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Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Draft choices show some long-term thinking


AFTER moving swiftly and aggressively to sign Darrelle Revis, after assuming some risk to acquire the high ceiling of Brandon Browner, after spending the money to retain Julian Edelman, and after positioning themselves rather nicely to make another run this fall, the Patriots appeared poised to polish their roster by plugging a few final holes via the draft.

They didn’t need stars. In fact, they probably didn’t even need starters. But there were a few spots — tight end, safety, pass-coverage linebacker in particular — where they could’ve stood to add players who could contribute immediately.

Instead, they may have come away from the three-day exercise without a single player who will be ready to help them right away.

It’s hard to argue with the actual selections the Patriots made, given the enormity of the scouting work that’s been done in preparation for this weekend, given that only they can project where these players fit based on their plans for scheme and system moving forward, and given the benefit of the doubt Bill Belichick and his staff have bought themselves over a decade during which they’ve become the league’s exemplars.

But the strategy used in applying that knowledge is fair game — and so the frustration is justified for those who find themselves underwhelmed and disappointed that the Patriots didn’t seem to act with the same urgency this weekend as they had for the rest of the offseason. Especially in regards to the way they handled Friday.

Thursday’s choice of Dominique Easley, the defensive lineman out of Florida, made some sense. His stock was slashed by an injury history that includes ACL tears in both knees, the second of which he’s still rehabbing, so by all accounts the Pats acquired a top-15 talent with the No. 29 overall pick.

Belichick saw value on the board, and he took it. No problem there, especially in a draft that was said to be so deep that teams would be mining starters from the second and third rounds. Even if Easley needs to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list — which is a possibility — or at least be brought along slowly, the next day still presented the Pats with a couple of opportunities to add immediate impact.

Then they took a backup quarterback out of the Football Championship Subdivision in round two. And traded their selection at the end of round three in exchange for fourth and sixth rounders.

“With the situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future, so we’ll see how all that works out but I think you’re better off being early than late at that position,” Belichick explained late Friday night. “In the third round, we felt that the trade we made with Jacksonville — we’ve been able to pick some players that have been productive for us on the third day of the draft. Hopefully that will be the case.”

The Patriots wound up making seven picks on Saturday, including three offensive linemen from big, successful programs (Florida State’s Bryan Stork and Stanford’s Cameron Fleming in the fourth, then Florida’s Jon Halapio in the sixth), a couple of Big Ten skill position players (Wisconsin running back James White in the fourth and Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon in the sixth), a defensive back (Jemea Thomas of Georgia Tech) and an intriguing project in defensive end Zach Moore out of Division II Concordia-St. Paul.

Barring injury, what becomes of any of those players won’t be known for a while — as is also the case for the quarterback they took Friday, Eastern Illinois product Jimmy Garappolo. With Tom Brady turning 37 by the start of the season, and with Ryan Mallett’s contract set to expire at season’s end, it was logical that the Patriots would be looking to find their heir apparent at that position. And using a second-round pick on Garappolo anoints him as exactly that.

He’ll get a chance to study under one of the best the game has seen, and the Pats will have a chance to groom him in their system as he adjusts to a sizeable leap in the level of competition. That approach makes sense. But Brady is under contract for another three seasons, and has publicly stated a desire to play past 40.

So, then, the Patriots seemingly made their second-round pick with an eye on 2018, after making a first-round pick that may not pay full dividends until 2015. Then they traded away their third-round pick altogether — further evidence that in the 2014 draft, 2014 itself seemed only to be an afterthought for New England.

Dave D’Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.

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