The first Patriots-related question put to NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah concerned the two franchise cornerstones, not any future pillars.
On a conference call Thursday ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft, a reporter asked Jeremiah if having Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on board allows New England to take some unique chances in the draft. The expert, who served as a scout for three NFL teams before transitioning to television, said, “It’s always a nice fallback.”
Jeremiah noted the Patriots’ continuity at head coach and quarterback ensures they don’t have to do any guesswork when figuring out how potential picks will fit on the team. He added that, as a scout in Baltimore, the Ravens knew they had a leader in former linebacker Ray Lewis who would marshal any new defensive player.
“I had never been in a position with a team where we had anybody remotely close to what Tom does offensively, but man, that’s a nice luxury to have,” he said.
Even if the Patriots have their two top spots locked down, they still have holes to fill on the depth chart. New England signed Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to a one-year deal as they look to replace Rob Gronkowski. For Jeremiah, that move freed them up to search for a receiver-type tight end in the draft instead of one who primarily blocks.
“[Alabama tight end] Irv Smith is one that comes to mind as somebody that would be a complement to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and have your in-line guy to go along with your move guy,” he said.
Jeremiah also named Gronkowski when discussing another tight end in this year’s draft class. Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson is projected to come off the board well before the Patriots’ first pick (No. 32). Jeremiah noted many analysts have compared him to Gronkowski, but he believes the better comparison is Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.
“Gronk is a unicorn,” he said. “As big as he was and as athletic as he was, I don’t know that we’ll ever see anybody like him.”
Iowa has two tight end prospects, Hockenson and Noah Fant, expected to go in the first round. Jeremiah predicts teams swipe both players in the top 20, though he did note one of those teams could be New England, with their need at the position and ample draft capital.
“I would think if either one of the Iowa tight ends started to drop and drift a little bit that that would be one phone call away for the Patriots to go get them,” he said.
As for the quarterback position, Jeremiah named three players the Patriots could target: Duke’s Daniel Jones, NC State’s Ryan Finley, and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. He believes Jones won’t be there when the Patriots are on the clock, but both Finley and Stidham are in play.
Jeremiah noted Nick Caserio, the Patriots director of player personnel, attended Finley’s pro day.
“He operates the way they like to operate,” the analyst said. “He’s smart. He’s efficient. He gets the ball out of his hand quick. I think he fits offensively what Josh McDaniels wants to do and likes to do. I think he’d be a great fit there.”
Stidham excelled for Auburn in his first year after transferring from Baylor, but plateaued during the Tigers’ 8-5 season last year. Jeremiah offered that the quarterback is one of the draft’s “true wild cards” because while he’d be a top-five pick in shorts, Stidham did not realize his potential in college. Some of the blame for his struggles, Jeremiah said, lies at the feet of his lack of protection and Auburn’s offensive system.
“I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to develop him, but I could make a case he makes a lot of sense for the Patriots because they’ve got a little bit of time, no pun intended, with Tom there,” Jeremiah said. “He’s not going anywhere right now. That would give you a chance to really develop a guy like this with a potential huge upside. Really as much upside as any quarterback in the draft class. Stidham is very talented. So that might be a risk worth taking.”
The Patriots have 12 picks to play with when the draft begins Thursday at 8 p.m.