The Patriots couldn’t have had a better first round for them, taking an angle that was widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the draft.
They might make the argument that the same was true in the second round, landing a player they were considering midway through the first round.
But from there, if you’ve been scratching your head over how the rest of the draft is going to go, know that you’re not the only one.
Patriots talk: The hits, misses, and unfulfilled hopes of the 2023 Patriots draft | Listen and Subscribe | Watch on YouTube
Multiple league sources relayed a baffled response to the Patriots’ post-draft approach. There was a lot of focus on A) the fact that no players were taken in the offensive skill position until the sixth round and B) that the team loaded on featured players on the third day. In competing front offices where two of the three most important needs of the team are not prioritized.
“Let’s be honest,” a league source said. “They still don’t have a player to plan for. Maybe other than (Ramondri) Stevenson.”
Unless a fourth-round draft pick from Eastern Michigan Sidy Sow is able to play some tackle as a pro (he spent the vast majority of his college playing time at guard), this spot hasn’t been addressed. Pass catchers were not selected until LSU’s Kayshon Boutte got off the plate in the sixth.
For an offense that for long periods of the 2022 season was worse in critical situations in third and in the red, it made sense to spend a significant draft day capital on this side of the ball. Even after replacing Jonnu Smith with Mike Gesicki and Jakobi Meyers with Jojo Smith-Schuster. Even after adding Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator.
But scouts for multiple franchises have made it clear that this year’s lineup of recruits in both receiver and tackle has been unimpressive. Perhaps this is the key to Bill Belichick’s approach.
This draft seemed to scream: “Stick to the plate.”
Kicker is available in the fourth round and his score can’t be ignored? With Nick Folk’s dependable age on the list? Don’t just go for a smaller leg. Trade to get it.
A guard who’s in fourth grade says he could start someday? VS promising tackle Who has an injury history and some questions about his fitting personality in the locker room? Go with the safer option.
Belichick and his main assistant Matt Groh clearly didn’t like the talent in those offensive situations when it came time for picks in the third and fourth rounds. Even with the obvious Patriots on the board like Stanford receiver Michael Wilson (a Senior Bowl star who visited the Patriots before the draft but had an injury concern), Old Dominion tackle Nick Saldieveri (the coaches consider him a highly versatile player), BYU tackle With Blake Freeland (one of the best athletic testers at his position) and Pitt tackles Carter Warren (he’s injured in 2022, but one NFC thinks he had a better bar than any of the SEC’s first-round tackles made this year).
Curran: The Patriots’ draft indicates that they didn’t like late talent
However, the go-for-need approach may have given the Patriots more lead in two of the most valuable (and expensive) slots in the game. In addition, those risks in prime positions may have been mitigated by the fact that the apparently safer path doesn’t seem to give Belichick a set of sure players in 2023.
Third round pick Marte Mapu, a safety from Sacramento State, is a mobile gun who can play at the secondary or linebacker level. One coach who worked with him in the Senior Bowl and hoped his team would draft Mapu described him as “really smart…a great hitter…versatile.” But he’s now Belichick’s fourth strong safety, and a torn chest may limit his availability.
Fourth-place finisher Jake Andrews, an inside lineman from Troy, looks like a versatile super-submarine the team can use. But then Belichick and his puppy doubled down on contingency plans at home, in Soo and V Antonio Maffei, without adding a clear tackle option.
Maryland starter Chad Ryland may have the biggest impact from his third-day selection of draft picks. He will likely replace Folk, based on his draft position. But if he’s cool in training camp, will he become a starting specialist because Folk wasn’t built for these tasks at this point in his career? And will Belichick be comfortable keeping two forwards on his gameday roster – one for kickoffs, one for field goals? It may seem like an extraordinarily large investment in the kicker, but indications are that this should not be ruled out.
Belichick left no doubt over the weekend that the kicking game still matters to him on his mind. And perhaps the way he ended last season — by allowing Buffalo two punt returns for touchdowns — only encouraged the former special teams coordinator to pour more resources at that point.
Not only did Belichick take Ryland with a higher draft pick than he had ever used with a specialist before (Steven Gostkowski went six picks later in the fourth round in 2006), but he drafted Michigan State punter Bryce Barringer and special staff baserunner Emir Speed In the sixth round. Then running back Isaiah Bolden of Jackson State came in the seventh.
The Patriots are making NFL history in on-brand fashion with their third-day picks
Those picks came after the team brought back Matthew Slater and Cody Davis and signed special team Ice Chris Board in free agency. With Brenden Schooler, DaMarcus Mitchell, and Raleigh Webb also under contract, the team was loaded with Class 4 specialists.
The Patriots appeared to have made their first-round pick. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah rated Gonzalez the No. 10 player in the class. Sports Info Solutions and the 33rd team ranked him No. 8.
Their second-round pick, Keon White, I’m told, was among a group of non-corners the Patriots were considering for the 14th overall along with Gonzalez. They passed and still had the chance to nab him – a versatile, powerful and physically gifted defender – for 46th overall the next night.
Gonzalez and White should both help the Patriots defense slow down the powerful offenses in their division and throughout the rest of the conference.
But their approach to the weekend from there has led to questions from league insiders who still view Belichick’s roster as needing real reinforcements on the other side of the ball.