Patriots Draft Review Panel, 2014

When we hear the NFL Draft get compared to Christmas, it’s not just about receiving shiny new toys to play with: it also involves a post-hype letdown with much discussion of choices. We’re here to review New England’s hits and disappointments during America’s ever-expanding “holiday” weekend.

Just like in 2013, Bruce Allen and Chris Warner of BSMW invite ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss (from his Patriots blog), Chad Finn from The Boston Globe and Boston.com (from Touching All The Bases) and WEEI.com’s Chris Price (from It Is What It Is).

For a review of last year’s panel, click this link. (You can have a pretty good laugh at our collective dismissal of the LeGarrette Blount trade.)

In case you went away for the weekend (to see Mom, for example), here’s a look at the Patriots’ moves:

THE TRADE

New England traded their third-round pick (93rd overall) to Jacksonville for a fourth-rounder (105) and sixth-rounder (179).

THE PICKS

Round One (29): Dominique Easley, Florida DL

Round Two (62): Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois QB

Round Four (105): Bryan Stork, Florida State OL

Round Four (130): James White, Wisconsin RB

Round Four (140): Cameron Fleming, Stanford OL

Round Six (179): John Halapio, Florida State OL

Round Six (198): Zach Moore, Concordia DE

Round Six (206): Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech DB

Round Seven (244): Jeremy Gallon, Michigan WR

EXCELLENT

Mike Reiss: Triple-dipping along the offensive line. Time will tell if the picks are the right ones, but this is an area the Patriots hadn’t drafted in 2012 and 2013 and it’s important from a team-building and salary-cap standpoint to feed that pipeline. Going three years without a pick on the offensive line would have been risky. Furthermore, up-the-middle pressure is one of the main things that can slow down the Patriots’ offense, and if the Patriots hit on their picks, they should be better equipped to handle it.

Chris Price: The offensive linemen appear to be the most NFL-ready group. Bryan Stork could conceivably be a contributor in 2014 – he has the sort of positional versatility where he could serve as a backup to Ryan Wendell, or could step in in case of emergency. He also has enough of a background where he could play either guard spot. Cameron Fleming is a bonafide rocket scientist who could already be one of the smartest dudes in the locker room, and while it’s unlikely he’ll unseat either Nate Solder at left tackle or Sebastian Vollmer on the right side, he gives New England a backup swing tackle and impact playing time for a handful of people, including Marcus Cannon (who initially tried to recruit him to TCU when the two were collegians). And while Jon Halapio probably won’t be able to unseat Logan Mankins at left guard, he could create a nice positional battle at right guard involving Dan Connolly. (Halapio started 36 games at right guard the last three years for Florida.) The offensive line is a position that certainly bears watching for a few reasons, not the least of which is that there’s now a couple of possible position battles brewing at a spot where the Patriots were thought to be able to have some pretty good stability. At the end of the 2013 season, it certainly looked like New England would simply run the same five offensive linemen out there in 2014 without missing a beat. Now, it looks like there could be some movement up front for the Patriots.

Chris Warner: New England’s Round Four stood out to me in how it addressed need while getting value. Stork won the Rimington Trophy for best college center in the country. White averaged over six yards per carry and showed the ability to add a pass-catching element the Pats missed for half the season while Shane Vereen was out. Fleming’s a smarty-pants who also happens to be 6-5, 323. Getting three potentially steady contributors on Day Three looks like B.B. and Co.’s strongest move of the draft.

Chad Finn: My favorite pick of this Patriots draft was the first one – I love the Dominique Easley selection. I get the concern about the two ACL injuries, but it’s hardly a kiss of death. He came back from one better than before, and had he not suffered a second one last season, there’s zero chance he would have been available at No. 29. He may not be ready at the beginning of the season, but I’ll bet he’s an impact player by the end of it. Bonus effect: It caused Mel Kiper Jr. begin twitching and sniffling in that “I-had-him-in-Round-3-but-Belichick-knows-better-than-I-do-dammit-all-I-should-have-just-become-a-nurse-like-mom-wanted” manner. Double-bonus effect: Pete Carroll apparently coveted Easley. I like it when Pete Carroll loses things he covets, like his favorite comfortable pair of khakis, and I’m not apologizing for it.

