New England Patriots: 2014 NFL draft

Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

May, 11, 2014
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. When it came to tight ends in the 2014 draft for the Patriots, I think it was a case where supply didn't meet demand. There were not a lot of viable options for the team in this year's class as they only saw a fit with a very small number of prospects and ultimately didn't draft at the position. It's amazing, in some respects, to think that the team had the position seemingly solidified in the short- and long-term two years ago with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Now, it's one of their bigger question marks on offense.

2. On the trade front, I don't think things materialized the way the Patriots hoped this year late in the first round. Unlike 2013 when the team received a 4-for-1 haul for its No. 29 pick, my sense is that there were much more moderate discussions this year and this is reflected by the compensation exchanged in other first-round deals made around the NFL (teams weren't giving up a lot to move up, in part because of the depth of the draft). I do believe the Patriots still would have liked to trade down, but in the end, there just wasn't a partner willing to dance with a worthwhile enough offer. So given the dynamics in play, they were happy to turn in the card with Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

3. In 15 drafts, I can't think of a riskier first-round pick by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. No one is denying that Dominique Easley is a big-time talent. At the same time, a player with bilateral ACLs -- a.k.a. torn ACLs in both knees over the last three seasons -- comes with a medical file not usually associated with the team's top pick. One could argue that medical advancements have reached a point where players are now coming back stronger after reconstruction. Still, if everyone thought that way, Easley wouldn't have lasted until the 29th pick. The Patriots are hoping that Easley can do what 49ers running back Frank Gore did -- tear both ACLs in college before becoming one of the NFL's most durable players at his position.

[+] Enlarge Jimmy Garoppolo
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowYou have to wonder why a team such as the Texans didn't bite on Jimmy Garoppolo before the Patriots did.
4. Whether it would have actually unfolded that way is only known by the key decision-makers in Seattle and Houston, but I think the Patriots felt they scooped both teams with their top picks, defensive lineman Dominique Easley (first round, No. 29) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, No. 62). Specific to Garoppolo, the link between what the Patriots value in a quarterback and what the Bill O'Brien-led Texans do is obviously similar. O'Brien ended up with Tom Savage in the fourth round. That may work out just fine in the long run, but I wonder if he's second-guessing the Texans not being able to pull off a minor trade back into the bottom of the second round to leapfrog the Patriots and land Garoppolo. The quarterback is the type of film junkie and lives-football-all-the-time type of guy I think he wants to be aligned with as he builds his team.

5. I thought the Bills' aggressive moves reflected an administration that believes it has a short window to win, perhaps because of ownership uncertainty. General manager Doug Whaley followed his conviction in trading a 2014 first-round pick, 2015 first-round pick and 2015 fourth-round pick to Cleveland to move up five spots in the first round to select receiver Sammy Watkins, in part because he believes it will be a low first-round pick next year. The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999 and now they're putting all their chips on second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel. Based on what we saw last year, would anyone be surprised if that's a top 10 pick? Not me.

6. From the "I'm not sure what to make of it" department: Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork held his annual draft party Thursday night to benefit his charitable foundation, but he declined comment from all reporters. In an offseason in which we've heard from top players on defense such as Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Darrelle Revis, Dont'a Hightower and even Jamie Collins, Wilfork is keeping a low profile. Maybe it's that he doesn't want to talk about his rehab from a torn Achilles or his restructured contract. Still, it strikes me as a bit outside the norm from one of the leaders of the team.

7. It was hard not to feel a little bit bad for former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer on Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns traded up for Johnny Manziel in the first round. The Browns didn't draft Manziel 22nd overall to sit for long, which narrows the window for Hoyer, who is coming back from a torn ACL after finally earning the starting role he coveted, to be on the field. But then two things came to mind: Hoyer isn't one to back down from competition, and he's also still in a much better situation now than 18 months ago. It's easy to forget, but Hoyer was out of football for most of the 2012 season. While he obviously desires a starting role, there's also something to be said for being on the Matt Cassel track as a backup who has the chance to stick in the league for 10-plus years. There were doubts about that with Hoyer not too long ago.

8. From inside the scouting/medical circles, one thing that was repeated to me multiple times in the pre-draft process is how players from Alabama often enter the NFL more banged-up when compared to most of their contemporaries. One line of thinking is that Alabama players might feel pressure to play through ailments because there is usually a top-shelf recruit behind them waiting to take their job if there is an opening. Interesting insight to me that I hadn't heard before.

9a. My favorite story of the three-day draft: Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman taking part on the third day via Skype so he could be in Worcester, Massachusetts, to attend his son's graduation from Becker College. Gettleman explained that there are certain life events that shouldn't be missed. My admiration for Gettleman grows greater when hearing this.

