Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Poor safety play hurt the Patriots most in their most recent defeat, where a terrible fourth-quarter pass defense performance led to a comeback win for the Seattle Seahawks, but cornerback play has also been a problem. The Patriots could really use a big upgrade over Kyle Arrington in the starting lineup, and would be best suited if they can find a No. 1 cornerback over the inconsistent McCourty.
A potential No. 1 cornerback who could be available late in the first round is Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks.
Banks is a long, athletic cornerback who has been successful in going toe-to-toe with the SEC’s best receivers over the past few seasons. He flips his hips well, has very fluid movement in covering receivers, while he is also a physical cornerback who tackles soundly.
Banks is a playmaker who has intercepted 15 passes in his collegiate career, and he should continue to be a cornerback at the next level that will make teams pay for targeting him.
Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers (Jr.)
If the Patriots miss out on the top cornerbacks in Round 1, with the most likely choice being Banks or Texas’ Carrington Byndom, a definite Round 2 target could be Rutgers’ Logan Ryan if he declares for the 2013 NFL draft.
Ryan is a bit of a sleeper who has not made a big rise up most draft prognostications yet, but he should. Ryan is a playmaking cornerback with great ball skills, and a very smooth athlete. Combined with good size, great instincts and sound tackling, he could be a very good No. 2 or nickel cornerback at the next level.
The Patriots have brought in numerous Rutgers players over the past few seasons, including McCourty, in part due to the involvement of Belichick’s son, Steve, who was the Scarlet Knights’ long snapper in 2011, and is now a coaching assistant for his father’s team. That connection could lead the Patriots to take a closer look at Ryan, who was teammates with the younger Belichick last year.
T.J. McDonald, S, USC
If the Patriots but miss out on Lester and Vaccaro, another potential early-round selection to upgrade at safety is USC’s T.J. McDonald.
McDonald would be somewhat of a reach as a first-round draft choice, but could be the pick if he is the best safety on the board late in the first round, or would be a great pick in Round 2.
McDonald has terrific measurables for a safety, with great size and athletic ability. He is a sound tackler and big hitter, while he is also a playmaker on the back end of the defense.
McDonald is solid in pass coverage, and is a potential upgrade for the Patriots, but in comparison to Lester and Vaccaro, he is not a great fit. McDonald still gives up some big plays in coverage, and whether he would be an upgrade over Chung as an all-around safety is a risky assessment.
If the Patriots pass upon a safety in Round 1 and have a chance to draft McDonald late in Round 2, he is well worth taking a chance on, but he is not as safe of a pick.
David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State (Jr.)
David Amerson is a long-shot to be a Patriot in 2013, but as his draft stock has slid throughout the first half of his junior season, it is becoming a real possibility that he could be available as a late first-round draft choice, where the Patriots are likely to be selecting.
Amerson came into this season as one of the nation’s top prospects, but he has been exposed early this year, as he has given up many big passing plays. This is in large part due to his aggressive play, which also leads to him being one of college football’s best playmakers, including a 13-interception season in 2011. Inconsistency, however, has been a problem for Amerson, and makes one of the draft’s top talents a risky first-round prospect.
There are many traits that stand out about Amerson’s game: he has great size, athletic ability and terrific ball skills. Amerson’s game is actually very comparable, however, to that of McCourty: most of the time, he is terrific and makes big plays, but his great play can be overshadowed by over-aggressive play and judgment lapses that lead to blown coverages.
While Amerson is likely to either re-establish himself as a top-20 draft pick or return to school for his senior season, the main reason he is unlikely to be a Patriot is that they need to be looking for a solid cornerback who plays with consistency, rather than pairing McCourty with another cornerback who can make big plays but will also allow them.