Recapping The Patriots' Unpredictable Draft Weekend
Being a New England Patriots fan is never boring. Somehow, someway, Bill Belichick always finds a way to outdo himself while he makes moves that leave all of us more confused than ever before. He is the king of zigging when everyone expects him to zag. Sometimes you may think you have a read on him, and you kind of actually do, but he'll just blow by the expectation and amaze you by just how far he took that idea that you thought he had. It's confusing to explain honestly, but just know that no one is ever a step ahead of Belichick. He'll put your mind in a permanent pretzel.
This past weekend was no different. It was the NFL Draft, which is one thing that Patriots fans kind of think they can follow Belichick on. We think we've picked up some of his habits and tendencies and to a point, we have. On Thursday night in Round 1, we all collectively saw it coming when he traded the 23rd overall pick to the Los Angeles Chargers for the 37th and the 71st. He loves to get out of night one and accumulate more picks in the later rounds. We could see the writing on the wall because it was just the ultimate Belichick wheel-house type of maneuver.
Okay, so night one went according to the Good 'Ol Belichick Blueprint. Surely the next couple of days would be more of that right? Wrong. This was the most unpredictable draft I can remember Bill Belichick pulling off. It was almost like he was parodying himself. Let's get to the picks, and I'll explain how each one left me, and the rest of New England, laughing while shaking our heads.
Round 2 (Pick #37 overall) Kyle Dugger - So, I actually had Dugger in my preview of the safety position. This is what I wrote about him on Friday before Round 2 kicked off...
"I have never before heard of Lenoir-Rhyne, the school that Kyle Dugger played for. However, he's still ranked pretty high by "experts" in large part due to his play at the Senior Bowl. If you're looking for a big hitter at safety, this is your guy. Other upsides are his ability to move to corner if need be, and his punt return game (six career TDs)."
Nothing really in-depth or extensive, but admittedly I had never watched the guy play besides on a few YouTube highlights. I wasn't the only one unfamiliar either, as the reaction to the pick on Twitter by both fans and some media seemed to be that no one had even heard his name before, let alone watched a highlight or two. This made me feel somewhat good about having prior knowledge of the player rather than having my socks blown off when the Pats made the pick.
Still, I did not think they'd be taking him in the second round at all. If they were taking Dugger out of what I'm pretty sure is a made up Division 2 school, I was thinking Round 3 MIGHT make sense. Nope. I think BB loves to play into every stereotype and thought we have about him and taking an unknown safety from a place called Lenoir-Rhyne was the most Belichickian draft move these eyes have ever seen.
Although I'm not sure I loved how high he went, I think Dugger certainly fits in well with New England. He'll be a rotational piece for now as he learns behind some of the games greats like Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. He's got the size, athleticism and explosiveness to be a punisher on defense and he's got the speed and elusiveness to help out in the return game when needed.
While you can laugh all you want about Belichick's history with taking defensive backs in the second round, and torch Dugger for playing against weaker competition, I'm going to choose to feel good about this selection. Dugger's combine and Senior Bowl were both fantastic (BB even said the Senior Bowl performance tipped him over the edge), and his athletic comps are Eric Berry and Eric Reid, two very good NFL safeties. He's also a high-character guy who said all the right things to the media on his conference call after being drafted. The highlight was when he described the chip on his shoulder as a "mountain." He's gone through adversity as a zero-star recruit and now he's going to earn his way under the best coach in football. I'm excited.
Round 2 (Pick #60 overall) Josh Uche - The Pats had a lot of draft capital to work with entering the second round, and they decided that they were going to wheel and deal to get to the spots that they wanted to be. In this case, they used the 71st and 98th picks to get the 60th and 129th picks from the Baltimore Ravens. There were plenty of notable names still on the board and New England still had a plethora of needs to fill. Trading up always feels odd, and important. It feels like "Oh boy, the Pats have keyed in on someone that they actually deem really valuable. It must be someone that I routinely heard about last fall and will be excited to see join my team!" It never ends up playing out like that though. This time was no different. They took Josh Uche out of Michigan, which is fine, but felt like a letdown. I guess that's predictable, at least.
