NEW ENGLAND: Patriots trade out of 1st round, could make 5 picks on Day 2
BOSTON — The word for the Patriots on Day 1 of the NFL draft was patience.
New England opened its first draft since the departure of quarterback Tom Brady by trading out of the first round Thursday night, sending the 23rd overall pick to the Los Angeles Chargers in exchange for the 37th (second round) and 71st (third round) selections.
The Chargers used the pick to select Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray.
It marked the 13th straight year the Patriots have made a deal to move down on the draft board.
New England now has 13 total draft picks and could make as many as five picks on Day 2. It addition to the picks it received from the Chargers, the Patriots also hold the 87th, 98th, and 100th overall selections of the third round.
New England entered the night without a second-round pick. The trade Thursday reduced what would have been a sizable gap between the 23rd and 87th picks it entered the night with. The Patriots currently have at least one pick in every remaining round.
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said moving down into the second round “just made sense” and wasn’t necessarily based on the unavailability of any players.
“It puts us in a position to pick in the top of the second round with four thirds,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll be active tomorrow.”
The high number of picks will give them many options to fill holes on both sides of the ball.
Caserio likened the position they're in to 2009, when the Patriots selected four players in the second round, including current starting safety Patrick Chung. They also got receiver Julian Edelman in the seventh round that year.
Brady deciding to end his 20-year tenure in New England to sign with Tampa Bay is by far the Patriots’ biggest offseason development.
But the exits of linebackers Kyle Van Noy (Dolphins), Jamie Collins (Lions), Elandon Roberts (Lions) and DT Danny Shelton (Lions) in free agency and safety Duron Harmon (trade to Lions) were also big on defense.
New England had a chance to snag players at both quarterback and linebacker at No. 23, passing on available big-name prospects such as Murray and Utah State quarterback Jordan Love (taken by the Packers at No. 26).
The fact that Patriots passed on Love may be the clearest sign yet that coach Bill Belichick is content to enter the season with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham as the front-runner to be the 2020 starter.
Still, Caserio said it didn't rule out selecting a quarterback at some point over the next two days,
“We’ll have to kind of take it pick by pick here," he said.
The trade with the Chargers will also give the Patriots a chance to improve upon some recent missteps in the second round.
Defensive back Cyrus Jones, taken in the second round in 2016, started just one game before being waived in 2018. They tried to replace him that year by drafting Duke Dawson in the second round. But because of injuries, Dawson didn’t play in a single game before being traded to Denver in 2019.
“There’s plenty of second-rounders that had good careers here. So, we’ll see how it goes,” Belichick said earlier this month. “But each draft is different, every year is different, each player is different.”
-- By Kyle Hightower, AP
BUFFALO: Beane dismisses buzz of Bills being AFC East front-runners
BUFFALO — Brandon Beane dismisses the growing buzz suggesting the Buffalo Bills are suddenly the AFC East favorites after Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay.
“The team to beat in the East is the Patriots,” the Bills general manager said, referring to a New England team that has essentially owned the division – including a 35-5 record against Buffalo – over the 20 seasons under coach Bill Belichick.
“I think it’s funny and comical that people are writing them off,” Beane said. “So, until we beat them, we’ve done nothing. And we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
There certainly is more work to do for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since Dec. 30, 1995, and only recently ended a 17-year postseason drought by qualifying in both 2017 and last year.
To be fair, though, Beane has already done plenty of heavy lifting in putting the Bills in the conversation as realistic contenders after spending the past three years methodically rebuilding Buffalo’s roster from the ground up.
It’s to the point where Buffalo entered the three-day NFL draft with very few holes to fill. Beane has addressed many of the team’s immediate needs with veteran free-agent additions, and dealt a first-round pick (22nd overall) to land receiver Stefon Diggs in a trade with Minnesota.
The trade left Beane preparing to sit out the first round Thursday. Barring trades, Buffalo has seven selections, starting with a second-rounder (54th overall) on Friday night.
With essentially all 22 starting spots filled, Beane has the freedom of shoring up depth needs in targeting the best player available.
With LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire the only running back taken in the first round, Buffalo is in position to potentially select Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor or Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins to complement Devin Singletary, who took over the starting role as a rookie last year.
Another possibility is cornerback — Diggs' younger brother, Trevon, is available — to develop a youngster to eventually play opposite starter Tre’Davious White.
And Buffalo can always use more pass-rushing help with returning starters Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy each going to be 30 or older before this year ends. Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, Missouri's Jordan Elliott and Notre Dame's Julian Okwara are potential options.
