2020 NFL Draft: Calculating Patriots make right move by stocking up for weekend

2020 NFL Draft: Calculating Patriots make right move by stocking up for weekend

Finally! Out from under the two-decade burden of having to make every single decision in the interest of how to make things best for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick sat at his kitchen table on Thursday night and, with the 23rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft … traded.  

There once was a coach on Nantucket. Who in the first round just said …

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Belichick’s decision to rappel down the draft board wasn’t a surprise. Still, it was met with the same chorus of, “OH, COME ON!!!!” that it always is. 

Maybe even louder this time since the draft is masquerading as an actual sporting event in 2020. Almost every other team got to unwrap a new player for the season that may never come while Patriots fans have to wait. 

This was the fourth time since 2013 that the first round began and ended without the Patriots adding anyone. In 2016, the bleakest draft in recorded history, the Patriots didn’t make their first pick until the third round. Only one of the four guys they drafted that year — Deatrich Wise — has made a measurable contribution. 

But perhaps the Patriots' draft luck will change on Friday.

In moving back from No. 23, the Patriots added the 37th and 71st picks. They now have four third-rounders and the fat gap they had between the 23rd and 87th pick has been erased.

There’s a crop of notable names they passed on selecting there — Alabama safety Xavier McKinney, Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray (whom the Chargers grabbed with the 23rd pick they got from New England), edge defenders Zack Baun and A.J. Epenesa (from Wisconsin and Iowa, respectively), tight end Cole Kmet and a number of seemingly competent wideouts. 

But given the depth of this draft, there’s plenty of talent still on the board, and the Patriots have more mobility after adding the 71st pick and a fourth-rounder from Tampa in exchange for the rights to employ Rob Gronkowski. 

There will be Friday discussion about the Patriots not adding a quarterback. Jordan Love was still on the board and the Green Bay Packers moved up to select him at No. 26 to — presumably — groom as Aaron Rodgers’ successor. 

But to me, the appeal of a quarterback like Love wasn’t there. Better to add a pick, still have a shot at someone like Kyler Murray/Tua Tagovailoa knockoff Jalen Hurts and give Jarrett Stidham a proper chance to show the arm and potential we all raved about at this time last year.

The Patriots need good, young players. Lots of them. In lots of spots. And while they most certainly would have been getting one at 23, they should now get two at 37 and 71. It was the right move.

And they were saved from the wrong move that many speculated they may try to make: trading up to draft Tagovailoa. The Miami Dolphins removed that possibility when they took the ultra-productive but often hobbled Alabama quarterback with the fifth overall pick. 

The Dolphins’ stirring close to the 2019 season moved them out of contention for the best quarterback in the draft, Joe Burrow. “Tanking” is a dirty, rotten, filthy unethical practice and Miami deserves a salute for what it got done last year after offloading massive amounts of talented players but still committing to win. But it will be interesting to watch the arc of development for Burrow, taken with the first pick by the Bengals, and Tagovailoa over the coming years. 

When it’s all said and done, will winning enough games in 2019 to eliminate the chance for Burrow be the boon for Miami’s team culture head coach Brian Flores hoped it would be? Did they get their franchise quarterback anyway? 

The Patriots will get an up-close opportunity to make Tua’s life miserable twice a year for the foreseeable future in the AFC East. As for the rest of the division? Buffalo didn’t have a first-round pick, having sent it to Minnesota for Stefon Diggs, while the Jets added a massive human named Mekhi Becton with the 11th pick. He’ll play left tackle for New York and work to keep the ghosts at bay for Sam Darnold. 

Brady got a left tackle, too. Tristan Wirfs from Iowa went to Tampa Bay with the 13th pick. The Bucs traded from 14 to 13 to ensure they’d get him. 

Listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast here: 

Coming back on Friday, the Patriots will have the fifth pick of the night. After that, expect more trading. The Patriots get itchy and now that it’s obvious that working remotely didn’t result in teams having to send in their picks by carrier pigeon, New England will almost certainly be dealing. 

