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Replay: Best of the Week on Patriots.com Radio Thu Jun 20 - 02:00 PM | Tue Jun 25 - 09:55 AM

Patriots Mailbag: Rethinking the Draft, Finding Hidden Gems and More

The Patriots had some options in the draft and fans are wondering if there was another path to take in this week's mailbag.

6-11-mailbag

With minicamp wrapping up in Foxborough vacation time is right around the corner. If that wasn't obvious based on our wonderful weather as of late, the paucity of posts coming in this week certainly hammers that point home. Sorry for the limited mailbag this week as I, too, am headed out for some time off but we still managed to hit on a few topics along the way.

Instead of settling on lower-tier players in the draft, would it have made sense to package our second- and third-round picks to move back up into the first and at least get one more blue-chipper to fill the wide receiver or left tackle hole?
Mark G

That was definitely an option and one that would have made some sense. In fact, I believe the Patriots tried to do this with an eye on a wide receiver (possibly Xavier Leggette) but were unable to make the move. I don't think there's much of a difference between Leggette and Ja'Lynn Polk, to be honest, and Polk didn't cost more in terms of compensation. That said, I don't think either guy would qualify as a blue-chip prospect, and there aren't typically many of those still available at the bottom of the first round. There are plenty of good football players but not ones where you would say with certainty that a hole was filled. I would have liked to have taken a tackle a bit higher in the draft than they did waiting until the third round, but I also didn't expect the team to fill all of its holes in one draft. That's unrealistic and the idea of holding onto resources and methodically trying to replenish the roster is a good one. Now we'll have to wait to see if the plan works.

Hi guys, love this question answer segment. My question: How in the world does a kicker like Jake Bates, given the NFL scouting intensity from every source around, miss this guy? It's not just Bates, we've seen so many under the radar terrific players come in as UDFAs and have great careers. I love seeing it but how come?
Steve Earle

There are a lot of players who slip through the cracks and go undrafted or unnoticed until they reach the NFL. It happens in all sports as scouting is such a difficult and inexact science. There are lots of reasons this happens such as a player's size, speed, level of competition and many other factors. In Bates' case the answer is pretty simple – during his time at both Texas State and Arkansas he never attempted a single kick – field goal or PAT. He was used strictly as a kickoff specialist at both schools, so scouts weren't as familiar with his ability to perform as a traditional placekicker. He enjoyed a terrific season with Michigan in the UFL and I'm sure he will wind up in someone's camp and fight for a job in the NFL this summer. Whether he can maintain the consistency he showed this spring remains to be seen.

Do you see Sam Roberts getting more playing time? He's played well but has had little playing time under Bill Belichick.
Bill Black

Patriots DT Sam Roberts attending an offseason practice May 6, 2024.
Patriots DT Sam Roberts attending an offseason practice May 6, 2024.

Roberts hasn't really gotten many opportunities to play during his two seasons with the Patriots but given the departure of Lawrence Guy perhaps the door is open for him to be a bigger part of the defensive line. His athleticism is noticeable at times during training camp practices so it's possible he could be an interior presence. At 6-6, 300 pounds he has the frame to become a factor, but now in his third year the time has come for him to show something because players don't typically get many more chances to prove their worth. He came from a small school so he likely had a bigger learning curve than most coming in, but now he should have enough experience to emerge as a regular player if he has the ability to do so. Big training camp for him coming up.

The Patriots cut an offensive lineman to sign an undrafted receiver. I'm interested in what you think this says about how they view the relative strength of each position. I get that they probably decided that Andrew Stueber was never going to amount to much but it's the decision to add a WR with the open spot that puzzles me. They now have 11 WRs and with five considered locks. Does bringing in another WR mean they have decided that the bottom end of the WR depth chart is a more pressing need than trying out another tackle? It seems that the Pats, and only the Pats, consider their existing tackle group as sufficient for the coming season.
Len Carmody

I don't think it says much of anything. We're dealing with players at or near the bottom of the roster, and the receiver position is one that needs to have a lot of numbers in order to operate during various camps. When guys are slowed by nagging injuries, the need to add bodies is vital to make sure the quarterbacks have enough options to run routes during a variety of drills. There were a couple of guys who were banged up (as an example Javon Baker spent time on the lower rehab field during last week's OTA practice) so the coaches must have felt the need to add a receiver to the mix. They later added another a few days later as well. The fact that Stueber was let go to make room isn't all that surprising. He was a seventh-round pick a couple years ago and despite the obvious need for help at tackle he never was able to get into that mix. Instead, the team added players like Calvin Anderson, Tyrone Wheatley and Vederian Lowe, and all three are still here. That tells me Stueber was behind them on the depth chart and that doesn't include Chuks Okorafor, Mike Onwenu and rookie Caedan Wallace. Someone had to go to make room and unfortunately it was Stueber.

