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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed May 29 - 04:00 PM | Thu May 30 - 09:55 AM

Six Takeaways From Eliot Wolf's Pre-Draft Press Conference 

The Patriots Director of Scouting previewed the 2024 NFL Draft in a 20-minute Q&A with reporters on Thursday morning. 

With one week remaining until the 2024 NFL Draft, Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf held a pre-draft press conference at Gillette Stadium on Thursday.

New England's personnel chief, who will have the final say on the Patriots selections in this year's draft, covered a wide range of topics about the state of the roster heading into next week's draft.

Here are the top takeaways from Wolf's nearly 20-minute Q&A with reporters:

1. Patriots are "Open for Business" in "Ongoing" Trade Talks Involving the No. 3 Pick

During his media availability at the league meetings last month, head coach Jerod Mayo said the Patriots were open to trading down if a team offered a "bag" for the number three pick.

"If someone offers a bag, as we would say, a lot of first-round picks, we definitely have to talk about those things as we continue to put together the team," Mayo said in March. "The guaranteed way to win is to accumulate more picks. If we don't feel convicted at number three, we are willing to do that [trade the pick] as well.

On Thursday, Wolf characterized trade discussions with teams looking to acquire the No. 3 draft choice as "ongoing" while acknowledging that the "bag" Mayo referenced hasn't been offered yet. Like the head coach, New England's de facto GM could see it going either way.

"We are open to anything. Moving up, moving down: we are open for business in the first round and in every round," Wolf said about trade discussions. "We have some holes we feel like we need to fill in the draft, and we are a draft and develop team. The more picks we have, the better. But if there's an opportunity to move up and strike, if the board recommends it, we won't be afraid to pull the trigger on that either."

Although nothing has materialized yet on the trade market, the Patriots don't appear to be married to sticking and picking at three overall. As they rebuild the roster, accumulating more picks seems like a priority for the top decision-makers in the organization. The Pats have several holes to fill and need an overall talent upgrade at the top of the roster offensively. Trading down might be disappointing for some, but there's logic to it.

For those who would be frustrated by a trade-down, Wolf said there's a group of players the Patriots would be comfortable with taking if a trade-down doesn't materialize. Wolf was asked if the team is comfortable taking quarerbacks Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, and J.J. McCarthy with the third overall pick depending on how the board falls.

"Ya, I think that's fair, and I think you could open it up to some other names as well," Wolf said. "I think we'd be comfortable with [picking a quarterback at three overall]."

As you would expect, with the draft a week away, all options remain on the table for the Patriots.

2. Wolf Classifies Quarterback Class as "Unique" With Six QBs in the Mix

Along with discussing trade scenarios for the Patriots in the draft, Wolf also shed some light on this year's crop of quarterbacks, with the team doing extensive pre-draft work on this QB class.

According to reports, the Patriots hosted top quarterbacks Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy, and Michael Penix Jr. for 30 visits in Foxboro over the last few weeks. The Pats top decision-makers also attended Daniels, Maye, and McCarthy's Pro Day's and had meetings with each prospect privately, while a smaller contingent went to Washington for Penix's workout.

Wolf has been impressed by the depth of this quarterback class throughout the process, referring to a group of six quarterbacks who are all worthy of being selected with a high pick. Along with the names above, projected first-overall pick Caleb Williams and Oregon QB Bo Nox would presumably make up the six signal-callers that Wolf referenced.

With the Patriots making trips to these prospect's college campuses, Wolf explained the value of speaking with each quarterback's teammates to get to know how they're received by their peers.

"Again, you singled out two of them. I think it's a unique year. I'd say that's been impressive with all six of these quarterbacks," Wolf said. "The best thing is hearing what their teammates say about them. They're both very well thought of by all their teammates. Obviously, Michigan has a ton of guys in the draft. North Carolina, not as many, but they still have some significant guys. It's just hearing how impressive they are as teammates, as people, as leaders."

From this perspective, the Patriots are likely to stay at three and take the best available quarterback with the third overall pick. But their quarterback board certainly sounds larger than just the names we routinely mention at the top.

When you combine Wolf's answers on trading down with his feelings on the depth in this class, the Patriots seem comfortable with several of these quarterbacks being their guy.

3. Wolf Defends Patriots Current Offensive Personnel, Believes it Can Support Rookie QB

One narrative picking up steam about New England's current offensive personnel is that the Patriots roster isn't ready to support a rookie quarterback.

Those who feel this way often cite lacking skill talent and holes that remain along the offensive line. Although it's fair to say the Patriots aren't a ready-made situation for a young quarterback, Wolf disagrees with the line of thinking that the Pats should be wary of selecting a quarterback in the first round because the roster isn't ready to support him.

"I read a lot of that storyline. I'm not really sure what that means. We have a solid offensive line. We re-signed Mike Onwenu, we have David Andrews coming back, we have three rookies that we drafted last year that are developing, we signed [Chuks] Okorafor from the Steelers. Hunter Henry. A good running game. A solid foundation and a solid system in place with Coach Van Pelt on the offense. I definitely like that we can support [a rookie quarterback]," Wolf said.

