the roster as well. Most experts believe that Thuney was drafted to play guard, but some think he is best built for center, so why are we drafting a guy to play a position that we have plenty of? To find the answer to that look no further than the man the Patriots brought back to coach the offensive line this year, Dante Scarnecchia. Dante is the best in the business and loves open competition and that is exactly what he’s going to have. Something has to give and someone on the roster right now is going to get cut, and it’s not going to be Thuney. If I had to choose right now my guess is it would be Tre Jackson, he was hurt most of last year, but did nothing to impress me when he was healthy. The darkhorse candidate to get cut would be Marcus Cannon. Cannon has been pathetic for the better part of the last two years and is grossly overpaid, Thuney played some tackle in college and could potentially have been drafted to replace Cannon.
Prediction: Thuney plays as a part of a rotation at guard early in the season before winning a starting spot.
Round 3, Pick 91: Jacoby Brissett, Quarterback North Carolina State
The Patriots selected players from the Wolfpack on consecutive picks, and the second selection was a bit baffling at first. With Brady’s potential suspension hanging over the teams head, the need to bring in a third quarterback was obvious, but this was a weak quarterback class so most expected the team to bring in a veteran free agent for camp or draft someone late and hope they show something. By picking Brissett in the third round they have guaranteed that they will be carrying three quarterbacks on the roster for the entire season, something they almost never do because it takes a spot away from a player who will actually see the field. This indicates that the pick was much more than Brady suspension insurance. It seems as though Brissett was drafted to replace Jimmy Garoppolo when his contract expires after next season or if the team trades him before that. Brissett is a project player who experts didn’t expect to be picked until later in the draft, but he has worked with Bill Parcells and Charlie Weiss and they both speak highly of him so it makes sense that the Patriots drafted him.
Prediction: Brissett is on the 53 man roster but never the 46 man unless Brady serves the suspension or there is an injury
Round 3, Pick 96: Vincent Valentine, Defensive Tackle Nebraska
This one is a real head scratcher. Yes, the Patriots needed to add a defensive tackle after cutting ties with Dominique Easley, but adding Valentine in the third round was surprising. He is 6-foot-4, 329 pounds and has a reputation for being out of shape. Clearly he is a huge body and hopefully can take up blockers in the run game, but the patriots already have Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton to do that and were in need of an interior pass rusher. Valentine is not that, finishing with seven sacks in three years at Nebraska. He is also not a good run defender either ranking last among defensive tackles in the draft with only five run stops last season. The Patriots like to rotate their defensive tackles so it’s likely he sees the field at least a little bit.
Prediction: Third round picks are almost never cut as rookies unless something very bad happens, so expect Valentine to be on the roster. As for his performance and playing time, who knows.
Round 4, Pick 112: Malcolm Mitchell, Receiver Georgia
The Patriots needed to add a receiver and Malcolm Mitchell turned out to be their man. With Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola both having surgery and the time line for their return in question Mitchell has a chance to make an immediate impact. He is 6 feet, 198 pounds and ran a 4.45 40 yard dash. Those measurables should have him playing on the outside in the role previously played by Brandon Lafell. This pick is bad news for Aaron Dobson whose time in New England has likely come to an end unless he lights it up in camp. Mitchell had 174 catches to go along with 2,350 yards and 16 touchdowns at Georgia, so he was very productive, but so were the other receivers drafted by the Patriots since Belichick has been here.
Prediction: Starter on the outside from day one, but only has 30-40 catches because of the amount of weapons around him.
Round 6, Pick 208: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Linebacker Eastern Illinois
Another player from Eastern Illinois joins Jimmy G on the roster. Grugier-Hill runs a 4.45 40 and is 6-foot-2, 208 pounds so he isn’t going to be playing linebacker in the NFL. His body type and measurables look like the new hybrid strong safety/linebacker that has become common place in the NFL over the last few seasons. The Patriots are deep at safety and linebacker so his best chance of making the roster is on special teams, but this is the type of player that could miss out on a roster spot because the team carries three quarterbacks. His skill set reminds me a lot of Tavon Wilson who was an excellent special teamer when he was here, and also should have been picked in the sixth round.
Prediction: This is a tough call because Bill Belichick puts a premium on special teams and this kid seems like a perfect fit, but he doesn’t really have true position on defense so I think he gets cut and the Patriots sneak him onto the practice squad.
Round 6, Pick 214: Elandon Roberts, Linebacker Houston
Let’s call this for what it is, Roberts is a camp body. The Patriots are loaded at linebacker and the only real chance he has to make the roster is as a special teamer, but I think it’s unlikely that he jumps Jonathan Freeny as the special teams linebacker.
Prediction: Roberts gets cut and is added to the practice squad.
Round 6, Pick 221: Ted Karras, Guard Illinois
Like Roberts, I believe that Karras is another camp body. The Patriots are deep at guard as well and there are no special teams opportunities for linemen.
Round 7, Pick 225: Devin Lucien, Receiver Arizona State
Of all the late round picks this one intrigued me the most. Lucien’s production and his measurables indicate that he should have been a second or third round pick yet he falls all the way to the seventh, and no one is really sure why. He is 6 feet, 200 pounds, runs a 4.49 40, put up 66 catches, 1,074 yards, and 8 touchdowns last season. Those are really good numbers especially in a Power 5 conference like the Pac-12. How polished his route tree is remains to be seen, but if he can stick around he should be able to fill the Brandon Lafell role on the outside, but without the drops, according to Pro Football Focus he had only 3 drops on 98 targets. The Patriots like to carry 5 receivers on the active roster, 6 if you count Matthew Slater, and currently there are only three surefire locks. Edelman, Amendola, and Hogan will be on this team and it’s rare that a fourth round pick gets cut as a rookie so Malcolm Mitchell is close to a lock as well. This means Lucien is competing with Aaron Dobson, Nate Washington, Chris Harper and Keyshawn Martin, who got a contract extension last year, for the final spot. That’s an uphill battle for a seventh round rookie, but not unwinnable. There have also been rumblings that Amendola could start the year on the PUP list which would open up another roster spot for the first 6 weeks.
Prediction: Lucien flashes in camp and the preseason, and wins a spot on the roster.