In a draft that didn’t see a trade until the 13th selection, the first time since 2015 that every team in the top ten stayed put, Bill Belichick traded out of the first round on Thursday night.
The move comes as no surprise to anyone as we’ve discussed for months the Patriots bridging the gap between their first selection (23rd overall) and their next pick in the third round (87th).
The Patriots acquired the 37th overall pick from the Chargers and an additional third-rounder (71), and now have five picks on day two.
As we have discussed, this draft is particularly robust for the Pats on day two due to the depth at certain positions such as wide receiver, offensive line, and quarterback.
And the value at New England’s top positions of need, such as tight end and linebacker, is on day two, where need aligns with talent rather than reaching in the first round on a player.
Following the trade, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said during the draft broadcast that New England feels like they’ll get the same player they wanted at no. 23 with the fifth pick in the second round.
Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio shed some light on the move during a call with reporters early Friday morning, referencing the tier system New England uses in the draft.
The Patriots will sort players into pockets or tiers where they feel that one player isn’t significantly better than the other, and Caserio said there’s a large pocket of players on day two.
Along with resetting our Patriots big board and New England’s 13 selections over the next two days, we’ll try our best to predict who that player might be that Schefter referenced in his report:
DL A.J. EPENESA, IOWA
Some team is going to get a good interior rusher with A.J. Epenesa. Stout play-side DE on early downs, but kick him inside on passing downs.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 26, 2020
Although we didn’t expect him to fall entirely out of the first round, Epenesa’s athletic profile and lackluster combine workout have him still on the board. In our final mock draft, we had the Patriots trading back to no. 29 with Tennessee to draft Epenesa, so maybe the Pats read the board perfectly and knew that he’d be around even later than that. Epenesa is the easiest projection to make for New England in this draft for several reasons. He fits like a glove as a weak-side defensive end that can kick inside on third down. Epenesa’s ideal length and power at the point of attack make him the draft’s best run defender at the position and an exceptionally sturdy edge setter. He dominates most of his engagements, holding at the point of attack and moving blockers out of gaps with immense hand strength. Epenesa also uses his heavy hands to win as a pass rusher on a deadly two-hand swipe move and a stiff snatch move once he locks his hands inside the blockers’ chest. The Pats know exactly what they’re getting with Epenesa and what role he can fill as a day one starter.
S XAVIER MCKINNEY, ALABAMA
Alabama safety Xavier McKinney does everything well: reading the QB from centerfield, click and close in the deep half, competes in man coverage, extremely disruptive blitzer, fits the run better than most LBs in this class. Would love to see him with Belichick. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/dlTads3FmI
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2020
Out of all the prospects still available after round one, McKinney is the most shocking from this perspective. The Alabama product after testing in the 20th percentile at the combine with a well below average 40 time of 4.63 seconds. But he’s a swiss-army knife that impacts the game from all over the field. We are talking about a player that did everything from play centerfield, guard slot receivers and tight ends, come down into the box as a strong safety and pseudo-linebacker, and even rush the passer as a blitzer or as an edge rusher. McKinney has terrific instincts and length from high zone to disrupt passes over the top, but his 40 time might signal that he’s not built to play as a single-high deep defender. Even with that role off the table, McKinney will still be an extremely effective box safety that can play short and intermediate zones, split-safety structures, and man coverage.
OT JOSH JONES, HOUSTON
Couple of examples here of him bringing down the ax when the rusher tries to get into his body. Smooth. pic.twitter.com/7IAfVAq5Rw
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 2, 2020
After seeing six tackles go in the first round, and two graded below Jones in our system, we knew something had to be up with the Houston product. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah hinted at a medical red flag on Jones that might explain the fall, but there was also a wide range of opinions on him, with some teams pegging him as a first-rounder while others had him squarely on day two. We had Jones as our OT5 and our number three target on our Patriots big board, so snagging him at the top of the second would be a steal. He is a battle-tested left tackle prospect that checks all the boxes from a size (6-5, 319, 34-inch arms) and athletic perspective with the necessary foot speed and lateral agility to mirror pass rushers. He’s also a quick and effective puller, climbs to the second level with ease, and reaches difficult blocks in zone schemes. All of Jones’s flaws are coachable, and he’d offer an excellent insurance policy to oft-injured left tackle Isaiah Wynn and 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste.