Later in the press conference, Wolf was pressed again on the current state of the offensive personnel.

"We have NFL receivers, we have NFL tight ends, we have NFL running backs, we have NFL offensive linemen. We feel good about where we are, and we feel through free agency, on the offensive side in particular, that we've supplemented our roster, so we're not having to draft for need as much offensively," he continued.

The high-end supporting talent on offense seems lacking from the outside looking in. The Patriots have complementary playmakers, and the offensive line could come together if they address left tackle with a premium draft pick. But they're still searching for a top receiver to establish a proper hierarchy in their passing game, which has been an ongoing issue.

Although we don't subscribe to the theory that the Patriots should wait to draft a quarterback next year until the roster is in better shape, it remains to be seen if they can support a rookie quarterback. That said, a lot can change if the quarterback they select is a truly franchise-altering talent, a la C.J. Stroud in Houston, or if they hit on a receiver or tackle.

4. Patriots Search for Wide Receiver Talent Continues via the Draft or Trade

Speaking of wide receivers, the Patriots continue to search for an elite playmaker who can produce at a high level and dictate coverage as a high-impact player in the passing game.

In free agency, New England aggressively pursued Titans wideout Calvin Ridley with a lucrative contract offer. However, Wolf gave a blunt answer as to why the Patriots didn't land Ridley, with the former Falcons and Jaguars receiver heading to Tennessee over New England.

"Another team offered more money [for Ridley] would be the main thing," Wolf said.

On paper, the Patriots appear to have several receivers who could compete for a role in the slot or as the primary Z receiver. However, Wolf acknowledged they lack a prototypical outside receiver who can consistently beat the coverage to play the X position.

"We have players who can line up and play at X receiver. Do we have players that on a 3x1 [formation] can beat the backside coverage every single time? I'm not sure we have that just yet," Wolf said.

In Cleveland, Amari Cooper was that one-on-one winner in offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt's offense, so it makes sense that the Patriots were in on a similar route-running technician in Ridley. As Wolf described, Van Pelt often isolated Cooper on the backside of formations. That receiver for the Patriots could come via the draft or trade.

Rumors have swirled all offseason about the availability of certain veteran wideouts, including Bengals receiver Tee Higgins and 49ers star Brandon Aiyuk. Although those players remain with their current teams, the Patriots aren't closing the door on acquiring a veteran receiver via trade.

"We've had conversations with teams about different scenarios," Wolf said. Not just at receiver but at other positions. That's definitely something that we'd be open to."

In the draft, you'd have to imagine the focus will be more on outside receivers, with Kendrick Bourne returning alongside second-year WR Demario Douglas and the addition of vet K.J. Osborn. Along with being more complementary pieces, the trio is also better in Z/slot roles.

With their first pick likely to be a quarterback, some names to watch in the X receiver mold on day two are Adonai Mitchell, Keon Coleman, Ladd McConkey, Tez Walker, and Brenden Rice.

5. Chuks Okorafor Projects as Starting Left Tackle "If Season Started Today"

Sticking with the veterans already on the roster, the Patriots personnel chief told reporters that the current plan would be to start free-agent addition Chuks Okorafor at left tackle.

"If the season started today, which I get on the guys about using that phrase, I think it would be [Chuks] Okorafor. But that's probably more of a question for Coach Mayo," Wolf said.

After being selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Okorafor started 59 games over six seasons in Pittsburgh, earning a second contract with the Steelers. However, Okorafor hasn't played left tackle regularly since his college days at Western Michigan. During his stint with the Steelers, Okorafor was primarily a right tackle.

Wolf said the Patriots feel good about Okorafor playing left tackle after revisiting his college film. The well-built veteran has the necessary measurables to play either tackle spot, standing at 6-6 with 34.5-inch arms. Still, flipping sides after training for so long at right tackle isn't an easy transition, while sudden changes of direction have given him problems in pass protection.

The Patriots director of scouting's comments about Okorafor reinforce that the team views Mike Onwenu as the starting right tackle. For now, Okorafor can be a steady bridge to a draft pick. But getting a higher-upside pass protector at left tackle should be a priority.

6. Smaller Group of Decision-Makers Will Reach a Consensus on the Pick

With the Patriots putting the finishing touches on the pre-draft process, it's customary for the top decision-makers to meet in a smaller group to reach a consensus.

At this point, the room can be rather large, with area scouts and position coaches in the meeting rooms. However, Wolf said he'll eventually trim the room to Coach Mayo, Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh, and the coordinators on both sides of the ball. Then, Mayo and Wolf will hopefully find common ground before Wolf makes the final call.

"At the end of the day, somebody has to make the decision. But there's a group of people we are relying on to help make these decisions. Obviously, Coach Mayo is heavily involved. The coaching staff, whatever coordinator is on the side of the ball we pick, and the scouting department. If I'm the only person that wants a player and everybody else in the building doesn't want a player, I'm not crazy. We are going to try to do what's right," Wolf said.

As rumors swirl about the Patriots draft plans, it's important to remember that not even people in the building know what's happening at this stage. Although there's a general sense of what could happen, the final decision often isn't made until 24-48 hours before the draft.

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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