The New England Patriots are always a bit unpredictable with how they approach the NFL Draft. In past years, we’ve seen the strategy of an exhaustive number of trade downs or adding of future draft picks. We’ve also seen New England get aggressive and trade up in the draft, even multiple times in the first round to secure Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. The most glaring unpredictability has been on their actual draft selections, as occasionally they make curious selections of players projected to be available much later.
However along with these unpredictabilities, there have also been noticeable trends with New England’s draft strategy. One trend is that they seemingly like to acquire at least one quarterback per year. Kicking the tires on mid-to-late rounders have resulted in serviceable backups over the years. Other trends have been targeting players who were collegiate captains or who potentially provide special teams value. On top of that, many of New England’s picks have come from the Bill Belichick “trust tree” of college coaches.
Belichick will seemingly opt to defer to college coaches whom he has known for a number of years, and that is a select group. Notable college coaches that we’ve seen Belichick trust over the years includes Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Greg Schiano and Bret Bielema. Recently, the Nick Saban connection has led to a positive relationship with Georgia’s Kirby Smart. While no draft picks have come from Iowa, Belichick’s friendship with Kirk Ferentz is also well documented.
With all of that said, New England will have plenty of options in the 2019 NFL Draft. With an already competing roster and 12 draft picks, they’re likely to move around with all of their capital. With multiple mild needs, New England could go in a number of directions with pick 32. I’m willing to bet that if they decide to stay put at that selection, that these five players will be some of their top choices.
Jerry Tillery, IDL, Notre Dame
New England added Mike Pennel to help replace free agents Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown on the interior defensive line, but still lack a real presence on passing downs. Jerry Tillery has a balanced, penetrating game as he plays with outstanding leverage and hand usage. Constantly getting under the pads of interior offensive lineman, Tillery has a certain potential that currently doesn’t exist on the Patriots defensive line.
Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
If New England were to target an offensive skill player in the NFL Draft, I think Deebo Samuel is the ideal fit. Samuel is multiple in his alignment and responsibilities, while running crisp routes and finishing through contact. He had outstanding production in the redzone, proving his natural feel for tight spaces. He also provides special teams value, something New England has coveted throughout the years. Samuel was one of New England’s 30 pre-draft visits.
Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, there’s a gaping hole at TE1 on the Patriots depth chart. Noah Fant has the highest potential of any draft-eligible tight end when it comes to receiving, and could immediate replace Gronk’s recent production in that area. New England has done their homework on the tight end class, including bringing Noah Fant in as one of their 30 pre-draft visits. That long-standing Belichick friendship with Kirk Ferentz could finally pay off in a big way.
Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas State
While New England looks to be set with their starting offensive line next season, they lack depth both at tackle and the interior. On top of that, starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is now 30 years old and has missed time due to injury each of the last two seasons. The fix? Dalton Risner. With the ability to play any spot along the offensive line, he provides much needed immediate depth. New England has valued players who were captains in college, and Risner was one for Kansas State. Looking past next season, Risner could slide in as the right tackle of the future. He met with the Patriots at the Senior Bowl.
Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
New England will be looking for cornerback depth and the eventual replacement for Jason McCourty early in the NFL Draft. Additionally, New England drafted two Georgia Bulldogs in the first round last season, showing an affinity for players coached by Kirby Smart. At Georgia’s pro day, Bill Belichick watched as Jim Thorpe award winner Deandre Baker went through positional drills. Baker didn’t surrender a touchdown in over two seasons at Georgia, showing off impressive instincts and coverage skills. He should be taken right around the range of pick 32.