Beane was noncommittal when asked if he places an emphasis on selecting a more established prospect over one who might need time to develop.
“It may be a tiebreaker, but I’m not going to pass up a good player. I’m still going to go best player available,” Beane said, before adding he might target positional depth needs in the later rounds. “Early on, second or third round, it will definitely be the best player, offense, defense, whatever.”
The decision to acquire Diggs and fill Buffalo’s primary offseason need paid off given how the first round of the draft unfolded. By trading his first-round selection, Beane took into account the possibility he wouldn’t be in a position to select any of the top receiving prospects before it came time for the No. 22 pick.
Beane proved correct, with Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb all gone by the 17th selection.
The Vikings used Buffalo's pick to select LSU's Justin Jefferson, who became the fifth receiver selected.
When it came time for the Vikings' selection, the Bills posted a video on their Twitter account, and the message: “You already know.” The video began with the voice of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the 22nd pick, followed by highlights of Diggs' catches.
Buffalo entered the offseason also having the advantage of having continuity at many skill positions and with a Sean McDermott-led coaching staff that returns mostly intact for a third consecutive year. Many of the free agents the Bills added have ties to Beane and McDermott when the two were with the Carolina Panthers.
Beane placed an emphasis on familiarity by taking into account the likelihood of the coronavirus pandemic cutting into how much practice time teams will have before the season.
“I think it can help. It can’t hurt us,” Beane said of the added importance of having continuity entering this season.
He referred to the lockout-shortened 2011 offseason, when he was the Panthers director of football operations and Carolina was introducing a new coaching staff under Ron Rivera.
“We were signing free agents in August to go start training camp. It was something I’d never seen,” Beane said. “So, I like the continuity of where we’re at. But we still have a lot of work do to once we get back.”
-- By John Wawrow, AP
NEW YORK: Jets select Louisville OT Becton at No. 11
NEW YORK — The New York Jets got their big man up front to help protect Sam Darnold and clear the way for Le'Veon Bell.
Massive offensive tackle Mekhi Becton from Louisville was taken by New York with the No. 11 pick in the NFL draft, filling one of the Jets' biggest needs.
General manager Joe Douglas repeatedly said during the last few months that strengthening the offensive line was a priority for a team that had lots of trouble up front last season. The addition of the 6-foot-7, 365-pound Becton helps solidify things.
In a big, big way.
“He brings an edge for us,” coach Adam Gase said on a conference call. “He brings nasty to our offensive line room.”
Becton agreed with that assessment by his new coach.
“I think my demeanor is real nasty,” he said with a smile during a Zoom call with reporters. “I like to see the man on the ground stay on the ground.”
Becton has enormous upside, along with impressive speed for a man his size — he ran a 5.12 40-yard dash at the combine in February. He has a 7-foot wingspan and played both tackle spots for the Cardinals during his college career.
“He moves people like furniture," assistant GM Rex Hogan said. "He's a big and powerful man.”
New York was expected to target either one of the top offensive tackles or wide receivers at No. 11, and the draft played out well in the Jets' favor. Georgia's Andrew Thomas went to the Giants at No. 4 and Alabama's Jedrick Wills Jr. was taken by Cleveland one spot before New York selected, so the Jets had their pick of either Becton or Iowa's Tristan Wirfs.
They also could have gone with a wide receiver — none had been taken before New York went on the clock.
But, Douglas and the Jets chose a player they believe can be a big building block — literally — for years to come.
“We're so excited to add a guy with this size and athletic ability,” Douglas said on a conference call. "A guy that we really think can fortify our front.”
The Jets could have a completely different starting five on the offensive line than what they had in Week 1 of last season after Douglas invested heavily up front in free agency. George Fant, signed from Seattle last month, could team with Becton at the tackle spots — with both having enough versatility to play on either side.
Douglas wouldn't commit to Becton being penciled in on the left side — or right side, for that matter — saying only that the Jets will put the best five offensive linemen on the field and he expects there to be a good competition in training camp.
Becton had a drug test flagged at the combine, and Douglas acknowledged it “raised a flag” when the Jets heard about it. The GM said the team took "a deep dive" on why Becton's test was flagged, and the staff spoke to several people about the offensive lineman. Douglas also personally spoke to Becton on Wednesday, and the Jets were comfortable drafting him.
“It was a one-time mistake that's never going to happen again,” Becton said.
The selection of Becton marks the first time the Jets have taken an offensive player other than a quarterback — Sam Darnold (2018) and Mark Sanchez (2009) — in the first round since New York picked tight end Dustin Keller in 2008.
