New England Patriots Draft Picks: Results, Analysis and Grades

Sterling XieCorrespondent IIMay 7, 2014

New England Patriots Draft Picks: Results, Analysis and Grades

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    Bill Belichick will look to supplement a deep and talented core in the draft.
    Bill Belichick will look to supplement a deep and talented core in the draft.Josh Reynolds/Associated Press

    The 2014 NFL draft is finally imminent, and the New England Patriots will aim to reload their roster with young talent as they seek that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy.

    The Patriots certainly have a few holes to fill—defensive line and tight end particularly jump to mind—but New England is largely deep enough to seek out long-term upside and value over immediate need. Thus, in a draft class noted for its excellent depth, do not be surprised to see Bill Belichick and company particularly active in terms of trades.

    Bleacher Report will be providing live updates, analysis and grades as the Patriots' draft unfolds, so check back every day throughout for immediate insight into every New England selection.

    The real-time analysis begins Thursday night and continues until the announcement of Mr. Irrelevant late Sunday afternoon. 

Round 1, Pick 29: Dominique Easley, DT, Florida

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    The Patriots did not trade out of the first round as many anticipated, instead selecting one of the draft’s riskiest propositions in Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley.  

    I've written about Easley already, so I won't re-hash too many of the pros and cons.  Essentially, Easley is a top-15 talent with significant medical red flags, having torn both his ACLs.  In the pre-draft process, Sports on Earth's Mike Tanier  compared Easley to Hall-of Famer John Randle, but also noted that the ex-Gator could very well spend his entire career in the training room.

    It's an out-of-character pick for the Patriots, who typically opt for high-floor prospects in the first round.  Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt or Nevada's Joel Bitonio seemed more likely in the hours leading up to the draft, as New England's lack of depth in the trenches necessitated a plug-and-play pick.

    However, the gap between Easley's ceiling and floor is among the widest in the draft.  The Patriots have lacked an interior pass rush ever since Richard Seymour's departure before the 2009 season, so Easley certainly fulfills an important need.  He'll step in right away as a 3-technique in the base 4-3 scheme, and will likely play nearly every sub-package down.

    Easley's selection also continues a trend of New England leaning towards smaller yet more explosive front-seven athletes with more fluid movement skills.  Easley follows on the heels of Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, illustrating Bill Belichick's countermove to today's increasingly spread-oriented offenses.

    Ultimately, Easley is one of the Patriots' most fascinating draft picks in recent memory.  The Patriots may have been able to trade back into the second round and still get Easley, but likely did not find a suitable trade partner.  The grade gets docked a bit for a slight reach, but Easley could still very well be a steal.

     

    Grade: B+

Round 2, Pick 62: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

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    Entering the draft, there was the buzz about the unusual number of pre-draft quarterback visits the Patriots had conducted.  With the surprising selection of Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, it appears we have finally unearthed the reason for those visits.

    Garoppolo (6'2", 226 lbs) was indeed one of the pre-draft quarterback visits.  He's a bit smaller than the typical big pocket passers the Patriots have favored, though he is a similarly quick decision maker.  Indeed, with terrific poise and anticipation, Garoppolo appears to have the mental makeup to succeed in the NFL.

    However, there is a question about level of competition, and Garoppolo did not see very many complex defenses in the FCS.  Garoppolo also has tiny hands (9 1/4"), which led to fumbling problems and could theoretically be a problem in inclement New England weather.

    Garoppolo also must make the adjustment to a pro-style system, as he primarily operated out of the shotgun in college.  Eastern Illinois gave Garoppolo plenty of one-read passes, far from the option-based system the Patriots run.  Though he demonstrated the ability to make all the throws, especially outside-the-number fade routes, Garoppolo will face an adjustment playing under center.

    For 2014, Garoppolo will be on the bench as Tom Brady's backup.  As a fairly raw prospect, Garoppolo will likely receive at least three seasons to be groomed under Brady and Bill Belichick.  By 2017, when Brady's contract has expired, the Patriots should have a thorough internal understanding as to whether or not Garoppolo can be Brady's successor.