Anyway, while Uche wasn't one of the defensive ends I did a lot of research on coming into the draft, I noticed that a lot of people (draft experts and analytics geeks) loved the pick and the fit. Uche got described as "raw talent" and a "freak athlete" that is somewhat similar to Jamie Collins when he got drafted. He's got the size, speed and can play all over the defense with the versatility to step in at either linebacker position or remain at d-end. He'll be a rotational player for now but could end up making a big impact alongside his former teammate, Chase Winovich, sooner rather than later.
Overall, I like this pick as well. When you get a guy who gets billed as a possible steal, that gives you immense hope. Maybe in 3 years he'll be a Jamie Collins or a Kyle Van Noy (whom he was also compared to) and we'll look back on the fact that he could have gone even higher than 60th. Also, I am a sucker for great quotes and Uche gave this one...
Josh Uche: "It's a good fit for me because I'm a hard-ass worker, and the Patriots work their asses off."— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) April 25, 2020
Round 3 (Pick #80 overall) Afernee Jennings - Okay, we're in Round 3 now and we've addressed needs at two positions, I think it's time to go ahead and draft a tight end, right? How about a quarterback? We need one of those. Nope, Belichick decided to triple-down on defense with the outside linebacker out of Alabama. Hey, like I said in a couple of my preview blogs, I love SEC players. Anyone coming from Alabama feels like a great pick because they've been playing for the NCAA's version of the Patriots under the greatest college coach of all time, Nick Saban, and they've felt the pressure and heat of the bright lights. Also, Belichick and Saban have a great friendship and have basically built a pipeline (Jennings is the sixth 'Bama player to be drafted by Belichick since Saban took over. He's the fifth defender). I'll trust Saban's judgement and what he's telling Bill more often than not.
Jennings is a Day 1 contributor that can play the run extremely well. He's not an elite pass-rusher for a guy playing on the edge but his fundamentals will keep him on the field and making plays. Toughness, a high motor and his track record of overcoming adversity and injury make him an intangible star. I'm not overjoyed by this pick, but we'll probably end up being more than okay with it as I don't see Jennings being less than solid. The surprise of this pick? At this point in the draft we were just totally committing to defense and neglecting the offensive skill positions. We needed a tight end! Are we ever going to get one!?!?
Round 3 (Pick #91 overall) Devin Asiasi - Yes, we would finally get a tight end! After what felt like forever, we decided to do something about the position (we hadn't really addressed it since Gronk retired LAST YEAR and we had seen countless players pass us by in drafts, free agencies and trades). The surprising part? The Pats traded up again! Yep, they sent the 100th, 139th and 172nd picks to the Las Vegas Raiders in exchange for the 91st and the 159th. Belichick then used that 91st on UCLA's Devin Asiasi and while it of course wasn't the tight end anyone expected (Adam Trautman and Harrison Bryant were just a few of the names on the board), it was good enough for me.
Asiasi is already the best player on the Patriots tight end depth chart as he brings an all-around game that fits exactly what Bill Belichick looks for in the position. He'll block or be a threat in the passing game. His size, speed, route-running and hands all are above-average and will make him a matchup nightmare. Almost any tight end was going to be a great pick for me because I want something, anything out of the position in 2020. Asiasi feels like the first step in getting there.
Round 3 (Pick #101 overall) Dalton Keene - So if Asiasi is the first step, then what's the second? Oh, how about ANOTHER TIGHT END just minutes later on Friday night? I loved it. I had declared the Patriots night done and I was about ready to start getting ready for bed when Bill Belichick came out of nowhere to say "not so fast, I have another slick little move for you." He traded up again, this time with the New York Jets (whom we never trade with), to get the 101st in exchange for the 125th, 129th and a 6th rounder in 2021. This was peak unpredictable Belichick stuff. He was zig-zagging all over the map!
Now, with the pick he grabbed Dalton Keene out of Virginia Tech. He was doubling down on tight ends and answering our prayers. Keene would be the complimentary piece to Asiasi as he comes in with a totally different skill-set. He's really more of a move tight end/H-back that can offer the Pats a number of different options to use him. Again, it wasn't the tight end we were expecting but none of that mattered. He was now right there with Asiasi as a starter and hopefully we'll see some two-TE sets.
