FOXBORO – Late Friday night, after the third round of the draft ended, Nick Caserio was at a loss to explain how the Patriots would use all their last-day picks.
Too many selections. Not enough spots on the 90-man roster available. No vacancy.
“We’re scheduled to pick in the fourth round right now and we have the end of the draft covered with the five sixth-round picks, three of which we have to pick,” Caserio lamented. “We couldn’t trade those even if we wanted to. And then the two seventh-round picks...I think that puts us at 80 players on the roster, just if you include the players we drafted. Somewhere along the line, something’s going to have to give. We’re going to have to give some picks up or, you know, you have 90 players you can actually have on your roster at one time, so we’re going to have to see how it all fits together.”
Here’s how it fit together on Saturday. The Patriots selected Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell with a fourth-rounder (112 overall), then angled to get the hell out of their remaining seven selections with trades.
First, they sent Miami the 196th, 204th and 250th picks in exchange for the 147th pick.
Then, when their turn approached at 147, they sent that pick and the 243rd pick to Seattle in exchange for the 225th pick this year and a fourth-rounder next year.
Distilling those moves: they first turned three picks into one. Then they combined that pick with another and turned those two into one this year and one next year. And in doing so they got back into the fourth round for 2017. They NFL confiscated the Patriots fourth-rounder last year.
Selections left to be made on Saturday are these untradeable compensatory picks: 208, 214 and 221. And also 225 which can be traded.
Finally, an interesting bit of bookkeeping from the deal the Patriots made with the Cardinals earlier in the offseason.
The Patriots got guard Jonathan Cooper and the 61st overall pick back from Arizona. The Patriots traded the 61st pick to New Orleans Friday night in exchange for a third and a fourth. The Patriots got offensive lineman Joe Thuney and Mitchell from those picks.
So the deal was Chandler Jones for Cooper, Thuney and Mitchell.
FOXBORO – Damn, Patriots, back at it again with drafting the wide receivers.
At least in the instance of Malcolm Mitchell there are no questions of softness or character or coachability. The 6-foot, 198-pounder is a media relations dream. He was reading at a junior high level when he got to Georgia so he devoted himself to getting better at it and joined a woman’s book club after a conversation at a Barnes & Noble.
He’s written a children’s book. He blew his ACL in 2013 but he did it after sprinting downfield to celebrate a teammate’s touchdown. He was a team captain at Georgia, loves to block, is a dependable third-down receiver, etc.
The questions about him will be his durability (2015 was his first season fully healthy) and the same question that dogs every receiver that comes into the Patriots system: Can he master the intricacies?
But the scouting report? Impossible to quibble with for the 112th overall pick.
This was the scouting report on Mitchell from Nolan Nawrocki, one of the most exhaustive and unflinching draft analysts in the business.
“A tough, passionate, crafty slot receiver who can be trusted to move the sticks in critical situations. Mitchell gained more confidence in his knee in his second year removed from ACL surgery. Brings similar energy, toughness and attitude as Steelers 1998 third-round pick Hines Ward. Smart and versatile enough to contribute in multiple roles perhaps even at cornerback where he began his Georgia career and could be most attractive to a veteran coaching staff such as the Patriots or Steelers.”
Where does Mitchell fit on the Patriots depth chart?
At 6-feet, 198 pounds, he’s got the short-area speed and ability to play slot where route-running and change of direction are vital to uncovering quickly on option routes. The Patriots are well-populated there at the moment with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan on the roster there.
But he also has the speed, length (extremely long arms and big hands) and leaping ability to be a high-pointing outside receiver. The Patriots are not as stocked there. They have the annually disappointing Aaron Dobson, 32-year-old Nate Washington and the dependable-but-low-ceiling Keshawn Martin.
Perhaps the best way to get Mitchell ingrained in the system is to let him master a little bit at a time. Start him on the outside, where he took the bulk of his 2015 snaps with the Bulldogs, and leave the slot stuff to the others.
If the team unloads Amendola – and his $6.8M cap is really starting to stick out – they still have Hogan and Edelman to take inside reps. If Mitchell shows competency, the team can unload Dobson and have the outside group of Washington, Mitchell, Martin and Hogan/Edelman.
Mitchell isn’t the long, angular field-stretcher that “takes the top off the defense” but the Patriots are not that kind of vertical offense. They can just as effectively spread a defense out over the 54 horizontal yards and they need quick, tough, smart players to do it. Mitchell may be a step in that direction.
FOXBORO -- It's not always easy for new Patriots receivers to come in and contribute off the bat. Just in the last handful of years drafted players (Josh Boyce and Taylor Price) as well as accomplished free-agent acquisitions (Chad Ochochinco and Reggie Wayne) have had their difficulties adjusting.
Patriots fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell, taken with the No. 112 overall selection on Saturday, will be submitted to similar rigors when he arrives at Gillette Stadium for the first time and he knows it. But he isn't planning on struggling.
Mitchell has been very open about some of the challenges he had reading when he arrived on campus at the University of Georgia. In a piece put together by CBS This Morning, he estimated that he was reading at about a middle-school level when he began his collegiate studies. Since then his love for reading has grown, he's become an advocate for children's literacy, and he's authored a children's book.
Now that he's been drafted by the Patriots, into an offense that has been evolving for 16 years under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Mitchell was asked in a conference call how he might handle the famously complicated language in New England's playbook.
"I appreciate the question," Mitchell said. "To be completely honest, I'm pretty confident in my abilities to learn. You know, when I took a visit with the Patriots, we went over several different things to see if I would be a good fit for their system. For them to pick me up lets me know that they have confidence in me to be able to make that adjustment and learn what I need to learn to be the most effective player that I can be on the field."
Mitchell had a productive career for the Bulldogs, serving as one of the most explosive receiving threats in their pro-style offense. He's played both on the outside and the inside, though the majority of his snaps came as an outside option last season. He also seasoned when it comes to running routes that can be adjusted based on the defensive look in front of him.
Because that's something that the Patriots ask of their wideouts, Mitchell already may have a bit of a jump start on what he'll be learning from receivers coach Chad O'Shea.
"I have a lot of experience in that," he said. "To be honest, the majority of our plays were scripted out that way. That's something that I'm comfortable with and I've been doing for four or five years already."
Mitchell got a master's course in that style of play last season under Brian Schottenheimer, who served as Georgia offensive coordinator for a year following three years with the Rams as their offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer is now the quarterbacks coach for the Colts.
"I think it helped a lot because Coach Schottenheimer immediately came into UGA with that mentality," Mitchell said. "He had been doing it for so many years. The tape that we would use to learn plays, the types of plays, the concepts, the adjustments, we got a big dose of that last year at UGA, which honestly, I believe is going to prepare me for whatever comes next."