Maybe they’ll even add a tight end? They haven’t taken one earlier than the fifth round since 2010. 

I asked Patriots personnel man Nick Caserio about that position being a possible priority on a conference call Thursday night. 

“There's never one particular position that's a priority,” he said. “I think you go through your draft board. We grade the players on their respective positions, then you compare players across positions. We take the information that we have and we try to make the best decision that we feel is best for our team. If it happens to be a tight end, it's a tight end. It it's another position, it's another position. 

“I mean, there's no set formula. We just try to go through it. That's why we have a grading system in place so that you assign grades because what you don't want to do is assign a certain grade, maybe it's one position that's a little bit higher than the other, or it's a little bit lower, then you take a player out of scale. Like, is that the best thing for your team?”

If it’s a tight end? Probably.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Measuring the toll that opt-outs took around the NFL

Patriots Talk Podcast: Measuring the toll that opt-outs took around the NFL

Thursday's deadline for players to opt out of the 2020 NFL season has come and gone.

A total of eight New England Patriots players, including linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, and tackle Marcus Cannon, have chosen to sit out of the 2020 campaign due to concerns about the coronavirus.

With the Pats impacted by opt outs more than any other team, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss on a brand new Patriots Talk Podcast the toll they will have on New England this season.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Measuring the toll that opt-outs took around the NFL | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

"Dont'a Hightower may end up being the most high-profile guy that chooses to opt out. I would say Patrick Chung and Marcus Cannon are somewhere in that next tier," Perry said. "So when you have three starting-caliber players and four real contributors ... there's no other team in the league I think you can look at and say they've been just as hard by these opt-outs as the Patriots.

"And we talked about what they might do to fill in. I think right now is the most important time because if you're somebody like Josh Uche or Ja'Whaun Bentley or Yodny Cajuste, it doesn't matter that you're getting no time on the field right now. You have to squeeze every last drop out of every single meeting that you have the opportunity to attend, every rep you can do in the weight room ... you're going to be thrown right into the fire and you have to make sure that you're ready."

There is some optimism heading into the new season, believe it or not. Perry notes that the defense -- even after all of the opt outs -- might be better than expected for New England in 2020.

"I think if you look at the Patriots defense, I think that is the one thing that we all looked at even before they signed Cam Newton and said, 'If you were hoping they were gonna suck for Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields or somebody else near the top of the draft, the defense might do you in this year," said Perry. "Because they still should be good. Even if they're not the best defense in football, they still have arguably the best secondary in the league.

"And even without Dont'a Hightower, they have enough pieces and they've done well enough to scheme quarterback pressure that it should give you a representative effort each and every week which still some teams across the league you look at these rosters and wonder how they're gonna compete at all."

Curran and Perry also discuss power rankings in the AFC East after the opt outs, whether the Patriots offense will be fun to watch, takeaways from Tom Brady's introductory press conference with the Buccaneers, and why Brady may struggle in Tampa Bay.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.

NFL Power Rankings: Where do Patriots stack up after opt-outs?

NFL Power Rankings: Where do Patriots stack up after opt-outs?

So what matters the most this year? Is it the guys you had in 2019 who are coming back? Is it the guys you added in the offseason? Is it the young guys you drafted? Is it the length of time the coaching staff’s been together? Or the offensive coordinator and coaching staff?

Is it how well the team blocks out the distraction (“distraction” feels like an inadequate word, I know) of COVID-19 and deals with the logistical walls it’s created? Or is it how well the team’s players deal with the daily mental stress that they can either get it and get really sick; get it and have nothing happen; get it, not know it and pass it on to someone who may then get really sick or get it, pass it to a teammate and then see the whole league come to a grinding halt?

Do you know? I don’t know. As a result, there’s little jumbling in the Power Rankings. But three factors affecting every team right now that never are: opt-outs, the lack of offseason work and the approach of core, veteran leadership in an unprecedented time. Let’s get it. (Predraft ranking in parentheses).