FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Just call the New England Patriots the University of Georgia north.
The Patriots used their two first-round picks in the NFL draft to plug a hole on their offensive line and to bolster their depth at running back.
They selected 6-2, 302-pound offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn out of Georgia with the 23rd overall pick on Thursday night. They then chose 5-foot-11, 215-pound Georgia running back Sony Michel 31st overall pick. New England has a total of five selections in the first 95 picks.
They were just some of several needs for the AFC champions following the departure of a handful of starters in free agency.
Wynn started his college career as a guard but shifted to left tackle as a senior, earning second-team AP All-America honors in 2017. But he said he’s open to playing anywhere on the offensive line at the next level.
“It doesn’t matter where the Patriots put me, I’m ready to contribute any way I can,” Wynn said.
Michel was a dual threat for the Bulldogs, rushing for 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior in 2017. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry and also had a receiving touchdown. He was one of three running backs taken in first round, joining Saquon Barkley (No. 2 to Giants) and Rashaad Penny (No. 27 to Seattle).
Wynn and Michel join a New England roster that already features two Georgia alums — starting center David Andrews and receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
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Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said there was no hesitation in selecting a running back in the first round. New England hasn’t used a first-round pick on running back since taking Laurence Maroney with the 21st overall pick in 2006. The Patriots lost running back Dion Lewis to Tennessee in free agency.
“Our thing is pick good football players that have good traits. However they get here, they get here,” Caserio said. “There’s no template of how you put it together.”
Michel does enter the league with some baggage. He has a knee condition that concerned some executives heading into the draft process. He also had 12 career fumbles at Georgia.
Michel said simply that “I’m healthy,” when asked about his knee.
Wynn is recovering from tearing the labrum in his shoulder back in November. He had surgery on it in January and said he’s “right on track for recovery.” He expects to be ready for mini-camp in June.
He said the fumble issue is something he plans to correct.
“It’s all about being aware of how I carry the football,” he said. “Ball placement. It’s something I should focus on and work on.”
Wynn would seem to be undersized as a tackle at the NFL level, though he could be an option to replace left tackle Nate Solder, who signed with the New York Giants.
Patriots starting right guard Shaq Mason is also entering the final year of his rookie contract and will become an unrestricted free agent following the upcoming season. With Mason expected to garner a lot of interest in the free agency market in 2019, this could be a preemptive move on the part of Bill Belichick to get someone in the pipeline now.
The Patriots have started rookies up front before — left guard Joe Thuney started 16 games in his first year in 2016.
Wynn’s selection was part of a run on offensive linemen in the first round Thursday night. Six linemen were selected before the first wide receiver — Maryland’s D.J. Moore — came off the board at No. 24.
New England still has needs on defense, including linebacker, defensive end and cornerback. The Patriots are also in the market for a quarterback to develop behind 40-year-old Tom Brady.
They had a chance to get former Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, who visited the Patriots facility during the pre-draft process.
But they were undercut by the Titans and its new head coach and former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, who selected Evans with the 22nd pick it acquired from Baltimore.
Caserio insisted they didn’t feel slighted by the move.
“(Titans general manager) Jon (Robinson) and Mike did what they thought was best for their team,” he said. “But we didn’t like throw any pens against the wall.”
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