The New England Patriots would fare very well with their roster as is, but a few impact rookies in the 2017 NFL Draft could make them unstoppable.
The New England Patriots enter the 2017 NFL Draft without a single pick in the first two rounds. They traded away their first-round selection (No. 32 overall) to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Then they turned around and dealt their second-round pick to the Carolina Panthers in return for defensive end Kony Ealy and the Panthers third-round pick.
Incredibly, only one pick in the Patriots’ 2017 stash was theirs to begin with. The rest come from a series of trades that we’ll quickly recap.
In the third round, the New England Patriots hold the 72nd and 96th overall picks. No. 72 came from the trade with the Panthers and No. 96 is their naturally assigned third-round choice.
Sep 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars linebacker Tyus Bowser (81) defends as Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) attempts a pass during the game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3, Pick 8: Tyus Bowser, EDGE – Houston
The New England Patriots use their first selection in the 2017 NFL Draft to address their pass rush. With the loss of Chris Long and Jabal Sheard in free agency, the Patriots need an injection of youth at the position. That duo accounted for nine of the Patriots’ 24.0 sacks last season.
The addition of Kony Ealy will help, but he is far from a sure thing. In three seasons in the NFL, he has yet to notch more than five sacks in a season. His production has come in bursts, and overall, he has been relatively inconsistent. Not to mention, he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Enter Tyus Bowser. The senior from Houston has only been dedicated to playing football for two years. He spent his first two years of college splitting time between the football field basketball court. In my opinion, that makes his recent accomplishments even more impressive.
In his senior season, Bowser notched 8.5 sacks in only eight games. On top of that, he added 12 tackles for loss. On most snaps, Bowser played as a stand-up rusher in a 3-4 scheme. However, he demonstrated the ability to play coverage (including two career interceptions) and rush with his hand in the dirt.
This versatility is a trait the Patriots will covet, as they can move him all around the formation, and eventually use him to replace Rob Ninkovich.
Oct 22, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Sidney Jones (26) in action against the Oregon State Beavers during the first quarter at Husky Stadium. Washington won 41-17. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3, Pick 32: Sidney Jones, CB – Washington
This may seem like an odd use of a premium pick, considering the New England Patriots secondary looks to be in solid shape after 2017. In fact, after retaining restricted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler and signing Stephon Gilmore in free agency, they should be set at the position. However, the Patriots will most likely lose Malcolm Butler in unrestricted free agency next offseason. So, they use their third-round pick to hedge their bets.
Sidney Jones was once considered one of the best cornerbacks in this loaded draft class. Talent wise, he still is. Unfortunately, Jones tore his Achilles tendon at his pro day, causing him to tumble down draft boards.
There are concerns that the former Huskie may not even see the field his rookie season. There is precedent for this type of pick though. In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys selected Jaylon Smith, who was considered a top-five lock before suffering a torn ACL/MCL in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith missed his entire rookie season.
But talent is talent. And Jones is drawing comparisons to the Chiefs’ Marcus Peters, which is impressive considering Peters has 14 career interceptions in only his first two season. Scouts believe that Sidney has the talent to become a true lockdown corner, and the ball skills to make several impact plays per season.
Unlike most teams, the Patriots have the luxury of not needing immediate production from all their premium draft picks. So, they take a small risk and grab a player who, when healthy, could immediately become a starter.
The New England Patriots aren’t in dire of need a center per se, but Pat Elflein is too good to pass up on at this pick. This is somewhat of a fall for Elflein, but in a strong defensive class, it’s totally feasible.
For a little background, Elflein didn’t start until his sophomore season at the Ohio State University. His first two years as a starter were actually spent at guard, where he played very well. He even earned All-Big Ten honors in both seasons.
However, Elflein was required to transition to center his senior season, and he quickly proved why he is the best center in this year’s draft class. (Again, it’s a weak class, hence the fall.) He earned All-American honors and his senior season, on top of his third season as an All-Big Ten.
The New England Patriots already have David Andrews at center, who beat out Bryan Stork in training camp last year. But Elflein could come into the locker room and immediately provide competition, and likely beat out David Andrews.
Upgrading the offensive line certainly fits the trend of maximizing Brady’s final years. So the Patriots pull the trigger on a center who could anchor their offensive line for years to come.
