Kaitlin McKinley Becker

Belichick Keeps His Word, Patriots Draft for Talent Over Need in 2018 NFL Draft

Another NFL draft is in the books, another draft in which the New England Patriots zigged when everyone expected them to zag.

Not only did the Patriots establish a new team record for trades over the course of the draft with eight, but they did it without messing with either of their first-round picks. Throw in the continued wheeling-and-dealing of the team’s No. 43 overall pick in the second round – aka the Jimmy Garoppolo pick – and it’s another year in which there are a million ways to decipher just what went on in the war room at Patriot Place.

The team entered the weekend with seven selections and left with nine.

Four main takeaways:

1. Tom Brady’s heir apparent remains at large.

True, New England selected LSU quarterback Danny Etling with the first pick of the seventh round on Saturday (No. 219 overall). That’s only 20 picks later than Brady himself was taken once upon a time, but bestowing those kinds of expectations upon Etling would be extremely premature.

The Patriots may not have had the draft capital at the outset of the draft to go get Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold at Nos. 1 or 3 overall, but they likely could have pieced something together to go get Josh Allen or Josh Rosen, who went Nos. 7 and 10 overall, respectively. New England passed on Lamar Jackson twice and let Mason Rudolph slide down the to third round, and didn’t think twice about Kyle Lauletta, Mike White, Luke Falk or Tanner Lee before nabbing Etling.

Etling could certainly threaten incumbent backup quarterback Brian Hoyer’s spot on the roster. Only in the most dire of situations will he wind up taking a snap this season for the Patriots though. He had only one season in his college career where he completed 60 percent of his passes and never attempted more than 275 passes in a season while playing in a run-heavy scheme at LSU.

There’s something to be said about a QB who only turned the ball over twice last season in the SEC, but Etling is a developmental project at the NFL level until further notice.

2. The Patriots have made it as confusing as possible to track just exactly what the return for Jimmy Garoppolo amounts to.

On Oct. 31, 2017, New England sent Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2018 second round draft pick. Once the 2017 season ended and the Niners finished 6-10, that pick materialized as the No. 43 overall selection in this year’s draft.

Naturally, the Patriots spun the pick into more assets. There’s no direct line to say “New England traded Garoppolo for Player X.”

Instead, through a dizzying array of deals by Belichick made with the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, multiple players and future draft picks can now be linked back to the Garoppolo deal.

In it’s simplest form, the Patriots traded away Garoppolo and the No. 63 overall pick in the 2018 draft for the No. 56 overall pick in the 2018 draft, No. 178 overall pick in the 2018 draft, a 2019 second-round draft pick and a 2019 third-round draft pick.

New England used the 56th pick on Duke Dawson and 178th pick on Christian Sam. The 63rd pick wound up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who took Carlton Davis. It could take a decade or more to determine the true outcome of the Garoppolo deal.

3. Bill Belichick meant what he said by not believing in “drafting for need.”

At his pre-draft press conference on April 13, Belichick stated “The whole ‘draft need’ thing, I don’t understand that. I think it’s important to take good players.”

Each of New England’s first round picks seem to meet the criteria. Isaiah Wynn played both tackle and guard at Georgia, but at 6-foot-3, can he handle playing on the outside of the line in the NFL? There’s no question he’s talented enough to play guard…it just so happens the Patriots have two young starters entrenched at those positions in Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. Was the drafting of Wynn an insurance policy in case New England can’t re-sign Mason, who’s an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 season?

There’s no denying Sony Michel’s talent, either, as evidenced by his 7.87 yards per carry in 2017 – good enough for fifth in the nation among qualified runners and third among running backs. The Patriots already have James White, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee on the depth chart at the position, however. And given what happened the last time Belichick took a running back in round one, the underwhelming Laurence Maroney, it’s a bit surprising he rolled the dice again 12 years later.

Cornerback didn’t seem to be the top priority for the Patriots, either, yet that’s the direction the team went with second rounder Duke Dawson out of Florida. New England didn’t take a tight end as possible Rob Gronkowski insurance until the seventh round, and both linebackers it drafted in Ja’Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam are better suited for inside roles rather than along the edge.

4. As always, keep an eye on the undrafted free agents.

Pretty much every year since Belichick took over the operation in 2000, a player deemed nothing more than a warm body for training camp has gone on to not only make the team, but stick around for years as a valuable contributor. Think Malcolm Butler, David Andrews, Steve Neal, Brandon Bolden, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a slew of others that have made their marks as undrafted free agents with the Patriots.

Just last season, defensive tackle Adam Butler signed with the team as an undrafted free agent and went on to play in roughly 45 percent of New England’s snaps on defense and registered a pair of sacks in the postseason. Linebacker Harvey Langi was contributing as a core special teamer prior to suffering a season-ending injury in a car accident as well. Offensive lineman Cole Croston and tight end Jacob Hollister didn’t contribute much, but they did spend their entire rookie seasons on the 53-man roster for the Patriots.

It’s way too soon to tell if defensive tackles John Atkins and Frank Herron, defensive end Trent Harris, punter Corey Bojorquez, cornerback JC Jackson, running back Ralph Webb, tight end Shane Wimann or wide receiver Chris Lacy will go on to be the next great UDFA mined by Belichick. But odds are at least one of them will not only find their way onto the roster, but play a role in a win or two down the line for New England.

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