Now that the combine is in the past, we have legitimate measurables and a better understanding of where NFL coaches and GM’s project the 2011 prospects to play at the next level.
With that in mind, expect a major shake-up in this edition of our Patriots NFL Mock Draft.
1st Round (OAK)
The Patriots defense has relied on 1st round talent at the defensive line position for ages. In 2010, however, they had to go all the way down to 7th rounders and beyond. Luckily for them, the 2011 NFL Draft is absolutely stocked with great defensive linemen.
JJ Watt (DL, Wisconsin) is our pick here for the Patriots. He brings the tenacity, motor, and winning attitude needed to return New England to the lofty altitudes of a decade ago. Watt is incredibly long, athletic, and has the speed to get to the pass-rusher.
Much has been made of Watt’s association with Tom Condon, an agent that has angered the Patriots front office before. (See Watson, Ben) The Patriots haven’t picked a Condon client since, although we feel that the right player like Watt could break that trend.
Cam Jordan, Muhammad Wilkerson, or an OLB convert like Robert Quinn or Aldon Smith, could be options if they are available.
Speaking of Muhammad Wilkerson (DL, Temple), if he is still available late in the 1st round, we don’t think that Bill Belichick would hesitate for a second to double up on DE’s.
The value in this draft lies in the DL’s, and as we’ve established earlier, it certainly fits a major need for the Patriots. Ty Warren’s health isn’t guaranteed, and Marcus Stroud and Gerard Warren are certainly on the tail-end of their careers. Ron Brace could be an option at 5-technique, but he has been inconsistent at best. Brandon Deaderick was suspender for part of the year.
Wilkerson is a natural 5-technique, with the requisite size and experience playing in a two-gap system. He is very athletic, but still can refine his technique. In addition, both Wilkerson and Watt start a “W”, which we all know is a must for Patriots linemen lately.
2nd Round (CAR)
After upgrading the pass-rush through the defensive line, the offensive line is probably the next area of need. Derek Sherrod (OL, Mississippi State) is the smooth Matt Light-clone that the Patriots need to be able to keep Sebastian Vollmer dominating at right tackle.
If the Patriots want to move Vollmer, a prospect that can play RT like Gabe Carimi, Nate Solder, or Anthony Castonzo might still be available at this point in the draft.
Even with improving their defensive front, the outside linebackers need some more quality, as Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich are more suited for backup roles.
Sam Acho (DE/OLB, Texas) would provide the sort of versatile pass-rush that is needed to complement Jermaine Cunningham. Acho is a very smart kid and a good athlete. His intelligence and football smarts should help him have an impact earlier in his career than most rookies under Bill Belichick.
Brooks Reed (DE/OLB, Arizona) and Justin Houston (DE/OLB, Georgia), while they will probably be off the board by now, could be trade up targets if the Patriots want to go their way.
3rd Round (MIN)
There is a ton of uncertainty regarding the OG position, with a possibility of the Patriots losing three former starters this off-season (Mankins, Neal, Kaczur).
Clint Boling (OL, Georgia) is a versatile lineman that has played all four non-center offensive line positions in his career. He excels in the phone-booth and moves well on pulls and screens.
Boling also fits the Belichick guard mold as being primarily a college LT.
The Patriots have rarely gone a whole draft without selecting a defensive back. After hitting last year with Devin McCourty, Ahmad Black (DB, Florida) seems like a likely target for the New England front-office to consider.
He is a special-teams demon who plays the game with an incredible amount of determination. Black certainly isn’t the biggest, strongest, or fastest safety out there, but very few reach his level of production.
The Patriots need some youth and depth at the RB position, but the value at that position isn’t in the first two rounds with Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure. Delone Carter (RB, Syracuse) is a 3-down back that has all the skills necessary to excel in the Patriots system.
He has had some issues away from the football field, however. If that scares away the Patriots, Shane Vereen (RB, Cal), Demarco Murray (RB, Oklahoma), or Jordan Todman (RB, UConn) could all be available within striking distance for this pick.
Cheta Ozougwu (DE/OLB, Rice) is another option to try at ROLB. He looked very smooth at the Shrine Game and doing the LB drills at the combine.
Much is often made of the Kirk Ferentz – Bill Belichick connection. That said, only Mike Elgin (OL, 7th Round) has ever been drafted from Iowa. Julian Vandervelde (OG, Iowa) might be the guy to change that.
Vandervelde has very good technique and is another great leader with both book and football smarts.