LB ZACK BAUN, WISCONSIN
Zach Baun has hybrid OLB for the #Patriots written all over him. Play him at the end of the LOS or off the ball, but he should get regular reps as a pass rusher.
Baun's inside rushes are his best. Quickness is too much for OTs. Get them thinking outside then crossover inside. pic.twitter.com/cRPvJXpLWg
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 26, 2020
Baun is a classic case of the media reading too much into smoke that he’d land in the first round. Although we love his versatility and pass-rush upside, Baun is a jack of all trades, master of none prospect, but Belichick usually does well with those kinds of players. He’s at his best rushing and disrupting off the edge, but he can also drop into coverage and play off the ball linebacker some. Baun leaned into comparisons to former Pats linebacker Kyle Van Noy by saying he studies Van Noy and models his game after past and present linebackers in New England. As a pass rusher, Buan uses an effective two-hand swipe move to soften the edge as a basis for a deep arsenal of rush moves that also includes a deadly inside spin and long arm (speed to power). Although he’s inexperienced in this role, Baun projects for some teams as an off-ball linebacker that shows adequate lateral agility to scrape and tackle at the second level. We expect that Baun’s lack of a dominant trait and back-to-back seasons with foot injuries at Wisconsin are the reasons why he’s still available.
S ANTIONE WINFIELD, MINNESOTA
Best interception so far in this safety class belongs to Antione Winfield Jr. Receiver running at him at full speed with the space to break in or out. Winfield matches him no problem, tracks the ball, goes up for the INT. Great play. Top 50 player. #Patriots #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/9TjNxq9BW9
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 7, 2020
Based on the film, Winfield, Jr. was a first-round prospect, but his size (5-9, 203 pounds) and durability concerns were too much to overcome. Winfield is the most instinctive safety in this class. The son of former NFL All-Pro corner Antione Winfield, the younger version is a ball-hawking safety that makes excellent reads, transitions, and plays on the football. He can flip-and-run with a receiver moving at full speed or read the quarterback’s eyes to jump a route he has no business being near. Despite his smaller stature, he also isn’t afraid to mix it up in the box or lay the wood from deep zone and offers some flexibility to play man coverage in the slot. There are very few flaws in his game, but he’s undersized.
WR DENZEL MIMS, BAYLOR
Denzel Mims might be the best vertical threat in this years class. Opens up a path to the sideline in his release, throws inside hand to keep jam away, good initial burst and works to stack the CB, uses arm bar to keep the CB away from the catch point. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/rE7XgCHU8A
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) January 30, 2020
Mims is another prospect to fall victim to the divide between the media and the league. Most draftniks had Mims as a first-round selection, but the league was never that high on him, seeing him as a second-round player in the top 50. Although Mims tested in the 95th percentile at the combine, he’s a lot more than a terrific athlete in spandex. At Baylor, Mims was the alpha in their offense, averaging nearly 1,000 yards per season over the last three years to go along with 28 career touchdowns. He’s a former High School track star with 4.38 speed and outstanding initial burst off the line to get over the top of defensive backs and makes terrific downfield adjustments on off-target throws using an enormous catch radius to haul in passes (6-3 with nearly 34-inch arms). Mims is more of a linear athlete that doesn’t win with short-area agility or crisp route breaks, but he flashes smooth vertical transitions on quick posts and stop-start ability on comebacks to pair with his vertical route running.
DL YETUR GROSS-MATOS, PENN STATE
Yetur Gross-Matos reminds me a little of Chandler Jones at 'Cuse but a little more versatile.
Length, heavy hands, & quickness. Rushing on the left tackle. Uses inside hand with initial burst & hip power to push the tackle upfield, slams on breaks & finds the QB. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/3V2zzDE73e
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 26, 2020
Gross-Matos likely fell to this point due to an ongoing legal situation involving him and a group of upperclassmen hazing underclassmen at Penn State. But the on-field talent is there for an already highly-productive collegiate player to grow into a stud in the pros. Gross-Matos had 17 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons at Penn State, using excellent explosiveness and length to defeat blocks without much technical polish. At 6-5 with nearly 35-inch arms, Gross-Matos uses his length effectively to eat up grass quickly as he turns the corner and implements a stiff speed-to-power rush. He also loves an arm over move as he knifes into gaps as an interior rusher, and has terrific lateral agility to shake blockers. Gross-Matos’s hands are incredibly raw. He’s often late to fire and needs to be more violent with his punches. He’s also a bit slow processing blocking schemes and reading out tackles. In many ways, Gross-Matos reminds us of Chandler Jones coming out of Syracuse.
