The 2019 NFL Draft has ended, and as always the New England Patriots had a busy 72 hours. The Patriots made seven trades and walked away with ten rookies.
This was an atypical draft performance for New England. A few weeks ago, we tried to get you ready for what Bill Belichick might do in the draft based on historical tendencies. The Patriots, however, went off script immediately. After what appears to be a case of the team reaching for a player at a position of need in the first round, New England traded up in the second round. Things did go back to normal after that, but only in terms of process.
Moves by Belichick
The Patriots repeatedly traded down on day two of the draft, from picks 64, 73, and 97. As a result, the team added a fourth-round pick in 2019 and 2020, while also improving upon a late-round pick by 30-40 draft slots twice. The picks themselves were a mixed bag.
With three third-round picks, Belichick landed a major steal with the initial third-round selection in Chase Winovich. The Patriots then lit their second third rounder on fire by selecting a running back they couldn’t need less. At the end of day two, New England tapped a developmental offensive tackle.
Day three saw more maneuvering, another developmental offensive lineman, a development quarterback, an odd interior defender selection, a classic 5th round special teams selection, and a dart throw at a corner in the final frame.
In all this was a weird class, and as always we are bringing you an in-depth look at how the Patriots did in the 2019 NFL draft.
32nd pick (32nd overall) -N’Keal Harry, Wide receiver, Arizona State
Harry appears to be a reach at a need position, something New England rarely does. Belichick believes reaching for a need still leaves you with the same need, while bypassing superior prospects. Most draft analysts don’t even believe Harry was even the best available at his position.
New England made Harry the second receiver off the board on draft night. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had Harry as the 6th best receiver in the draft. Harry was the 8th best receiver available in the eyes of ProFootballFocus. Dane Brugler of The Athletic had Harry in the back half of the top ten. (The Athletic is behind a paywall and we cannot divulge the actual ranking).
The biggest issue with Harry as a prospect is his inability to separate from college defensive backs. Harry is a contested catch monster that wins 50/50 balls. The problem is there isn’t much of a successful track record of college receivers dependent upon that one particular skill transitioning into the NFL.
That being said, Harry is a reliable target that posted back to back 1,000-yard campaigns before entering the draft. How Harry produces in the NFL will be significantly dependent upon how his coaches scheme around his skillset. However, that shouldn’t be an issue in his new home.
13th (45th overall) -Joejuan Williams, Cornerback, Vanderbilt
Here is the bizarre trade up in the second round. The Patriots sent the 56th and 101st picks to the Los Angeles Rams in order to get up to #45 to select Williams. In the process, the Patriots forfeited 3.8 points worth of draft capital according to the Chase Stuart draft chart. For context, the 126th pick is worth 3.8 points.
Cornerback isn’t much a need, although drafting for need is a fool’s errand, as the team runs three deep with Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and J.C. Jackson. 2018 second round pick Duke Dawson is still a complete unknown. Dawson missed his entire rookie year due to injury.
This selection could be in anticipation of having to replace McCourty after 2019, or perhaps even Patrick Chung. Williams is a massive press-man cornerback (the Patriots preferred coverage scheme) but lacks the long speed to stick with outside receivers down the sidelines. His profile does, however, indicate he can be used as a matchup weapon against tight ends.
Two other cornerbacks came off the board after Williams and before the New England’s original draft slot of 56th overall. While Greedy Williams was a top three cornerback in the draft, Lonnie Johnson Jr. was a reach on behalf of the Houston Texans. Point being, while examined with the benefit of hindsight, Greedy Williams’ status as a top three cornerback and the Texans’ presumed love for Johnson indicate the Patriots could have landed Joejuan Williams at 56 and avoided trading up. Even if Joejuan Williams were to have been selected prior to the Patriots picking at 56, historical draft data indicates all the corners taken in this cluster of the draft have approximately an equal chance of panning out.
It’s impossible to have too many cornerbacks, but this is just a bad trade.
13th (77th overall) -Chase Winovich, EDGE, Michigan[Insert siren emojis here] STEAL OF THE DRAFT ALERT [Repeat siren emojis]
Despite aggressively addressing the receiver position, New England stayed patient in regards to adding another EDGE rusher. The patience was rewarded in conjuncture with the rest of the NFL’s ineptitude.
Winovich was the more productive college EDGE defender between himself and the much more hyped Rashan Gary. Winovich finished as the 29th overall player on the PFF big board, yet lasted until pick 77.
He comes to the Patriots off back-to-back seasons with grades over 90.0- the only such qualifying Power-5 player in the draft class to do so. Winovich is a highly athletic edge that posted a 1.57 10-yard split, 4.59 40-yard dash, and 6.94 3-cone shuttle at the combine while measuring 6’2″ and 256 pounds. His last two seasons saw him rack up 15 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, and 66 total pressures on just 687 pass rushing snaps. And he is not just a pass rusher, as Winovich ranked second in the draft class among his position in run-stop percentage last season.
