NEW ENGLAND: Patriots don't draft QB, but address several other needs
BOSTON — The Patriots didn’t find a replacement for Tom Brady in the draft, if that was even possible.
But they did address almost every other one of their needs.
New England entered the draft with 12 picks and after making several trades over three days wound up selecting 10 players.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged the team made an attempt to add a third quarterback, but it simply didn't work out.
“The bottom line is we’re evaluating the position along with all the other ones," he said. “If we feel like we find the right situation, we certainly draft them. We’ve drafted them in multiple years in multiple points in the draft. It didn’t work out the last three days. It wasn’t by design. It could have, but it didn’t.”
Belichick said the Patriots would address the position via the undrafted free agent market. J'Mar Smith of Louisiana Tech is a possibility.
“We’ve talked to J’Mar, no question," Belichick said.
For now, second-year player Jarrett Stidham and former Brady backup Brian Hoyer remain the only quarterbacks on the roster.
“I like both those players," Belichick said. “I have confidence in both of them.”
New England made four picks on defense, which was hit hard in free agency by the departures of linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts, safety Duron Harmon and defensive tackle Danny Shelton.
The Patriots began by selecting safety Kyle Dugger from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne and added three linebackers with various skill sets in Michigan's John Uche, Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings and Wyoming’s Cassh Maluia.
OFFENSIVE LINE HELP
The remaining picks were used to target offensive needs, with three used to bolster the line.
The tight end position fell off significantly last season following the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement before the draft to rejoin Brady in Tampa Bay. New England hopes Devin Asiasi (UCLA) and Dalton Keene (Virginia Tech) can provide a longer-term solution after Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo combined for 36 catches and two touchdowns last season.
The line will get some size with the selection of 340-pound guard Michael Onwenu (Michigan) and guard Justin Herron (Wake Forest) in the sixth round. New England also took Memphis center Dustin Woodard in the seventh round with its final pick.
Woodward has a great shot to make the team. He played in every game during his time at Memphis, including 52 consecutive starts.
Ted Karras, New England's starter at center last season, left in free agency.
David Andrews, who has started 57 games since being drafted in 2015, says he is ready to return after missing last season with blood clots in his lungs. But it’s unclear how durable he will be.
A NEW KICKER
While questions remain at quarterback, the Patriots did identify the man they hope will be Stephen Gostkowski’s successor at kicker.
New England selected Marshall's Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round (159th overall), just the third kicker drafted during Belichick’s tenure. The last kicker the Patriots drafted was Gostkowski in the fourth round in 2006. He made the 2010s All-Decade team, is a two-time All-Pro and won three Super Bowls with the Patriots. He was released last month.
Rohrwasser played his first two college seasons at Rhode Island, then transferred to Marshall, where he made 32 of 42 field goals, including a Conference USA-best 18 of 21 (85.7%) as a senior. He was 35 of 36 (97.2%) on extra points.
Rohrwasser also performed well under pressure, connecting on a 53-yard, game-winning field goal against Western Kentucky last season.
The Patriots used three different kickers after Gostkowski — the franchise’s all-time leading scorer — went on injured reserve last October with a hip injury.
Rohrwasser is beefy for a kicker at 6-3 and 230 pounds. He also has several tattoos, which include the phrases “Liberty or death” and “Don’t tread on me” as well as an American flag.
But he said another tattoo, a symbol used by the right-wing militia group the Three Percenters, is not meant to represent them. He said he got it as a teenager because he thought it represented military support.
“It’s evolved into something that I do not want to represent,” he said. “It will be covered.”
-- By Kyle Hightower, AP
BUFFALO: With most spots filled, Bills shore up backup needs in draft
BUFFALO — Brandon Beane joked he would’ve lost a bet on whether the Buffalo Bills would fail to make a trade during the NFL draft.
Then again, the Bills general manager wasn’t expecting to draft Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, either.
