FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Breaking the mold with top draft pick: It has been widely noted N’Keal Harry is the first receiver the Patriots have selected in the first round under coach Bill Belichick (2000-present), but the uniqueness of the selection goes beyond that. The Belichick-led Patriots — whose profile at the position has been smaller, quicker options with proficiency in precise route-running and versatility to line up at multiple spots — have never drafted a physical outside receiver as big as the 6-foot-2 3/8 and 228-pound Harry.
I reached out to ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi to see if he could think of anyone he played with, or has since seen in New England, who reminds him of Harry. He came up with an interesting theory, wondering if Josh Gordon was the catalyst for the decision.
“They get him last year, put a 6-3, 225-pound target out there and see what a great piece it was for them, how great it was for Tom Brady,” Bruschi theorized. “Maybe that changed the perception of what they might need.”
Bruschi also noted there are more big receivers entering the NFL now than ever before, which adds more context to the Patriots’ decisive breaking of the mold with Harry.
“I think Bill’s always gone with trends and where the league is going,” he said. “To have a big wide receiver, for possibly shots down the field off play-action; if they decide they still want to be a power-running team, this is a guy that can do it for you.”
2. Tight end spot looks thin: Maybe the Patriots have a fallback plan such as signing veteran Benjamin Watson, but one of the surprises of this year’s draft was that the club didn’t select a tight end. This was viewed by some as a deep class, but with the club not dipping into the ranks, it leaves Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ryan Izzo, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson and Matt LaCosse as the lone players on the depth chart. That looks like a major drop-off without the retired Rob Gronkowski, although Izzo — the 2018 seventh-round pick from Florida State — could be a sleeper of sorts. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio said late Saturday that there were some possibilities at tight end in the draft for the Patriots, but “it’s always relative to: What are your other options? What else are you looking at?”
3. What concerned some scouts about Harry: If there was one “concern” about Harry that came up in conversations with those who scouted or are familiar with him, it’s that he benefits most from structure around him. The Patriots, of course, are an ultra-structured program. Along those lines, this is one reason I look at the Patriots’ free-agent signing of veteran Demaryius Thomas as wise, as he has been viewed as a mentor to several younger receivers over the years. Ideally, Thomas will contribute on the field, but his presence in the locker room when integrating a 21-year-old rookie into the mix is already worth the minimal financial investment.
4. Patriots didn’t seem hot on Rosen: The Dolphins’ trade for quarterback Josh Rosen was Patriots-like from a value perspective — both in trade compensation and Rosen’s contract. That has sparked an obvious question: Why didn’t the Patriots, who were in the quarterback market — as evidenced by selecting Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham at the end of the fourth round (No. 133) — pursue Rosen? As much as they like value, I never got the sense Rosen excited them to strongly pursue him.
5. McDaniels in the draft room again: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ presence in the team’s draft room was notable, as this marks the second straight year he has been part of the personnel core since turning down the opportunity to become Colts’ head coach. The Patriots traditionally have one of the smallest draft rooms in the NFL, and McDaniels’ recent inclusion as a full-time presence reflects his importance to the organization. Including the Krafts, this year’s draft room on Day 1 was comprised of Belichick, Caserio, football research director Ernie Adams, director of football/head coach administration Berj Najarian, McDaniels, director of pro scouting Dave Ziegler, director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort and college scouting coordinator Brian Smith.
6. ‘3 Games to Glory VI’ a gem: I screened an advance copy of “3 Games to Glory VI,” the chronicling of the Patriots’ three playoff games to capture Super Bowl LIII, co-produced by Kraft Sports Productions and NFL Films. Dating back to the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win, it was team president Jonathan Kraft’s idea to chronicle every play of each playoff game, and it has grown considerably from there to include mic’d-up segments and unique behind-the-scenes nuggets.
Without playing the role of spoiler, here were some of my favorite things from the footage:
7. Offensive line the key: The offensive line was one of the strengths of the Patriots’ Super Bowl season, and a new metric reflects just how solid the unit was compared to the rest of the NFL. Including the playoffs, the Patriots led the league in pass-block win rate — the entire unit held its blocks for at least 2.5 seconds on 61.4 percent of dropbacks, per ESPN pass-blocking metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the best percentage in the NFL, and it highlights why the transition at left tackle — from Trent Brown to Isaiah Wynn — is so critical in 2019. The team’s other four starting offensive linemen all return this season. Also, the team’s selection of West Virginia offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste in the third round (No. 101) is important, as he could be the swing tackle if healthy.
8. Rookie value reflected in contract: Though the game of football has evolved over the years, one thing that has never changed is the importance of drafting and developing players. In this era, the importance is heightened because of the salary cap. With this in mind, consider that Harry, the Patriots’ first-round pick, will sign a projected four-year, $10.1 million contract, and then the team could pick up a fifth-year team option after that. If Harry becomes the player the Patriots hope he becomes, that is a great value.
9. Belichick a loyal alum: Belichick’s affinity for Wesleyan University, from which he graduated in 1975, has been well documented. So it was no surprise he was back on campus last weekend to take part in an event honoring his former college lacrosse coach, Terry Jackson. One attendee relayed that Belichick was so detailed and on point in his remarks — in terms of simplifying the complex in coaching — that it created the feeling of being in the room when he addresses his own team.
Saturday was a great night celebrating @Wes_Lacrosse with lacrosse alum Bill Belichick and former coach Terry Jackson. @Inside_Lacrosse @USLacrosseMag @Patriots @wes_athletics pic.twitter.com/YFoQULfC8w
— Wesleyan Lacrosse (@Wes_Lacrosse) April 24, 2019
10a. Did You Know? Part I: The Patriots, who just made 10 picks in this year’s draft, already own nine selections in the 2020 draft. That number is expected to grow to 13 with two projected third-round compensatory picks and two projected sixth-round compensatory picks.
10b. Did You Know? Part II: The Patriots’ three draft-day trades with the Rams were the most they’ve ever made with another club during a draft in franchise history. ESPN’s Adam Schefter explained Saturday that the recently developed friendship between Belichick and Rams coach Sean McVay was a catalyst for the wheeling and dealing. The Patriots made seven trades overall, as Belichick kept an impressive streak alive: He has made at least one draft-day trade in 19 of his 20 drafts (2004 was the outlier).