This year was a different NFL Draft for the Patriots.
The reigning Super Bowl champions entered the three-day draft without a first- or second-round selection, had six picks overall, made four trades, and wound up drafting just four players.
It is the smallest draft class in franchise history and the smallest for reigning champ in league history.
“Only four picks, only four players,” said Nick Caserio, the director of player personnel, before giving credit to the scouting staff for their work.
“You only pick four players, it doesn’t seem like there’s really much that goes on, but I mean it’s a lot of work for four picks,” Caserio said. “Our thing is we just try to do what’s best for the football team. Like we talked about the other day, we try to add players we think are going to have an opportunity to be competitive in our program.”
The Patriots opted for adding depth along the lines, selecting two offensive tackles and two defensive ends.
Here’s a closer look at the four rookies:
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State
Draft position: Round 3, Pick 83. Height/Weight: 6-4/248.
Need to know: A three-year starter at Youngstown State . . . Holds the Penguins’ career sack record with 41, 19 more than No. 2 on the list . . . Attended Fork Union Military Academy in 2012 to get his grades in order . . . Became a starter as a sophomore in 2014, posting a team-best 17 tackles for loss and 14 sacks to earn First Team All-MVFC honors . . . Started all 11 games in 2015 as a junior, recording 52 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 9 sacks, again taking home First Team All-MVFC honors . . . Had 58 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, and 15 sacks in 2016, helping lead the Penguins to the FCS National Title Game, where they lost to James Madison . . . In 2016, he earned First Team All-MVFC for the third straight season and was named a Second Team FCS All-American . . . Hometown is Kinston, N.C., where he attended Kinston High School.
Miscellany: Rivers benched 225 pounds 34 times in preparation for the NFL Combine. He recorded 30 reps at the Combine, tied for fourth among defensive linemen and linebackers.
■ Rivers began suffering from seizures when he was 9 years old. “Not the grand mal type; he would just kind of space out,” his mom Mary Leinonen said in a 2014 interview. “He was on medication and he seems to have outgrown them as an adult, but he’s had to overcome a lot.”
■ Of his experience at Fork Union Military Academy — which claims the likes of Vinny Testaverde, Eddie George, and Plaxico Burress — Rivers said, “That was an experience, man. The first thing they do is take you to the barbershop to get a haircut. You had to get up at 6 every morning and make your bed. Make sure your room is clean. And if it wasn’t, they had these things called ‘tours,’ where you march back and forth for 45 minutes.”
■ Rivers’s father, John, played football and basketball at Virginia Tech.
■ Rivers does the same thing at the end of each defensive series. He points to the sky and says “To God be the glory” when he gets to the sideline.
■ He played high school basketball with the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram. Rivers was a senior when Ingram was a freshman. “I had a couple of inches on him, and I schooled him,” Rivers said with a laugh on a conference call Friday. “He must have grown 4 or 5 inches that year, though. By the end of the season, it was a whole different story.”
On getting the call from the Patriots: “Man, I was shaking. It was an overwhelming feeling. To God be the glory. It’s all because of him. So that was awesome. It was a blessing.”
On what type of player the Patriots are getting in him: “No. 1, my faith in God is what got me here. And then, besides that, he gave me my work ethic. So I’m work ethic. I do more than what’s just asked of me, and that’s the type of player they get — a guy that he does more than what’s just asked of them and he does everything that the coaches want him to do. I listen to whatever my coaches need me to do. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it 100 percent.”
Bill Belichick on Rivers: “[He] played competitively in the all-star games and in a good program there with coach [Bo] Pelini, who we know very well. Derek’s been in a good system, has been well-coached. Even though he’s from a smaller school we’ll see what he can do for himself here, as well, when all is said and done . . . He’s been well-coached, and sure, it’s a big adjustment for him or anybody else moving to the National Football League. I think he’s been in a solid program. We’ll see how it goes.”
Watch highlights of Rivers:
Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
Draft position: Round 3, Pick 85. Height/Weight: 6-6/302.
Need to know: Two-time All-Sun Belt team, invited to Senior Bowl . . . After redshirting his first season with the Trojans, Garcia started the first six games of the 2013 season before an injury ended his year. He started all 37 games since . . . Surrendered just 5.5 sacks since the 2014 season, including none in 2016, when he played more than 900 offensive snaps . . . Graduated in spring 2016 with a degree in criminal justice . . . Born in Houston, but went to high school at Charles R. Drew High in Riverdale, Ga.
On getting the call from the Patriots: “I’m just super excited. It was a great feeling to hear my name get called and see my name go across that screen. I’m just super thankful and I’m ready to contribute to the team to the best of my ability.”
On his style of play: “I would say physical, athletic, just nasty.”
Belichick said it: “He was here last week. [We] had a good visit with him. We’ll see how that goes, but I think he’ll be competitive. He’s done a good job for them down there.”
Watch Garcia’s highlights:
Deatrich Wise, DE, Arkansas
Draft position: Round 4, Pick 131. Height/Weight: 6-5/274.
