Patriots

Pats' first four picks: Giardi's predictions, Perry's reactions

Pats' first four picks: Giardi's predictions, Perry's reactions

The Patriots have four picks in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft, and there's all sorts of speculation as to who they'll take. Mike Giardi takes a shot at choosing who they'll take, and Phil Perry reacts to Mike's selections.

TURNING THE TABLES: Perry selects, Giardi reacts

FIRST ROUND, 23RD OVERALL SELECTION

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. This is too high for Evans, but aside from Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmonds no one is better equipped to get meaningful snaps right away than Evans. There could be discussion about  the Patriots moving backwards, but in the end it's not worth another team leapfrogging them and nabbing our man. First things first: Evans is a playmaker. He led Alabama in tackles for loss and also recorded a half-dozen sacks. That was an area the Pats had a problem with last year and I can envision having Hightower and Evans playing a two-man game over the 'A' gap or having one come off the strong side and the other off the weak. It's also easy to be enamored with his speed. He’s the type of sideline-to-sideline linebacker they don’t have on the roster. He’s wise enough to slide off the big bodies in front of him and has terrific feet for that position. They allow him to correct the occasional mistake diagnosing plays. Let’s not pretend Evans won’t bring the thunder, either. He can run through a fullback or guard if he has to. This is a tough dude who improved this past season. He’ll get even better in Foxboro.

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: I think Evans would provide better value if the Patriots could get him at No. 31 or even No. 43, but I can't argue with the talent. He's fun to watch. If you like your linebackers to play violently, with reckless abandon, Evans is for you. He'll provide Bill Belichick with an immediate upgrade off the line of scrimmage, and he can get after the quarterback on third downs -- either from the A-gaps or off the edge. My concerns? He doesn't have a tremendous amount of experience in coverage. I think he's athletic enough to cover, but there's a level of the unknown there. He's not a ready-made field general in terms of helping players get aligned, I've been told. And I wonder about his durability. He's undersized for the role he projects to (at 230 pounds, he's about 40 pounds lighter than off-the-line/on-the-line prototype Dont'a Hightower), and he's dealt with injuries (which seem to have impacted his athletic testing numbers, which were unimpressive). But if he's cleared, and if he takes to the coaching he'll get at the next level, he could be a tone-setting staple in the middle of Belichick's defense for years. I like this pick. Don't love it. Like it.

FIRST ROUND, 38TH OVERALL SELECTION

(Mike has the Pats trading down.)

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State. I’ve heard the criticism that he isn’t a great blocker. Newsflash: The ones that are usually can’t catch worth a damn. In fact, the Patriots have one on the team right now (hello, Dwayne Allen). Gesicki is a tremendous athlete, better than the one they're currently having so much trouble with (Gronk). No, he’s not as big and as good of a blocker, but this could be an instant mismatch for us -- too big for safeties (6-foot-5, 247 pounds) and too fast for linebackers (4.54 40 yard dash). Think Jimmy Graham, right down that 41.5 inch vertical leap. They've been desperately seeking a move tight end. He’ll adapt and make Tommy Boy a happy man. Gesicki isn’t some pretty boy, either. He will run down the seam knowing you’re trying to separate the ball from his body and still make the catch. He has an uncanny ability to separate for such a big man and is a very good route runner. Once the ball is in the air, he’ll go get it. 

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: I understand why you're enamored with Gesicki, Mike. I do. His athleticism is off the charts. Almost literally. Off . . . the . . . charts. He can run by linebackers and out-jump corners and safeties. He's the ultimate 50-50 weapon. And when the Patriots have spent top-tier picks at this position in the past, they've gone after athletes. Rob Gronkowski obviously comes to mind. Ditto for Ben Watson. My concern about Gesicki is that I don't know exactly how he'll fit in the Patriots offense. He just looks like a big receiver to me. He's not a true "Y" tight end. And I don't see the suddenness that would allow him to fit a "move" Aaron Hernandez role, either. I'd personally rather draft Dallas Goedert, a good-but-maybe-not-great athlete with very good hands and the size to block in-line, if he's available. I don't hate Gesicki. And I think the Patriots would find a way to use his athleticism. He's just not my favorite tight end in this class for the Patriots, and if I was running their front office, I'd let another team call his name before I'm willing to.

SECOND ROUND, 43RD OVERALL SELECTION

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Brian O'Neill, OT, Pitt. The Patriots have been blessed to have just a pair of left tackles for this unprecedented run of success starting back in 2001 -- Matt Light and Nate Solder. O’Neill is nearly a mirror of Solder. Long, athletic and a former tight end and right tackle, he’s just scratching the surface of what could be a career filled with Pro Bowls.  O’Neill started all 12 games at left tackle for the Panthers and was first-team all-ACC a year after being a second-teamer from the right side. His 6-foot-7 frame will easily pack on another 15 pounds of muscle and with that arm length (34 1/8 inches), once he gets his 9 3/8-inch mitts into you, say goodnight. He understands balance and with those feet can beat defenders to the spot. Yes, there are concerns about technique and it wasn’t a great Senior Bowl week for him, but offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will turn O’Neill into a monster in no time. Raise your eyebrow now, but you may be thankful later.

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: This feels a little rich to me, Michael! I know. I know. The Patriots need a tackle. But, in my opinion, they need a tackle who can play right now. Or at least help out in 2018 if Marcus Cannon or LaAdrian Waddle get injured. O'Neill isn't that guy. At least I don't think he is. He's still relatively new to the position, a little light, and reports out of the Senior Bowl on him weren't good. I'd prefer making this pick over, say, Kolton Miller in the first. So I'm with you there. Miller is another developmental prospect. But taking a project tackle at this point in the draft -- when a playmaker at receiver, safety or corner might be available -- would feel like a reach to me. For this draft, if I'm the Patriots, I'm either taking a pro-ready guy (Mike McGlinchey, Connor Williams), or I'm taking a pass. Antonio Garcia and Cole Croston feel like developmental tackles already destined to make the roster. Adding a third, to me, is redundant.

SECOND ROUND, 63RD OVERALL SELECTION

MIKE SAYS PATS WILL PICK: Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest.  The Patriots believe in rolling the dice in the second round and this is one of those occasions. Ejiofor came to the game late but he’s a student of it, knows who he is and what he can do and who he can do it to. He’s a perfect fit with the young collection of edge players the Patriots have on defense -- Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Adam Butler. Can’t wait to see Trey take Eliofor under his wing and help him blossom. What you’ll notice almost immediately are those long arms and his strong hands. Ejiofor gets into a tackle and can jolt much bigger men. He senses the change in balance and uses a sound collection of moves to disengage and find his way to the QB. He’s also shown an ability to slide inside as a pass rusher as well and is capable fo creating mismatches against opposing guards or centers. He’s not an elite athlete and injuries have been a concern but he’s either going to compliment Flowers and company in the years to come or replace Trey if his contract ask becomes too much. 

WHAT PHIL THINKS ABOUT THE PICK: Now we're talking. My favorite pick of the bunch. I've written this before, but to me Ejiofor looks like this year's Trey Flowers. Is that worthy of a late second-rounder? Damn right. Ejiofor may not be twitchy, but he's long, and he knows how to play. So often we look at athletic pass-rushers and tell ourselves, "Boy, if he can just learn a move or two  . . ." That's not the case with Ejiofor. He has heavy hands and he understands how to use them. With Flowers coming to the end of his rookie contract in the near future, it might behoove the Patriots to add another young talent to a room that already includes Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise.

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


 

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.