By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — On NFL Draft weekend, each and every team has one goal in mind and one goal only: Receiving high marks from random people who go online to assign grades to each team’s work.
That is, of course, a facetious statement, as every team enters the draft with a plan and does its best to execute it. Certainly, looking at results, most teams are unsuccessful more than they are successful. Nevertheless, the Draft Grade Industry exists and thrives in a football-crazed sports world.
So, while we won’t know how well teams actually drafted this year for another couple of years, we do have draft grades. Here’s a roundup of how the so-called experts graded the work done by Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and the New England Patriots.
As a reminder, here are the 10 players drafted by the Patriots:
Wide Receiver N’Keal Harry
Cornerback Joejuan Williams
Defensive End Chase Winovich
Running Back Damien Harris
Tackle Yodny Cajuste
Guard/Center Hjalte Froholdt
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham
Defensive Tackle Byron Cowart
Punter Jake Bailey
Cornerback Ken Webster
NFL.com, Chad Reuter
Money quote: “They found a steal in Winovich in the third round. He’s the type of high-motor, versatile lineman who will be a factor early on. Harris is an all-around talent who was worthy of a selection 20 picks earlier than his drafting spot.”
ESPN.com, Mel Kiper Jr.
Money quote: “Williams is a rare 6-foot-4 cornerback and had first-round tape in 2018; he dropped because he ran a curiously slow 4.64-second 40 at the combine. I thought he needed to land in the right scheme, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Belichick match him up on tight ends early in his career. … There are a lot of needs filled here, and if Harry, Williams and Winovich can get on the field early, I feel good about this being one of the draft’s best classes from top to bottom.”
Sports Illustrated, Andy Benoit
Money quote: “Out of sheer principle, we should bump the Patriots up a half-letter grade for not looking for Tom Brady’s replacement. That six-time World Champion horse is worth riding to the very, very end.”
Yahoo Sports, Eric Edholm
Money quote: “Frankly, we could have picked any of their first four selections [as their best], as they all felt like second-round talents in our minds. … They did a good job of accumulating talent and great value, especially in the first three rounds, and came away with one of their more interesting drafts in a few years. Picking at the bottom of every round didn’t hurt at all, and they got Chicago’s fourth-rounder next year, too.”
USA Today, Nate Davis
Money quote: “Sure appears like another impressive haul. First-round WR N’Keal Harry’s skills seem perfectly suited to where Tom Brady is in the twilight (right?) of his career. All of the Day 2 picks (CB Joejuan Williams, OLB/DE Chase Winovich, RB Damien Harris and, maybe, OT Yodny Cajuste) appear poised to contribute immediately to a team that lost key players in free agency.”
Touchdown Wire, Doug Farrar
Money quote: “The Patriots didn’t take a tight end in this draft to replace Rob Gronkowski, but first-round receiver N’Keal Harry from Arizona State has the contested catch ability to do a lot of the things Gronk did to help Tom Brady in the short to intermediate passing game. … New England also won Scrabble in this draft, taking two offensive linemen with high potential in West Virginia tackle Yodny Cajuste and Arkansas guard Hjalte Froholdt. Watch out for Alabama running back Damien Harris as a factor if the Patriots keep up their power-running game as effectively as they did last season.”
Pro Football Focus, PFF Analysis Team
Grade: Above Average
(on a scale of Below Average to Excellent)
Money quote: “Masterful Day 2 trades set New England up to add significant value in Rounds 2 and 3. Former Michigan edge defender Chase Winovich, PFF’s No. 28 overall player in the class, fell into the laps of Bill Belichick & Co. at pick No. 77 on Friday. More than just a high-effort player, Winovich is coming off back-to-back seasons with grades over 90.0 overall – the only such qualifying Power-5 player in the draft class that can boast that.”
CBSSports.com, Pete Prisco
Money quote: “I love second-round corner Joejuan Williams. He was the captain of my Better-Than team – guys I love more than the scouts. … The Patriots nailed it again. Even though I didn’t love the Harry pick, he will be a producer. The rest of the draft I loved. Williams and third-round edge rusher Chase Winovich are vintage Patriots players. The only flaw: They took a punter in the fifth round.”
Rotoworld, Evan Silva
Money quote: “Bill Belichick proceeded to crush pick after pick, landing a powerful possession receiver with elite post-catch production in Harry, a 6-foot-4 bump-and-run corner who generated first-round grades in Williams, Rob Ninkovich clone Winovich, 2018’s Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year in Cajuste, and flexible center/guard prospect Froholdt, who allowed just five QB pressures and zero sacks last year. I wasn’t impressed with Harris on tape, but he is a do-it-all back who will probably look good in New England’s system.”
SB Nation, Dan Kadar
Money quote: “Watch the Patriots turn offensive linemen Yodny Cajuste and Hjalte Froholdt into good starters.”
Washington Post, Mark Maske
Money quote: “The Super Bowl champs made five picks in the first three rounds and used them well. It’s easy to envision first-round WR N’Keal Harry, second-round CB Joejuan Williams and third-round pass rusher Chase Winovich having roles as rookies. QB Jarrett Stidham was a terrific value pick late in the fourth round. Could he be Tom Brady’s eventual successor?”
New York Post, Steve Serby
Money quote: “A fiercely competitive and dependable 6-2, 228-pound target for Tom Brady (Harry), a big, smart cornerback (Joejuan Williams), a relentless, long-haired blond Mike Vrabel (LB Chase Winovitch) [sic] … and a potential heir apparent QB of the future (Stidham). Bill Belichick drafts best available Patriot.”
Now, internet draft grades being what they are, each of these grades should be taken with a grain of salt. Or maybe an entire box of salt. Or perhaps the entire salt factory.
The truth is, even people who spend their life evaluating players and making real decisions for real teams struggle to be correct very often when it comes to selecting players in the drafts. So removing a layer or two of expertise from that equation makes it an even dodgier proposition to dole out grades and rankings and such when the reality is that nobody knows how any of the 254 players drafted will fare in the NFL. (Except for Daniel Jones. Everyone knows that guy’s going to stink.)
From a Patriots perspective, you almost have to be slightly concerned that the so-called experts were all almost unanimously extremely high on the Patriots’ draft class. The entire Bill Belichick dynastic reign for two decades has been about thinking outside the box, zigging instead of zagging, finding Edelman-esque diamonds in the rough, discovering the greatest quarterback of all time at No. 199, and turning draft-day “reaches” into no-doubt-about-it home runs. The fact that commoners, mere peons in the football world, feel great about what the Patriots did this weekend? Why, that’s a red flag right there.
But, any way you slice it, there’s no way to feel bad about the 2019 Patriots draft class. They addressed some needs, they acquired some terrific athletes as well as some potential projects, and they traded up to draft a punter. Sounds like the perfect Patriots draft.