The Patriots and Bill Belichick exploited every possible way to build their roster – trades, the draft, free agency, and the signing of undrafted college free agents. New England started out trading for the explosive receiver Brandin Cooks, giving Tom Brady a deep weapon. Then Kony Ealy was acquired from Carolina to compete as a pass rusher, and lastly Dwayne Allen was brought in to backup Rob Gronkowski. Derek Rivers fits the versatile prototype that New England has long favored, a defender capable of playing at least two positions. Rivers was an edge pass rusher with his hand in the dirt at Youngstown. He played in a four man front where he was an explosive and flexible athlete. Rivers is the all-time Penguin career sack leader with 41 total. He can dip his way under and past a blocker without the loss of any speed. Flattens the edge and has an easy change of direction. A smart and instinctive defender who reads the action quickly. Has good anticipation and timing off the snap. At the Senior Bowl, Rivers first showed his ability to play up on run downs and play down on pass downs. He will get a first hand clinic from Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers, and newcomer Kony Ealy on how to rush the passer the Patriot way. Rivers spent extra time after OTA practices working with Flowers refining his pass rush moves, how he defends the run, how efficient his hands are, and how he gets his hips around. New England traded up 11 spots by giving up a fourth round pick in order to draft Antonio Garcia, the next offensive line project for long time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Garcia was a four year starter at Troy and as a senior he gave up zero sacks in over 900 snaps. The ascending line prospect brings it every play from an effort and intensity approach. He is a developmental player who has NFL tools and reels of good tape. Athletic with good knee bend and smooth feet. He locks on the defenders and mirrors them off from the play. Takes good angles on down blocks and second level linebackers and plays with a good base. In OTAs Garcia is working on his hand and head placement. He flashes a violent punch to stun an upfield rusher. Looking to the future, the Patriots have seen Sebastian Vollmer retire and Nate Solder work through injuries. Garcia will compete at tackle first, but is a four-for-one caliber player who may see work at guard. Deatrich Wise Jr. is a value pick with his immense talent and skill level combination. He was only too happy to get extra work after OTA practice with former Razorback teammate Trey Flowers, the Patriots’ breakout pass rusher in 2016. As a junior, Wise used his long arms and strong hands to dominate the talented LSU offensive line. When he plays with his throttle wide open he is a violent and explosive player who plays the game with man strength. He demonstrates every down dominant traits and can beat blockers a variety of ways. Wise has the potential to impact the game if he elevates his consistency level and stays away from nagging injuries. The rangy and long-armed defensive end had a consistent and productive week of practice in St. Petersburg at the East-West Shrine gathering. In the game he racked up eight tackles including seven solos, plus 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble. Conor McDermott is another value pick with his length and athletic ability. Frankly we liked the UCLA tackle better than long-time right tackle Sebastian Vollmer when he came out of Houston. If McDermott comes close to Vollmer’s production, the Patriots held up the Brinks’ truck. The former Bruin was a big time basketball player, winning Mr. Basketball in Tennessee as a high school senior. He is a very good second level blocker who takes consistent and proper angles. Good frame that can handle more weight and still should be able to maintain upper tier movement ability. Stays on his feet. Mirrors rusher with his hands on the breast plate. He plays with good knee bend and is agile enough to pull up the field and block a support safety. Will overextend at times and has a hard time regaining balance if he loses it. McDermott has some interesting tools and is a better athlete than he shows on tape. GRADE: GOOD.
FREE AGENCY: Stephon Gilmore received 40 million guaranteed of a 65 million dollar contract. Gilmore passed the Patriot audition playing against the Pats twice a year since 2012. Playmaker Dont’a Hightower signed a four year deal guaranteeing him 19 million over four years. Other additions include Lawrence Guy (DE), Rex Burkhead (RB), and Andrew Hawkins (WR).
NOTABLE UNDRAFTED COLLEGE FREE AGENTS: Austin Carr (Northwestern) WR, Josh Augusta (Missouri) NT/DT, Brooks Ellis (Arkansas) OB, Harvey Langi (BYU) IB, Damarius Travis (Minnesota) SS, and David Jones (Richmond) FS.