The New England Patriots just got done winning Super Bowl 51 and in a weird way, it feels like they shouldn’t have. Well, they probably literally shouldn’t have. They were down 25 points in the second half against the league’s top scoring offense and everything broke just right to complete the craziest comeback probably ever in the history of sports.
But on the surface it feels like the Pats really stole a title right out from under the league, too. Not in a “the Patriots are cheaters” sort of way, but just look at the facts. Their top running back was a 30-year old straight line rusher, their top tight end was on injured reserve, Chris Long was supposedly washed up and came up big in the Super Bowl and they traded away impact defenders like Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones.
New England was more stripped down than we’ve seen them in a while, yet Bill Belichick flexed his annoying brain and found a way to win his fifth title.
The crazier thing to consider here is that Tom Brady isn’t slowing down at all, The Gronk will be back and the Pats get to unload all over again in the 2017 NFL Draft. Even worse, is if they draft appropriately, they can take advantage of a very underrated draft class and go do all of this annoying title-winning stuff again.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s run through the first four rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft with New England’s picks and see what they can do with them to get (sigh) even better going into next year:
Round 1 (Pick 32) – Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
There is a good chance McDowell could slide out of round one altogether due to less than impressive combine interviews, while many are down on his overall footwork and technique. Those are valid red flags, to be sure, but the Pats need help up front and McDowell is a big, nasty freak athlete. His size, length and athleticism could make him a nightmare in New England’s system and if Bill Belichick and co. think they can get his motor running hot more often than not, he should be worth the plunge to cap round one.
Round 2 (64) – Tim Williams, DE/OLB, Alabama
McDowell is a big, athletic body to mold up front, but the Pats still need speed and overall athleticism on the outside. They traded away both Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones last year and won’t be bringing back Chris Long, either. Needless to say, adding pass rush help anywhere they can get it is a pretty big need and if Williams can somehow plummet deep into round two, they can’t bypass this kind of talent.
There is actually a solid chance Williams does dive this far, too, seeing as there are serious off-the-field characters concerns with the Alabama product. Williams’ past could scare some teams away, but we doubt Bill Belichick and co. will balk at a few mistakes when they see how big of an impact this kid could make. Williams is probably specifically a rush linebacker and nothing more at the next level, but it’s a role he could develop into a terror in. Williams racked up 19.5 sacks over his last two years on the nation’s top defense, and he did it in a marginalized role for half of the time.
The exact way New England ends up using Williams will have to be figured out, but the kind thrives on the edge and can get after the quarterback. Situational or not, the Pats will need (and want) what he brings to the table.
Round 3 (96) – Evan Engram, TE, Mississippi
New England actually has a lot of avenues they can approach for a team that just won it all, with o-line certainly being a big one. However, with Rob Gronkowski seemingly always an injury risk and Martellus Bennett having one foot out the door in free agency, bringing in another talented tight end makes a lot of sense.
Engram fits the bill, too, as he’s an athletic freak in the mold of Jordan Reed or (gasp) Aaron Hernandez. That classic “move” tight end is something the Pats haven’t truly had in years and with the versatile and explosive Engram, they could get it again. Engram could slip a bit in the draft for two reasons: two other tight ends grade out better than him (three if you’re like Jake Butt a lot) and he doesn’t block.
None of that matters, though, as Engram truly could be the most special tight end talent in this draft if we’re just looking at his offensive upside. New England needs a backup tight end and loves running two-tight end sets, so adding an uber talent like this makes a ton of sense in round three.
Round 3 (103) – Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
Joe Mixon made a really dumb decision early in his college career, but he’s paid for it and seems to have made up for it. He’s also not the only highly touted prospect to make stupid mistakes and see their draft stock negatively impacted. That will happen to him, but once he slides deep into round three teams are going to start wondering if he’s worth the bad PR trouble.
From a talent perspective, Mixon absolutely is worth the fuss. Just ask our own Michael Kist, who broke down Mixon’s ability in his Joe Mixon scouting report.
This year’s running back field is stacked, but part of that is Mixon being sharply downgraded due to a bad decision he made years ago. With that in the rear view mirror, teams that need rushing help could note Mixon’s high level pass-blocking, amazing speed and ideal size for a feature back role at the next level.
New England is certainly in the market, as LeGarrete Blount is 30 and likely pricing himself out of town. Outside of a few scat-back types, the Pats will be back to square one when it comes to finding an every down runner. Mixon’s past is a headache, but it may be worth handling to get a potential gem.
Round 4 (137) – Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
New England could go after o-line help here, take a shot on a deep threat wide receiver or add more meat to the defensive pile. But why do that when they can go get the next Jimmy Garoppolo in round four? Brad Kaaya’s draft stock has taken a dive, but he’s still a steady passing prospect that should be able to be a solid backup, if not a quality starter down the road.
More importantly, the constant Jimmy Garoppolo trade rumors make backup passer a need for the Pats. Tom Brady doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon, so the game here remains the same; the Pats draft a value passer and flip him to a team that doesn’t have an established option. Rinse and repeat.
Love or hate our picks for the Patriots in this 4-round mock? Have some ideas of your own as to who they could take? Let us hear all about it in the comments section!