After being forced to sit around and watch the first six hours of the 2016 NFL draft, the Patriots went to work Friday night and began using some of their boatload of picks. The positions Bill Belichick targeted made a lot of sense. We'll need to wait a while to see if the individual players he selected were as logical.
Entering the weekend with 11 picks and four on Friday, the Patriots soon added one to their arsenal while moving down from the end of the second round into the middle of the third. Cornerback was the main need for the team in the eyes of PFW and Belichick seemed to agree when he tabbed Alabama corner Cyrus Jones at No. 60 overall.
A versatile corner who proved his worth playing on the outside for Nick Saban, Jones is also a dangerous punt returner. He returned four for touchdowns last season for the Tide, the most ever in a single season for a school with an illustrious football history.
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio handled the press conference duties at the end of the night and explained how Jones' ability to perform in a number of ways made him attractive.
"Jones was a versatile player who played mostly on the perimeter," he said. "His ability to return punts also was a plus. It's a hard skill to develop. When you have a multitude of players who can handle the ball you can distribute the workload."
Caserio wouldn't say whether Jones might take those duties away from Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman but he did admit to the grinding nature of handling those chores.
Jones is a scrappy performer at just 5-10 and 197 pounds. He arrived at Alabama as a wide receiver before making the switch to corner, and he took his lumps initially. But he steadily improved under Saban, one of the best defensive minds in college football, and he figures to immediately compete for a role in sub packages in the secondary that has scarcely little depth.
In terms of matching need and ability, the Jones pick was met with overwhelming approval. Things weren't as rosy the rest of the night, however.
New England followed that pick by trading its next one, just one slot later at 61, to New Orleans for a third-rounder (No. 78 overall) and a fourth-rounder (No. 112). It was a disappointing development given the talent that was still on the board, and when Belichick took NC State offensive lineman Joe Thuney things got even more curious.
By most accounts Thuney was a solid college offensive lineman. He played multiple roles for the Wolfpack, working at left tackle as well as both guard spots. Caserio even said offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia worked him out at center during the pre-draft process.
But for all his versatility there are questions about Thuney's ability to perform at the NFL level. Most of the projections have him moving to guard, where the Patriots have used a number of recent draft picks including last year's fourth-round tandem of Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson.
The need up front appeared to be tackle, where Sebastian Vollmer is entering the final year of his deal and the depth behind him was a glaring weakness last season. If Thuney can ultimately play tackle effectively while possessing the ability to win a spot at guard, then the pick will be well worth it. But the jury is out.
Things got even more curious when the Patriots grabbed Thuney's teammate Jacoby Brissett with their next pick at No. 91. Quarterback was on everyone's list of needs, but few if any felt one would go so high. Brissett is a big guy at 6-4 but has the ability to move and make plays with his legs.
Given Tom Brady's looming suspension, the team had an obvious need for a potential backup to Jimmy Garoppolo early in the season.
"We only have two quarterbacks on our roster so we knew we were going to add a quarterback regardless [of Brady's suspension]," Caserio said. "That's always an important position on any team. We'll go through the spring and the process and we'll control the things that we can control and see what it looks like."
While it's true the Patriots always have three quarterbacks on their roster during the spring, many of those No. 3s have been free agents and inexperienced players looking to settle in. Last year Garrett Gilbert spent much of the early offseason in New England before being let go.
The decision to bring in Brissett with such a high pick is perhaps an indication that Garoppolo could be dealt at some point next offseason as he would then be entering the final year of his rookie deal. But that would only make sense if Brissett proved his worth, and at the end of the third round it would seem a player who could potentially help in the present could have been had.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="433121"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]The Patriots finished things by targeting another position that many felt would be addressed: defensive tackle. But once again it was the individual that was questionable. Nebraska's Vincent Valentine got the call with the 96th overall pick. He's a mammoth 6-4, 330-pound who is definitely more in the mold of Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Terrence Knighton than the likes of Dominique Easley and Chris Jones, the two recent players New England discarded at the position.
With more athletic options at defensive tackle, like Notre Dame's Sheldon Day on the board, the Valentine pick was a bit of a surprise. But that was par for the course on a night that saw Belichick still manage to keep us all guessing even when he seemed to be on the same page in terms of positions.
Time will tell if the coach is set to prove us wrong yet again.