Bruce Allen: The beginning and the end. I’m big on Easley, and while the twin ACL surgeries are concerning, I’m confident that the team did its due diligence with the medicals and these days its seems like ACL injuries are becoming what Tommy John surgeries are to baseball – commonplace, and sometimes even beneficial overall for the structure of the joint. Who knows? That’s definitely with my Patriots-blue glasses on. The fact that the Seahawks were visibly disappointed when the Patriots picked him is encouraging. I also really like the UDFA class. Stephen Houston could make people forget LeGarrette Blount. Justin Jones is a physical freak – 6-8, 277 pounds as a tight end. He might have Scott Chandler-style potential. Worst case he’s the new Zach Sudfeld.

GOOD

Chris Price: The pickup of the two offensive skill position players represents some good Day 3 value. White is a third-down type of back who figures to sit behind the group of incumbents, but in a perfect world, would follow the Vereen path – sit for a year and fundamentally take a redshirt season. Then, if the Patriots aren’t able to retain one of the backs currently on the roster (Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden are all going into the last year of their contracts), White could be poised to make the leap in 2015. (Of course, if the occasionally brittle Vereen isn’t able to stay healthy, chances are good that White could get that shot this year.) Gallon was a yardage machine as a receiver and return man at Michigan, and is a very good seventh-round pickup who could have his chance to make an impact on special teams, at least initially.

Chris Warner: You could argue for putting the Easley pick under any of these categories. A game-changing D-lineman at 29? Excellent! A training room denizen with knee ligaments made out of frozen Charleston Chews? Poor! I’m calling the Pats’ first pick a good one because he fills a need, yet should have time to grow into an expanding role. If Easley can deliver on his potential as a disruptive force on passing downs in 2014 (and I’ll bet he does), then well done. I also enjoyed the Gallon pick – would have liked him even if he’d been taken earlier, but in the seventh he seems like a hidden gem. He spoke of his potential ability to fit in at Foxboro as a smaller pass-catcher, and he displayed the athleticism to make an impact. At the very least, good idea to have another talented slot receiver in camp to rest the veterans.

Bruce Allen Guys, I’m onboard with the QB pick. If this is the guy they wanted all along and they chose him here before Houston (who reportedly was hot on him) could get him at the top of the third, then I’m OK with it. I really don’t get the people out there screaming on radio and TV that THIS TEAM HAS SO MANY HOLES and this was a wasted pick. Was this team 4-12 last year? Are there really that many holes? The crowd that repeatedly tells us how rapidly Brady’s window is closing is opposed to planning for life after Brady? Stocking up the offensive line with big fatties is always a plus too. Grabbing perhaps the best center in the draft was a nice pick.

Chad Finn: I understand why fans aren’t particularly interested right now in considering a future in which someone other than Tom Brady is the Patriots’ quarterback. He’s still close to the top of his game, still among the select few elite passers in the league. And in pursuit of that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy, the natural instinct is to covet a player who may help immediately. But Bill Belichick has to consider the position now, especially since it has become apparent that Ryan Mallett isn’t the long-term successor. It seems that there is a lot to like about second-rounder Jimmy Garoppolo, and while none of us wants to see him play until he’s on the verge of that second contract, if the Patriots believe he is suited to be The One Who Follows Brady after the appropriate adjustment to the NFL, I’m fine with them taking him now. Also really liked the selection of James White from Wisconsin in Round Four. A versatile running back without many miles on the odometer? Could be a steal.

Mike Reiss: I liked the Zach Moore pick at the end of the sixth round (198th overall). Before the draft, I listed him as a fifth-round possibility for the team. So when they get him in the sixth, it would be hypocritical to say anything other than it being a solid pick. We might not see much of Moore until 2015, but a player with those physical traits and upside should be intriguing to watch from a developmental standpoint.

FAIR

Bruce Allen I did think they’d grab a Tight End somewhere along the line in the draft, and I believe they intended to, but the draft just didn’t fall that way. Should they have been a bit more aggressive in moving up to take one of them? Perhaps. Everything comes down to value down there, and they must’ve just not deemed the available players worth the move up to grab. Do they end up signing Dustin Keller, who came in before the draft? I’d like to have seen another defensive tackle somewhere in there. Hopefully we actually get to see Armstead this year on the field. I’m somewhat intrigued by this Zach Moore kid. Seems like a worthwhile project, but how much room for projects does this roster have?