9b. Along those same lines, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell makes Friday his day to come to the office a bit later than the norm so he can drop off his son, David II, at school. He said it's something he learned from one of his mentors, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who does something similar with his son Mason in Atlanta. Work-life balance can be a challenge for many, especially in the around-the-clock, big-business NFL, but I like hearing these types of stories. It doesn't always have to be so serious.

10. With the NFL draft now concluded, there should be plenty of changes to monitor in the scouting ranks around the league and I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots are affected. My eyes will be on director of college scouting Jon Robinson, who arrived in New England in 2002 as an area scout, in part because of a strong recommendation from then Patriots national scout Jason Licht. With Licht now the Buccaneers' general manager, I could envision Robinson being a target for a top position in his administration, perhaps in an assistant general manager type role. Robinson's work with the Patriots was recently praised by director of player personnel Nick Caserio.

New England Patriots draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
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NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A wrap-up of the New England Patriots' draft. Click here for a full list of Patriots draftees.

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFlorida's Dominique Easley will be an impact talent for the Patriots if he can stay healthy.
Best move: Reinvesting in the offensive line. The Patriots hadn't drafted an offensive lineman in 2012 or 2013, but they triple-dipped with fourth-round center Bryan Stork (Florida State), fourth-round tackle Cameron Fleming (Stanford) and sixth-round right guard Jon Halapio (Florida). Time will tell if the picks were the right ones, but from a general standpoint, the Patriots needed to pay attention to the line both from an infusing-the-pipeline standpoint and also with salary cap integrity in mind. What stands out is the size of Stork (6-3 7/8, 315), Fleming (6-4 7/8, 323) and Halapio (6-3 1/2, 323). The Patriots added an element of offensive toughness in this draft, while also planning for the future. This is a big year for the team's offensive line as it transitions from former coach Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo.

Riskiest move: Dominique Easley. The first-round defensive lineman is a big-time talent who wouldn't have been available at No. 29 if healthy. But he tore both ACLs at Florida and that affected his ability to work out at 100 percent in the pre-draft process. If Easley returns to full health, the Patriots' willingness to assume the risk could pay off in a big way as the team's interior pass rush could use a boost. But if problems crop up with Easley's knees, the Patriots might ultimately regret their willingness to invest such a high draft pick on an injured player.

Most surprising move: Dominique Easley. Wouldn't have thought the Patriots' selection of a player who tore both ACLs in a span of three years was an option in the first round. They generally don't assume that much risk with their top pick, which has contributed to their solid first-round draft record.

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File it away: All the angst that might have been expressed about the Patriots' selecting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with a late second-round pick (No. 62) will most likely be looked back upon with a chuckle. The biggest question from this perspective is if the Patriots passed on a player who might have helped them more immediately (e.g., Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz to the Texans three picks later), and that's going to be an interesting dynamic to follow in the years to come. But overall, there is no more important position than quarterback. The 2011 Colts are the prime example of a team that didn't address the backup spot and the bottom fell out of their season when starter Peyton Manning was lost for the season. People lost jobs because of it. The Colts were fortunate to wind up with the rare can't-miss prospect (Andrew Luck) the next year in the draft, but most teams aren't that lucky, so the Patriots were wise to be thinking ahead at a hard-to-fill position. It's just a bit jarring to hear the team acknowledge the possibility of a succession plan with Tom Brady, which is still four years away (if not longer) from this viewpoint.

Patriots pick Jeremy Gallon in 7th

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: Jeremy Gallon, wide receiver, Michigan (244th overall).

My take: This falls in line with past late-round selections such as Julian Edelman (7th round, 2009) and Jeremy Ebert (7th round, 2012), and last year's top undrafted signing of T.J. Moe, as the Patriots have explored undersized, shifty slot receivers around this time. Maybe this one hits like Edelman. One added wrinkle that will be fun to watch is how quarterback Tom Brady, who bleeds Michigan maize and blue, potentially takes a player like Gallon under his wing. Gallon's most likely landing spot is the practice squad, but if he surprises to earn a roster spot, he might also factor into the return game.

Links of note: Nolan Nawrocki's scouting profile on NFL.com, and Michael Rothstein's profile of Gallon for ESPN.com in 2012.

Receiver depth chart: Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater (special teams), Jeremy Gallon, Mark Harrison, Reggie Dunn, Greg Orton.

What's next: The Patriots made nine picks in the draft. The roster now has 75 players. An additional 15 spots will be filled, mostly with undrafted free agents. Bill Belichick often takes a leading role in recruiting those players to hopefully sign with the team.

