NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Loyko
With the NFL season almost halfway through, and some teams already out of the playoff picture, fans are already looking ahead to April’s NFL Draft.
With the debacle this past weekend in Pittsburgh many Patriot fans are looking for answers on defense and how to improve the pass rush and secondary. Using the current 2012 NFL draft order as our template, this will be our first of many Patriot specific mock drafts.
The Patriots are once again flush with draft choices in the top half of the draft. Owning both the Saints first round pick and the Raiders second round pick, the Patriots will have 4 picks in the first two rounds for the 3rd straight season.
The Saints did the Patriots a major favor by losing to the winless Rams. The Saints look likely to make the playoffs, however they are not the juggernaut many thought they would be entering the season. Sitting at 5-3 Patriot fans should be rooting against the Saints and Raiders in hopes of improving our draft picks in the first two rounds.
Current Team Needs-
OLB- It’s painfully clear the Patriots don’t have many impact athletes on defense. Nowhere is that more evident than at OLB. Rob Ninkovich is a nice reserve, but they have to upgrade his spot. Keep in mind that the Patriots may end up switching back to the 3-4 next year, which would mean they need 2 OLBs. The secondary is awful, but the coverage is a product of pass rush, and this year, like the previous 4-5 years, the Patriots main need is to address the pass rush.
ILB- They need a MLB who can stay on the field all four downs. The main weakness on this team is they don’t have a linebacker who can cover and they are constantly exposed.
Weak Side DE- Andre Carter has done a great job, but he is on a 1 year deal and in his mid 30′s. They need to find players that can rush the passer, plain and simple. Forget a DE who can hold up against the run, this team is chalk full of DE/DT who play the run; they need players who can just rush the passer.
Safety- The Patriots don’t distinguish between their free and strong safety. Patrick Chung plays more like a strong safety, so they need to find at least one coverage safety. This might end up being the biggest need by the time the draft rolls around.
Cornerback- Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling will likely be the two starters heading into next year. They have to add depth to the position. While people are already willing to call Dowling a bust, I expect big things from him when he is healthy.
Center- The Patriots have drafted two tackles who figure to be bookends for years to come. The yalso have Mankins tied up long term and Marcus Cannon as a high ceiling prosepct. Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly are UFA’s after this season and I look for them to upgrade that position, even though Dan Connolly has been solid.
Wide Receiver- The only WR on the roster who has any long term value as of today is Wes Welker and he is a FA after this season. Deion Branch is solid in this system but isn’t nearly explosive enough. Taylor Price has 9 games remaining to show his stuff, otherwise they will need to draft a WR who can stretch the field. The past two/three drafts the Patriots have completely rebuilt the tight end position, the tackle position and last year the running back position for the future. I’d expect them to spend heavily on the defensive side of the ball, and just once I would like them to use some picks on some high upside athletes that can add speed and pass rush to the defense.
On To The Picks…
Round 1 Pick 23- Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama-
Upshaw would the dream pick for most Patriot fans. He is as complete an outside linebacker as there is in this draft. Not only is he an explosive edge rusher who also excels in the run game. He is very solid on passing downs. He is the type of 4 down LB this team needs opposite Jerod Mayo.
Round 1 Pick 24- Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama-
Yep another CB. Jenkins is a special player. He reminds me alot of Asante Samuel with the way he reads and reacts to the ball. The Patriots like CB who can play a variety of coverages and Jenkins can do that. The former Florida Gator star was kicked off the team due to failed drug test for weed, otherwise he goes much higher. Belichick has shown that he will draft guys with red flags if he sure about them, just look at Aaron Hernandez.
Round 2 Pick 52- Robert Lester, FS, Alabama-
It looks as if the Patriots scouts won’t even have to leave the state of Alabama to scout this year. Lester in my opinion is the best fit at Safety for the Patriots. He is an instinctual ballhawk, who has very good cover skills. He understands defenses and anitipates throws. The Patriots require their safeties to be flexible in terms of where they play, Lester has the size to be active in the run game and the ball skills to be the center fielder we need on this defense.
Round 2 Pick 56- Billy Winn, DE/DT, Boise State-
Many people will think this may be too low for Winn but I think he will slip a little bit, not because he deserves to but because he isn’t the sexiest player. With all the top tier pass rushers likely gone at this point in the draft, a player like Winn would fit the Patriots scheme extremly well. Winn is a versatile lineman who should easily be able to play any number of positions along the defensive line. Belichick has been preaching about pressure up the middle from interior DL and that is something Winn can provide. At 6’3″ 300 he can hold up against the run and also kick outside to defensive end. If the Patriots opt to switch back to the 3-4 could play 5-Tech.
Round 3 Pick 88- Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame-
Smith is a football player plain and simple. Not the most gifted player in the draft, however he makes up for it with his effort, instincts and compete level. Bill Belichick has shown that he will us multiple picks to address the same position and with the UFL quality players the Patriots have at safety spending multiple picks to address the position would be smart. Smith is a player who could excel on ST as well. He loves the game and those are the types of players this team needs.
Round 4 Pick 120- Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa-
At this point in the draft I expect there to be a lot of slot type receivers available such as Marquis Maze, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, etc. Well the Patriots don’t need anymore of them, so with limited number of bigger WR available, I give them McNutt here. He’s a big play WR who can stretch the field. McNutt has made plays for the Hawkeyes his whole career. Being a former QB, McNutt understands how to run routes and how to get open. Not the fastest WR in the draft but i’ll take a WR who can catch the ball and get open over a straight line speed guy anyday.
As of right now the Patriots final pick is in the 4th round. Do I expect the Bill Belichick to just take day 3 off? Of course not, there is noway that 3 rounds will go by without the Patriots making a pick. So below I list some prospects I would consider at various spots in rounds 5-7:
-Mike Martin, DT, Michigan / Quinton Saulsberry, C, Miss. St. / George Iloka, S, Boise St. / Tank Carder,LB, TCU / Mychal Kendricks, MLB,Cal / Rhett Ellison, TE, USC / Shea McClellin, DE, Boise St / Rishard Matthews, WR, Nevada / Manny Abreau, OLB, Rutgers / DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama / Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina / Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Keep in mind this is very very early in this process. I will be updating this every couple of weeks leading up to the draft. There are so many varibles that aren’t known at this time. Go easy on me!