Two days and three rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft are in the books, and the Patriots have had about as “Patriots” of a draft as possible.
Fifteen years into the Bill Belichick era, New England is still up to its usual tricks during the draft:
• Earn universal praise for taking a pick at No. 32 that many felt should have gone much sooner? Check. Nose tackle Malcom Brown fills that role nicely.
• Leave fans and draftniks scratching their heads by taking a kid in the second round when many others gave the player a fifth- or sixth-round grade? Check. Stanford safety Jordan Richards is the lucky winner this year.
• Ignore your most obvious needs through the first three rounds, guard and cornerback? Check. We still have no idea who will play left guard this year, and the this cornerback group is still a bit underwhelming.
• Trade out of the 96th pick to accumulate more picks and “more bites at the apple,” as owner Robert Kraft likes to say? Check. They traded 96 and 217 (a seventh-rounder) to Cleveland for Nos. 111 (fourth-round), 147 (fifth), and 202 (sixth). At the start of tomorrow, the Patriots will hold four of the top 48 picks — 101, 111, 131, and 147.
• Take an athletic kid who doesn’t have a true position and fell in the draft because of a late-season knee injury? Check and mate with Geneo Grissom, who played defensive tackle, defensive end, outside linebacker, and tight end at Oklahoma, and missed the final three games of the year with a sprained MCL.
Patriots fans seemed to be as upset with the Richards pick as they were happy with the Brown pick. The reality is that we have no idea how these selections will pan out for at least a couple of years. Don’t forget that Belichick did just win his fourth Super Bowl trophy. That’s got to buy him at least, like, two months without criticism.
It certainly is interesting that in Nolan Nawrocki’s NFL Draft preview guide, which has Belichick’s stamp of approval on the cover — “Nolan Nawrocki’s comprehensive work on the draft is pure football” is the coach’s quote — both of the players taken by the Patriots were “over-drafted.”
Richards, a strong safety, is listed as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
“Recorded the shortest broad jump (8 feet, 7 inches) of any player at the Combine. Recorded a 32-inch vertical jump, the lowest of all strong safeties at the Combine. Cannot matchup with slot receivers in man coverage.”
And Grissom was listed as a fourth- or fifth-rounder.
“Average career production . . . A man who couldn’t find a home.”
Of course, Belichick could not care less about Nawrocki’s draft grade, or anyone else’s other than those sitting hole-punched in 5-inch thick draft binders upstairs in Gillette Stadium.
Belichick has always marched to his own tune picks whom he wants to pick. Remember in 2012 when he took Tavon Wilson, who wasn’t enough invited to the Combine, with a second-round pick? Richards is the redux.
This year has a strange crop of draft picks, though, with very little consensus outside of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota going 1-2. We only saw two trades during the first round, because teams didn’t have strong convictions about most of the players.
“I think this is one of those drafts where you see guys in those mock drafts — one draft has him at 15, another guy has him at 65, the same player,” Belichick said. “It just seems like there’s a lot of spread on a lot of players in this draft. I don’t know. I don’t really put a lot of stock into that.”
But reading into Nawrocki’s profiles of Richards and Grissom, you get why the Patriots picked each player.
With Richards, strong safety doesn’t appear to be a big need with Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Wilson, and Nate Ebner on the team (at least one of Wilson or Ebner probably won’t be sticking around this fall now). And it’s hard to get thrilled about a player that the scouts say lacks elite athleticism.
However, he’s “very intelligent and football smart. Can line up everyone on the defense. Solid technician. Understands angles and route concepts.”
So he’s got some Devin McCourty in him. That’s good.
Richards against UCLA in 2013:
“Team captain. One class short of a public policy degree, and intends to obtain a master’s.”
So he’s got some Matthew Slater in him. Belichick loves smart, coachable football players (Richards is now the third Stanford Cardinal on the roster).
“Very good all around character and will represent an organization with class. Extremely focused.”
So he’s a choir boy. That seems to be an essential characteristic for the Patriots these days, who are focusing a lot more on character in the wake of Aaron Hernandez.
Add it up, and it’s pretty clear that Richards will play special teams at first, and ideally develop into a sure-tackling, in-the-box strong safety in 2016.
Grissom, too, has a lot of “Patriots” in him.
“Very good athlete with unique versatility. Has a 37-inch vertical jump and is explosive through the lower body. Athletic enough to drop into coverage. Good closing speed. Strong tackler.”
“Never settled on a position in college.”
Scroll to :09 to watch a Grissom pick-6 vs. Texas in 2013:
Basically, he sounds a lot like Jamie Collins. He didn’t have a true position coming out of college, but that one has worked out pretty well for the Patriots so far.
At 6-4 and 252 pounds, Grissom can serve as a sub-rusher and special teams contributor as a rookie, and then the Patriots can decide if they want to develop him into a full-time edge rusher or more of a three-down linebacker as they did with Collins.
Obviously, the draftniks felt like the Patriots could have drafted both players on the third day and didn’t have to use the 64th and 97th picks on those players. And as an outside observer, it would be a lot easier to love New England’s draft had it filled specific needs at guard and cornerback.
But the Patriots do have three fourth-round picks on Saturday to potentially find an offensive lineman — don’t forget that they got Bryan Stork in the fourth round last year — and Belichick has never been afraid to explore the veteran trade market to find a cornerback or offensive lineman.
In Bill You Should Still Trust.
New England’s picks on Friday certainly weren’t conventional for the draftniks. But you should know by now that that’s just what the Patriots do.