Patriots pick Jemea Thomas in 6th

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: Jemea Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech (206th overall).

My take: This is the first defensive back the Patriots have selected and it's easy to see what the Patriots like in Thomas, who at 5-foot-9 1/4 and 192 pounds is undersized but instinctive. He caught the eye of colleague Field Yates in April based on the way he reads coverages and works in the weight room, and Scouts Inc. noted he "loves the game." Thomas' name also came up in the pre-draft process as a comparable player, in part, to 2013 Patriots third-round pick Logan Ryan. Thomas' ticket for a roster spot, as it often is for late sixth-round picks, will start on special teams. He has experience covering punts.

Safety depth chart: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis, Jemea Thomas

Logan Ryan trickle-down effect: There has been some chatter, first noted by the Boston Herald, about the Patriots possibly working cornerback Logan Ryan at safety. One wonders how the addition of Thomas might alter any plans along those lines because this now adds a seventh safety to the roster. It also looks like Thomas has corner-safety position flexibility. Another factor to consider at the position is that Devin McCourty is in the final year of his contract, so Thomas, should he develop, adds another young player to the pipeline.

What's next: The Patriots have one more draft pick, in the seventh round (244th).

Patriots pick Zach Moore in 6th

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: DE/OLB Zach Moore, Concordia-St. Paul (198th overall).

My take: At this point in the draft, a team is looking for intriguing traits to possibly develop and Moore fits the bill. He is 6-foot-5 1/2 and 269 pounds, has 33-5/8-inch arm length, and ran a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash. Because of those traits, and playing at the Division II level, Moore was highlighted as a "wild-card" possibility in ESPNBoston.com's "beyond the first round" series. He holds the Concordia record for sacks (33) and forced fumbles (6) and his long reach produced three blocked field goals. Moore projects to an end-of-the-line role in the team's system, which could be more of a pure 4-3 end, or possibly some 3-4 outside linebacker type responsibilities. He's a project and likely wouldn't emerge until 2015 at the earliest, but working with a young player like this should fire up position coaches Brendan Daly (defensive line) and Patrick Graham (linebackers). Moore's arrival could put the pressure on 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette for a roster spot.

Defensive end depth chart: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Will Smith, Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette, Zach Moore.

What's next: The Patriots have two remaining picks -- a sixth-rounder (206) and seventh-rounder (244).

Patriots pick Jon Halapio in 6th

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: Jon Halapio, guard, Florida (179th).

My take: This is the third offensive lineman selected by the Patriots in the draft after the team didn't draft any blockers in 2012 and 2013. A big theme today for the team has been adding power and beef up front. With the 6-foot-3 1/2, 323-pound Halapio added to the fold, it could push starting veteran right guard Dan Connolly, who is scheduled to earn $3 million this season and count more than $4 million against the salary cap. The Patriots have given first-year offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo some young talent to work with and that will be an area to watch in 2014 -- how young players develop in the transition from retired line coach Dante Scarnecchia to DeGuglielmo.

A feel for Halapio: A team captain, Halapio proved his toughness at right guard by playing through a torn pectoral muscle in 2013. Similar to fourth-round pick Bryan Stork, he was given a low durability grade ("5") by Scouts Inc. because of a string of injuries. He is considered an aggressive and hard-nosed player.

Guard depth chart: Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, Chris Barker, Jon Halapio

What's next: The Patriots have two more sixth-round picks (198, 206) and a seventh-rounder (244).

Patriots pick Cameron Fleming in 4th

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: Cameron Fleming, offensive tackle, Stanford (140th)

My take: After not selecting an offensive lineman in the 2012 and 2013 drafts, the Patriots double-dipped this year, first with center Bryan Stork (4th round, 105th) and then Fleming. This is important from a feed-the-pipeline and salary-cap integrity standpoint. Specific to Fleming, the pick strikes me as "Marcus Cannon Insurance." Cannon enters the final year of his contract and he's proven to be a starting caliber player who could be worthy of a lucrative contract next offseason that the Patriots might not be able to match. There also is an element of "Sebastian Vollmer Insurance" as well, as the team's starting right tackle is recovering from a broken ankle sustained last October and has battled injuries at times over his career.

Size stands out: Fleming is listed at 6-foot-4 7/8 and 323 pounds. It just so happened that Stanford coach David Shaw was on NFL Network at the time of the pick, and he said, "The first thing that stands out is size." Shaw added that 323 pounds might be generous. Fleming was an Aeronautics and Astronautics major at Stanford.

