After trading away their first-round and third-round picks for Saints speedster Brandin Cooks, the Pats went into the draft without a ton of resources to work with. However, the team was still able to address some key needs by taking a pair of defensive and offensive lineman.
Despite producing some key plays down the stretch last year, the Pats' pass rush still ranked only 24th in the league according to Pro Football Focus. New England traded for former Super Bowl monster Kony Ealy, but also lost veteran ends Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard. To fill the hole opposite the promising Trey Flowers, the Pats drafted a pair of edge rushers: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Arkansas' Deatrich Wise Jr.
Rivers, selected with the 83rd overall pick, was insanely productive in the FCS, breaking the Youngstown state career sack record by a whopping 19. While there are undoubtedly concerns about the level of competition he beat up on, he put a lot of those to rest with an outstanding combine performance--his 4.61 40, 35-inch vertical, and 6.94 3 cone drill all ranked among the top five times for edge rushers at the whole event. And even though he's only around 245 pounds, he more than makes up for it with his 6'4" size, explosive burst off the line, and strong hand skills. As you can see in his highlights, FCS tackles simply couldn't compete with his speed to turn the corner--the Pats are betting that NFL tackles won't be able to either.
After selecting Rivers at #83, New England traded back up to nab Troy OT Antonio Garcia at #85. While Garcia, like Rivers, played at a smaller school, he does have NFL-ready size (6'6", 302 lbs) and pedigree: he didn't allow a single sack over 216 snaps last season. The fact that New England moved up 11 spots to take the tackle, giving up a fourth-round pick in the process, shows that the team is committed to making the Sun Belt standout a starter in the future. Pats O-Line coach Dante Scarnecchia, one of the best in the business, should be able to mold him into a swing tackle to replace Cameron Fleming in the short term, and Nate Solder's eventual replacement over the long run.
After spending pick #124 in the trade for Garcia, the Patriots remained quiet until pick #131, where they snagged former Arkansas Razorback Deatrich Wise Jr. Wise, a teammate of Super Bowl LI hero Trey Flowers, is yet another tall edge rusher (6'6", 270 lbs) with long arms and massive hands (35.5" and 10.5" respectively). While he doesn't have quite the explosiveness that Rivers or Flowers do, he's good at setting the edge and wrapping up ballcarriers behind the line, and he can flash pass-rushing ability at points as well: he recorded 8 sacks and 10.5 TFLs his senior year. His main issue, besides a general lack of top-end athleticism, was his effort. He can make game-changing plays at points, but will also take plays off and disappear for stretches. Thankfully for New England, Flowers had a similar issue coming out of college, and he turned out pretty darn well. If Wise, who played with Flowers for three years at Arkansas, can make the same transformation, he could turn into a solid DE who could move inside on passing downs as well.
Finally, the Patriots ended their draft with UCLA tackle Conor McDermott. Like all the others, he's got great size at 6'8" and 307 lbs, but he doesn't play with the expected strength from somebody of his size. At #211, this is definitely an upside pick--any contributions Coach Scarnecchia can coax out of McDermott will be icing on the cake. For all intents and purposes, he's probably a practice squad player.
Overall, this was a pretty successful draft for the Patriots. They filled holes at key positions with their picks, and turned the rest of them into proven NFL talent. We'll have to wait until training camp to really see how everything pans out, but right off the bat it looks like Bill Belichick found some diamonds in the rough this time around.