Entering Thursday night’s 2018 NFL Draft, the Patriots found themselves in an unfamiliar, yet enviable position. They were one of only three teams – Cleveland, Buffalo, and New England – that began the night with multiple picks in Round 1. There was no guarantee, of course, that they’d use them, given Bill Belichick’s frequent history of trading out of the first round.
“Hopefully, we’ll give you something to cheer about,” the head coach told hundreds of fans who’d gathered at Gillette Stadium earlier in the evening to watch the draft unfold.
By the end of the night, Belichick at least gave them something to think about. New England hadn’t made a first-round selection since 2015, and hadn’t been armed with a pair of first-round choices since 2012. And just like in 2012, the Patriots made both selections, staying put at their 23rd and 31st overall spots.
With most analysts assuming the Patriots would take at least one defensive player in the first round, Belichick surprised many of those same observers by drafting a pair of offensive teammates – and roommates – from the University of Georgia.
With the first choice, New England appeared to add some intrigue to their vacant left tackle position by selecting Isaiah Wynn, a versatile lineman who has played both tackle and guard.
Calling himself a “very lovable guy” when introduced to reporters via conference call moments later, Wynn said he takes pride in being able to play more than one position, despite being relatively undersized (barely 6-3, 300).
“No, sir. I believe in my feet and my technique make up for it,” he declared.
Player personnel director Nick Caserio, New England’s lead scout, confirmed to reporters later that Wynn would be inserted into the competition at left tackle this summer, provided that the player is sufficiently recovered from a torn labrum suffered this offseason.
“It’s good. On track for recovery,” added Wynn, who predicted he’d be ready to suit up for the Patriots mandatory three-day minicamp in June.
At 31, the Patriots kept the phone lines to Athens, Georgia open when they plucked productive, athletic running back Sony Michel from the Bulldogs program. A significant knee injury and a dozen fumbles from his college days had many draft observers questioning where Michel might be selected, but that didn’t seem to dissuade the Patriots, for whom Michel (5-11, 215) expressed his gratitude on social media a short time later.
Michel later remarked on a media conference call that his injury is no longer a concern for him, but that he was still shocked to get the call from the Patriots.
“No words can describe what the feeling was like. I just kind of didn’t expect the Patriots to call me... Just watching TV before the pick and get the call. I’m just honored just to be able to get a call from a prestigious program like the Patriots.”
Michel and Wynn should help one another make their transitions from college to the NFL smoother not only because, as noted earlier, they were teammates at Georgia, but roommates as well the past two years. When New England last selected two first-rounders (DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont’a Hightower in 2012), both players contributed immediately to New England’s defense. It remains to be seen just how quickly Wynn and Michel might factor into the already potent Patriots offense.
“Our responsibility,” Caserio explained, “is to pick good football players... However they get here, they get here. We want smart, tough football players, especially around here because we ask a lot of our players.”
Belichick and Caserio could be just as busy or even busier on Friday night, when the draft resumes at 7 p.m. Eastern with Rounds 2 and 3. New England currently owns two second-round choices, plus one in the third. The possibility always exists, though, that the Patriots could negotiate trades with other clubs to move up or down in any of the upcoming rounds. The final four rounds will take place Saturday afternoon and early evening.