NFL

NFL Draft grades: Patriots earn an ‘A’ for their haul this weekend

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The New England Patriots entered the 2021 draft needing to find their next franchise quarterback, get some help for that player, and improve one of the worst front seven units in the NFL. The Patriots opened up the draft with one pick in each of the first three rounds, three picks in the fourth, one in the fifth, two in the sixth, and one in the seventh

With only a few needs left to address and a lot of late round picks, the team was in position to move around the board if they needed to.

In this evaluation, which will only cover the first four rounds (because Rounds 5-7 are little more than flier picks), I will grade the picks on these criteria:

  1. Does the drafted player address a critical long-term need?
  2. Did the team capitalize on a player dropping in the draft or did they reach for him?
  3. Are the player’s traits translatable in the Patriots offensive/defensive scheme?

1st (15): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama, Grade: A

The Patriots needed to come out of this draft with a plan at the quarterback position for beyond the 2021 season. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance went with the first three selections before Justin Fields slid all the way down to 11 before Chicago leapfrogged the Patriots, to the chagrin of a lot of people. The Patriots stayed patient in the draft and let Jones fall right into their laps before selecting him at 15. The Patriots got a QB who perfectly fits their system and didn’t have to give up anything to get him, which is a massive win.

The Patriots very much prefer the pocket passer style QB that can make the right reads, throw the ball with good timing and accuracy, and be able to lead a time on the field. The one quarterback in this draft that checked all three boxes was Jones. While there are questions about his arm strength and adjusting from throwing from two elite receiver talents to New England’s middle of the pack receiving corps. I think he’ll be able to make the adjustment as he was still equally as efficient with Jaylen Waddle than without last year.

The ideal situation for Jones as a rookie is he doesn’t play and can spend the year working on learning the playbook, improving his physique, and fine-tuning his mechanics so he can push the ball down the field when needed. While Jones could start in Week 1 if he had to, it’s not in the franchise’s best interest to throw him in there before he’s ready. As the QB of the future, it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first preseason.

2nd (38): Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama, Grade: A

The Patriots traded two of their three fourth-round picks to move up from 46 to 38 to secure Barmore in the draft. While they slightly overpaid on the value, something Bill Belichick noted in his Day 2 press conference, I’d rather see them overpay to get someone who will be a difference maker than watch him go elsewhere. Barmore has the highest ceiling of any defensive linemen in the draft, as I’ve compared his upside to what Richard Seymour gave the Patriots in the early 2000s.

The Patriots had been looking for a reliable 3-technique pass rusher since losing Trey Flowers to the Detroit Lions in free agency two offseasons ago. Barmore fits the bill perfectly, as he had the best pressure rate of any college football player from that spot in the past two seasons. He also has scheme versatility, being able to line up as a 3-tech in an even front or a 5-tech defensive end in an odd front.

The Patriots had one of the worst front 7s in the NFL last year, as they couldn’t stop the run or pressure the opposing passer. While Barmore is a classic boom/bust prospect, going from Nick Saban’s program to Bill Belichick’s will mitigate that risk somewhat. He will need to clean up his technique and play more under control at the pro level, but if this works out for New England he will be the best player in this year’s class.

3rd (96): Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma, Grade: B

I’m not in love with this pick given who else was on the board, but the value this late into the draft is good. Perkins isn’t going to post gaudy pressure numbers, but his fundamentally solid game will give the Patriots a useful member of their edge rusher rotation. I’m not too worried about the suspension that cost him six games between 2019 and 2020, although the Patriots need to make sure this doesn’t turn into a problem moving forward.

Perkins will be an end of the line player on the first level of the defense, whether they ask him to stand up or rush from a 3-point stance. He tries to set a hard edge in the run game and has an explosive first step as a pass rusher. While he’s got average athleticism and bend from the edge, he does have the ability to counter inside as well as using his hands to disengage off tackles. His technique should improve after spending a year with pass rushing specialist Joe Kim, as he will be better able to use his hands against opposing linemen to get the beat on them in the pass rush.

As a scheme-diverse player who does a lot of things Belichick likes, he should be able to contribute as a rookie. I’d prefer he adds about 10-15 pounds if it doesn’t affect his athleticism, as that will make him more capable of handling double-team blocks on the edge. At his current size he’s better suited to play more on the weak-side, away from the tight end. He rushed from both sides of the formation in Oklahoma and one of his best games came against Teven Jenkins in 2019, who I thought could have been a late 1st round pick in this year draft.

4th (120): Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma, Grade: B

I was expecting the Patriots to target a pass catching running back on Day 3, but have instead opted to dip into the early down back role. He has good size for that role, weighing in at 6-foot-0, 231 pounds. Like Perkins, Stevenson would miss the final game of 2019 and first five games of 2020 due to failing a drug test. Despite only playing six games, Stevenson picked up 665 yards on 101 carries. He only has 165 carries in his college career, so he’ll have plenty of treads left.

From a value standpoint, this is a bit of a redundancy pick with Damien Harris, Sony Michel, and J.J. Taylor ahead of him on the roster. Of those three players, only Harris seems likely to be on the Patriots roster next year. He could be the team’s No. 2 early down option when the team lets Michel walk after the season, but could make room for him by trading the former first round pick.

His running style reminds me a lot of former Patriot LeGarrette Blount. While not exceptionally fast for his size, Stevenson will bounce off hits, easily elude arm tackles, and has good vision to get to the open field. He’s also a willing and capable pass protector, which is a must to play in the Patriots offense. If necessary, he could play this year if injuries happen at the position.

5th (177): Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan, Grade: N/A

McGrone is your new sideline to sideline type linebacker, but comes with a pretty bad history of injuries. He’s currently recovering from a torn ACL injury. His speed and tackling abilities should quickly show up on special teams and he could develop into an Elandon Roberts type backup. He seems like a player the Patriots may stash on PUP for his entire rookie year and see what he can do two seasons removed from the knee injury.

6th (188): Joshuah Bledsoe, S, Missouri, Grade: N/A

Bledsoe is a box/slot safety hybrid in the mold of Adrian Phillips. He’s undersized compared to most linebackers at only 204 pounds, but spent the most of his snaps last season covering the slot. With Phillips, Dugger, and Mills on the roster as guys who can play that LB/SS/slot role, Bledsoe probably doesn’t have a path to the active roster but could be a practice squad stash.

6th (197): William Sherman, OL, Colorado, Grade: N/A

Sherman spent a lot of his career at both tackle spots, but his arm length suggests a potential move to guard instead of staying at tackle. Given the team’s offensive line depth, Sherman has an uphill battle towards carving out a roster spot. Versatility is going to have to be key, although he also seems like a practice squad player.

7th (242): Tre Nixon, WR, UCF, Grade: N/A

Nixon has intriguing measurables with a 4.43 40-yard-dash, 1.57 10-yard split, and 6.81 3-cone in a 6-foot-0, 187-pound frame. A dislocated collar bone ruined his 2020 season after having a 49-catch, 830-yard, 7-touchdown season in 2019. Nixon is a long shot to make the roster, as it appears the team is content to see if Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry are able to take the next step in their third year on the team.

The Patriots picked up not only their QB of the future, but also a potential game-wrecking defensive lineman in the second round. Perkins and Stevenson are rotational players that can contribute right away and should be able to play through their rookie contracts. The Patriots are confident they can turn Mac Jones into an elite pocket passer in an era where QBs have developed more scrambling abilities and stronger arms.

In four years, we will be revisiting this draft class and see if the players were able to live up to the draft day grades. If these picks pan out, especially their first and second round guys, we may be seeing at least one championship for the franchise this decade.

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