The Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots have just agreed to a trade in which New England receives Los Angeles’ first round pick (No. 23) and sixth round pick for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and its fourth round selection.
WR Brandin Cooks
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 3, 2018
For the Patriots, the addition of a second pick in the first round is major. This is a team that had four picks in total during the previous draft; now, New England has four in the first two rounds. When teams have multiple picks in the first round, as the Patriots now do (with selections 23 and 31), there can be speculation that the team would consider trading up for a quarterback. With five (six?) quarterbacks likely to go in the first round this year, Bill Belichick could see an opportunity to snag an heir apparent to Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo was supposed to be this player, but Brady has defied aging to date and put the Patriots in a position where they had to move Garoppolo (and Jacoby Brissett).
Of this year’s quarterbacks, New England probably has its eyes on Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson. Picks 23 and 31, taken together, are 1,350 points on the draft trade value chart. This would equate to the ninth pick, which is currently held by the San Francisco 49ers (whose second round pick, interestingly enough, New England already possesses from the Garoppolo trade). Without breaking the bank, the Patriots cannot likely get into the Top Five picks, but it seems more and more likely every day that neither Rosen nor Jackson will be drafted in the Top Five. Even if New England traded into the eighth (Chicago Bears) or ninth slot, they would still leapfrog quarterback-needy division rivals in Miami and Buffalo (assuming no trade up from either team).
Simply keeping a top quarterback away from Miami and Buffalo serves a purpose (though likely not one worth all of that draft capital). On the other end, staying at 23 and 31 would allow New England to stock up on some desperately needed talent. With Brandin Cooks gone, some are attempting to spin the Patriots’ remaining wide receiver corps as adequate. I would disagree. Tom Brady is probably fine without a true No. 1, but neglecting to provide a top wideout for a quarterback of Brady’s caliber is roster construction malpractice.
When looking at first-round caliber wide receivers, the most natural fit in New England is Calvin Ridley. Coach Belichick has a strong rapport with Alabama head man Nick Saban, and it is not crazy to think that playing for Saban would prepare one to play for Belichick. Ridley is a mature receiver who does the little things, like route running, well. The Patriots could easily weaponize Ridley.
In addition, adding No. 23 opens up a slate of possibilities on the defensive side of the ball, especially at linebacker. The Belichick-era Patriots have a great tradition of superb linebacker play, from Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Willie McGinest to Dont’a Hightower in the modern day. At 23, top linebackers like Alabama’s Rashaan Evans and Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch are likely to be available. Either one would be a Patriot-style backer, in a different way. Evans is a technical wizard with the versatility to rush the passer and stifle the run. Vander Esch is a thumper who is also surprisingly athletic – he can move a 6-foot-4, 256-pound frame at a 4.65-second 40 yard dash clip, which is impressive.
Cornerback is another possibility. With Malcolm Butler on the sideline, the Patriots’ lack of secondary depth was exposed in the Super Bowl. While Iowa’s Josh Jackson and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward may be gone by the time the Patriots pick, a defender like Alabama’s Anthony Averett could work out. Jaire Alexander may be a fit, too. New England was purportedly in on the Richard Sherman sweepstakes, but lost out to San Francisco. In the draft, they get another crack at the position.