Mike Reiss: I’d put Dominique Easley in this category, and it’s more of a personal preference to go with a safer, less risky pick in the first round. I also feel like that’s when the Patriots have been at their best, going for more of the sure thing. Easley is a big-time talent and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a star if he stays healthy, but the combination of ACL tears on both knees at Florida with him being an undersized defensive lineman would make me uneasy if I was making the pick. I think it’s the riskiest pick of Bill Belichick’s 15-year tenure, very bold, and serves as another reminder that just when you think you might be able to pin Belichick down (“he usually leans toward the safe pick”), he does something you don’t expect.

Chad Finn: It’s not so much about what they did do, but what they didn’t. I would have liked to see them draft a tight end who could play right away. I wonder if Jace Amaro might have been their second-round target rather than Garoppolo had he not been selected earlier in the round by the Jets. (I also have severe Eric Ebron envy, though there was no chance they were getting him without trading way up.) It was also a little disappointing that they dealt away their third-round pick, but Belichick explained that they had similar grades and values on about 20 players in that range. I like the collection of offensive lineman they drafted in the middle rounds – especially Jon Halapio from Florida in the sixth round. I just wish Dante Scarnecchia was still here to coach them up.

Chris Price: In the past, the Patriots went for the safe, no-brainer pick with their first-round selection (Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones to name a few), and then tried to hit home runs with their second, third and later picks, some of whom carried an injury history with them when they reached the NFL (Rob Gronkowski). Sometimes those guys were hits, and sometimes, they were misses. This year, the selection of Easley kind of turns that formula on its ear. In Easley, they went for a guy who could conceivably have the greatest boom-bust potential of any first-round pick they’ve ever acquired. Penetrating, disruptive and quick, Easley – like Gronkowski – could be the sort of risk that pays off if the knees are OK. If not? New England could regret making such a sizable investment in a player who has struggled with injury to this point in his career.

Chris Warner: While we can all understand the “why” of the Garoppolo pick, it’s difficult to comprehend the “when.” Hard to gauge the timing of finding a Hall-of-Famer’s replacement – and Garoppolo could become a fine QB – but I felt like the Patriots should have gotten more of a right-now player here. And, yes, I get that the tight ends may have come off the board sooner than New England had ranked them, but if a certain other player with a spellcheck-crippling name (Iowa tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz) has a solid year in Houston, Jimmy G. will become another lamentable Round Two choice. In contrast to Round Four, Round Six ends up in this category. Halapio seemed like an extraneous selection after two previous O-linemen. Right now I’m pegging Moore as another Justin Rogers (from 2007): an athletic sixth-rounder who will flash this summer but ultimately not make the team. Thought Thomas looked a little too short and a little too jack-of-all-trades-like, though it’s understandable that New England appreciated his flexibility on defense. Ragging on sixth-rounders seems harsh, but it ties into my most severe criticism below: why were the Pats making those picks in the first place?

POOR/INCOMPLETE

Chad Finn: As I said, I’m fine with the Garoppolo pick in Round Two if they truly believe he is going to be a capable backup sooner and an eventual high-quality starter when Brady retires in 2033 or so. But I’ll admit to wondering whether they should have taken a safety either in that round or sometime on the second day. I know they haven’t made the most inspiring decisions with defensive backs on Day 2 (the 2012 Tavon Wilson pick still makes no sense to me). But the wish here is that they could have found someone immediately promising enough to convince Belichick to keep Logan Ryan at cornerback, where he flashed genuine ability as a rookie at a difficult position. Otherwise, it wasn’t a flashy draft, but if Easley is as good as his advocates think he can be, it could prove a fulfilling one as soon as this season.

Chris Warner: Day Two. New England had two picks on Friday and took a QB who, if all goes according to plan, won’t play a down in 2014. They then traded out of the third, netting two picks they used on Stork and Halapio. Ten O-linemen got selected in the third round – did the Patriots like none of them better than Stork? Did New England see no talent worthy of using their Day Three picks to trade up? Will we watch them make another playoff run yet come up short for lack of one or two playmakers? Does this roster really have room for all nine draft picks? Lots of questions here: just prepping my fellow panelists for what should be a doozy of a mailbag week.

