The Patriots came into this Draft needing to hit on their early round picks, they bounced back from their slump in 2020 with a couple of nice prospects to add to defensively (Dugger, Uche). Belichick was ultra-aggressive in free agency with proven talent and needed to continue in that trend if he wants to get back into contention in the AFC East. The ugly truth is that despite being the top coach of his era, he ability to restock his roster with young, affordable talent was beginning to wane. In fact, some were beginning to make the argument that the game was starting to pass the coach by and that Brady’s success in Tampa was proof that a lot of those selections were a product of the QB.
It’s not a farfetched idea either, outside of the occasional late round pick/undrafted free agent, Bill was losing his ability to select stars in the early rounds. His best selection since 2014 was IOL Joe Thuney back in 2016. Other than that you have guys like Dominque Easley (1st round 2014), Cyrus Jones (2nd round 2016), Derek Rivers (3rd round 2017), and N’Keal Harry (1st round 2019) that completely flopped in New England. The common thread between all of them? They were New England’s top pick in each of those drafts.
However, Belichick came out swinging, looking to make amends by taking proven talent from well-known programs. The idea was simple, replenish the pipeline with young players that you can actually build around. Let’s start our Patriots draft grade analysis.
Alabama QB Mac Jones (Round 1, pick 15)Embed from Getty Images
There was no way that Robert Kraft was going to let Belichick spend the money he did in Free Agency without introducing some competition for Cam Newton. That is exactly what Mac Jones brings to the table, as much as Newton is the anthesis of what New England looks for in a QB, Jones is the prototypical Patriot. He carried a 4.0 GPA through Alabama, clawed his way to a starting role with the Crimson Tide, and won a National Championship this past season. He’s not known for his arm strength, but reads coverages well and is surgical in the short to medium game. Is this beginning to sound like any one?
Now, this doesn’t mean Jones will be the starter Week 1, no, chances are that Bill will roll with the vet until it’s evident that 2021 will be no different than 2020. However, you don’t have to dig too deep to see that McDaniels is giddy over being able to implement the same offense that made New England potent in the mid-2010s. In fact, this entire team seems tailor made to nurture a rookie QB along. One of the league’s top offensive line units paired with both the top tight end room in the league and a strong running game. Throw in a couple of receivers that can create separation quickly and a defense that received a massive infusion of talent. Well, teams set up this way typically experience quick turnarounds and their rookie QBs typically experience a lot of success.
The best part about this is that New England didn’t have to mortgage the future like many thought they would need to. Rumors swirled that if San Francisco didn’t take Jones at #3, whoever wanted him would need to entice Atlanta to move off their spot at #4. Which would have cost said team a lot of picks, including many of them being in the 1st round. However, the Jets gave New England another gift by flipping Darnold to the Panthers, which led them to flip Bridgewater to the Broncos. Effectively eliminating two teams from the Mac Jones sweepstakes. The Bears front office knew they needed a high upside playmaker to save their jobs, something that Mac Jones just doesn’t have, so they traded up for Justin Fields.
Then, as only the Jets can manage to do, they secured the Patriots getting their guy by swapping with Minnesota to move up to #14, where Sean Payton aggressively was pursuing the same. However, the Jets held a better draft spot than New Orleans and the Vikings didn’t think that Darrisaw would fall to #26. So, here we are, and if the Pats hit on this pick, God help the sanity of Jets fans and the AFC East alike.
Alabama IDL Christian Barmore (Round 2, Pick 38)
Listen, Belichick has been down-right horrendous in the Draft since 2014, which led him to fall into the mess he found himself in come 2020. Too many risks and players meant for specific roles led to a roster that was depleted of 3-down talent on both sides of the football, so it’s no surprise here that Belichick leaned on trusted ally Nick Saban for help. Barmore provides that disruptive presence in the middle that New England sorely lacked in the teeth of their defense last season. In fact, this was the best value pick the Patriots have had in a while, as Barmore was easily the top defensive line talent coming out this year that should have been taken in the 1st round.