Need to know: Finished his career at Arkansas with 112 tackles, 23 for loss, 16.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, and 4 forced fumbles in 50 games, including 10 starts . . . Appeared in 13 games for the Razorbacks in 2016, recording 49 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Also tallied three pass breakups, a forced fumble, and seven QB hurries . . . Dealt with hand and shoulder injuries last fall . . . Was captain for the Razorbacks in 2016 . . . Hometown is Carrollton, Texas . . . Attended Hebron High School . . . Earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology last spring.
Miscellany: Both of Wise’s younger brothers play college football. Daniel will be a redshirt junior defensive tackle for Kansas this fall and Solomon will be a sophomore defensive end for the University of Texas at San Antonio.
■ Wise said his father, Deatrich Sr., who was drafted by the Seahawks in 1988 and had a stint with the Saints, has been the biggest influence on his life.
“He’s my best friend, my hero, my dad,” Wise said. “He’s my physical, my mental, and spiritual partner. He helps me with everything, whether it’s football, whether it’s not football, everything. He always taught me how to conduct myself and taught me the ins and outs of football.’’
■ Wise said he had “an older brother-type relationship” with fellow Razorback Trey Flowers, whom the Patriots drafted in the fourth round two years ago.
“He was a mentor to me throughout his last three years and my first three years,” Wise said. “He taught me how to do certain things, taught me how to watch film, how to play certain positions, and on top of all that just the mind-set you had to have to go into a game, to go into practice, to go into life. So, I had a great relationship with Trey and looking forward to meeting up there and working with him.’’
On getting the call from the Patriots: “It was exciting. Once I got that phone call it got real quiet, and then once my name went across the screen my family, my girlfriend, my friends around me just jumped for joy. It was a very joyful moment.”
On his strengths as a player: “My strength as a player is my versatility, my power, and my football IQ. With those three things combined, [they] make me the player who I am today. Just the relentless mindset that I carry while having those three attributes [are] why [I am] who I am today.”
Nick Caserio said it: “A guy we spent a lot of time with, brought him in for a visit, worked him out, did some different things with him. He has some experience. He played in a good program. Coach [Bret] Bielema does an outstanding job, a lot of respect for his program and the players that they put out.”
Watch Wise’s highlights from the East-West Shrine game:
Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA
Draft position: Round 6, Pick 211. Height/Weight: 6-8/307.
Need to know: Started 24 games at left tackle for UCLA over the last two seasons . . . Prior to taking over as the Bruins’ left tackle as a redshirt sophomore in 2014, his first starting action was as a blocking tight end . . . In 2015, named second-team All-Pac-12 by conference coaches, an honor he matched in 2016, earning an invitation to the prestigious Senior Bowl . . . In 2015, the Bruins’ offensive line gave up 14 sacks all season, the second-lowest total in program history . . . Hometown is Nashville, where he attended Ensworth High School . . . Played tight end and offensive and defensive tackle in high school, serving as team captain in 2009 and 2011 . . . Graduated with an undergraduate degree last spring.
Miscellany: McDermott guided his high school football and basketball teams to state championships as a senior, earning the distinction of being named Mr. Basketball for the state of Tennessee in 2011.
■ He didn’t send out video of his football highlights until his senior year. Then the Bruins recruited him as a tight end.
■ His father, Kevin, played basketball for South Dakota State and his older brother, Kevin, was a long snapper for UCLA from 2008-11 and is now with the Vikings. Conor said Saturday that he can be the long snapper in a pinch, having played in high school and serving as the occasional backup in college. He said his brother has been helpful through the draft process.
“He’s been great, just giving me advice here and there. He’s been through it and he has gotten to see how the NFL works a little bit through his process the past four years and he’s just been a great mentor. [Inaudible] it’s been a great experience.”
■ McDermott and Antonio Garcia, whom the Patriots drafted in the third round, spent time together at the Senior Bowl.
“We spent a good amount of time together. We were on the same team and practiced together every day, watched film together in meetings. He’s just a great guy. I’m happy for him and excited to work together.”
■ McDermott weighed between 235 and 240 pounds when he enrolled at UCLA. He said it was a struggle to gain weight with his high metabolism, but said on Saturday that he is up to 315.
“It was tough at first. I had a high metabolism growing up. By the time I was playing my 2014 season, my junior year, I think was 275, 280. It was a slow process of 10 or 20 pounds each year, and then by 2015, I was about 300, 305.”
■ McDermott was more of a hoopster than a football player growing up.
“I changed to football my senior year of high school and never looked back, so it was a great experience.”
On getting the call from the Patriots: “This is something I’ve been working towards since I was real little. Just to be here and share this moment with my family is a dream come true.”
On Nate Solder and what other tackles he’s studied: “I have watched Nate Solder. I’ve studied a lot of tackles and I’ve been a fan of his for a while, even when I was a skinny tight end being told I’d be a tackle one day. When I was first in high school I didn’t believe it, but he’s a great player and I look forward to meeting him.”
Casiero said it: “A lot of experience, good size, good length, has played against some pretty good people out there.”
Watch McDermott’s highlights from a game against Southern Cal last season (he’s No. 68):