Winovich’s athleticism gives credence to the idea that he can take snaps at linebacker. This potential positional versatility surely caught the eye of Belichick. This is also yet another example of Belichick tapping into a college program where he believes there is elite coaching.
23rd (87th overall) – Damien Harris, Running back, Alabama
Speaking of programs with elite coaching, New England made one of the more head-scratching selections of the entire draft with Harris. Last year’s choice of Sony Michel in the first round was befuddling, as no team in the NFL has gotten more mileage out of the “you can find a running back anywhere” philosophy than the Patriots. Yet, the team used their first-round pick on a running back despite coming off a Super Bowl loss in which the defense allowed approximately 80 billion yards and 17,000 points.
In 2018, however, New England rode a three back monster to a Super Bowl victory. The trio of Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead are all perfectly complementary to each other. Additionally, the team has special teams standout Brandon Bolden buried on the depth chart.
Ergo, this pick makes no sense. Harris profiles to be a hammer, which is Burkhead’s current role. Harris may be Burkhead’s eventual replacement, but Burkhead’s contract runs through 2020. The team can save $3 million in 2020 by releasing Burkhead, but the Patriots could have drafted his replacement next year.
This pick just doesn’t do much to move the needle in 2019 as New England seeks to repeat as champions.
37th (101st overall) -Yodny Cajuste, Offensive tackle, West Virginia
This is the perfect pick. The Patriots understand the value of continuously stocking mid-round developmental offensive line prospects. With Isaiah Wynn missing his entire rookie season and Marcus Cannon constantly injured, New England needed young blood in the tackle pipeline. Additionally, swing tackle Cameron Fleming left for the Dallas Cowboys and 2017 third-round pick Antonio Garcia flamed out with the team after a single season.
Cajuste is built to be a left tackle and has the quick feet and lateral quickness to protect the edge. He has starting potential if he can eliminate the undisciplined aspects of his game. Luckily, he landed with the best offensive line coach in the NFL.
16th (118th overall) – Hjalte Froholdt, Offensive guard, Arkansas
Another developmental offensive lineman to pump into the pipeline. Dante Scarnecchia gets a second upside lineman to mold behind the scenes.
At 118, Froholdt is a fantastic value. Froholdt played both guard and center while at Arkansas, and allowed only five pressures in 2018. He ranked 3rd in the draft class among guards in pass-blocking efficiency per PFF. His former head coach, Bret Bielema, is a defensive consultant for the Patriots. One imagines the team had the best possible intel on Froholdt in the draft.
31st (133rd overall) – Jarrett Stidham, Quarterback, Auburn
Again, another perfect pick. While unrefined, Stidham has wonderful traits and immense potential. A late fourth-round pick is a perfect time to take a developmental quarterback prospect to develop behind the scenes.
21st (159th overall) – Byron Cowart, Defensive tackle, Maryland
Cowart was at one point in time the top high school recruit in the nation. After initially attending Auburn, Cowart transferred to Maryland to move back home due to health concerns with his mother. Cowart has an NFL-ready frame and is a heavy puncher, but he provides no pass rush and lacks any natural burst.
25th (163rd overall) – Jake Bailey, punter, Stanford
This is a typical Belichick move. He views the 5th round as players that are long shots to make the roster, so he believes there is value in targeting special teams members. The odd part is that Bailey is right-footed, as Belichick notoriously only deploys left-footed punters because the rotation of the ball is the opposite of what the opposing punt returner is used to.
38th (252nd overall) – Ken Webster, Cornerback, Ole Miss
Webster is a very athletic cornerback, posting a 1.55 10-yard split, 4.43 40-yard dash, 6.85 3-cone drill, 43″ vertical, and 11’01” broad jump at the combine. Throwing a dart like this with the third to last pick of the draft is the right move.
The Patriots hit their biggest need with their initial selection, it just happened to be a reach. The deviation from the standard operating procedures immediately continued, as New England traded up in the second round to secure a cornerback they most likely could have gotten at their original slot.
After nabbing a potential steal of the draft with a much-needed pass rusher in the third round, the Patriots decided to throw their second third-round pick in the trash can by selecting a running back they don’t need. That selection was followed by three developmental prospects, two on the offensive line and a quarterback.
After that Belichick simply grabbed players he liked to round out the final three picks, spanning two selections in the fifth round and one in the seventh.
All told this draft was mostly successful. Of the seven trades, four of them were trades downward. The team received both the Winovich and Froholdt picks in exchange for #64. That trade created a profit of 3 points worth of draft capital, the equivalent of the 142nd pick of the draft. The team received a 2020 4th round pick from the Chicago Bears in another trade. And in a Belichick special, New England traded down four spots from 97 to 101, still landed Cajuste, and moved up 29 spots later in the draft from 162 to 133. That selection at 133 netted Jarrett Stidham.