Offensive tackle depth chart: Nate Solder (left), Sebastian Vollmer (right/left), Marcus Cannon (right), Fleming (right), Jordan Devey, R.J. Mattes.

What's next: The Patriots have three sixth-round picks (179, 198, 206) and a seventh-rounder (244).

Patriots pick James White in 4th

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: James White, RB, Wisconsin (130th)

My take: The Patriots lost LeGarrette Blount in free agency and figured to come out of this draft with at least one running back. A key consideration is that the top three running backs on the depth chart -- Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden -- all enter the final year of their contracts. White is 5-foot-9 1/8 and 204 pounds and was one of the most sure-handed prospects at the position. He is short for the position, but as we've seen with Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and others in New England, that's not always a bad thing. His running style ("violent cuts") looks like a nice fit for the Patriots' zone-blocking scheme.

Added value on special teams: White has 39 career kickoff returns on his resume and could be a consideration in the role in New England.

Running back depth chart: Vereen, Ridley, Bolden, White, Jonas Gray.

What's next: The Patriots have the final pick of the fourth round, 140th overall. It's a compensatory pick that can't be traded.

Patriots select center Bryan Stork in 4th

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: Bryan Stork, center, Florida State (105th)

My take: The Patriots re-signed starting center Ryan Wendell to a two-year contract this offseason, but the sense all along was that competition was still likely to be added. It comes in the form of Stork, who at 6-foot-3 7/8 and 315 pounds brings a bigger body type to the position (Wendell is 6-2, 300). The Patriots have been vulnerable at times to inside pressure (think AFC championship game vs. Broncos), especially against bigger nose tackles, and Stork could ultimately be part of the solution. Stork's injury history caught my attention in pre-draft study, as he was graded a "4" in the durability category by Scouts Inc., but the Patriots are obviously comfortable with it.

Thinking from an opponent's perspective: What's the best way to get to Tom Brady? Straight up the middle, to move him off the spot. Attempting to upgrade the center spot potentially puts the Patriots in a better position to counter that.

Center depth chart: Ryan Wendell (6th year), Bryan Stork (rookie), Chris Barker (2nd year), Braxston Cave (1st year)

What's next: The Patriots have two more fourth-round picks -- 130th and 140th. The 140th pick is a compensatory selection at the end of the round that can't be traded.

Leftovers from Patriots' Day 2 of draft

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some leftovers from the second day of the NFL draft with the New England Patriots:

Six picks with which to work the board. The Patriots have three fourth-round picks (105, 130, 140), three sixth-round picks (179, 198, 206) and a seventh-round pick (244), setting up a busy third day. Belichick hinted that we could see more trades. "We’ve been able to pick some players that have been productive for us on the third day of the draft. Hopefully that will be the case, however those get utilized, whether we pick them there or use them to position for players that are sliding -- that are on the board so that we can slide our picks one way or another."

Character counts. Belichick spoke about how both first-round pick Dominique Easley and second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo fit not just on the field, but also from an off-field perspective. "I feel like they are good people," Belichick said.

Lombardi in the draft room. As expected, assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi, the former Browns general manager, is part of the Patriots' small draft room. The team's official website relayed a sneak peak from the second and third rounds.

Trading with the Jaguars. In shipping their third-round pick (93rd) to the Jaguars for a fourth-rounder (105th) and sixth-rounder (179th), Belichick explained the mindset. "We moved back 12 spots and added a sixth round pick -- I felt the value of moving back for whichever player we pick tomorrow based on where we were that we could maintain the integrity of that value and add a pick, so that’s why we did it."

Garoppolo's ESPN radio interview. After the Patriots selected him 62nd overall, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo sat down with ESPN Radio.

Catch up later today from Gillette Stadium.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shows no signs of decline, but the team isn't taking any chances. Hence the selection of Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of the NFL draft (62nd overall), one of the more surprising league-wide picks.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Garoppolo
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY Sports"The situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of drafting Jimmy Garoppolo.
“The situation we have at quarterback, I think that we felt as an organization that we needed to address that to some degree in the future. I think you're better off being early rather than late at that position,” coach Bill Belichick said late Friday night.

It was a straightforward acknowledgement from a coach who often prefers to avoid them. "Life after Brady” has been bantered about only on sports talk radio in the region, but this is the first time the Patriots have publicly said it is part of their mindset as well.

Brady will be 37 this upcoming season, but is still playing at an extremely high level and is signed through 2017. Because of this, and also the presence of No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett -- who is under contract through the 2014 season -- debate was already raging locally Friday night as to whether the Patriots wasted such a high draft pick on a player who might not see the field for four seasons, if ever. That doesn't figure to subside anytime soon.

