By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Clearly, the Patriots see something in Joejuan Williams.
Bill Belichick’s first move on day 2 of the NFL Draft propelled the Patriots up to the 45th overall pick, which they got from the Rams for picks 56 and 101. And that’s when Belichick did the furthest thing from drafting for need by taking Williams out of Vanderbilt. Ultimately the Patriots head coach wants good players regardless of need, and he placed a big-time value on the 6-foot-4 corner.
Williams played against elite college competition in the SEC. He brings rare size to the cornerback position and has huge potential as a press outside corner. And he also has time to develop, because the Patriots already have five cornerbacks signed through the 2020 season. Belichick could ultimately view him as a big safety. But whatever he becomes, Belichick wanted it to happen on his team. Needs be damned.
But Belichick did also address positions that could use infusions of talent, or just depth. The Patriots traded out of the second round and into the third before selecting Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich, who has good upside as an NFL pass rusher. He’s known for his relentless motor and physicality that makes up for a relative lack of explosiveness. That and his potentially one-dimensional nature dropped him to the third round, but Belichick has found a player that appears to be a perfect fit for his locker room. Winovich has the potential to rise up the depth chart quickly, and that would be huge for a Patriots defensive front that just lost Trey Flowers.
West Virginia left tackle Yodny Cajuste, the 101st overall pick, also filled a long-term need on the offensive line. At least four starters are set for 2019, but the left tackle situation remains hazy. Second-year lineman Isaiah Wynn figures to get the first crack at starting there, but he’s coming off an Achilles injury. At the same time, Cajuste may not be ready to contribute regularly as a rookie beyond a swing tackle type of role. But that’s why Belichick went and got Cajuste in the first place. The pick addresses an immediate need, if only for more bodies at tackle to start camp. (Cajuste is recovering from quad surgery, but should be ready for July.)
Ultimately, day 2 brought a Belichickian blend of trades, pressing needs, and coveted prospects. Besides Williams, Belichick apparently also loved Alabama running back Damien Harris and viewed him as simply the best player available. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said as much in his post-draft press conference.
“Harris, the running back from Alabama, I would say that’s a situation relative to whatever else you’re looking at, he falls into the good football player category that’s been consistently productive over the course of however many years,” Caserio said. “Look, everybody knows what we think about the Alabama program and how highly regarded it is and the mutual respect that Bill and Nick [Saban] have for one another. … But this guy has been a pretty consistently productive player, so this is more of, I would say, falls into good football player category relative to the other options that we were looking at on the board, that’s where he kind of fell.”
Again, needs be damned. Sony Michel figures to lead on the ground as a 2018 first-round pick, while James White remains entrenched as the third-down back. The future might be more uncertain for Rex Burkhead. But independent of him, running back definitely wasn’t a pressing need for the team. Still, don’t forget that receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had to play running back for a couple of games in 2018, as injuries ravaged the depth chart. Perhaps the hard-running Harris, who rushed for 2,913 yards over his final three seasons at Alabama, turns out to be a real find at the position.
Now the NFL Draft turns to day 3 on Saturday. Armed with three fourth-round picks and four seventh-rounders, Belichick can be expected to have another typically active day with picks and trades. And with the intriguing mix of selections and swaps he made on day 2, he showed why he’s as unpredictable at the draft as ever.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.