Chris Price: Regardless of what you think of Jimmy Garoppolo as a potential successor to Brady, the decision to use a second-round pick on a quarterback – and then trade out of the third round when there were real needs still to be addressed – is a questionable move at best. Even though there aren’t many positional battles brewing, and the entire rookie class is going to have an uphill climb when it comes to playing time in 2014, a safety, coverage linebacker and some depth at tight end all would have been legitimate third-round possibilities.

Bruce Allen I wish they made that 3rd round pick. Do I have a rational reason for it? No. They only moved down 12 slots and picked up another 6th rounder, but I’d have liked to have made that pick at 93. We should be used to the Patriots not following form when it comes to the draft, but it seemed going in that the needs would be defensive tackle, which they picked in the 1st round, tight end, linebacker and safety. They didn’t draft that TE and they picked a small safety in the 6th round. Who am I to say what they did well and poorly?

Mike Reiss: Local reaction to the Jimmy Garoppolo pick. I understand the line of thinking that the Patriots should be surrounding Tom Brady with as much talent as possible, not necessarily considering a possible succession plan. If someone like C. J. Fiedorowicz (selected three picks later at No. 65) becomes a star, it will indeed look bad. But at the same time, I think many are underestimating the importance of the quarterback position in general and how if you don’t have that spot layered accordingly, you put the entire team at risk because of the value of the position and how it touches every part of a team. It’s not so much a succession plan for Brady (that’s a smaller part of it) as it is having someone ready should he sustain an in-season injury like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers did in 2013 and you need a bridge to get you through a few games, or perhaps more. Would we ever accept it if the Patriots didn’t layer the running back spot accordingly? Or cornerback? So if Vereen was injured, Bill Belichick might just say, “We’re not going with any running backs today.” Never. I also think perception is a big part of this. We hear “second-round quarterback” and it makes it sound especially rich but if we look beyond the perception and consider that Garoppolo as a late second-rounder was picked just 12 slots ahead of third-rounder Ryan Mallett in 2011, it’s really no different to me. For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to two scouts who absolutely loved the Garoppolo pick – both for the player himself and the value it represented.

  • bsmfan

    Chris,

    Great work as always. I liked the difference in format, having multiple people do input vs. just a singular voice.

    It might be a stretch but have you been following any of the UDFA news for the team? Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) seems to be one of the key sources, and not just for Patriots ones. I know they’re stretches and you never know with any, but I think some are interesting. I was hoping we’d take a shot with Connor Shaw, as a possible “Julian Edelman”, but he signed with the Browns.

    Your take, under the “FAIR”, about the QB vs. TE choice (funny way to describe him, as he does have a name that I think spell check hates), seems to be the deciding factor on if BB in 2014 wins the draft or not.

    • Chris Warner

      BSMF, I’m a fan of NEPatriotsdraft.com, especially this time of year. We plan on having a UDFA report soon like we did last year. If you go to our Pats Mock Draft (May Edition) from last week you’ll see a list of UDFAs we had our eyes on, including Jeremy Deering as our Rutgers/Utility Guy. (As an old coach of mine used to say, “Even a blind sow finds an acorn once in a while.)

      Interested in how Roy Finch and Stephen Houston fit, especially when looking at the expiring contracts of NE’s current RBs. And, of course, the influx of undrafted tight ends gets a lot of notice because of the current state of that position. I actually enjoy watching post-draft signings as much as the draft itself: get to learn about players who are new from my perspective.

      I see what you’re saying (and what I implied) about Jimmy G. vs. C. J. F., but the real ruling on that probably won’t come down until a few years from now when Garoppolo shows what he can or can’t do. Liked him in post-season college games, just didn’t see him as a Round Two guy. Thanks for writing!

