New England Sports React

Pats’ Picks Puzzling

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Dominique Easley (top) and Jimmy Garoppolo (bottom) were among the Pats’ most puzzling picks during this year’s NFL Draft.

What the hell are they doing?

Such was the question raised by many a Patriots fan following the first and even second day of the 2014 NFL draft. And rightfully so. After New England surprisingly held onto their first-round pick (29th overall), they decided to use it on Dominique Easley, a defensive lineman from Florida who’s college career was marked by both impressive displays of talent as well as two torn ACL’s. Many questioned whether the risk was worth the possible reward, which, according to many experts, could be immense if Easley manages to stay healthy. And considering the fact that the versatile lineman tore ACL’s in both knees, that’s an extremely big IF. They took a similar risk in 2010 when they drafted Rob Gronkowski with their second-round pick, a tight end whose days at Arizona State were similarly marked by injury. Look how that panned out. The ‘Gronk’ has turned out to be as fragile as a piece of china, but when he’s played, the team’s ability to score has increased tenfold. Gronkowski brings the Pats offense to an elite level when he’s on the field, which is why he was a projected first-rounder (possibly a top-10 pick) if not for the questions surrounding his health.

Easley has the same potential on the defensive side of the ball, though it remains to be seen if he’ll have the same explosiveness that he showed prior to his second torn ACL. The former Florida Gator recorded 72 tackles (18 for a loss) and 5.5 sacks during his college tenure, showing the ability to both rush the passer with success as well as consistency closing running lanes and stopping opposing running backs. He often drew double teams yet still managed to get the job done efficiently. There’s no questioning Easley’s ability; he was touted to be a top-15 pick if not for his problems staying on the field. We’ll see if that talent and abbreviated success will translate into NFL supremacy or just another injury-shortened career.

Following their first-round shocker, the Patriots turned even more heads with their second-round pick. Selecting at 62nd overall, New England went with Jimmy Garoppolo, a quarterback out of Eastern Illinois that was the highest pick at that position in the Bill Belichick-Robert Kraft era. The decision to go with a QB as early as the second round had both experts and fans assuming that the team is preparing a succession plan for Tom Brady. Belichick confirmed these rumors, leaving those same individuals wondering just how long the future hall-of-famer has left with the team despite four years remaining on his current contract. The proverbial Father Time is counting down the days when Brady will no longer be under center in Foxboro, and ‘The Hoodie’ needs to be prepared for the day he walks away. Thats why it was so vital that the Pats took a quarterback early, while there was still some considerable talent left. Now, the coaching staff, as well as ‘Tom Terrific’ himself, have at least two years to groom Garoppolo, preparing him for a starting role once Brady ‘hangs ’em up’ or is moved.

And if anyone was going to be the one to take the reigns from Tom, it was Garoppolo. While he wasn’t among the most notable of the highly-touted draft prospects at the position, Garoppolo is probably the best fit for the Pats system. An individual with a spotless off-the-field record and the ability to lead a team, the former Panther broke Tony Romo’s school records for career passing touchdowns, yards, and passing touchdowns in a season; Garoppolo passed for 5,050 yards in 2013 (his senior year) with 53 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. He finished his Eastern Illinois career with 118 touchdowns and 13,156 yards. Of the two early-round picks, this one made the most sense (to me, at least). If Brady is unwilling to renegotiate his contract after two years, which many expect the team to request of him, there’s a chance they may move on from the dedicated Patriot. They need a replacement ready, and Garoppolo seems to be a good fit. He’s accurate with the short and intermediate throws, often leading his receivers for yards after the catch (YAC), a key to success in the Pats offense. He throws a tight spiral and is comfortable in the pocket. His main flaw is throwing the deep ball, which, as we learned with Brady, can be improved over time. What’s most important is that he already has the intangibles to excel in this offense; he just needs to further hone his skills to match the elite competition he will face in this league. Is this the guy to replace our beloved Tom Brady? We’ll find out…eventually.

-Ryan Hartley

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