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Patriots Replay Thu May 28 | 02:00 PM - 11:59 PM

View from Above: A head-scratching draft, but for the right reasons?

Gotta admit it.  I'm left scratching my head a little bit.

Perhaps the 2018 NFL Draft, from a New England Patriots' perspective, could best be described as the "In Bill We Must Trust Again" draft?  

When we last left our intrepid heroes-to-be on the gridiron, they were engaged in a stop-me-if-you-can game of racing up and down the field against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.  They needed one stop defensively, basically, to become a 6-time Lombardi Trophy holder.  Right?

They didn't get it.  

It was easy to make the leap from that result to this past weekend's NFL Draft, where many thought the Patriots might mend the front-seven on defense, add a pass rusher on the end - maybe a linebacker that could bring some heat, too - and bring in some depth to the mix on both sides of the ball to keep this team in position to do what it has done for nearly two decades.

And that's compete for a championship, again.  Those predictable Patriots, you can set your clocks to their precision in knowing what they need to do to stay relevant, stay competitive.

Except, they fooled us all.   

Absolutely zero problems with the Georgia duo selected in the 1st round - Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel both graded highly in pre-draft assessments, and offensive line and running back were thought to be draftable areas of need in the buildup to the three-day selection-fest.

But the perceived areas of immediate need - specifically on the defensive side of the ball, where New England was ravaged by an Eagle offense under the direction of a backup quarterback - weren't addressed until the 5th and 6th rounds when linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam were chosen.

The quarterback of the future everyone thought was due to arrive?  He may still figure into that equation, but 7th round pick Danny Etling of LSU was nowhere to be found on most (or all?) Patriot mock-draft boards.

Are we all that dense as to what this team really needs and wants, or is this coaching staff and front office losing its grip on the fastball they've been firing at the rest of the NFL for nearly 20 years?

Neither.  

The results of this past weekend's draft say a couple of things.  One - that our perception of what the Patriots need and what the Patriots should do is still ever-clouded by our own traditional (and often naïve) thinking.  In other words, we see you give up a lot of yards and points, we say you need defense.

In reality, and this has since been pointed out by draft pundits and reporters, the 2018 Draft turned out to be top-heavy defensively.  By the time the Patriots were ready to roll at #23 in the first round, potential targets (those that fit Patriot needs) to point toward were off the board.   

Two - the Patriots also know what they already have coming back on defense, and they like what they see.  Derek Rivers never got off the sideline with an injury last season.  Harvey Langi and Dont'a Hightower, neither player on the field in Minneapolis, return at linebacker from injuries.  

Newcomers Adrian Clayborn and Danny Shelton are added to this mix, too, and they'll get the chance to fix at least some of the flaws we saw occur in February.

Oh, and the QB thing?  Seems to me the Patriots believe their QB of the future is already here.  

And one more thing.  The Patriots steadfastly hold to what they believe is the true value of a selection, no matter where it comes - or who it is.

"What we try to do is assign value to the player," Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio said following the draft's Saturday conclusion.  "We have a pretty intricate grading system that we use, so assign the value and then look at it relative to where you have to pick, what are your other options going to be?

"It's not necessarily about how good is the draft, (but) how good is the talent?" Caserio added.  "You just try to sort through it and just try to pick the players that fit your team, your program as best as possible and just make a good decision now, make the right decision and then just move forward."

Bill Belichick said prior to the draft the "need vs. availability" dilemma is a drafting trap they try not to fall into.  "If you take a player at a position that you might so-call 'need' but he's not good enough to fill that need, then it's a wasted pick," the coach explained.  "So, I don't understand the whole 'need thing.  

"I understand player value, and that's what we try to go by."

It's hard to argue against this philosophy, since it has largely rewarded the Patriots for the past 19 years.  It hasn't been perfect, of course.   

But that head-scratching going on for the past few days?  Guess I should be checking for dandruff, instead.  

The future is now

It certainly is what we're led to believe, isn't it?  

If the Patriots didn't think enough of the 2018 Draft class at quarterback to move up with an eye toward the future - or, select another candidate (Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph, Kyle Lauletta, Luke Falk) when they might have had the chance - don't they now think Tom Brady has more than just a year or two of gas left in his tank?

Not for nuthin', but if the Tennessee Titans (under head coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson, both ex-Patriot employees) weren't already obvious enough in trying to play copycats here, they outdid themselves by selecting Washington State QB Falk with pick #199 - the same pick number where Brady was finally chosen back in 2000.

Can lightning strike twice at the same pick number in the draft?  Time will only tell, of course.  But as to the first lightning strike in this case, New England must feel TB12 still has some energy to share with the rest of us.

This doesn't mean Danny Etling (at pick #219 overall) won't be the heir-apparent in the backfield to Brady at some point.  What it does mean, is that the Patriots already know what they have at the position, and that he's good-to-go for at least the foreseeable future.  This allows Etling time to show he can learn, and play.  It also allows the Patriots to do their due diligence on QB's over the next couple of years, as well.  

Just in case they decide they need one.  Because right now, they already have what they need.

Feel good stories

It's hard not to be a little excited - and intrigued - about twin brothers competing on the same team next fall.  The Patriots added Jason McCourty to the mix in the defensive backfield this spring, joining his twin brother Devin who has been a mainstay (and a Pro Bowl player) at safety.

While that is certainly a great story for Patriot fans to follow, there will be a second set of twins competing on the same team in 2018 as well.  Seattle selected linebacker Shaquem Griffin from the University of Central Florida in the 5th round, and he will join his twin brother Shaquill - already on the Seahawks' roster as a cornerback.

What makes this particular twin-feature notable is that Shaquem had his left hand amputated at age 4 due to a congenital defect.  Playing with one hand, Shaquem was a two-year starter at UCF and a two-time all-American Athletic Conference selection for the Knights.  He projects to playing on the outside with the Seahawks, as he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

Griffin has also been an outstanding example of perseverance for the disabled, as well as able-bodied fans across the country.
But Shaquem almost missed his big moment on Saturday, when the Seahawks were ready to make the pick.  He was at the draft in Dallas, but in the bathroom at the time.  His brother Shaquill had to chase him down.

"My brother kind of tackled me with my cellphone saying, 'Answer it! Answer it!'" Shaquem told the media.  "I looked, and that's when tears just started pouring down.  I was in the restroom and my brother busted in and tackled me."

"They own this extraordinary connection that I think also is a demonstration of love and heart and all of the cool things about what they represent," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said after the selection, and he added that Shaquill didn't campaign much for the team to draft his brother.  "He (Shaquem) overcame a tremendous amount by just believing in himself, and I think the belief of his brother in him, as well, which is obvious, was also part of all of that.  It's a great story."

A great story for all football fans to follow next fall, for sure.

John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has completed 25 seasons as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 30 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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