Even with six Lombardi Trophies in the case, there was an urgency about the 2019 NFL Draft. Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio couldn’t afford to churn out a stinker this time around.
Not with championship No. 7 in their sights, one that would set them apart from the rest. Not with Tom Brady about to turn 42. Not with the future of the dynasty resting on how the roster is replenished given an aging group and a host of needs.
And not with other AFC teams continuing to inch closer with a bull’s eye firmly set on the Patriots.
After a span of drafts dating to 2013, where the team hasn’t produced a Pro Bowler since Jamie Collins, the brain trust really had to deliver.
While it’s tough to know how any draft pans out in the immediate, it’s hard not to like what the Patriots did over the course of the three days.
With the exception of tight end, which was a top need, they checked off all the boxes, including nabbing a possible successor for Brady with the selection of Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round.
Maybe he turns out to be the heir apparent. Maybe he’s not the guy. The point is this is no Danny Etling. They’re taking a shot with someone of note to possibly follow Brady, which is the way to go at this stage.
Brady is still capable of carrying a team and winning Super Bowls, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared. The Patriots still haven’t re-signed the legend beyond this season.
So they’ll bring in Stidham, who has many traits the team likes, including a quick release. After last year’s draft, newly elected Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, a former Cowboys executive and SiriusXM NFL analyst, told me to watch for Stidham as a future Patriot with the 2019 class, which was considered a weak quarterback class.
It’s easy to see why Brandt drew an early line between Stidham and Foxborough. Stidham has the type of measurables the Patriots appreciate in quarterbacks. He has the quick release, the great arm, and a certain game intelligence that’s so important. During a conference call with the media, Stidham mentioned how the Patriots, unlike other teams, “like to find out how smart you are and really challenge you in that way.”
Beyond the Brady successor, they really needed to get help for the four-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
Their receiving corps was woefully thin. Ditto the tight end group. And, their presumed left tackle, Isaiah Wynn, is coming off a torn Achilles, while their swing tackle, LaAdrian Waddle, fled in free agency.
On Day One they went against type, choosing receiver N’Keal Harry out of Arizona State with the 32nd pick, getting him ahead of the Cardinals (at No. 33), who were hot on his trail. Belichick never picks receivers that high, much less in the first round, but he needed a playmaker of Harry’s ilk.
The 6-foot-2, 228-pounder is a big-bodied wideout, something they lack, especially with Josh Gordon on indefinite suspension and Rob Gronkowski retired. His calling card is an ability to make contested catches. If he can learn the system and get in sync with Brady, he’ll be a huge asset in the offense.
The Pats also added tackle Yodny Cajuste from West Virginia, checking off another top need. He could fill the swing tackle role and add a layer of insurance should Wynn struggle.
The tight end? They added running back Damien Harris of Alabama in the third round, instead of a Gronk successor. That’s a bit of a head scratcher. It makes sense if you consider the team’s shift to a run-based offense along with Sony Michel’s bum knees, and needing a solid backup if he goes down. Rex Burkhead has been injury prone. They did bring back special teams ace Brandon Bolden, but Harris seems like a more solid backup.
Why did they avoid the tight end? Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a nice addition when healthy, but he rarely stays healthy. Is Benjamin Watson headed back to New England? Or might the Patriots pry Kyle Rudolph out of Minnesota, given the Vikings drafted Irv Smith Jr.? Rudolph, who has a year remaining on his deal, might be expendable at this point. We’ll see how that develops.
On the defensive side, the Pats plugged the pass rusher need with Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich. Love the pick, love his motor. Winovich looks to be in the Mike Vrabel, Rob Ninkovich mold.
They also grabbed Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams. While cornerback wasn’t a top need, this also appears to be a great pick by Belichick.
Williams is 6-foot-4, 211 pounds. The way Belichick deploys his defense, matchups are so important, and Williams is a great piece to have especially against the taller wideouts and tight ends.
We saw how well Belichick was able to maneuver his chess pieces against three great offenses (Chargers, Chiefs, Rams) during the postseason. You can never have enough in the secondary. Williams should be another great matchup piece for Belichick.
At the outset, Belichick was armed with a league-high 12 picks. He wound up trading out a bunch of times, making 10 in all.
After assembling a promising 2018 class that includes Michel, cornerback J.C. Jackson, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and offensive tackle Wynn, the Pats are well on their way to bolstering the young talent on the roster after the 2019 haul.
They’ll be in the hunt for No. 7 and keeping the dynasty thriving.