Sometimes, the fits just make too much sense. Head coach Bill Belichick's connections to Navy are well known due to his father Steve, who was a scout and assistant coach at Annapolis for 33 years, as well as his affinity for lacrosse. So when the Patriots had the opportunity to select a Navy long snapper with a high school lacrosse background, Joe Cardona might as well have packed his bags for Foxborough.
To be fair, this is more than a simple novelty pick. The Pats have a relatively glaring need at long snapper given Danny Aiken's free-agent status and subpar 2014 performance. Pro Football Focus graded Aiken out at minus-14.5 last season, by far the worst mark for any New England special teams player. Selecting a cheaper and likely better alternative simply made sense.
I know I usually break these draft-pick breakdowns into sections examining skill set and fit, but I'm not going to be disingenuous and pretend I just earned my PhD in long snapping. From the Internet, though, it does appear the Patriots got a legitimately excellent special teams prospect:
NFL.com rated Cardona as its No. 1 long snapper, while CBS Sports had him second. That's typically not a draftable grade, but since the need exists, it's not necessarily correct to fault the Patriots for over-drafting Cardona.
The main issue is not Cardona's skill, it's his eligibility. The Naval Academy has a required service time, and though athletes like Roger Staubach and David Robinson have served two years and gone on to Hall of Fame careers, there's not much precedence for long careers from more typical talents. Consequently, the Patriots could be waiting a while for Cardona's arrival:
Price's analysis isn't the first time someone has observed the military service problem with Cardona. A pair of NFL special teams coaches told the Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn that, despite his draftable grade, the uncertainty surrounding his service requirements would likely force Cardona off their boards:
Right now it doesn't look like he'd be able to play this year or next year. He'd come to training camp while he's on leave from the Navy and do that for a couple years. Then his third year try to get reinstated to play.
Even if they give him a waiver, they can call him at any time. They could call him right in the middle of the season and all of a sudden you lose your guy.
I thought the Pats might still take the plunge, but I didn't project Cardona in any of my mocks until the seventh round. Unless Belichick has an arrangement to get Cardona out of his service requirements, it seems strange that he would burn a still-valuable fifth-round pick on someone who might need to sit on the reserve/military list for several seasons.
If Cardona is eligible to play in 2015 and stabilizes the long snapper position, this pick won't be a problem. Observers once scoffed when Belichick spent a fifth-round pick on Matthew Slater, who was never going to contribute beyond special teams. Now that Slater is a Pro Bowl-level gunner, the Pats have actually recouped their investment at that spot and earned excess value, especially given Slater's contributions to the locker room.
There's no guarantee that Cardona turns into that kind of player, and the first order of business is to find out whether or not he'll play in 2015. If he can suit up, look for him to win the snapping job and become a core member of the third phase.