The 2015 NFL Draft is in the books. Between Tampa Bay's No. 1 selection of Jameis Winston and the latest Mr. Irrelevant, Cardinals new tight end Gerald Christian, the Patriots made 11 picks of their own.
Bill Belichick's team stood pat early and addressed a major need at defensive tackle. Along the way through the three-day affair New England made a couple trades and added just shy of a dozen new faces to an already very young, talented roster of defending Super Bowl champions.
In the coming hours the team will continue the prospect work by signing a small handful of undrafted free agents, although with the way the team's roster is currently constituted that group could be less numerous than in most years.
Then things will roll into mini-camps, OTAs and, before we know it, training camp battles will be under way.
But before that train chugs along toward August action, let's take a final look at the 2015 NFL Draft in New England with a few random thoughts from the exciting weekend.
Changing of the guard– Most believed that offensive guard was a major need for New England heading into the draft. And while the team waited until the third day to address the spot, it did so with a pair of selections. Florida State's Tre' Jackson will join former Seminoles teammate Bryan Stork in the middle of the New England line. So, too, will Georgia Tech guard Shaq Mason. Jackson is 6-4, 320 pounds. Mason is a beefy 6-1, 300 pounds and a guy Belichick said might be the best run blocker in the draft. Both are powerful interior guys. They seem to be a bit of a change from the more athletic undersized guards the Patriots have often employed over the years. It could be a coincidence or it could be a bit of a philosophical change at the position. The impetus for such a change to bigger, more powerful guards could be based in the change at offensive line coach from Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo. Or, more likely, it could be a reaction to the big, talented, stout defensive lines that the Patriots will face six times a season against division foes from New York, Buffalo and Miami. Common sports theory says you have to be strong up the middle and the Patriots seem to have taken a step in that direction with the addition of two guards heading into the latter years of Tom Brady's career in Foxborough.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="326421"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]Geneo is the Mike (Vrabel?) – Third-round pick Geneo Grissom, out of Oklahoma, has a lot to like. He played all over the defensive front for the Sooners and according to Belichick had an impressive pro day displaying his skills as a tight end as well. He sounds like a guy, with experience playing inside in a three technique, who might be ready to play the run in the NFL right now. He has more than serviceable pass rush skills and athleticism to drop. He also could probably catch a pass in a pinch. Sound like anyone? From this perspective it sounds like a guy who could have a heady, versatile, athletic role in the Patriots defense much like Mike Vrabel did from 2001-08. Grissom may be the most intriguing pick/athlete in the Patriots 2015 draft class.
Pushing the depth – The Patriots are a Super Bowl champion that could return in the range of 18 or so starters. So it's not like the team, which picked 32nd in most rounds, was in line to add a slew of must-play-now prospects. But in Grissom, second-round pick Jordan Richards, the pair of guards and the bulk of the picks the Patriots brought in talent that could easily push returning depth players right off the roster. Grissom and Trey Flowers will challenge the futures of guys like Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan and Zach Moore. Jackson and Mason certainly will give veteran Ryan Wendell a run for his (contract) money, while Josh Kline and Jordan Devey will be challenged for their backup roles. And as Tavon Wilson heads into his fourth season as a special teams contributor with very limited work on defense, another second-round pick seems ready to fight for such a role. Turning over the depth with an eye on competition, improved talent and financial gain isn't a sexy topic, but it's a goal the Patriots may have achieved throughout the course of this draft. It's a key part of top-to-bottom roster management.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="326426"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]Lovin' the long snapper – The Patriots entered the draft with a potential need at long snapper, at least with Danny Aiken remaining an unsigned free agent. The best long snapper available hailed from Navy. So, as Bob Socci has been telling Patriots.com readers/viewers for months, Joe Cardona had to be on the New England radar. And he was, landing with Belichick's team in the fifth round. Only four long snappers have ever been taken in the NFL Draft, two of them by the Patriots as Cardona joins 2009 sixth-round pick Jake Ingram. Cardona will have to deal with his commitments to the Navy and may not be available full time for football for a year or two. Or, he could get clearance to play and promote the Navy as part of his service. Still, Cardona landing in Foxborough had to be one of the more likely scenarios this draft weekend. Belichick called the Cardona selection a "need" pick and that the Navy product was the best long snapper in the draft.
First grade – It's no fun to wait three years to grade a draft class. Instant reactions are more entertaining and guttural. So let's do it. I like the Patriots draft. I'll give it a B-plus. Two of the team's three major needs – defensive tackle and guard – were addressed with guys who should battle for playing time/starting jobs as rookies. Depth was added on the defensive edge/linebacker. I know some will question the Richards pick in the second round, but if you hypothetically just slotted Jackson in the second round and Richards later I think most fans would be even more in love with the overall draft haul of talent. Time will tell, but this looks like a very solid to impressive draft class. And one that certainly has a chance to have a bigger impact than last year's class that included a top pick coming off a torn ACL and a backup quarterback in the second round and no third-round pick. There is a long way to go for the group, but right now I like what I see and really like what I project in my mind looking to the future. If only there was a cornerback added who might be able to bring something to the table as a rookie. But I guess you can't get everything on your wish list. Reminds me of being a kid at Christmas time and we should just appreciate what we did get.
Dot, dot, dots – Not even going to check it, Xzavier Dickson has to be the first player in Patriots history whose first name started with the letters X and Z. … Not even going to check it, the Patriots were the first team to draft consecutive players with the name Trey/Tre' in the draft with the addition of Flowers/Jackson. … Between a Malcom (Brown)/Malcolm (Butler) and a Tre' (Jackson)/Trey (Flowers) I foresee plenty of typos/name mistakes in my training camp blog entries. Reader beware! … FWIW Jackson is the first New England draft pick with an apostrophe in his name since Dont'a Hightower was a first-round pick in 2012. … New England reportedly reached rookie free agent agreements with Georgia center David Andrews, Michigan quarterback-turned-wide receiver Devin Gardner and UAB defensive back Jimmy Jean as the process of adding priorities free agents began immediately after the conclusion of the draft. … Belichick said the team would sign approximately a half dozen undrafted players. … Will Belichick watch the big Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight on Sunday night? "yeah, no." … Belichick had sixth-round tight end A.J. Derby's dad in camp with his Browns back in the early 1990s. Belichick didn't remember much about the elder Derby because he "wasn't there long." … Belichick delivered a message to his rookies in his final press conference answer about getting with the program and becoming a New England Patriot that is must-see video on Patriots.com. It gives fans just a little glimpse into the messages Belichick can send as a coach/leader/motivator.