Best Pick of the Draft:
Chad Jackson, WR, Florida. Jackson was rated by many as the top wideout in the draft and was a player the Patriots actually considered drafting with their top pick at 21. To get him by trading up early in the second round, the Patriots were able to essentially come away from draft weekend with two first-round talents on offense. Jackson has the size, speed and tremendous hands to be a big-time playmaker in Tom Brady's offense. In his career at Florida he showed the ability to make the big play while also displaying a willingness to go across the middle and consistent underneath, pro-style passing game awareness. Jackson will come right in as a rookie and compete for the No. 2 receiver slot vacated by David Givens and at the very least should be a major contributor as a rookie.
Biggest Upside Potential:
Garrett Mills, FB/TE, Tulsa. The little-known, small-framed (6-1, 232) Mills was one of the most productive pass catchers from the tight end position in the history of college football. Mills caught 201 passes for 2,389 yards and 23 scores in four years with the Golden Hurricane, including an NCAA tight-end record 1,235 yards on 87 catches with nine scores as a senior. Not a traditional tight end or physical specimen like current Patriot Benjamin Watson, Mills' strengths come out when he's moved around as an H-back type. Bill Belichick is generally able to find ways to use highly productive college players who don't necessarily fit a prototypical pro mold. Look for him to do that with Mills as a fullback who moves all around the offensive formation to catch passes and do a minimum of the blocking required of a fullback in the Patriots offense. Mills has been compared to Larry Centers by some and could be a unique weapon for Tom Brady in New England.
A closer look at the Patriots' picks:
Round 1/21 -- Laurence Maroney, RB, 6-0, 217, Minnesota
New England had its choice at 21 of running backs not named Reggie Bush and went with the slashing, productive Gopher to come in and compete with Corey Dillon as the lead back of the franchise's future. Maroney has the size and speed to be a big-play workhorse in the NFL. He had three straight seasons with more than 1,000 yards at Minnesota despite sharing time with both current Cowboy Marion Barber and returning Gopher Gary Russell. In New England, Maroney will have to improve on his pass protection in order to get on the field with Tom Brady on a regular basis, but he should provide instant youth, insurance and competition at running back as a true backup to Dillon with the potential to be much more than that both in 2006 and beyond.
Round 2/36 -- Chad Jackson, WR, 6-1, 202, Florida
Arguably the top wide receiver talent in the draft (along with Ohio State's Santonio Holmes) Jackson is an absolute steal in the early part of the second round. His speed -- a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the combine -- production in two different offensive systems in his time with the Gators, size and tremendous hands should allow him to become an immediate contributor in New England. The Patriots had to send the 20th selection in the second round (52nd overall) and a third-rounder (75th overall) to Green Bay to move up to get Jackson with the fourth pick of the second round, but there is little question he represents both a need and value pick for New England at the spot as the team actually considered him for its first-round selection. He should compete immediately with fellow former Gator Reche Caldwell in training camp for the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Deion Branch and could be a productive Tom Brady target for many years in Foxboro.
Round 3/86 -- David Thomas, TE, 6-3, 246, Texas
While tight end may not have been one of New England's top needs heading into draft weekend, the team's propensity for multiple tight end sets makes the Thomas pick a solid selection. The well-rounded Longhorn fills the void left by Christian Fauria and joins Benjamin Watson and Daniel Graham to give the Patriots a trio of young, versatile tight ends to work with on game day. Thomas will initially be an extra body, H-back type and special teams contributor, but with Graham heading to free agency next spring the third-rounder could end up a starter down the road. Thomas isn't as spectacular as his new tight end teammates, but his solid numbers, including 88 catches with 15 touchdowns over his four seasons in Texas should convert to a consistent professional.
Round 4/106 -- Garrett Mills, FB/TE, 6-1, 241, Tulsa
This pick is a head-scratcher on one level but makes sense on another. Mills is undersized and doesn't really have a professional position after a highly productive and versatile career at Tulsa or fill a real need for the Patriots. New England will likely use him as a fullback/H-back, but that certainly wasn't one of the bigger needs on the team. That said, Mills is an overachiever, hard worker and the type of do-anything player that Bill Belichick admires and finds a way to use. He won't likely show up much in the box score, although some believe he could be a pass-catching fullback in the Larry Centers mold, but Mills will be given a chance to contribute in a special teams role and versatile backup position much the way undersized defensive lineman Dan Klecko has in his three seasons in New England.
Round 4/118 -- Stephen Gostkowski, K, 6-1, 212, Memphis
It may have come a little earlier in the draft than fans expected, but the Patriots got the guy they believed to be the best kicker in the draft with the second of two fourth-round picks. Gostkowski has a strong leg with impressive accuracy from 40-plus yards including a perfect 10-for-10 as a senior when he went 22-of-25 overall. The leg strength also shows on kickoffs, with 39 of 68 resulting in touchbacks last season. The rookie will compete with veteran Martin Gramatica for the right to earn the unenviable task of replacing Adam Vinatieri. Gostkowski has to be considered the favorite to be New England's opening day kicker.
Round 5/136 -- Ryan O'Callaghan, T, 6-6, 344, California
New England continued to work on the offensive side of the ball with the oversized and free-falling O'Callaghan in the fifth round. He played every game at right tackle over his final two seasons at Cal and was considered by some to be the best right tackle prospect in the draft. His draft weekend slide had him seeking advice from 2005 fellow free-falling Golden Bear Aaron Rogers, who consoled his former pass protector before he got the call from New England. O'Callaghan adds depth to a Patriots offensive line group that lost Tom Ashworth in free agency and retains injury concerns about tackle Matt Light and center Dan Koppen. While he won't be expected to contribute in the early going, especially after New England used two first-day picks on the line a year ago, O'Callaghan will enter the team's offensive line development program, headed by coach Dante Scarnecchia, that has been so successful with later round picks and practice squad types in recent years.
Round 6/191 -- Jeremy Mincey, DE, 6-3, 260, Florida
Mincey became the second Urban Meyer coached player to get the call from New England, joining Gator Chad Jackson. He's an undersized end who will either have to bulk up to play the line in New England's 3-4, or maybe convert to linebacker and help the team fill one of its biggest remaining off-season needs. Mincey was a productive two-year starter at Florida after two seasons in junior college and while by no means a lock to make the roster, he could be a long term developmental defender.
Round 6/205 -- Dan Stevenson, G, 6-5, 300, Notre Dame
The first of what could be a series of South Bend to New England picks in the next few years, Stevenson is solid interior lineman who Charlie Weis has compared favorably to former Patriots lunch pale lineman Joe Andruzzi. Stevenson finished his career at Notre Dame starting 34 consecutive games at right guard. Like O'Callaghan Stevenson will get time to develop in New England's program, although thanks to a year under Weis could already be bit further along in the process than his new linemate.
Round 6/206 -- Le Kevin Smith, DL, 6-1, 307, Nebraska
Smith started for the Cornhuskers over his final three seasons playing right and left tackle as well as nose tackle. He likely projects as a backup to starting nose tackle Vince Wilfork in New England's 3-4 system, although some scouting reports indicate he might be suited for a one-gap system in which he could slant, stunt and shoot gaps. His addition to an already deep, young defensive line group should bring an even greater level to camp competition.
Round 7/229 -- Willie Andrews, DB, 5-9, 182, Baylor
Andrews is a 'tweener player and potential return man who brings little more than depth and raw potential to New England. He has decent speed, but his limited ball skills and questionable tackling make him a developmental prospect at best. His best chance at sticking on the roster is to win a job on New England's disappointing return unit.