Much of the drama of the draft had long since been eliminated from Foxborough well before the event kicked off Thursday night in Philadelphia. The Patriots dealt their first two picks to New Orleans and Carolina for veterans Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy, respectively, leaving Bill Belichick without much to work with.
Still, the presence of Jimmy Garoppolo and Malcolm Butler held some hope that potential blockbuster deals could be made to make a New England a draft night player once again, but that too evaporated when Cleveland and New Orleans – two teams that were interested in the aforementioned Patriots – seemed content to go in different directions.
The Browns dealt with Houston instead, and wound up using three first-round picks rather than trading for Garoppolo. On Friday they grabbed Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer in the second round, giving them a quarterback to develop and perhaps close the door for good on Garoppolo.
The Saints jumped on Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the 11th pick, seemingly rendering Butler a mere afterthought in the process.
Belichick was quick to point out the lack of firepower did not mean the Patriots lacked fire, however. The coach took the podium before the third round had ended Friday night and quickly mentioned the four players the team acquired in the offseason – Cooks, Ealy, tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Mike Gillislee – are very much part of this draft class. All were acquired with draft picks earlier this spring.
That part of the draft figures to help the team in 2017. The rest of the class, at least the first two picks, are more likely to contribute down the road.
Belichick swung two more trades, first working down from 72 to 83 to select Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers. The 6-4, 248-pounder fills what many believed to be one of the team's rare needs as a pass rusher, and his speed could be welcome addition on the edge if he develops. He recorded 36 sacks over three seasons including 14 last year.
Coming from an FCS school, Rivers is far from a finished product but he has a couple of factors working in his favor. First, his coach with the Penguins was Bo Pelini, the former Nebraska boss who spent nine years in the NFL including three as linebackers coach with the Patriots from 1997-99 under Pete Carroll. Belichick has a good relationship with Pelini and that background surely helped in his evaluation, and having an experienced NFL coach certainly helped Rivers with his development. Rivers also performed well at the Senior Bowl, which allowed talent evaluators to assess his abilities against solid competition.
Belichick soon traded again, this time moving up from 96 to 85 to select Antonio Garcia, a 6-6, 302-pound tackle out of Troy. Garcia is considered to be quite gifted physically but a bit raw, which is fine for New England since Belichick likely doesn't plan to have him on the field in 2017.
But starting left tackle Nate Solder is entering the final year of his contract and the Patriots could be in the market for a replacement. Belichick has selected the heir apparent at that position a year early in the past. In fact, he did so in 2011 with Solder himself, who was taken 17th overall a year before mainstay Matt Light retired.
So the Patriots may not have been huge players in the draft, and with just three picks currently at their disposal for Saturday that doesn't figure to change. But rookies aren't the only draft picks who can make an impact, and Belichick believes he used plenty of draft capital to improve his team in 2017 and beyond.