    Of course, while ensuring the long-term health of the most important position is never a poor move, Garoppolo does little to aid a current Super Bowl contender.  Garoppolo is no sure solution, and for a team in need of depth in numerous areas, his selection is head-scratching.

     

    Grade: C

Round 4, Pick 105: Bryan Stork, C, Florida State

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    The Patriots have had issues protecting Tom Brady in the middle of the line in recent years, especially against bigger defensive tackles.  As Terrance Knighton exposed in the AFC Championship Game last season, New England needed to upgrade their interior depth this draft.

    A mountain of a man, Bryan Stork (6'4", 315 lbs) looks like a reaction pick to Ryan Wendell's struggles last year.  Stork possesses tremendous football intelligence, as his understanding of angles allows him to slide and seal off defenders. Moreover, he's athletic enough to chip and block at the second level, a critical skill in the Pats' zone-blocking scheme.  

    Though Stork might have been available a bit later, he's a better system fit than more highly touted interior linemen prospects like Stanford's David Yankey.  As a high-motor player who never stops working, Stork's style should endear himself to new offensive line coach Dave DuGuglielmo.

    In the short term, Stork's presence adds competition for Wendell and perhaps even right guard Dan Connolly.  Stork is capable of serving as an interior swing backup his rookie season, with an eye towards developing into a long-term starter within a year or two.

    Stork's addition also puts the interior line in flux a bit, as he adds competition along with Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline.  Cannon may stay outside as insurance for Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, but he was originally drafted as a guard.  Kline was impressive in his one start against Baltimore last year, and looks like the top backup at the moment.

    Regardless, the two veteran starters are now under pressure from cheaper and younger alternatives.  Stork adds quality depth in an area of need, and as a potential starter, the Patriots got solid value in the fourth round.

     

    Grade: B+

Round 4, Pick 130: James White, RB, Wisconsin

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    The Patriots continue to address offensive needs on Day 3 of the draft, picking up Wisconsin running back James White in the fourth round.  White, who rushed for 1,444 yards on a whopping 6.5 yards per carry last year in Madison, figures to have a decent role in New England's four-headed backfield committee next season.

    White's greatest strengths are his vision and short-area burst.  The Patriots zone-blocking system requires one-cut decisive running styles, and White is shifty enough to take advantage.  Moreover, as a polished pass-blocker, White is well-rounded enough to play a significant role on both early and passing downs.

    Of course, the Wisconsin offense is infamous for inflating rushing stats.  White, like other past Badgers, saw his stock fall as a result.  He's not exactly the strongest back, and at 5'9" and 204 pounds, White is certainly undersized for someone who is not a pure receiving back.  Moreover, with tiny arms and hands, he is no lock to contribute as a receiver, despite a career-high 39 receptions in 2013.

    The Patriots likely could have picked White a bit later—Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com had White pegged as a seventh-rounder or undrafted free agent.  New England is famous for sticking to their own board, which often differs vastly from public perception, but White likely could have been had with one of their three sixth-round selections.

    Still, he addresses a position of need, and coming off a highly productive collegiate career, White figures to have a nice career as part of a committee.  He's not a potential No. 1 back, and Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen figure to take the lion's share of the carries next year.

    White is a sure-handed ball-carrier who fits well in New England's system, however.  Therefore, even if the Pats reached a bit for the Wisconsin back, he should be a nice complementary piece in the New England backfield.

     

    Grade: B-

Round 4, Pick 140: Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford

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    The Patriots doubled down on the offensive line in the fourth round, selecting Stanford's Cameron Fleming with the final pick of the round.

    Like Bryan Stork, their previous pick, Fleming (6'5", 323 lbs) is a massive linemen with a power-oriented style.  Fleming has strong hands, but is also agile enough to pull and down block.  Athleticism is a must for Patriots offensive tackles, and while Fleming is not a perfect fit, he should be able to execute the variety of blocks New England demands in their zone-blocking scheme.