The best part about this selection is that even though the Patriots traded up 8 spots to take him, they gave away selections that were in this year’s draft only. Which might sound a little odd, but after their splurge in FA and the opt-out returning, there weren’t many roster spots open anyways. The Patriots needed impact players to refill a pipeline that is slowly depleting.
Barmore has the strength and size to replicate the impact that Richard Seymour once did all those years ago, now does this mean he’s a lock to become a perennial-Pro Bowler? Not at all, consistency has always seemed to plague Barmore, which helped cause his tumble out of the 1st round. Which should raise some eyebrows because he played at the Factory of Alabama, which seemingly churns out All-Pros on an annual basis.
However, his ability to absolutely collapse the pocket in the run game and pass game adds an element to this defense that they haven’t had in a long time. He’s not likely to be a starter out of the gates, but he will be a key element for New England on 3rd downs as a part of their “ameba” packages which emphasize versatility and are reliant at a couple of down lineman being able to hold their gaps as well as cause disruption in the backfield.
I look at this as a home-run pick for our Patriots draft grade, the ones that we were accustomed to seeing New England make during their 20-year reign. The type of pick that makes you scratch your head and say, “how did they manage to land that guy?”. Belichick is not happy about how 2020 unfolded for New England or Tampa Bay, his first two selections were key indicators in his revamped approach to the Draft.
Oklahoma ED Ronnie Perkins (Round 3, Pick 96)
Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. How in the world did the Patriots land a guy who some thought could be taken as highly as the 1st round, but no lower than middle of the 2nd round, with their compensatory pick. Was edge really a need? No, the Pats just spent big on Matt Judon and brought back Kyle Van Noy from the Dolphins, however, Perkins offers some insurance in case of injury as well as restocking that pipeline.
This was another great pick for our Patriots draft grade. New England desperately needed to upgrade a defensive front that was 26th in the NFL in yards allowed and 20th in yards per attempt. He reminds me a lot of Rob Ninkovich coming out of Oklahoma, a blue-collar-type guy who can set the edge in the run game and bend the edge when rushing the passer.
Perkins has the size that New England looks for off the edge too, at 6’3, 255 he can put his hand on the ground or stand-up. Though it doesn’t seem like much of a jump for a defensive end to rush the passer standing or in a stance, the issue becomes more about being able to drop into coverage. He doesn’t look to be a high impact guy for 2021 and if he is that probably means that something went terribly wrong with Van Noy or Judon, but he’s an interesting guy to keep your eye on in the future.
It’s also no surprise that Belichick went back to another powerhouse program in a major conference for his 3rd round selection. Again, Belichick learned the hard truth in 2020, without Tom Brady, taking gambles on lesser-known prospects from smaller schools typically fail. He doesn’t have a Hall of Fame QB to come in and make up for those misses anymore.
There is a reason why Perkins fell so far in the draft. There is a history of character and off the field issues with the defensive end. The Patriots are no stranger to taking a shot on a troubled player with the lost being low for them. A third round pick for a potential first round talent is a good investment. If Perkins pans out and stays out of trouble, New England gets a big time pass rusher for a late second day pick and cheap rookie contract. If he doesn’t cut it, then it costs them almost no cap space and only a mid round pick. Solid pick for our Patriots draft grade, but only time will tell.
Overall, Belichick hit this one out of the park. He found value in each of his first three selections at positions that sorely needed upgrading. It reminds me greatly of the 2010 draft where the Patriots added guys like Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez. The success that New England experienced in the 2010s was not possible without landing impact players on both sides of the football. Give Belichick credit too, he didn’t have to mortgage the future to make it happen either. Combining this draft class with the free agent class they just brought in, it’s clear, the Patriots are back and back with a vengeance. Right now we’ll be a bit conservative with our Patriots draft grade, but this may swing drastically down or up when looking back at this draft at the end of this season.