FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Pains from ’19 draft: This is the season when teams that nailed the early part of the 2019 draft reap some of the greatest rewards from that work, with core players on affordable rookie contracts.
The Patriots, unfortunately for coach Bill Belichick, fall into a different category.
Last week’s trade/giveaway of 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 seventh-round pick, which came months after dealing 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns for linebacker Mack Wilson, means the Patriots have already moved on from two of their top three picks from ’19.
And few would be surprised if 2019 second-rounder Joejuan Williams, a defensive back from Vanderbilt, is the next to go. He projects as a long shot to make this year’s roster.
The Patriots are one of just four teams to no longer have two of their top three picks from the 2019 draft on the roster. The Broncos (only guard Dalton Risner remains), Panthers (defensive end Brian Burns) and Ravens (none) are the others — though the Broncos likely wouldn’t be part of the group had quarterback Russell Wilson not been available, as they dealt 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant and second-rounder Drew Lock as part of the package for Wilson.
It has been trending this way for the top of the Patriots’ class of ’19, which contributed to owner Robert Kraft previously saying: “I don’t feel we’ve done the greatest job the last few years. … That’s the only way you can build your team for long term and consistently, that you have a chance of winning — is having a good draft.”
Kraft said he observed a “different approach” prior to the 2021 draft that has shown early promise, headlined by quarterback Mac Jones, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
While the Patriots still have running back Damien Harris (third round) and punter Jake Bailey (fifth round) as valuable chips from 2019, the lack of return from the top of that draft sparks an obvious question: What happened?
Here are a few theories sparked from conversations with league sources:
Coaching ties: Belichick perhaps put too much stock into personal connections with Todd Graham (Arizona State, Harry’s alma mater) and Derek Mason (Vanderbilt), both of whom he’d developed close relations to at the time.
Swayed by interviews: Pre-draft meetings are often viewed as critical when identifying a prospect’s makeup and how he will fit with a team. Multiple NFL clubs said all three of the Patriots’ top picks that year were impressive in that area, helping offset other potential question marks.
Caught in trends: With the impact of bigger receivers and tight ends growing, Belichick placed a greater emphasis on finding a bigger/longer corner, leading to overvaluing the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Williams as a potential matchup option.
Trade-happy: The Patriots dealt down twice — giving up picks 64 and 73 to drop to No. 77 and accumulate midround/future picks. A painful result of that process: Washington receiver Terry McLaurin, whose collegiate special teams prowess and sterling off-field traits matched the Patriots’ ideal profile, went at No. 76.
2. Credit for Meyers: Others no longer with the Patriots from the ’19 draft include guard Hjalte Froholdt (fourth), quarterback Jarrett Stidham (fourth) and defensive back Ken Webster (seventh), while offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (third) and defensive tackle Byron Cowart (fifth) are backups. Yet not to be overlooked — the Patriots did hit nicely on undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers, who has developed into a productive starting receiver.
3. Henry stands alone: ESPN senior NFL writer Jeremy Fowler polled 50 league executives on the top 10 players at each position, and the Patriots had a grand total of one player make any list — tight end Hunter Henry (No. 10). The lack of perceived blue-chip talent ties, in part, to Kraft’s prior comments on draft struggles over a multiple-year stretch. This could foreshadow the Patriots’ best-case scenario for 2022: While they might not have the star power of others, they are viewed as deep, and among the teams better equipped to handle the inevitable attrition from injuries.
4. White’s health: Veteran running back James White (right hip) was still walking with what appeared to be an uncomfortable gait following a community appearance Wednesday. He is among the rehabbing players scheduled to report to training camp next week, where it should become clearer how close he is to possibly returning. “Just working so I can be the best player I can be whenever I step out on that field,” White said.
5. Mac’s travels: Quarterback Mac Jones has been all over the country this offseason, taking time to throw with receivers at all levels of the depth chart — from newly signed Lil’Jordan Humphrey and practice-squad targets Kristian Wilkerson and Tre Nixon to established veterans DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Meyers. Those familiar with his thinking relay it ties to one of his 2022 goals — an elevated level of chemistry with offensive teammates, especially receivers.
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6. OT depth: Rookies are scheduled to report to training camp Tuesday, and the health of seventh-round draft pick Andrew Stueber (Michigan) bears watching. Belichick said Stueber wasn’t ready to practice in the spring (he didn’t specify why), and similar to White, there should be more clarity on how close he might be to passing a physical. Stueber is among a handful of youngsters the team has targeted to develop all-important depth at offensive tackle.
7. Coaches return: Vacation is about to officially be over for the Patriots’ coaching staff. They are due back in the office to prep for the arrival of rookies, quarterbacks and rehabbing players, with the remainder of players scheduled to report July 26. Among the top coaching questions remaining is who will call the offensive plays, with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge taking on lead roles in spring practices.
8. Crennel’s impact: Former Patriots defensive tackle Richard Seymour will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 6 (ESPN, noon ET), and he shared a story of how longtime NFL assistant Romeo Crennel taught him an important lesson as a rookie.
“Our first defensive meeting, all rookies, he gave us an assignment,” he said. “We were supposed to come back the next day with an understanding of what’s going on. I kind of blew it off. The next day, we came in and he asked me questions, and I had no clue. I didn’t even look at the assignment.
“He ripped me a new one that day, in front of all the other rookies. I was the first-round guy and that set the tone for everybody in terms of the expectations. From that moment forward, I realized how much I would need to study being in the league.”
9. Seymour’s OL picks: When asked the toughest offensive lineman he faced in his career, Seymour didn’t hesitate. He started with Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), then added Willie Roaf (Saints, Chiefs) and Larry Allen (Cowboys). “All three are in Canton now. To have my name bound with theirs is truly an honor,” he said.
10. Did you know? Patriots rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton (second round, No. 50) is the third player the Patriots selected from Baylor in Belichick’s tenure, joining defensive tackle Ethan Kelley (2003, seventh round) and cornerback Willie Andrews (2006, seventh round).