By this point, Patriots fans know most of the big names available in the 2014 NFL Draft. You don’t need me to tell you about Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney. Those guys are household names for a reason—they’re beasts—and will all be unavailable when the Patriots pick late in the first round.
Luckily for New England, Bill Belichick’s drafts have never been overly reliant on first-round picks.
Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Spikes were all recently drafted during the middle rounds, and all of them went on to have major impacts on the Patriots’ success.
Star right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was a second-round selection, as were promising rookies Aaron Dobson and Jamie Collins. Fellow rookies Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon have also made their share of plays after being taken in the third round, and Alfonzo Dennard worked his way into the starting lineup after falling into the Patriots’ laps in Round 7 two years ago.
And of course, there’s Tom Brady, whom Belichick sniped in the sixth round back in 2000—his first draft with the Patriots.
Long story short, the Patriots don’t need—and almost never land—high-profile prospects in Round 1 to have a productive draft. In fact, of the 22 players slated to start against the Colts this Saturday, only five—Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder and Logan Mankins—were first-round choices by the Patriots.
That doesn’t mean Belichick won’t pounce on elite talent when it’s available—he traded up to select both Jones and Hightower, as well as injured star linebacker Jerod Mayo—he just prefers to maximize value wherever possible.
With a fairly vanilla package of picks this year—the Patriots currently have just their own assigned picks in each of the first four rounds, along with two sixth-rounders and a seventh—and a suddenly youthful roster thanks to an influx of talented rookies over the past few seasons, this could be one of the most by-the-book drafts of Belichick’s tenure.
Or he could throw caution to the wind and trade it all for a major impact player at the top of the draft.
Only time will tell, but as we begin our inexorable march into April (see what I did there?), here are a few names for Patriots fans to file away for future reference.