  • latetodinner

    It is rare when anyone really disagrees with Mike Reiss but here goes… I think his view of the Easley pick is flat out wrong. The subtle assumption in his and each media person who has concerns about the pick has to do with his health and whether the Patriots did a poor job investigating it. So while his talent is lauded there is the “but he had 2 ACL injuries in college”. My response is…so don’t you think the Patriots checked that out before they were going to guarantee $3.6 mill to the guy and pay him $8 mill over 4 years? I think that type of analysis, and Reiss is not alone in making what I think is a nonsensical observation, is flat out lazy. I would assume that Reiss of all people would have been able to find out if the Pats did check out Easley’s knees, how thorough they were in investigating them, and learn why the organization was comfortable taking him at 29. I expect the type of observation he made above from a hack like SMY who does no footwork.

    In reality the Easley pick appears to be a steal. He was clearly a top 10 talent whose medical history scared off other teams. Now could the Patriots medical staff be wrong…sure…and if so Reiss should be on that story as well. But right now the assumption has to be that the Pats know what they are doing. If so look at the pick from a football perspective and not a health perspective. If you do that…it was a great pick.

    • Chris Warner

      Hey LTD, I’m a fan of disagreement and debate in sports (hence, this panel), and I’m fine with disagreeing with Mike Reiss (as I do in a couple of categories above), but you lost me at “lazy.” That description makes no sense in the way you’re trying to apply it, and it shouldn’t become part of your argument. Of course the Patriots did their due diligence and saw Easley returning to his previous form. But we have to assume they did the same in 2011 with Ras-I Dowling, who was chosen only four picks later (33 overall). Dowling has played in nine games over the past three seasons (none in 2013) and has 10 career tackles. When a player has injury issues as Easley does, it’s concerning.

      While I see Easley as a solid pick who can help New England’s D in time, I think Mike makes a strong point when discussing Foxboro first-rounders: hard to find any injury histories among them in the BB era.

      Like I said, enjoy the debate. Let’s keep an eye on the rookie and see which category he lands in by next spring.
      Thanks for writing in.

    • Homer Greenz

      Maybe repeatedly being called the Son of Bob Kraft is wearing on Reiss.

  • munchkin420

    I don’t think you can fault Mike entirely for being concerned about the Easley pick, which I love because they need a disruptive play-maker on defense, in that the medical staff missed on the existing Fenene injury and misjudged on Ras-I Dowling. He made it clear that he felt the Patriots have been better served when drafting conservatively in the first round. One could also question the Watson pick as he never developed into the down the field pass catching threat they had hoped he would be. Daniel Graham, though a great blocker, was more like Brandon Pettigrew than Todd Heap or Heath Miller.
    This team needs to create defensive pressure. Hopefully they can use a more athletic LB corp and tighter secondary to do so. We will all be crossing out fingers on Easley. We can probably include Robert Kraft in that group.
    It is hard to imagine life after Brady. The team must do its due diligence in preparing for that eventuality.

    • latetodinner

      Honestly, I don’t mind someone being critical of Easley as a football player. Nor do I mind someone questioning the competency of the Patriots Medical Staff. However once the medical people said he is ready to go, then the only criticisms that should be leveled at Belichick concern Easley’s ability to play. Belichick is not a Doctor. The team hires Medical Experts. Belichick listen’s to their evaluation and then makes a FOOTBALL decision. My issue with Reiss is that he is expecting Belichick to be a Medical expert as well as a football expert. Just look at the draft pick based on the football merits. When you do you see the Pats got a top 10 talent at 29. The pick was great. They needed an inside pass rusher and they got one. If you want to do any further investigative reporting that will actually bring real news to the discussion…bring it on… otherwise you are trolling in the hallowed waters of Shalise Manza Young, Ron Borges, Bert Breer and the late John Tomase (he is dead to at least this Pats fan).

  • Homer Greenz

    “The crowd that repeatedly tells us how rapidly Brady’s window is closing is opposed to planning for life after Brady?”

    Amazingly enough, Felger is not part of this crowd, he and Bruce are in agreement on this point! But Felger’s protege, Adam Jones, is a part of that crowd. When it was leaked that the Pats were bringing Bridgewater and Football in for visits, Jones GUARANTEED it was a smokescreen and that they would not draft a QB. So they drafted a QB and naturally he has to destroy the pick. The Anderson Window boys will fix this for us!