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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Post-Draft Edition

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It appears to me that New England has finally got a first-round talent at WR through the draft without the typical WR ego. Don’t get me wrong, N'Keal Harry has the ego, but it appears to be a Patriot ego. Do your job – whatever is asked of you, be a ruthless competitor on the field, have the ability to play multiple positions, respect the game, be hungry to win, be coachable and respectable, have your head on straight, and most importantly go out there and make plays. I’m really excited about this pick. I think if he catches on to the playbook quickly, adapts to the NFL lifestyle, and makes a connection with Brady sooner than later, then Harry could be around 1,000 yards receiving total for the year. I’m sure you’ll have many questions regarding this pick, but what do you think would be the high and low ceilings for N'Keal in his rookie year? Damon Hyde

Your enthusiasm for this pick is understandable. Harry was a solid college player at a position of obvious need for New England. Obviously, as a first-round pick, the expectation is for Harry to suit up and be a regular contributor, if not a starter, from Day 1.

However, given the Patriots’ recent difficulties with drafted wide receivers, I would caution you to take a more measured outlook until this young man actually gets on the field and shows us what he’s capable of doing. Erik Scalavino

Hey, guys, I have a problem. I like the players we picked in the draft this year. I never like the players the Patriots draft. By no means am I a draft expert, but is this a false sense of hope that we really did get some gems? Tyler from Maryland

Sounds to me like a normal reaction, Tyler. You should be excited and hopeful about the new crop of rookies at this time of year. They’re nothing if not full of potential. But as head coach Bill Belichick often likes to remind us, it’s not how a player got here that matters, it’s what he does once he gets here. There’ll be plenty of time for us to analyze in detail just how good this draft class is once the players put pads on and start competing on the field. Until then, keep your hope and enthusiasm alive. Erik Scalavino

One of the biggest reasons why Patriots won the Super Bowl last year was the ability to run the ball and pass-protect with a great contribution by two excellent blocking TEs: Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, both gone. Who will replace them as the blockers? Marc Petrushevski

I feel that no one tight end will replace Gronk, but no one is talking about Ryan Izzo, a seventh-round, 250th overall pick in last year’s draft. No one even likes to say his name. I feel he will have a big part on the field at the tight end spot. Ken Lambert

Ever since Gronk retired, all I see are analysts and sports writers talking about how the Patriots need to take a TE, they’re surprised they didn’t draft one, etc. But why exactly a TE? Yes, Gronk was a TE on the depth chart, but you’re not replacing a TE, and certainly not the TE GOAT, you’re replacing his production. That’s going to have to come from all over, from the OTs, to WRs and RBs, and, yes, TEs. So far, I think the Patriots have done well to obtain talent all over to help fill in the massive hole Gronk’s retirement has left behind, but you’re not magically going to fill it up, or fill it more just because the guy is placed on the depth chart row marked “TE.” Mike Aboud

Marc makes an excellent point in the first of this series of tight end-related questions. With the exception of the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII, New England’s tight ends were most productive last season as run-blockers, opening up holes for rookie Sony Michel and the rest of the stable of backs. For the most part, Gronk, Allen, and Jacob Hollister, who was frequently inactive due to a hamstring issue, were not primary targets in the passing game. Hollister has since been shipped off to Seattle in a trade with the Seahawks.

Gronkowski, of course, will be missed as both a pass catcher and blocker, and his retirement, along with Allen’s release (and subsequent signing with Miami in March), leaves a gaping talent hole on New England’s tight end depth chart. The Patriots have thus far attempted to suture the wound by adding Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Matt LaCosse as veteran free agents, but Izzo and practice squad helper Stephen Anderson are far from being proven commodities at this point. Hence, the absolutely justified hue and cry for tight end help.

There’ve been recent rumors that former Patriot Benjamin Watson could end his brief retirement to come back to New England, which would add another body to the competition, but whether it would be enough to solve the problem at the position remains to be seen, if it happens. Barring some unforeseen acquisition of a proven veteran (such as Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph), there doesn’t appear to be much more the Patriots can do at this stage to bolster their depth chart at tight end. They’ll pretty much have to go with what they’ve got right now. Erik Scalavino

What’s going to happen with the QB room with the addition of [Jarrett] Stidham? I felt they had a good group going forward and now they used a fourth-round pick on a QB they didn’t really needed. I feel a deeper LB room was a more pressing need. Gabriel Villela

It seems like Stidham has a live arm and some ability to roll left or right and still deliver the ball where it needs to be. In your opinion, where does Stidham need to focus in order to improve and fit in to the Patriots system? Chris Noble

Aside from Tom Brady, New England’s quarterback situation is hardly the envy of the rest of the NFL. Veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer returns as the incumbent backup, with 2018 rookie draft choice Danny Etling having spent the entirety of last year on the practice squad. There were some media analysts who predicted New England might even take a quarterback in the first round of this draft, so, it shouldn’t have surprised you when the Patriots eventually selected a passer with a much lower pick.

