FOXBOROUGH – Just as they had for two of their first three picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Patriots continued to focus on bolstering their depth in the trenches when the third and final day of the draft began.
New England used its first three picks, all in the fourth round, on Saturday on a defensive end and two interior offensive linemen: Arkansas defenseive end Trey Flowers was the selection at 101st overall, Florida State offensive lineman Tre’ Jackson at 111th, and Georgia Tech offensive lineman Shaq Mason at 131st.
“I feel like things got off to a good start with Flowers; real productive player at Arkansas, played mainly on the edge, a little bit inside, but a young player that has a lot of good football in front of him, a lot of great qualities in terms of leadership, toughness, those kind of things,” coach Bill Belichick said as he began evaluating the day’s selections.
“Then we took the two guards — probably pretty contrasting styles. Tre’ played in a pro-type offense, with [pocket passer Jameis] Winston at quarterback and all the things he did at Florida State, whereas Shaq played in an offense that was very run-oriented and did a lot of run-blocking. Aggressive, very athletic player, so those are two guys that will come in and compete with us from different backgrounds that will have to learn our system.”
In the first three rounds, on Thursday and Friday, the Patriots took Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown and Oklahoma defensive end Geneo Grissom, along with Stanford safety Jordan Richards, establishing early that they were focused on defense.
In all, the Patriots drafted 11 players: seven on defense, three on offense, and one long snapper.
Flowers, who had 18 sacks in 49 career games with the Razorbacks, with six of the sacks coming last fall, is 6 feet 2 inches, 266 pounds, and is believed to be more of a power player than finesse one.
He considered leaving school after his junior year, but said during a conference call that he didn’t want to leave the program after a losing season (Arkansas was 3-9 in 2013). Though the Razorbacks still finished near the bottom of the SEC West last year, they posted a 7-6 record.
“I didn’t want to leave with that bad taste in the mouth,” he said. “I wanted to come back and help turn the program around. I also got a degree [in economics] out of the deal, so it was a win-win for me and I think I definitely made the right decision.”
Though he was projected as a third-round talent, Flowers was still on the board when New England’s first pick of the day came up, which was the second of the fourth round.
He said he has no problem with where he was chosen, and will bring versatility and a high motor to the Patriots.
“I’ve got to believe [one of my strengths] is stopping the run,” said Flowers, who is the youngest of seven children. “It’s just something I take pride in, just really being physical with the offensive linemen and setting the point of attack and really wanting to be dominant as far as putting hands on them.
“When the time permits, say third down or a certain type of formation or a certain type of tendency appears, I can get after it with a good pass rush. I think just my all-around game and my understanding of the game, my understanding of formations and things like that, that would have to be one of my strengths.”
The Patriots then turned to another area of need: offensive line. Jackson and Mason were both standouts in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with Jackson named MVP of the South squad at the Senior Bowl after an All-America and all-conference senior season with the Seminoles.
Jackson started 42 of 49 games at guard, many of them alongside Bryan Stork, whom the Patriots drafted last year. Rick Trickett, considered one of the best line coaches in the college game, coached both players.
“[Trickett] helped me on the field and off the field tremendously,” Jackson. “He molded me as a player on the field, and off the field he molded me to grow into a man. I respect him so much for that.”
Both Jackson and Mason worked out during the pre-draft process for Dante Scarnecchia, who has retired from full-time coaching but remains a trusted advisor with a keen eye for talent.
There was a photo posted on Twitter of Mason — whose full name is Shaquille Olajuwon Mason, thanks to his mother’s love of NBA centers Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon — working at center with Scarnecchia at his pro day.
The two also talked Xs and Os off the field, with Mason at the white board.
Scarnecchia played an important role for the Patriots over the last couple of months.
“Given the way our season went this year, the length of it and the offseason schedule and so forth, he was able to help us out and go do a few things for us in the draft process that were very helpful and he did a great job,” Belichick said. “He obviously has a lot of experience with our system, a lot of experience with players that are on our roster for comparison’s sake, players that we’ve drafted or evaluated in the past, so we asked him to help us out in a situation where we were kind of, I’d say a little bit behind the curve there. He was available and he did a great job.”
Mason did not play center for the Yellow Jackets, but said he made the line calls from his spot at right guard, and he’s spent time practicing at center with Georgia Tech and at the Senior Bowl. Stork started 11 games at center for New England last year, but at minimum Mason could potentially be an injury fill-in.