Becton is also the first offensive lineman drafted by the Jets in the first round since they selected both left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold in 2006. They were mainstays on New York's offensive line for a decade.
“I definitely expect to be that type of player for the Jets,” Becton said. “I mean, I have big shoes to fill, so I'm going to come in and come to work.”
Becton is the highest-drafted offensive lineman in Louisville history, and the third taken in the first round, joining Eric Wood (2009) and Bruce Armstrong (1991).
Douglas and Becton also have something in common: They're both from the same general area of Virginia. Douglas grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia, located less than 15 minutes from Highland Springs, where Becton was raised.
“There was definitely a great bond,” Becton said of his phone conversation with Douglas. “Because when he said street names, I knew the streets he was talking about.”
The Jets have three picks scheduled for the second day of the draft, a second-rounder (No. 48 overall) and two third-rounders: No. 68, from the Giants as part of the Leonard Williams trade, and No. 79.
-- By Dennis Waszak Jr., AP
MIAMI: Dolphins decide to gamble on QB Tagovailoa’s durability
MIAMI — Because of Tua Tagovailoa’s ability, the Miami Dolphins were willing to gamble on his durability.
The Dolphins made the Alabama quarterback the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday, and hope he can become a franchise quarterback and the centerpiece of their rebuilding effort that began a year ago.
Miami was undeterred by his long injury history, most recently a dislocated and fractured hip that ended his 2019 season in mid-November.
“For me and my family, whoever decided to take a chance on us, that’s where I belonged,” Tagovailoa said. “My biggest thing is I’m trying to prove this was the right decision.”
The Dolphins added some potential protection for Tagovailoa with the 18th overall pick, selecting 322-pound tackle Austin Jackson of Southern California. Jackson is only 20 and turned pro after his junior season.
“We’ve got good news for Tua,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when he announced the selection of Jackson.
Miami also had the 30th overall pick and took Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, the son of two Nigerian Olympic track athletes.
Doctors cleared Tagovailoa last month to run and begin football activities, and he expects to be able to play in his rookie season.
“What makes me confident in being able to play is what the doctors have told me,” Tagovailoa said. “As far as rehab, as far as the medical rechecks, I’ve checked off all the boxes."
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier said the team is comfortable with Tagovailoa's health, despite an injury history that includes at least four surgeries at Alabama.
“Football is a violent game,” Grier said. “Guys are going to get hurt.”
Tagovailoa will compete with returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is 37 and is expected to serve as an idea mentor to the rookie. At some point, Tagovailoa will become the 22nd quarterback to start for Miami since Dan Marino retired 20 years ago.
They share the same uniform number, which is why Tagovailoa won’t wear his familiar No. 13 in Miami.
“I understand No. 13 is retired, and it should be,” Tagovailoa said. “Whatever number I’m given by the organization, if it’s 78 or 99, I’ll wear it.”
Even before the Dolphins' offseason began, team owner Stephen Ross said the priority was to acquire a franchise quarterback. To start a draft widely considered the Dolphins’ most consequential in many years, they took a quarterback with their first pick for only the second time since 1983.
Miami stockpiled picks last year while enduring a 5-11 season under first-year coach Brian Flores, and during a historically bad start was accused of tanking for Tua.
The dynamic Tagovailoa immediately raises the profile of a team that has too often been off the NFL radar in the past two decades. He threw 76 touchdown passes in 24 starts the past two seasons.
Tagovailoa replaced Jalen Hurts in the national championship game two years ago and rallied Alabama past Georgia, and the following season he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, an Alabama alum, was among those applauding the selection of Tagovailoa.
“So excited to see what you accomplish and I know good things are in store for you,” Henry wrote in an Instagram message.
NFL talent evaluators doubted Tagovailoa only because of his health. Along with the hip injury, which at one point was feared to be career-threatening, the left-hander has had surgery on both ankles and the index finger of his throwing hand. He also suffered a broken nose and a concussion while at Alabama.
The Dolphins disguised their intentions well until they were on the clock. Leading up to the draft, speculation had them trading up to select an offensive tackle or even quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick, or taking Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert instead of Tagovailoa.
“We didn’t know where a lot of this stuff was coming from,” Flores said with a chuckle. “It was very interesting, to say the least. It was something we would talk about on a daily basis — ‘Did you see that? Did you see this?’”
The Dolphins have three selections Friday, including the seventh and 24th in the second round, which gives them five of the top 56 choices as they try to build a team around Tagovailoa. They’ve already spent $235 million to sign 10 free agents.
-- By Steven Wine, AP