Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

April 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm.

Patriots 2018 draft: Georgia teammates arrive in first round

A couple months after New England gave up 41 points, 63 percent third-down conversions and more than 500 yards to the Eagles in the Super Bowl LII loss, many projected the need to add youthful playmakers to the defense on draft weekend.

Others projected the need to add one of the premier true left tackles to the roster after losing Nate Solder in free agency.

And with two picks in each of the first two rounds among their five selections in the first 95 picks, the Patriots certainly had the ammo to do whatever they wanted early in the draft.

What head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio apparently wanted to do was add SEC talent, including versatile offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel in the first round from Georgia, along with second-round Florida defensive back Duke Dawson.

Along the way Belichick and Co. did their usual wheeling-and-dealing, trading down and out, to add picks later in the draft as well as second- and third-round selections in the 2019 draft.

There was no question, though, that a quick poll of Patriots fans on Twitter or Boston talk radio had many lamenting the lack of early front seven picks on defense or, for some, the lack of a developmental quarterback until the seventh round.

After Belichick had downplayed the idea of drafting for need in his pre-draft press conference, Caserio did the same when meeting with the media following the first round of the draft.

“It’s all the player. I think to Bill’s point, drafting for need, look, you draft good football players. Our responsibilities in the draft is like we need good players,” Caserio declared. “However we get them, wherever they come from, whatever positions that they play, that’s our goal and that’s our mentality and our process. If that’s on offense, it’s on offense. If it’s on defense, it’s on defense. However they get here, they get here. It’s never, ‘OK, well we have to pick this guy.’ Look, you look at the player, you look at the rest of the players that you have graded and you evaluated and you try to pick the players that you think make the most sense, so drafting for need – our need is to draft good players. In the end, that’s what it comes down to. That’s the most important thing.”

Wynn is a 6-foot-2 undersized tackle for New England, a team that generally employees guys of 6-foot-6 or taller at the position. Many analysts projected him to move to guard in the NFL, a position he played for two seasons at Georgia before his All-SEC work at left tackle last fall for the Bulldogs.

“Just watch him play,” Caserio said, defending the pick. “He was a good pass blocker, he blocked a lot of good people. They play some good teams, and he was effective doing that. The guy has experience playing multiple spots. He played tackle this year, left tackle and then played guard for two years. He has experience playing multiple spots so in the end we’ll do what we think is best for the team.”

Michel is the first running back drafted in the first-round by New England since Laurence Maroney in 2006. Michel is a playmaker who is familiar with sharing the load, as he will do joining the likes of James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill in Foxborough.

“Our responsibility is just to pick good football players. That’s the most important thing. We think he’s a good football player so we picked the player,” Caserio said of Michel’s first-round value. “He’s got pretty good skills. He’s athletic. He’s good in space. He’s a strong runner for his size, 210-215 pounds, whatever he is. Our thing is to pick good football players who have good traits. However they get here, they get here. He gets the same opportunity when he gets here, so regardless of where they’re picked. We liked the player so we went ahead and picked him.”

In the end, Caserio made it clear that regardless of how outsiders analyzed the Patriots drafting and team-building, he and the rest of the staff see the additional talent as starting fresh in Foxborough. As they like to profess inside the football offices at Gillette Stadium, it’s not how you got to New England it’s what you do once you get there.

“The expectation is that these guys come in here, they work hard and they do what they’re asked to do – nothing more, nothing less,” Caserio said. “That’s the most important thing. All these players, regardless of when they’re picked and who they are, they have a long, long, long way to go. It doesn’t matter what round they’re picked in. When you’re talking about the draft, essentially you’re talking about developmental players. It doesn’t really matter where they’re picked. These players got a long way to go. If you look through the history of the league and the first round and go on down, these guys have a long way to go, a lot of work to do.”




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