    Fleming does come with limitations, however.  He needs to improve his footwork to become a starter, as his impatience often allows defensive linemen to dictate terms of engagement.  Quicker rushers get Fleming to bend at the waist rather than at the legs, utilizing quick swim and club moves to leave Fleming lunging at air.

    Moreover, Fleming needs to better harness his frame and translate that into functional power.  The Stanford product is not a nasty blocker like Logan Mankins or Sebastian Vollmer, often losing his balance and failing to use his strong hands to his advantage.

    Thus, the Patriots figure to develop Fleming slowly.  New England already has a pair of entrenched starters in Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, but the latter's spotty injury history necessitates a solid backup at all times.  Veteran Will Svitek remains unsigned, so this could be an indication that the Pats are moving on.

    Additionally, perhaps Fleming's arrival kicks Marcus Cannon inside to right guard.  Cannon was originally drafted as a guard, though he played admirably filling in for Vollmer at right tackle the second half of the season.  If the Patriots are seeking to upgrade from Dan Connolly and/or Ryan Wendell, moving Cannon inside represents the best internal solution.

    Fleming is a pick with an eye on the future.  Swing tackles are not flashy picks, but after years without an offensive line draft investment, the Patriots have re-stocked the trenches with some urgency.

     

    Grade: B

Round 6, Pick 179: Jon Halapio, G, Florida

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Make that three offensive linemen in the past four picks for the Patriots, who added to the trenches with Florida guard Jon Halapio.  

    The Patriots have established a clear theme in their linemen picks, as Halapio (6'3", 323 lbs) is a massive guard in the mold of Marcus Cannon.  Halapio is a run-grader, able to drive block effectively when he gets his hands engaged.  Unlike Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming, Halapio utilizes his power effectively on the field, turning into a run mauler when taking the proper angle.

    Halapio is also an extremely tough player, albeit one with some durability issues.  Per Jesse Simonton of the Miami Herald, Halapio played through an "80 percent" tear in his pectoral muscle after a preseason injury caused him to miss the first two games.  Halapio also had various finger and meniscus issues throughout his collegiate career.

    On the downside, Halapio is an inflexible mover, which seems to go against the fluid athletes the Patriots typically seek out from their offensive linemen.  With stiff hips and heavy feet, Halapio's power comes almost entirely from his upper-body, as his lower body remains stiff throughout nearly every play.

    Those range limitations had Halapio pegged as a seventh-rounder or priority free agent, per Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com.  The Pats likely reached again for another offensive linemen, illustrating their intent to reinforce the middle of the line.

    Numerous defensive needs remain unaddressed, including coverage linebacker, defensive end and safety.  Perhaps the Pats feel better about their internal options than outside observers, but New England has done little to address most of their defensive holes.

     

    Grade: C-

Round 6, Pick 198: Zach Moore, DE, Concordia (MN)

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    Justin Oakman/Associated Press

    The Patriots continue the trenches theme of this draft, selecting Division II prospect Zach Moore out of Concordia-St. Paul University in Minnesota

    Moore had solid production over his final two collegiate seasons, accruing 14 sacks in 2012, then seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2013.  Though defensive end prospects from BCS schools remain on the board (Jackson Jeffcoat, James Gayle, etc.), the Patriots may have very well gotten the best pure pass-rusher left in the draft.

    Moore (6'5", 269 lbs) has the athletic profile of an NFL-caliber defensive lineman.  Moore's greatest strength happens to coincide with the most important pass-rushing trait, namely a quick get-off.  Moore's 123-inch broad jump was the fourth-best among defensive linemen at the combine, per NFL.com, illustrating his explosiveness.