“I just felt like he was too good of a value to pass up,” Beane said during a video conference call Saturday in referring to selecting Fromm with the 167th pick.
Fromm’s addition, however, highlighted the patient approach he took toward the draft, which the Bills began by sitting out the first round after trading their top pick to acquire receiver Stefon Diggs from Minnesota.
With limited assets to deal, and a roster mostly set following Buffalo’s latest veteran free-agent haul last month, Beane mostly resisted the urge to trade up and down the draft order as he did the previous two years.
He instead focused on shoring up the team’s most immediate needs with Buffalo’s first two picks by selecting I owa defensive end A.J. Epenesa and Utah running back Zack Moss on Friday.
With Buffalo’s final five picks on Saturday, Beane turned his attention to adding competition at various positions by mostly sticking with the philosophy of selecting the best player available.
It led to Buffalo drafting Fromm, who led Georgia to the College Football Playoff title game in 2018.
Fromm isn’t expected to challenge Josh Allen for the starting job. And yet he provides Buffalo potential long-term insurance in a backup position with veteran Matt Barkley entering the final year of his contract.
“I wouldn’t have told you going into today that he was on our radar,” Beane said. “But we had him in a spot that you just can’t ignore.”
Beane’s approach is also how Buffalo wound up selecting Georgia Southern kicker Tyler Bass at No. 188. Though the Bills have a proven veteran in Stephen Hauschka, Beane said he wanted to add competition to the position, and Bass just happened to be available.
The luxury of targeting talent over need was Beane’s objective when he first arrived in Buffalo three years ago. And his approach this year was a departure from the past two drafts when he used a large stockpile of selections to address key positions.
Two years ago, Beane made a series of trades to land both Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in the first round. Last year, he made two other key moves in trading up to chose starting tackle Cody Ford and tight end Dawson Knox in the second and third rounds.
This year, Beane had to be more selective.
“I just didn’t want to draft guys here at the end that couldn’t make the roster,” he said. “I like what we’ve added. And I think competition is the word that I would walk away with today.”
ON THE RECEIVING END
Adding Diggs to a group of receivers that includes John Brown and Cole Beasley didn’t stop the Bills from stocking up on the position in the draft.
Central Florida’s Gabriel Davis was selected in the fourth round (128th overall), and Oregon State’s Isaiah Hodgins was chosen with pick No. 207.
Buffalo’s depth chart already includes returning backups Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie, Robert Foster and Duke Williams.
“Yeah, they’ve got deep guys, but you come to the NFL to compete,” said Davis, who set a single-season school record with 1,241 yards receiving as a junior last year.
Beane said he came close to completing three trades, all of which failed to materialize for various reasons.
The first occurred Friday, when Beane feared losing out on drafting Moss. He considered moving up by as many as seven spots but found no trade partner, and still wound up selecting the running back.
Without revealing the details, Beane said he was finalizing a deal to trade up a few spots, when the player he was targeting was selected. Another trade fell through, this time to move back in the draft order, because Beane didn’t like the return and he preferred the player he eventually selected.
MOSS MEANS BUSINESS
Moss’ physical straight-ahead running style is expected to complement starting running back Devin Singletary’s shiftier approach.
Beane cited a statistic in which Moss broke at least one tackle on 38% of his carries, and has a chance to earn a job in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Moss, who set the Utah career record with 38 touchdowns rushing, said he enjoys bowling over defenders.
“I like to be physical, trying to have defenses make a lot of business decisions in making tackles against me,” he said.
Bass became the 12th place kicker drafted by Buffalo since the 1970s, and third since the Bills used a seventh-round pick to select John Potter in 2012. The Bills actually chose two kickers — Grant Guthrie in the sixth round and Stefan Schroder, 13th — in 1970.
The Bills closed the draft by selecting Pitt cornerback Dane Jackson with the 239th pick.
