1. The biggest question surrounding the Patriots’ draft was why they did not take a quarterback. What is the plan for New England under center?
The Patriots not investing a draft pick in a quarterback is further confirmation of Jarrett Stidham being their guy moving forward, with Brian Hoyer as a veteran backup and their two undrafted rookie pickups (Brian Lewerke, J’Mar Smith) battling for the third spot. Stidham may not have had the most spectacular rookie season from a purely statistical perspective — one of his four regular season pass attempts was a pick-six thrown to the Jets’ own Jamal Adams — but he apparently impressed the team behind the scenes when he took starter reps late in the year with Tom Brady being limited due to minor foot and elbow injuries.
I don’t think the Patriots were necessarily opposed to drafting a quarterback this year, but I do think the combination of Stidham’s experience in the system plus the talent available – New England picked 23rd overall and would not have been able to get a Day One starter at quarterback after top-10 picks Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa – made the decision to forgo the position a relatively easy one. Whether it was the right one remains to be seen, but I personally think that the organization feels very confident in Stidham. The draft and every other offseason move certainly confirms this.
2. The Jets selected Florida International quarterback James Morgan in the fourth round, who had a video meeting with the Patriots a few weeks earlier. Was he someone that may have been on their radar?
New England first met with Morgan at the East-West Shrine Game and later had more than one video meeting with him, so I do think there was a genuine level of interest. It is not hard to see why: while James Morgan may not be the most electrifying passer they could get, he appears to be an intriguing developmental option due to his prototypical size in combination with a good feel for the pocket as well as a solid arm. However, the Patriots not having a pick in the fourth round — they used the one that eventually turned into Morgan in order to trade up with the Jets in the third round — essentially sealed the deal, because I do not think they were willing to invest any additional capital to move up the board into a position to select him. If he had been available, say, in the sixth round, I do think the Patriots might have picked him. The board fell differently, though.
3. With the 159th pick, the Patriots took kicker Justin Rohrwasser over more well-known prospects such as Rodrigo Blankenship. What did Bill Belichick see in him?
Even though Rohrwasser flew under the radar entering the draft — we did an analysis of 16 big boards over at Pats Pulpit and he was listed on just one of them as the 530th best prospect this year — he does have plenty of traits that are attractive from the Patriots’ perspective. First and foremost, he brings a strong leg to the equation, something that is needed in the inclement weather he surely will encounter regularly in New England. He went 7-of-8 from beyond 40 yards during his redshirt senior season at Marshall, making both of his attempts from 50-plus. Rohrwasser also has plenty of experience performing kickoffs and has some clutch moments on his college résumé. Add it all up, and you can see why the team opted to go with him over other options in the fifth round.
4. Belichick and Joe Douglas linked up for their second trade within the past year as New England gave up the 125th and 129th picks as well as a 2021 sixth-rounder to move up to No. 101 and draft Virginia Tech tight end Dalton Keene. What does Keene bring to the table that caught Belichick’s eye? Why did he feel the need to trade up for another tight end after drafting Devin Asiasi 10 picks earlier?
I’ll answer the second question first: the Patriots entered Day Two of the draft with 13 picks remaining between rounds two and seven, but only so many spots for rookies to realistically make the roster. The team was therefore willing to move capital around to be more active in targeting “its guys” rather than letting the board dictate who would end up in New England. The team did the same when it traded up for linebacker Josh Uche and fellow tight end Devin Asiasi earlier that same day, and on Saturday as well when it moved up in the fifth round to draft interior offensive lineman Michael Onwenu.
As for Keene himself, I think his natural athleticism and versatility were enticing from the Patriots’ perspective: the team struggled at the tight end position last year in large part because it lacked some serious receiving threats. Keene may need some time to get up to NFL-speed after playing a somewhat limited role in Virginia Tech’s offense, but he could offer just that and does bring a combination of size, speed and fluidity to the table that could make him an attractive H-back/move tight end option at the next level — and that the team were sorely missing in the post-Rob Gronkowski season of 2019.
5. What were you able to learn about the state of the Patriots going forward from their approach in the draft?
From my personal perspective, I think the main takeaway is that the Patriots will move forward business as usual even without Tom Brady in the fold. They won’t alter their ways just because they lost the greatest quarterback of all time in free agency. It will be seen whether or not this approach proves successful, but I think it says a lot about how the team feels about itself: it has established a pattern of success and will not change it. The state of the team heading out of the draft and into the virtual offseason probably cannot be clearly defined until we know how Jarrett Stidham looks on the field this year, but I do think the fact that the team did not invest in a passer speaks for the confidence it has in him and also the supporting cast around it (the Patriots also did not draft a wide receiver, for example).
6. Which moves (or non-moves) were your personal favorites? Which were the biggest head-scratchers?
I like the fact that the Patriots did not go with what many talking heads or mock drafters were suggesting: drafting a quarterback in Round One. Ever since Brady left I felt that Stidham will be their guy, and this decision confirms it while simultaneously giving New England more capital to invest in the team surrounding the second-year QB. I also liked the focus on two positions of relative weakness: the team lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins Sr. in free agency, and promptly picked Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings back-to-back in the second and third rounds; it also added the aforementioned Devinn Asiasi and Dalton Keene to bolster a struggling tight end group.
From a head-scratching perspective, I would say the fact that some of my favorite fits for the Patriots before the draft ended up elsewhere despite the team being in a position to pick them. I thought Yetur Gross-Matos would be a tremendous fit, he came off the board 38th overall — one pick after New England drafted safety Kyle Dugger. I really liked Van Jefferson and Denzel Mims, but they were picked at 57 and 59 (the Patriots eventually traded up to 60 to draft Josh Uche) while the team also spent the 87th overall pick on Anfernee Jennings right between Zack Baun (3-74), Malik Harrison (3-98) and Adam Trautman (3-105) coming off the board. The Patriots know what they’re doing and I am 100 percent convinced they have a plan in mind for all their selections vis-a-vis other choices they could have made, but from a personal point of view I always went “damn” whenever one of those guys was picked by another team.