New England Patriots 2016 NFL Draft Review, Grades

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
Bill Belichick Reviews the Prospects at the NFL Combine – Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

While the New England Patriots were without their first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft due to the ridiculous (and somehow still on-going) “Deflategate” punishment , it did not keep them from  making some interesting moves, grab some intriguing prospects, and a couple of their usual head-scratching picks. While the Patriots have a particular plan and draft strategy each season, their innovative and close-lipped ways often leave traditional draft analysts scratching their heads.

Go back to any prior season and the draft pundits are stumped by the moves New England makes. In 2009 it was second round draft pick tackle Sebastian Vollmer drawing the scorn of the television and print draft geniuses; in 2010 trading up to choose tight end Rob Gronkowski in was considered a huge reach as his injury history raised numerous red flags; in the 2011 NFL Draft the front office was eviscerated in print for wasting second and third round draft picks on a pair of running backs (Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley).

In 2012 many so-called draft experts thought linebacker Dont’a Hightower was not worthy of a first round draft pick; in 2013 it was reaching and drafting a pair of Rutgers defensive backs (Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon) in the third round that drew the ire of the draft gurus; and finally in 2014 it the choice of Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of the second round that left many scratching their heads.

Of course, batting .500 in the draft is enough to outperform most other teams in the NFL. The draft is a crapshoot at the end of the day that burns even the best general manager. Projecting the performance of college players playing in different offensive and defensive systems in an entirely different lifestyle at college is nearly impossible.

Handing out grades for Patriots’ 2016 draft picks

Bill Belichick has his share of swings-and-misses in the NFL Draft such as 2014 first round draft pick defensive tackle Dominique Easley; wide receiver Aaron Dobson in the second round in 2013; second round draft pick safety Tavon Wilson in 2012; oft-injured cornerback Ras-I Dowling with the first pick of the second round in 2011; and Florida defensive end/outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, the #53 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft to name just a few.

What Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots scouting department do as well as any team is use the limited information from game tape, speaking to coaches, combine results and more to project how players can not only fit into the New England offensive and defensive systems, but also project how to adjust their system in order to maximize the talents of the players selected.

Another advantage is with a head coach in place for what is soon going to be two decades, the team has the ability to “redshirt” high draft picks while front offices and coaches on other teams with less job security need to get immediate results from their draft picks. Often, young players in other organizations who would be best served by not being thrown into the fire each week play more than they should to justify their draft slot and cost these coaches and general managers their jobs.

While grading a draft immediately after the draft and before any player steps foot on the practice field, plays in a preseason game, or plays a regular season game is folly, it still makes an interesting exercise. As such, each pick will be assigned a grade along with a final draft grade. As always, the grade will be weighed heavily not on what the seemingly multiplying number of draft gurus but on figuring out what director of player personnel Nick Caserio and head coach Bill Belichick saw of the player and their fit in New England.

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