-- By John Wawrow, AP
NEW YORK: Jets fill some big needs in Joe Douglas' first draft as GM
NEW YORK — Joe Douglas and the New York Jets entered the NFL draft looking for protectors, playmakers and leaders.
Check. Check. And, check.
The Jets filled several needs over three days, taking nine players they envision being part of the franchise's foundation.
“I feel like we added a lot of quality football players, quality people,” Douglas said. “We're better after this weekend than we were before the draft started.”
New York kicked off its haul by taking massive offensive tackle Mekhi Becton from Louisville with the No. 11 overall selection, and added Charlotte offensive tackle Cameron Clark in the fourth round.
Douglas, in his first draft as New York's general manager, also addressed the Jets' lack of offensive playmakers for coach Adam Gase and quarterback Sam Darnold by selecting Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims in the second round and Florida running back La'Mical Perine in the fourth.
The defense added some physical talent with California defensive back Ashtyn Davis (third round), Florida edge rusher Jabari Zuniga (third) and Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall (fifth). Douglas traded the Jets' final pick, a sixth-rounder, to the Colts for cornerback Quincy Wilson.
The Jets will have a new punter after selecting Texas A&M's Braden Mann in the sixth round, the first player taken at his position.
LOCKER ROOM LEADERS
Of the nine players New York drafted, six served as team captains for their college teams — including all five taken on Saturday. Clark was also Charlotte's MVP last season, a rarity for an offensive lineman.
“We've talked about culture and we're trying to add to it,” Douglas said. “We felt a lot of the guys that we brought in today, they bring a lot to the field and the building."
BIG BOYS UP FRONT
After the Jets' offensive line struggled mightily last season with injuries and inconsistent play, Douglas made a point of making big changes to help protect Darnold.
New York will likely have five different starters on the line from what it had in Week 1 last year — highlighted by Becton, who'll likely start along with George Fant, signed in free agency, at the tackle spots.
Clark could serve as a backup tackle and/or compete at left or right guard.
The Jets traded down 11 spots in the second round and snagged Mims, a wide receiver who could contribute immediately. The former Baylor star had 66 catches for 1,020 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and will help fill the void left when Robby Anderson, the Jets’ top receiver, signed with Carolina last month in free agency. Mims could end up starting alongside Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman.
Perine should complement Le'Veon Bell in the backfield. He's a bruising back at 5-foot-11 and 216 pounds. Perine had 2,485 career yards rushing, the eighth-most in program history, and 30 touchdowns.
GETTING TO THE QB
New York re-signed outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, but still needed another pass-rushing presence. Zuniga could help fill that, and certainly doesn't lack the confidence expected of a sack-happy presence.
"I definitely consider myself the steal of the draft,” Zuniga said.
The 6-4, 255-pound defensive end played in only six games last season because of ankle injuries, but had 18 1/2 sacks in four years with the Gators.
Hall could develop into a starter despite his draft stock falling because of an ankle injury that ended his college career. He was projected as a potential late first-rounder or second-rounder before he was hurt.
“I didn’t come to the NFL to prove them wrong,” Hall said of teams that passed on him. “But where I landed, it motivated me even more, to work 10 times harder. I believe in myself and what I can be one day.”
The Jets cut their primary starting cornerbacks last season in Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts, and signed Pierre Desir in free agency. Desir will be a starter, so Hall could compete with Bless Austin and Arthur Maulet on the other side if he's healthy — something Douglas believes he'll be. Wilson, a second-rounder by the Colts in 2017, could also be in the mix.
Davis is a versatile, athletic presence who was a walk-on at Cal and could be a factor on special teams and in three-safety/nickel sets in New York's secondary. He could also be a long-term replacement for Marcus Maye, whose rookie contract is up after this season.
The one pick that raised some eyebrows was the Jets taking FIU quarterback James Morgan in the fourth, with some considering the selection a bit of a reach.
