No trades. No frills.
The final rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft for the Patriots were a straightforward exercise Saturday, using five scheduled picks to deepen their restored roster and establish a new identity.
This season, unequivocally, the Pats are preparing to become a punishing, power-running, defensive football team.
The Patriots opened the fourth round by selecting Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson, a 6-foot, 231-pound bowling ball of a back. Stevenson ran a 4.64 in the 40-yard dash and clocked better agility times at his Pro Day. He only took 165 carries in college, but can catch the ball and is highly regarded for his pass-blocking skills. Stevenson led the Sooners with 665 rushing yards and seven touchdowns over six games last year.
Stevenson forced a missed tackle on better than 36% of his carries in 2020, per Pro Football Focus, one of the highest rates in college football. His season started in October, once he completed a six-game suspension with linebacker teammate Ronnie Perkins, drafted by the Patriots on Friday, for a failed drug test in December 2019.
Stevenson transferred to Oklahoma in spring 2019 after starting for two years at Cerritos College in California. He tested as a below-average athlete among the running backs in this year’s class, but runs decisively with great power and an effective spin move. Stevenson comes with some fumble concerns and figures to enter into a backfield rotation in New England.
“We look forward to working with him. I think Stevenson’s best football is in front of him,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Saturday. “He’s big, he can run, he can catch. He’s certainly going to need a lot of work on some of the other finer points. That’s what we’re here for. I’m sure he’ll be ready to get to work and do it.”
Stevenson said he didn’t expect to get drafted by the Pats after having minimal contact with them during the draft process, aside from one video call with running backs coach Ivan Fears and two scouts.
“I had more conversations with teams other than the Patriots,” Stevenson said. “I think that is because the Patriots had a good idea on me. We had a great Zoom interview. I don’t think they really needed to talk to me. It was just a surprise because I hadn’t been communicating with them as much as other teams.”
During the video call, Stevenson said the scouts taught him a couple of the Pats’ pass protection schemes and later tested him on those concepts, which he mastered. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah called Stevenson one of the best pass-protecting backs in the entire class.
He also caught 28 passes for 298 yards in college and dropped two targets last year. Stevenson is the heaviest running back the Patriots have drafted in the Belichick era.
A natural player comparison from recent franchise history is former Pats running back LeGarrette Blount, who weighed 247 pounds and was another terror to tacklers. Stevenson said he watched Blount growing up.
“I’m pretty familiar with the history of the running backs that the Patriots have had, and one that comes to mind is LeGarrette Blount,” Stevenson said. “I loved his game. I just love how north-and-south of a runner he was.”
In the fifth round, the Pats added Michigan inside linebacker Cameron McGrone. The 6-1, 236-pounder tore his ACL last November, and it’s possible he won’t contribute until the 2022 season. Belichick said the team is prepared to play without him in 2021.
When healthy, McGrone was considered a Day 2 prospect. He boasts near sideline-to-sideline range and was well-regarded for his run defense. McGrone is a sound tackler. He became the third Michigan defender selected by the Patriots in the past three years.
“I was overcome with emotion,” McGrone said after being selected. “Just all the hard work put in to this point and to finally get my name called, it just means so much. Now getting the chance to be around some of my former teammates, that’s going to mean a lot to me too. Just to see some familiar faces is a blessing.”
With their first of two sixth-round picks, the Patriots selected Missouri safety Joshuah Bledsoe. At 5-11 and 204 pounds, Bledsoe projects as a box safety at the next level. He played nickel in college, and reputedly boasts good strength and awareness. He is a lesser athlete than most of the safeties in this draft, but plays with aggression and physicality.
Bledsoe also played in the Senior Bowl, where he met with Patriots scouts. He’ll likely need to carve out a role on special teams to stick in New England before providing depth behind Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger in the box.
Colorado offensive tackle Will Sherman became the next Patriot nine picks later. The 6-3, 304-pounder played in every game the past three seasons, starting at left tackle in 2020 and 2018 and right tackle in 2019. Sherman moves well, but might transition to guard in the NFL. He allowed two sacks in each of the past three years, per Pro Football Focus, including the Buffs’ six-game 2020 campaign.
As an undersized offensive tackle, Sherman said he’s long studied Patriots left tackle Isaiah Wynn.
“Just trying to watch him play left tackle, mirror his feet, his technique, his hands and all that stuff,” Sherman said. “It’s crazy to actually get drafted by the Patriots now.”
UCF wide receiver Tre Nixon became the final member of the Pats’ draft class in the seventh round at pick No. 242.
“That’s a moment I’ll tell my grandkids about,” Nixon said.
Nixon is an excellent athlete at 6 feet and 187 pounds. He ran a 4.44 at his Pro Day, with a 6.81-second time in the 3-cone. He totaled 40 catches for 830 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019, before breaking his collarbone last season. Nixon is considered a developmental prospect with enough route-running chops to potentially flash as a rookie.