Tom E. Curran

Patriots get Drake Maye the help he needs in productive 2024 draft

Eliot Wolf and his staff took a logical approach in Rounds 2-7.

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The skinny on Drake Maye is that he’s a project. Well, not a project as much as a projection. He’s already demonstrably good. After some molding, cleanup, seasoning, luck and patience, he could be breathtaking.

He could carry an offense. He could be a “win because of” rather than a “win with” quarterback. But you don’t take a quarterback in the first round and then just say, “That’s that. He’ll figure it out.”

You pour resources into making sure your guy becomes THE GUY. Logical, right?

Which is why I love the plan the Patriots enacted after taking Maye. They didn’t pretend their offense had plenty of “NFL” players and didn’t have to draft for need, which Eliot Wolf mystifyingly indicated during his pre-draft press conference.

They added and added and added on offense. And while they may have rolled the dice on Maye, who was the biggest “boom-or-bust” prospect among the five players the Patriots hosted, they went safe with his support staff.

Receivers Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker (second and fourth round from Washington and UCF, respectively) played in 87 games combined at the collegiate level and between them had 121 catches for 2,298 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Maye is better downfield than on the short stuff. Baker averaged 21.9 per catch; Polk was at 16.8.

The Patriots could have had Ladd McConkey if they stayed at 34. They could have had Adonai Mitchell. Both were more highly-regarded by some. But McConkey’s got knee concerns and Mitchell dropped all the way to 52 over alleged character concerns (which were assailed by Colts GM Chris Ballard). Did the Patriots take Polk earlier than expected? Maybe. But this wasn’t taking a fifth-round projection like Tyquan Thornton in the second round.

Based on resume, tape, durability and production, Polk and Baker are safe bets for the Patriots to get something out of the draft in a way they hadn’t with pass-catchers taken since 2019 like Thornton, N’Keal Harry and the third-round tight end double-shot of Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in 2020. Less than a year later, the team signed two free agent tight ends for fat money, essentially acknowledging the two third-round misfires.

Will Polk and Baker be contributors in 2024? With Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, K.J. Osborn, JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeMario Douglas all still on the roster, it might be a squeeze to emerge as rookies. But Thornton may need a tremendous offseason to stick. Meanwhile, Smith-Schuster is coming off a very uninspiring first year in New England and is on borrowed time if he doesn’t contribute the way the team envisioned when they opted for him over Jakobi Meyers last offseason.

So the opportunity for those two to be with Maye for the next four seasons is there.

The Patriots threw bodies at the offensive line, too. One of the reasons I was a trade-down proponent? The 2024 season was hijacked by the inability to protect Mac Jones early in the year. Injuries to Cole Strange, Mike Onwenu (coming back from offseason surgery) and free agent right tackle signees Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson created a desperate shuffle in which the team was rolling out rookies Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi.

You can’t have a skinny, moderately mobile quarterback with a subpar arm in the middle of a weekly blitzkrieg. But that’s where Jones was to the point he turned into a puddle. You can’t build an offense if you don’t lay the foundation, was my logic.

Obviously the Patriots were lured by the siren song of Maye’s upside, so the high-end tackle didn’t happen. But they did grab a tackle in the third round, Caedan Wallace from Penn State, with the 68th overall pick. He played 47 games in the Big Ten, is experienced and was described as “a clock-puncher who plays with better fundamentals and technique than his highly regarded teammate, Olumuyiwa Fashanu,” by draft expert Lance Zierlein. It’s not a home run, but it should at least be a single.

They also added a fourth-round guard, Layden Robinson, who can come in and compete with Sow (the likely starter at right guard) and maybe be in the pipeline if the team moves on from Strange after his rookie contract expires.

They grabbed a corner, Marcellas Dial, in the sixth. They needed one of those. They grabbed another quarterback for depth, Joe Milton, who has a cannon, which would be a departure from what they’ve had in the bullpen with Bailey Zappe. And they added a project tight end in Jaheim Bell, which – given that Hunter Henry's the only layup resource at that spot – will give them some versatility at the position since he’s more of a pass-catcher and YAC guy than an in-line thumper.

So to sum it up, no “hold my beer” selections like a kicker in the fourth round. One minor trade down. A whole lot of “stick-and-pick” at positions that a team with an offense as unwatchable as New England’s needed to make.

After floundering in free agency, the Patriots did what feels like the right thing in the draft.

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