Other than Brady’s, there isn’t a QB job on this team that’s 100-percent secure heading into this season. The coaching and scouting staffs clearly feel the same or else they wouldn’t have invested in another arm to add to the competition. I’m interested to see what Stidham can offer and where he might need to improve, just as I’m intrigued to find out how much year-two growth Etling can make this spring and summer. Erik Scalavino

Draft Week has been fun! Thank you for your analyses and insight these past days. After reading a bit, I get the impression that several of the incoming players provide positive leadership and can contribute positively to the locker room atmosphere. Do you agree with this impression? To me, this sort of stood out. I wonder how much of a factor personality plays for the Patriots when assessing and prioritizing players before the draft (I’ll take a qualified guess)? Greetings from Norway, and congratulations to our Danish neighbors! Trygve Johannes Lereim Saevareid

Your impression is one that we typically get from Patriots draft classes, so, it didn’t come as any surprise at all to me. New England often targets players who were team captains in college and solid citizens off the field. Those are certainly factors when the team selects players, but obviously, the overriding factor is whether or not they believe the player can help the team on the field. And yes, as you alluded to, we’re anxious to see Denmark native Hjalte Froholdt in uniform. The last time the Patriots drafted a European native on the o-line (Sebastian Vollmer), it worked out pretty well. Erik Scalavino

How many rookies make the team? I’ve been reading all kinds of pre-draft predictions and it seemed like five to six was the max. However, reading the post-draft analysis, I see a possibility that eight or even all 10 [rookie draft picks] make the team, although the DB [Kendarius] Webster is a long shot, but has some impressive physical skills. Plus, the Patriots usually find at least one undrafted rookie to make their roster. And we have so many guys from last year’s draft who were either on IR or the practice squad: [OL Isaiah] Wynn, [CB Duke] Dawson, [LB Christian] Sam, [WR Braxton] Berrios, [TE Ryan] Izzo, and [LB Ja’Whaun] Bentley. That seems like a lot of rookies and second-year players to make the squad. So what do you think? Bob Michaud

I think you should lower your expectations. First, aside from the first few players picked, the rest are all long-shots to make this team until they actually start competing and proving themselves. There aren’t a ton of openings on the roster and none of these players has yet to don a Patriots uniform or pads to show us what they can do as professionals. Again, harkening back to the first couple of questions of this column, you should absolutely be excited about any new draft class, including this one, bearing in mind that, as we saw last year, rookies often have a difficult time making the team at all and then having any sort of impact immediately. Erik Scalavino

Can [RB Rex] Burkhead be effective as a slot receiver? Just wondering, since the team drafted [Damien] Harris. It appears that Burkhead’s the odd man out in that stable of RBs, which is unfortunate since he does contribute (when healthy) and is affordable salary-cap wise. Jamie Baines

Burkhead is far from the odd man out at running back. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he’s a lock to make the roster because of his versatility as a ball carrier and pass catcher. You may remember that during the final drives of the AFC title game, it was Burkhead who got the call in the backfield because of that versatility. It’s also not unheard of for New England to keep up to five running backs on the 53-man roster. Harris, like every other rookie joining the team this year, needs to prove himself and earn a job on the roster. Guys like Burkhead, in my estimation, are safe. He need not worry about switching to wide receiver. Erik Scalavino

Seems like the Patriots had a good draft for as much as you can say that before any of them have played in the NFL, but two of their picks were surprising.

Picking the CB in the second round was actually perplexing to me because it’s one of the team’s deepest and strongest positions, with good young talent there and a big-contract guy in [Stephon] Gilmore, versus wide receiver or tight end. And at that point, many of the top-rated WRs were still on the board, such as Deebo Samuel, Andy Isabella, DJ Metcalf, etc. I heard several analysts say the draft was deep at tight end. So, what’s your thoughts on taking a player at a position low on priority chart, and passing on two positions that were the team’s top needs with great talent still there, even after picking up N'Keal Harry?

The RB selection in the fourth round was surprising given our depth there and fourth-round picks are pretty valuable. Not to use it on a safety or other position of relative need was a little surprising. Austin Evans

We at patriots.com actually discussed the possibility that New England could draft a corner somewhere in the top three picks, if the right kind of player fell to the Patriots, and that’s what seems to have happened with Joejuan Williams. My guess is, the reason he was added to what you correctly point out is a solid mixture of young and older cornerbacks is his unusual size for the position. Good cornerbacks aren’t normally almost 6-4, and if Williams can provide that kind of imposing presence which the Patriots haven’t had since Brandon Browner, that is too tempting to pass up.

I disagree with your second point about running back being a deep position on this team. Yes, there are three players whom I’d consider locks to make the squad again this year: Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. Brandon Bolden perhaps gets in there as well, but as a special teams contributor first. There’s room for another back who’s more of a bigger body, like Michel, either to spell Michel during games or, of his injuries scares continue in 2019, replace him for stretches of games. Damien Harris might be that kind of player.

Finally, I must correct an error you made, Austin. Harris was a third-round choice, not a fourth. Erik Scalavino

I always love all of your takes on things. I have two thoughts/questions. First, when Brady was drafted, did you think he was a starter? Second question: Since 2001, how many top-15 draft picks has New England had? Greg Findlay

First answer: No. Third-stringer or backup at best. Second answer: three, including the ’01 draft, which saw Richard Seymour go sixth overall. The others were Ty Warren in ’03 (13th overall) and Jerod Mayo (10th overall) in ’08. Erik Scalavino

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