"Competition" is such a long-standing buzzword in Foxborough yet can you name a single player, at any position, over 20-plus years who has emerged as a playmaker for the Patriots as a result of a machine-gun approach - drafting-signing numerous players to compete for the position? Disclosure: I am a believer in quality vs. quantity and I believe that data is on my side.
Ken K.

I don't think competition is a buzzword that is limited to Foxborough, or football for that matter. All coaches at all levels want to create competition in an effort to establish some depth. I'm not exactly sure what you're looking for as examples based on your post, but I'd say the Patriots have done a great job over the years doubling up at positions in the draft and having them work out. In 2007 the Patriots needed wide receivers and signed Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington yet still traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss. I'd say that approach worked out pretty well. Daniel Graham was a first-round pick in 2002 but Benjamin Watson was still taken in the first round just two years later despite both being tight ends. Both were solid contributors. Same position and same draft (2010) saw both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez taken. Both were playmakers. I'd say Julian Edelman is an example of a player who was added to the mix as a flier who wound up emerging as a playmaker. I'm sure there are more but those are guys who popped into my head.

How do you think the new kickoff rules might change how teams approach them during the season? Will there be any significant changes?
Anthony Peckham

This has been a minor topic of conversation during the spring as people try to envision how changes might be enacted. Based on our limited access to practices thus far, I'd say there's a chance we'll see some different approaches around the league. Kansas City has talked about not using kicker Harrison Butker and instead replacing him with another player who has the ability to make a tackle as the tighter area will necessitate additional physicality and tackling. The Chiefs have a player (Justin Reid) they feel comfortable with kicking the ball so that option might make sense for them. The Patriots have tried some different styles while kicking off at practice, experimenting with various ball placements on the tee as well as targets for the ball to land. I would expect to see some experimenting from teams early in the season before most settle into normal routines. If returns become a problem for teams I would anticipate more touchbacks as a response. But there is some uncertainty surrounding the play as we get set to implement the changes.

I know it's really early but are there any UDFA candidates who have caught your eye so far as possibilities to make a run at a roster spot?
Luke Coleman

You are right in pointing out that it is still quite early to make those kinds of calls. Most of our limited time at practice hasn't really featured many contributions from those rookies as of yet. Instead, I am keeping my eye on players at certain positions – running back, cornerback, wide receiver – where there seem to be openings for roster spots. Wideout Kawaan Baker isn't a UDFA but he's a first-year player who has flashed a bit catching some passes during practice. I will be watching young corners like Marcellas Dial (sixth-round pick) and UDFA Kaleb Ford-Dement once they start getting some more reps because that's a position where depth is lacking. Same could be said of running backs Deshaun Fenwick and Terrell Jennings considering the dearth of proven commodities at that spot. So, not necessarily forecasting anything from any of these specific guys but rather keeping an eye out for players at certain positions.

I do not think we should start a new QB until there is a formidable offensive line in place. What is your opinion?
Gilbert Galvin

Patriots QB Drake Maye running plays at day one of minicamp. June 10, 2024.
Patriots QB Drake Maye running plays at day one of minicamp. June 10, 2024.

I understand the line of thought and it makes sense. If there in uncertainty along the offensive line you don't want to subject your rookie quarterback to unnecessary hits. The problem with this is it's impossible to know when you have those issues squared away. Once you feel a quarterback is ready to play, both mentally and physically, then I believe that is the time he should play. Drake Maye won't be able to gain the experience necessary to deal with possible shortcomings in pass protection from the bench. He must play and take on those pass rushers and learn from his mistakes. It's a difficult decision because as I said you don't want to have your future quarterback get injured.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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