For the second consecutive year, the Patriots were forced to wait until Day 2 of the NFL Draft to make any moves. Unlike in 2016, New England willingly parted with its first-round choice, the 32nd overall, in an earlier offseason trade with New Orleans to acquire WR Brandin Cooks.
Also unlike last spring, the reigning Super Bowl champs went without a pick in Round 2 as well, after giving that pick (64 overall) to Carolina in their trade for DE Kony Ealy. That meant the Patriots had to wait until the 72nd overall selection – which the Panthers gave New England in the Ealy deal – to make a pick.
With that choice, New England did what it so often does at this point in the draft: trade down.
Head coach Bill Belichick found a willing trading partner with his former director of college scouting, Jon Robinson, who's now the Tennessee Titans' general manager. New England sent the 72nd pick, along with their sixth-round pick (200th overall), to Nashville in exchange for the Titans' third-round pick at 83 overall, plus Tennessee's fourth-round selection at 124 overall.
When finally the Patriots made a selection, they tapped edge rusher Derek Rivers (6-4, 248) from Youngstown State at 83.
"It was shocking, man!" a clearly delighted Rivers told reporters via conference call Friday night. Even though he had what he described as an "awesome" pre-draft visit with the Patriots, he maintained he had "no idea" the Patriots would be interested in actually selecting him.
"He's obviously been in a good program. He's been well-coached," Belichick observed at the conclusion of Round 3. "It's a big adjustment for him or anybody else moving to the National Football League. We'll see how it goes."
New England wasn't done dealing though. Almost immediately after selecting Rivers, Belichick transacted business with another former employee. The Patriots sent their third-round pick (96) and the newly acquired 124 to Detroit. In exchange, Lions GM Bob Quinn, the former Patriots director of pro scouting, gave the Patriots the 85th overall, which they used to select Troy offensive lineman Antonio Garcia (6-6, 302).
Like Rivers, Garcia also paid a pre-draft visit to New England.
"Great environment, great people," Garcia recalled of his first trip to the region. "I look forward to being there."
The versatile lineman has experience at various positions on the o-line, but is considered more of a tackle at the NFL level. He described himself as a "physical, athletic, just nasty" football player.
"He's played tackle. He has the length and athleticism to play tackle. We'll see how it goes," Belichick remarked.
Both players had the opportunity to showcase their skills at the Senior Bowl all-star week in Alabama back in January. There, they squared off at times against one another, as they were assigned to opposing squads. Rivers, a self-described "late bloomer," credited that experience against top-flight talent with helping him get noticed by the Patriots.
"Super excited," added Rivers about joining the reigning Super Bowl champions. "I have so much to learn."
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish… I'm a testament to that," Garcia declared about his Senior Bowl experience.
After a flurry of activity on Day 2, the Patriots are now left with just three choices in the final four rounds, which resume on Saturday afternoon. That could always change, of course, if New England swings more trade deals.
But even if the Patriots wind up with one of their smallest draft classes ever, Belichick sounded fine with that because of the veterans his team acquired this offseason. Players like WR Brandin Cooks, DE Kony Ealy, TE Dwayne Allen, and RB Mike Gillislee are considered by Belichick to be part of the draft windfall because they were acquired by surrendering draft picks.
"You take advantage of the opportunities that you have," Belichick concluded.
The 2017 NFL Draft resumes Saturday at noon.