The NFL Draft was the first sense of normalcy in a Patriots offseason that has been anything but. There was something refreshing about Bill Belichick doing Bill Belichick things.
Bill traded out of the first round, #23 overall, to pick up a second and a third rounder. This was fairly predictable unless you believed the pundits who lauded for months that “they could see the Patriots taking a quarterback at 23.” Keep in mind these were the same pundits who were flabbergasted (great word) a year ago when the Patriots selected a receiver in the first round.
Where Belichick still managed to surprise everybody was when he invented a college, named it after a country singer (Leann Rimes) and used it as a shell university to obtain the rights to a genetically modified safety/linebacker/special teams whiz named Kyle Dugger.
Bill "The GM" thought of everything, except maybe a more believable name. Kyle Dugger sounds like a computer player in a 90’s college football video game. The key word on Dugger is: versatility. Dugger can return kicks, he can play safety and might play some linebacker. Bill loves options. The best case scenario is that Bill just found the prototype for a new football weapon from Lenoir-Rhyne University. Worse case, he just found another Derek Rivers, a linebacker out of Youngstown St. who people were claiming was the best tackler in the draft, (although he’s never been healthy enough to stay on the field.)
The pick the Patriots traded, #23 to the Chargers, the Chargers then used to select linebacker Kenneth Murray. Murray looks like a pro bowl caliber linebacker, which is a position that the Patriots desperately need help at with the defections of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts.
Murray would have been a help, but what’s better than one college linebacker from a big school (Murray went to Oklahoma)? TWO college linebackers from big schools. The Patriots used one of the picks from the Chargers to take Dugger, used another to trade up and take Michigan LB Josh Uche (former and now current teammate of Chase Winovich) and then nab Alabama backer Anfernee Jennings with their original third round pick. Love any time the Saban-Belichick pipeline can get used. Jennings has been compared to Kyle Van Noy, which is another thing I love about the draft, prospects being compared to the player they’re replacing. That’s a stretch.
This felt similar to 2011 when the Patriots desperately needed a running back. Somehow Alabama bell cow Mark Ingram fell to the Patriots at 28, while Heisman’s in Foxboro danced in our heads, Bill traded the pick to New Orleans for multiple picks later in the draft. He then drafted Shane Vereen in the second round and Stevan Ridley in the third round. Ingram has gone on to have a very good career, but Vereen helped the team win Super Bowl 49 (most underrated Super Bowl performance of the last 20 years) and Ridley was a 1,000 yard back before injuries derailed his career.
Drafting two tight ends in the third round is classic Belichick. Devin Asiasi out of UCLA and Dalton Keene from Virginia Tech both grade out well from most experts and tight end is certainly an area the Patriots needed depth at after the position has been MIA since Gronk retired that time. (Keene is already being labeled a character, I mean hey why not, he has a mustache. He must be colorful.)
The Pats took a kicker, it wasn’t Rodrigo Blankenship from Georgia, he of the overly aggressive RecSpecs, and instead we have a kicker with a tough to pronounce last name who transferred from Rhode Island to Marshall. Feels like the 70’s.