By: Steve Balestrieri
Will second round pick Jimmy Garoppolo be the next QB for New England? (USA TODAY Images)
The 2014 NFL Draft is in the books and now teams are scrambling to sign UDFA (undrafted free agents) to round out their rosters. The New England Patriots stuck to their own formula of building for the future, selecting many of their players with their eyes on 2015 and beyond.
While we often hear in the media talk about “loading up” to take advantage of QB Tom Brady’s window of opportunity closing for a fourth Super Bowl, the Patriots aren’t a team under the Bill Belichick regime to push all their chips on the table to take a shot at the big prize. This year’s draft was further proof that the team builds with the future in mind.
Belichick did quote about Brady’s age however in what was a somewhat surprising pick, which we’ll get to more on that point later. But in a draft with so many offensive weapons and many tight ends at the top end available, the Patriots took none of them.
Here is the breakdown of the picks and players selected:
Rd 1 Pick 29 Dominique Easley DT Florida
Rd 2 Pick 62 Jimmy Garoppolo QB Eastern Illinois
Rd 4 Pick 105 Bryan Stork C Florida State
Rd 4 Pick 130 James White RB Wisconsin
Rd 4 Pick 140 Cameron Fleming T Stanford
Rd 6 Pick 179 John Halapio G Florida
Rd 6 Pick 198 Zach Moore DE Concordia-St. Paul
Rd 7 Pick 206 Jemea Thomas S Georgia Tech
Rd 7 Pick 244 Jeremy Gallon WR Michigan
Biggest Surprise Move: Taking so many players (Easley, Stork, Halapio) with injury concerns. Just a year after seeing their roster, most especially their defense decimated by injuries, their first pick (and most talented) Easley has had both knees blown out by ACL injuries.
Dominique Easley, the Patriots top pick in the draft has had ACL surgery on both knees.
(USA TODAY Images)
Stork and Halapio both saw their stock drop due to durability issues; Halapio played 2013 with a torn pectoral muscle. These moves also double as their most risky as well. Halapio however gets big points for toughness playing through a painful season.
Offensive Line Solidified: Injury concerns aside, the pieces added will inject the OL with some much needed youth and size. Stork will provide Ryan Wendell some camp competition at center and is a savvy pass blocker with 40 career starts in college.
Halapio a team captain at Florida, played in 51 games has a nasty demeanor and is very physical in the running game and is a good pass blocker. He’ll push Dan Connolly for reps at camp this summer.
Fleming is a smart player who graduated with a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics. He’s got proto-typical size of a tackle at 6’5, 323 and he excels in the running game but has had issues in pass protecting against speed rushers. Playing behind starters Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, he’ll have time to hone his craft and will provide good depth with Marcus Cannon.
Brady’s Window: The selection of Garappolo is interesting in the aspect that the Patriots seem to be planning for life after Brady sooner rather than later. Bill Belichick, always one to measure his words carefully for the first time mentioned Brady’s age as a factor for drafting Garappolo from E.Illinois.
“The situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future. I think you’re better off being early rather than late at that position,” Belichick said.
“We know what Ryan’s contract situation is, we know what Tom’s age and contract situation is, and I don’t think you want to have one quarterback on your team,” Belichick added. “I don’t think that’s responsible to the entire team or the organization.”
While many point to four years down the line as the point where Brady will have to be replaced, this points to a place sooner that the team feels it will need to be done.
Garappolo has good but not great size, excellent vision and touch on the ball and has a very quick release and quick feet which will keep him away from pressure. He shattered all of Tony Romo’s records at E.Illinois but like Romo at times will attempt to force throws in very tight windows.
Other Observations: While much of the fan base was clamoring for a tight end, the team surprisingly took none of the much bally-hooed names out there but did add a couple of UDFAs. The selection of James White is interesting in that he’s not big 5’9, 206, similar to Shane Vereen, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is dangerous in space. White also says he prefers to run inside rather than outside.
In a pre-draft interview, he said, “actually, I believe my ability to run inside is one of my strengths, especially on the zone plays we ran at Wisconsin. I believe I have the speed and vision to run outside but believe that my tape proves my effectiveness running between the tackles.”
Zach Moore is a raw developmental prospect but intriguing with his size at 6’6, 269. He had tremendous production albeit at a lower level of competition at D2 Concordia-St.Paul. He’ll at least push 3rd year DE Jake Bequette for a roster spot.
Jemea Thomas is a slightly undersized safety who likes to hit and play physical and can play safety or out of the slot at cornerback. He’ll have to compete on Special Teams initially but plays all out, all the time and could find his way on the field.
Jeremy Gallon is an undersized receiver who had tremendous production at Michigan operating out of the slot. Only 5’7, his ticket to the already over-crowded logjam in the slot is thru Special Teams.
***One other note, while not selecting a tight end Mike Reiss mentioned to Bill Belichick this weekend if that could mean a move towards Mark Harrison the big, (6’3,230) WR to the ‘move” TE position. Something that has been mentioned here and numerous other places….Belichick stated that it was not in the plans.***
This was a typical Belichick draft, no sexy picks, a few that will leave the fanbase scratching their heads but a solid one with the dividends to be paid down the road.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll be keeping readers up-to-date on all the free agency and draft news as it unfolds.
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.
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