TE COLE KMET, NOTRE DAME
Cole Kmet isn't a good blocker at this stage but he's a NFL-ready receiver with the frame to develop as a blocker if technique improves.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 11, 2020
There was buzz that Kmet might sneak into the backend of the first round as the top tight end available. We are relieved that the Patriots didn’t reach on him. Kmet offers three traits that could lead to success at the next level in an in-line role: massive size (6-6, 262 pounds), efficient blocking, and solid burst and speed up the seam. If you’re looking for a nimble-footed tight end that can cut and create separation, Kmet isn’t your guy. But his large catch radius and frame offer a big-bodied rumbler between the numbers that can also be a potential matchup weapon in the red zone. As a blocker, Kmet has all the necessary strength and lower-body flexibility to be effective. However, his technique and balance are suspect, falling off of blocks and ending up on the ground too often. Still, with coaching, Kmet should round into a very good blocker and offer some big plays in the passing game.
DL MARLON DAVIDSON, AUBURN
Lot of mocks with the #Patriots taking Marlon Davidson out of Auburn. Not flashy, but he'll set the edge, has natural leverage, & plays both run & pass well.
Working against Saahdiq Charles. Fires inside hands to get the blocker off, extends and uses inside hand to control. pic.twitter.com/miGsrXie3r
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 10, 2020
Davidson’s lack of eye-popping plays and big-time production made him a reach in the first round. The Auburn coaching staff did some odd things with Davidson in his four years as a starter in their system, such as standing him up on the edge in a two-point stance at over 300 pounds. Belichick would be the first to tell you that consistency and durability are incredibly underrated, and Davidson played nearly every game and was the same guy every week. He didn’t just play on the edge, taking some reps at both defensive end and tackle, with better production in those spots. He plays with natural leverage and pad level thanks to his height (6-3), has decent lateral movement to use his quickness inside, and alters his stride length as a pass rusher to confuse blockers. But his biggest weapon is heavy hands, landing accurate punches into the chest that helps him control engagements. Davidson won’t flash on tape like teammate Derrick Brown, but he’ll set the edge, play with terrific gap and rush discipline, and push the pocket.
QB JALEN HURTS, OKLAHOMA
Jalen Hurts: generally accurate, poise, mobility (off-script & designed QB runs). But still has a ways to go as a passer.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 27, 2020
We had to include one quarterback, and how fun would this scenario be for the Patriots? There’s absolutely no doubt that Hurts can win as a passer and a runner, and he got substantially better with his footwork and throwing mechanics in the pocket at OU. Hurts is a “see it, throw it” passer that lacks anticipation between the numbers and sometimes hesitates to pull the trigger on open receivers. He’s generally accurate to all three levels, though, and due to his playmaking ability, offensive play-callers can manipulate defenses into giving Hurts easier decisions and more prominent passing lanes by using his legs as a threat. As a ball carrier, Hurts isn’t as fast as someone like Lamar Jackson, but he’s extremely slippery with excellent contact balance to run through tackles and builds up to a pretty good top speed. On top of his physical gifts, Hurts is a natural leader that has “face of the franchise” qualities at the most important position. A good ceiling comparison for Hurts is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
UPDATED PATRIOTS BIG BOARD (EXCLUDES PLAYERS ABOVE)
UPDATED PATRIOTS DRAFT SELECTIONS (13 TOTAL)
2nd round – 37th overall
3rd round – 71st overall
3rd round – 87th overall
3rd round – 98th overall
3rd round – 100th overall
4th round – 125th overall
4th round – 139th overall
5th round – 172nd overall
6th round – 195th overall
6th round – 204th overall
6th round – 212th overall
6th round – 213th overall
7th round – 230th overall