Morgan, who idolized Brett Favre as a kid while growing up near Lambeau Field, will compete with David Fales and Mike White for the backup job behind Darnold. The 6-4, 213-pound QB threw 40 touchdown passes with 12 interceptions as FIU's starter the last two years after transferring from Bowling Green.
“You need to have depth at that position,” Douglas said. “We found that out last year.”
He was, of course, referring to the struggles the Jets had at the position after Darnold's bout with mononucleosis and injuries to backups Trevor Siemian and Luke Falk.
-- By Dennis Waszak Jr., AP
MIAMI: Despite wave of newcomers, Dolphins may still be a year away
MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins emerged from the NFL wilderness this week by adding 11 draft picks to their roster, including a potential franchise quarterback, and a veteran running back with a career average of 5.0 yards per carry.
Even so, they may still be at least a year away from playoff contention.
That’s partly because last season's team was so bereft of talent, and partly because of the type of players Miami drafted, especially with the top two picks. Neither is likely to start when the 2020 season begins.
No. 5 overall choice Tua Tagovailoa is still recovering from a hip injury that ended his Alabama career in mid-November, and he might spend most or all of his rookie year as an understudy to returning starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Southern Cal tackle Austin Jackson, drafted with the 18th overall pick, is only 20 years old and needs development.
“Games aren’t won in March and April,” coach Brian Flores said. “A lot of hard work has to be done for us to become a good team.”
Jackson was one of three offensive linemen drafted in the first four rounds — a franchise record. They'll join free agent acquisitions Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers in competing for playing time as the Dolphins strive to improve a perennially troublesome area, with the long-term goal of keeping the injury-plagued Tagovailoa healthy.
“I'm just blessed for the opportunity to play with him,” said Georgia guard Solomon Kindley, a fourth-round pick. “I'm going to do whatever I can to protect him.”
New long snapper Blake Ferguson of Louisiana State is also looking forward to teaming with Tagovailoa — and trash-talking him. After Miami selected Ferguson, he tweeted a photo of LSU's 46-41 win over Alabama last season.
“See you in Miami @Tuaamann,” Ferguson tweeted.
With their last pick, the Dolphins made Navy's Malcolm Perry the only player from a service academy to be selected. Perry played quarterback the past two seasons, but he'll likely get a tryout as a receiver and kick returner in Miami.
The Dolphins addressed by a priority by acquiring running back Matt Breida from the San Francisco 49ers for a fifth-round draft pick Saturday. Breida totaled 1,902 yards rushing in three years with the 49ers, and with free agent acquisition Jordan Howard, he should upgrade a ground game that ranked last in the NFL in 2019.
The Dolphins are positioned to reap another draft bonanza in 2021, when they have two picks in the first round and two in the second. But they're already relevant again, thanks to their most consequential draft in many years, and the resulting buzz created by all the new faces, especially Tagovailoa.
“I’m going to go out there and compete as if I’m preparing to be the starter," Tagovailoa said, "even if I’m not going to be the starter right away or the entire season."
On the final day of the draft, they added five players — Kindley, North Carolina defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge and Boise State linebacker Curtis Weaver in the fifth round, Ferguson in the sixth round, and Perry in the seventh round.
The 337-pound Lindley is the biggest addition yet this offseason, and now perhaps the team's best swimmer. He grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and was so large as a youngster he wasn't allowed to play Pee Wee football. He looked for another sport, became a lifeguard, earned the nickname “Big Fish” and once rescued another youngster from the bottom of the pool.
Ferguson also took an unusual route to the NFL, succeeding his brother Reid as a long-snapping specialist at LSU. Reid has been with the Buffalo Bills since 2017.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it's unknown when the Dolphins will get the first up-close look at their many newcomers. Flores, like all coaches, is antsy.
“We’ve got to get out there,” he said. "We’ve got to practice. We’ve got to get into meetings, get into walk-throughs. We’re a long way off from that, given what’s going on. Hopefully we get that going at some point, but obviously there are a lot more pressing issues out there.”
-- By Steven Wine, AP