There aren't many meaningful observations that can be gleaned from Day 3 of a typical NFL draft. Teams select a handful of players with late-round picks, hoping to add some depth to their rosters as well as developmental players that may pay dividends at some point in the future.
Special teamers and backup offensive and defensive linemen are generally the lifeblood of draft Saturdays, and that's generally been true of the Patriots. Last year Bill Belichick tabbed Justin Rohrwasser, Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron, Cassh Maluia and Dustin Woodard among his Day 3 picks.
This year Belichick may have had something different in mind when filling out his draft class. While Colorado tackle William Sherman and Missouri safety Joshuah Bledsoe in the sixth round fit right into that typical mindset, there seemed to be a different theme with several other selections – even stemming back to Day 2.
Three of Belichick picks in particular – Christian Barmore in the second, Ronnie Perkins in the third and then on Saturday Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone in the fifth – all appear to have been chosen with a goal in mind. And that is to add some competition among the front seven on defense.
Belichick spent a considerable amount of free agent capital adding to that area early in the offseason. Defensive tackles Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams were signed, and veterans Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise were reupped, seemingly creating plenty of depth up front. It's an area that needed addressing for sure after watching opponents run wild at times over the past two seasons against that limited front.
But despite those moves, Belichick still opted to add Barmore, a 6-4, 310-pound defensive tackle who can stuff the run while also serving as a pocket collapser inside. On the edge he added Perkins, an athletic pass rusher who can play with his hand in the dirt at 255 pounds. Then the last move that caught the attention was grabbing McGrone, an inside linebacker capable of handling the MIKE duties. At 6-0, 235 pounds, McGrone has the ability to move around and make plays in space as well.
McGrone is coming off a knee injury and Belichick admitted the team is prepared to not have the linebacker available this season, so his impact won't be felt until 2022 at the earliest.
The combination of these three picks led to some thoughts on some of the returning players. The inside linebacker depth chart includes the likes of Dont'a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and free agent newcomer Raekwon McMillan, all entering the final years of their contracts. The edges have young players such as Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche and Chase Winovich, and now Perkins. Given the sporadic playing time for all three a year ago, it's not hard to imagine that Belichick is looking to give them some healthy competition for playing time.
Uche appears to be a promising athlete with the ability to play in space and perhaps contribute as a pass rusher. He flashed at times while dealing with injuries as a rookie. But Jennings didn't get on the field much, and Winovich seemed to fall in and out of favor at various times. Maybe adding to the depth chart will add to the urgency for these young players, and perhaps lead to some surprising roster moves once the season comes around.
Either way it would seem to be smart business by Belichick. It's not the worst thing to have a player like Winovich, who will enter his third season, looking over his shoulder at a hungry Perkins and realize his spot is far from secure. If he responds and emerges as a more consistently player, then the Patriots defense will be better off with more depth. Same could be said of the two second-year linebackers Uche and Jennings.
The 2021 draft class will ultimately be defined by Mac Jones and whether or not he develops into the quarterback of the future. But it will also be worth watching the front seven come training camp and wondering how the arrival of these three rookies might impact the defense down the road.