Meanwhile, in New York, Garoppolo noted the similarities between his draft-day wait and how the Green Bay Packers selected sliding signal-caller Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 first round as Brett Favre's heir apparent. He said it worked out for Rodgers, and now he hopes the same happens for him.

When might that be?

Up to this point, it hasn't been on the Patriots' radar. Now it is at least a consideration.

“We know what Ryan's contract situation is, we know what Tom's age and contract situation is, and I don't think you want to have one quarterback on your team,” Belichick explained. “I don't think that's responsible to the entire team or the organization.”

One needs only to look at the 2011 Indianapolis Colts as a prime example. When Peyton Manning was lost to a season-ending neck injury that year, the season went down with him, and it ultimately cost vice chairman (and current ESPN analyst) Bill Polian his job.

As for Garoppolo, Belichick said he spent one-on-one time with him this spring and “he has a lot of qualities that we admire in a quarterback.” Scouts have touted his smarts, anticipation and work ethic, and he looks like an ideal fit for the team's hard-driving program.

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The Houston Texans, it seems, had similar thoughts, as Garoppolo was believed to be a strong consideration for them at the top of the third round before the Patriots made the pick.

So instead, Garoppolo comes to New England to back up Brady and potentially replace him down the line.

Maybe it's in four years. Maybe it's longer.

Either way, for the first time, the Patriots let us know a potential succession is on their minds as well.

In their view, it's better to be early than late.

Patriots trade third-round draft pick

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots, who like to wheel and deal on draft day, made their first trade late in the third round Friday.


The club sent its third-round pick (93rd overall) to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth-round pick (105th) and sixth-round pick (179th).

In these types of deals, the Patriots probably felt like they had a cluster of players who were rated similarly, and so the drop from 93 to 105 was neglible to them. To make the move and pick up a sixth-round pick is often seen by the club as good value.

The Jaguars selected Miami guard Brandon Linder with the No. 93 pick.

Patriots remaining picks:
Fourth round (105)
Fourth round (130)
Fourth round (140)
Sixth round (179)
Sixth round (198)
Sixth round (206)
Seventh round (244)

Patriots pick Jimmy Garoppolo in 2nd

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

My take: The New England Patriots are planning for the future with this pick. Top backup Ryan Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season, and Garoppolo can possibly develop behind the scenes this year before elevating to the No. 2 role next year. That's the same path that Mallett (2011 third-round pick) took with the team, as he was the third-stringer behind Brian Hoyer in 2011 before bumping up the depth chart. Two things could change that plan, and it would be the Patriots trading Mallett at some point during the draft, or Garoppolo simply out-performing him in the preseason. Is it too early to be thinking quarterback in the draft? Tom Brady is signed through 2017 and still playing at a high level, so unless there is a sudden decline from Brady, Garoppolo most likely wouldn't get on the field until 2018 at the earliest (when he'd be on his second contract). But it's not out of the norm. The rival Denver Broncos, after all, selected Brock Osweiler in the second round of the 2012 draft with the idea of having a young signal-caller to develop for the future.

What did they pass up? By investing in a developmental quarterback, the Patriots passed on tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who went three picks later at 65 to the Houston Texans. The Patriots have a need at tight end and Fiederowicz was one of their pre-draft visitors. Did the Patriots pass up a player who could have helped them now for a player who might not see the field for four-plus years? That's the debate when making a pick like this. The Patriots obviously didn't see a player who could help them immediately and would be guaranteed a roster spot on a well-stocked roster, and it will be interesting to see if their analysis was on the mark in the coming years.

Behind-the-scenes fact: Garoppolo and Brady share the same agent.

What's next: The Patriots' next pick is in the third round, 93rd overall.

Live draft blog: Patriots, Rds. 2-3

May, 9, 2014
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Join ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss as he gives you all the latest news from team headquarters during the 2014 NFL draft.

 
One question that has filled the Twitter inbox over the last 24 hours is if the New England Patriots have intentions to trade backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, perhaps to a team like the Houston Texans.

Texans general manager Rick Smith was asked Friday if there have been any talks between the teams. There have not, according to Smith.



This doesn't mean the sides couldn't strike up a dialogue at some point, but the belief here remains that Mallett has more value to the Patriots as a No. 2/insurance policy than what the club could possibly receive in return (projected by me as a late-round draft pick).

Mallett is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014 season, and if he has a big preseason the Patriots could benefit next offseason in the form of a high compensatory draft choice should Mallett sign a larger contract elsewhere.

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