    Furthermore, Moore comes with excellent intangibles, another quality the Pats have sought out in their draft prospects this year.  A two-time captain, Moore is an extremely hard-working player with an indefatigable motor, which endears himself to his teammates and results in lots of positive results on broken plays.

    Moore is not perfect, as he needs more functional strength.  He does not have a "hump" move, or speed-to-power changeup, and will require coaching to diversify his pass-rushing arsenal.  Moore could also stand to use more time in the film room, as he can lose track of the ball carrier.  

    However, Moore can currently help in sub packages immediately.  After adding Will Smith and Dominique Easley, the Pats have beefed up their sub-package defensive line personnel, which should provide much-needed rest for starting stalwarts Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

    Moore comes with the small-school stigma, but his ceiling could result in double-digit sack seasons.  Moore is talented enough to contribute in 2014, and also has plenty of untapped potential.  That's a rare combination for a sixth-round pick, making Moore a bonafide steal.

     

    Grade: A-

Round 6, Pick 206: Jemea Thomas, S, Georgia Tech

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    The Patriots addressed the safety position for the first time in the draft, selecting Georgia Tech safety Jemea Thomas with their third sixth-round pick.

    Despite his size, Thomas (5'9", 192 lbs) is a tough-as-nails in-the-box safety.  Best when moving towards the line, Thomas is extremely willing in run support.  He compiled a team-leading 88 tackles in 2013 as a result, demonstrating his instinctive mindset.

    Thomas is very strong for his size, and also has some short-area quickness.  That's more helpful for adjusting to running back cuts than it is in coverage, but for someone his size, possessing some fluidity is essential.  Another high-character prospect, Thomas should fit in well with the Patriots culture.

    On the other hand, Thomas is stiffer than one would like, allowing separation in coverage far too easily.  He is also at a massive size disadvantage against nearly every tight end.  With tight ends growing exponentially in both size and athleticism, Thomas could be a coverage liability his entire career.

    Nevertheless, he could provide early-down value almost immediately, even if he never rises beyond base-package usage.  The Patriots needed some depth behind Duron Harmon, as the likes of Tavon Wilson and Patrick Chung are essentially special teams contributors.  The Pats still do not have a suitable coverage safety among their reserves, though New England would have needed to invest an early-round pick for a more well-rounded prospect.

    As a late-round pick, Thomas provides solid value at a position of need.  The Patriots secondary has few holes, and drafting Thomas adds depth to a young and talented unit. 

     

    Grade: B

Round 7, Pick 244: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Many thought the Patriots would give Tom Brady some help in the passing game, but most figured it would come at tight end.  After passing on the position entirely in the draft, the Pats instead gave Brady a wide receiver from his alma mater in Jeremy Gallon.

    Gallon burst out in his final collegiate season, emerging as the Wolverines' clear top target with 89 receptions, 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns.  He also has some kick return experience, with 79 career kick or punt returns at Ann Arbor.

    Gallon (5'7", 185 lbs) stretches the limits of NFL size, as there are serious questions about his ability to hold up against bigger and more violent hits.  However, Gallon does possess nice route-running polish, with the ability to read zones and get open by settling in soft parts of the defense.  In an option-based passing game in New England, that is an invaluable trait to have.

    Moreover, Gallon rounds out a draft class that surely leads the league in character and passion.  Gallon plays the game with a high motor and works extremely hard.  For someone who faces difficult size limitations to overcome, mental fortitude is a pre-requisite to survive in the league.

    Still, Gallon seems a bit redundant with the plethora of current Patriots slot receivers.  At the moment, he sits behind Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Josh Boyce on the slot receiver depth chart.  While he does bring some special teams value, Gallon will be hard-pressed to earn a roster spot if he needs to contribute meaningful value on offense.

    But Gallon has the mental makeup and hands to succeed in the league, so the Pats could conceivably stash him away on the practice squad with a good preseason.  Gallon adds some depth in camp, though he is far from the game-changing skill position force many hoped the Patriots would select this draft.

     

    Grade: C+