With their first of two fifth round selections, the New England Patriots address their offensive line again. And in this case, they have a pretty big need at the position. After releasing Sebastian Vollmer, the Patriots are left with a small void at right tackle.
Overall, Holden adds immediate depth for a NFL team looking for tackle/guard versatility, also showing down-the-road potential to push for starting reps.
I watched a little of Holden’s tape myself, and I saw a willing blocker. It didn’t look like he took any snaps off. He showed some lateral quickness and the ability to plant his feet and stand up a rusher.
On other snaps, he was susceptible to a bull rush or a well-timed spin move. Something that really stuck out to me was his ability to get second-level blocks. There were several runs where he managed to get into the second level before the back, and occupy a linebacker or safety.
Preferably, the Patriots would like someone who can contribute right away. But in the fifth round, you’ll take what you can get. And Holden isn’t a bad selection here by any standards. Perhaps, the Pats will try starting Holden and he’ll shine given the extra reps. At any rate, Holden shouldn’t be worse than current starter Marcus Cannon.
Sep 26, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Ohio Bobcats safety Nathan Carpenter (35) and linebacker Blair Brown (33) tackle Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Rodney Smith (24) at the line of scrimmage in the first quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5, Pick 39: Blair Brown, LB – Ohio
Blair Brown is a versatile linebacker prospect, who could play ILB or OLB at the next level. The first thing you’ll notice when you watch him is size. At 5-11, 238 pounds, he is a bit smaller than you would prefer at linebacker. He makes up for his size limitations with a relentless motor. Brown doesn’t take a single snap off. From what I saw, he is going to play whistle to whistle.
The best trait I watched from him was his play recognition. There were several snaps where he would sniff out a screen, or see a pulling guard and collapse on the play immediately. Very rarely did he get lost in blockers, and almost always found his way to the ball carrier.
In addition, when he did get “stuck” on a blocker, it wasn’t for long. I watched one snap where Brown put a 300-pound offensive lineman flat on his back, just by running into him. In case you’re wondering, he still made the tackle on that play.
If he can stand up to the physicality of the inside linebacker position in the NFL, I think that’s where he fits best with the Patriots. He’s a sideline to sideline tackling machine, something that should allow him to fit in with the Patriots current linebacking corps.
Oct 15, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack running back Matthew Dayes (21) carries the ball during the first half against the Clemson Tigers at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Round 6, Pick 16: Matthew Dayes, RB – NC State
The New England Patriots choose to use their sixth round pick to fill the hole left by LeGarrette Blount. As of Thursday, Blount has yet to be re-signed, and the recent addition of Mike Gillislee seems to indicate a return won’t be happening.
Matt Dayes is never going to be the biggest running back on the field, but he’s still a tough one. He picks up tough yards, and is excellent at finding and getting through his holes.
Watch any game of his, and you’ll be excited about his potential in the NFL. One of his most impressive, in my opinion, was his 2016 game against Clemson. He ripped off 102 yards against the eventual National Champions, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
He does have some downside. Because of his small frame, he likely won’t be able to be a three-down workhorse back, as he won’t be able to stand up to all the hits he’ll take. This isn’t a problem to the Patriots, who have traditionally employed a by-committee backfield.
Oct 10, 2015; Morgantown, WV, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin catches a touchdown pass during the third quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7, Pick 21: Blake Jarwin, TE – Oklahoma State
The seventh round of the NFL Draft is a crapshoot. It always has, and it always will be. So here, the New England Patriots take a shot at finding some tight end depth. The top of the depth chart looks great with Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen.
Depth is necessary at every position, though, and especially tight end considering Gronk’s injury history. I’m not saying that Jarwin could replace Gronk if he were to get hurt, or even come close. But Jarwin does have the ability to play if necessary.
The first thing I noticed watching him on tape is his blocking ability. At times, he looked like a left tackle. He masterfully handled spin moves, bull rushes, swim moves and rip moves. He’s not perfect though, and there were some plays where he wound up flat on his back.
However, blocking was his primary role at Oklahoma State. Over three years, he never recorded more than 20 receptions or two touchdowns in a single season. But, from the little film I could find, he seems to have a solid pair of hands when targeted.
Jarwin is a project, and likely shouldn’t step on the field immediately. Ideally, he should be given lots of practice reps to develop his rookie season, and hopefully start contributing in year two. Given time, he can provide valuable depth, and starting ability in a pinch.