This was the highest Belichick had drafted any tight ends since Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and the first time he had taken two in the same round since then as well. Obviously, we hope for better off field results for Asiasi and Keene and replacing two of the best ever on the field is going to be a borderline impossible task. Still, this is trending more towards the offense I want to see the Patriots run and there is major upside here. Also Keene has an awesome mustache, so there's that.
Round 5 (Pick #159 overall) Justin Rohrwasser - You want surprise? How about being the first team to take a kicker and not having it be Rodrigo Blankenship? That was interesting. Anyway, Rohrwasser is not one of the more high-profile guys as he's coming out of Marshall, but he's got a big leg and Bill usually does well when picking kickers. I'm going to defer to the master here and say this is another Future Hall of Famer (kidding, but not really).
The more talked about and frankly, surprising, angle on this pick is about the guy's tattoos, believe it or not. Yep, it's been a big story about how Rohrwasser has something called the "Three Percenters" tattooed on his arm and what that means. Apparently it's some anti-government, conservative group of crazies. I have no idea and I honestly don't want to know. Rohrwasser has been asked about it and said he didn't know what the tattoos meant when he got them and now realizes he doesn't want them to represent him. Personally, I'm not sure I buy that but I'm also not going to jump in on the party that is crucifying the kid already. The media wants his head because that's where we're at as a country. It's pretty annoying and honestly, I just hope the kid can kick it through the uprights whether I align with his views or not.
DISCOURSE! I DEMAND IT! pic.twitter.com/x2ONruBNWO— Justis Mosqueda (Day 48) (@JuMosq) April 25, 2020
Was this a reach? Probably. It doesn't seem like any other team was even aware of Rohrwasser and Blankenship went undrafted. However, as I've said, when Bill knows, he knows. Weird, but probably good pick.
Round 6 (Pick #182 overall) Michael Onwenu - Can I be honest? Are we in the trust tree? Okay, great. At this point in the draft, I was halfway checked out. You can only throw this thing up on your television so long before your girlfriend tells you enough is enough. I also had to make my weekly grocery store run, so I was following a lot of the action via phone. The Pats had a lot of picks that they had admitted to not really wanting to use, and they made another deal. They sent the 212th and 213th picks to the Indianapolis Colts for #182. This was then used to grab some offensive line depth, which is actually pretty commonplace for the Pats in the later rounds.
Onwenu is another Michigan Wolverine and he is a behemoth at 344 lbs. He's been primarily used at Right Guard and is better in the running game than passing (which might be how the Patriots are designing things). At this point in the draft, it's hard to say whether a pick is good or bad because it's really all about development. Onwenu could be a future starter and earn a big payday, or could be a castoff by season 2. It really only makes sense to be optimistic.
Round 6 (Pick #195 overall) Justin Herron - The Pats just keep double dipping. They added another offensive lineman and weirdly, I've seen a lot of people make the case that Herron is actually better than Onwenu. We'll find out as they compete for a depth role. He was also a team-captain and four-year starter at Wake Forest, so he fits the Belichick ideals.
Round 6 (Pick #204 overall) Cassh Maluia - I hope this guy becomes something because his name screams fan favorite. He's an undersized depth piece with great speed, ball skills and special teams chops. Will probably carve out some type of long and productive career as a Belichick guy (think Elandon Roberts, Nate Ebner). Also has a sweet mustache.
Round 7 (Pick #230 overall) Dustin Woodward - Another offensive lineman, but this time a center. He's basically a "break glass in case of emergency" guy behind David Andrews in 2020. He played a lot at Memphis but he's undersized and basically has grinded his way here. That's a good thing, but he's probably not anyone of consequence (I hope).
Okay, if you are still reading, thank you. I think the Pats had a wildly entertaining draft and it yielded good, not great results. It was interesting to see what the players they DIDN'T draft said about the future. This seems to clearly be Jarrett Stidham's team (barring an unforseen signing or trade) because we ignored QB altogether. Bill also punted on what many are calling one of the deepest wide receiver drafts ever, so there's that. In the end, I'll give them a C+ for actual picks and an A+ for entertainment. You don't always have to pick the big names (they never do), but just take me on a wild ride and I'll appreciate it.