NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
It’s just about that time of year. The college football regular season is winding down, the NFL Draft order is shaping up and prospects are deciding whether to stay in school or make the jump to the NFL. That means NFL Draft season is upon us. Fans and analysts are already looking ahead and taking a shot at projecting which prospect “their” team might wind up with in a draft that is 5 months away.
With that being said here is my first attempt to project who the New England Patriots could possibly end up with in next April’s draft.
Updated: November 30, 2012
Round 1 (27) – Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
The Patriots tried and failed to address their defensive tackle depth in the off-season, they now lack depth and versatility at the position, so much so that Jermaine Cunningham has been their best sub-package pass rusher. Kyle Love is a solid player, but nowhere near as talented as Jesse Williams. Williams is a physical freak. One of the strongest players in college football, at 6’4″ 320 lbs. he can shift up and down the defensive line playing traditional DT, nose tackle and end.
While he won’t offer much pass rush ability, he can push the pocket with shear force and burst off the snap. He will give the team versatility, an endless motor and someone who can tie up multiple blockers to allow the LB to run free. Williams is also a force int he run game, finding ways into the backfield to blow up plays time and again. Pairing Williams with Vince Wilfork will create an impenetrable wall in the middle of the Patriots defense and take the load and burden off of Wilfork. Williams’ arrow is pointing up as the Australia native is still relatively new to the game of football, and it can’t hurt that he played at Alabama, where the Patriots draft from last year to select LB Dont’a Hightower last year.
Round 2 (59) – Quiton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
Patton isn’t the most flashy WR, he won’t run a 4.4 flat and he probably won’t jump 40 inches. But, he is a polished and smart WR who understands route concepts and understands how to get open vs. different coverages.
He has been widely compared to a Reggie Wayne type WR and the type the Patriots usually target in the draft. At 6’2″ 195 he has good size and length, it would give the Patriots a bigger receiver who can work outside the numbers and immediately become the #3 WR in the high powered passing attack.
Round 3 (91) – Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
The Patriots made a concerted effort to rebuild their pass rush last season with young and athletic pass rushers, but they still need more help there. One criteria that a pass rusher for the Patriots must have is they must be big, typically 6’4″ 260+ pounds and Jones fits the bill. Jones stands 6’4″ 275 pounds and has explosive burst at times off the line of scrimmage.
While some think he profiles as a 3-4 End, I really like his ability to be a 4-3 end because of his athleticism and power potential. Jones isn’t a finished project, he can get fooled with play-action and mis-direction in the run game, but when he is asked to pass rush he can do it very well. Jones also plays on a couple special teams units at UCLA, which we know Bill Belichick values highly.
Round 7 (via Chi) – Josh Johnson, CB, Purdue
With no picks in rounds 4, 5 or 6 as of now (it will probably change) I think the Patriots try to pick high upside players in the 7th who can make legitimate contributions. Josh Johnson is an underrated CB who has good ball skills and coverage instincts. Most people focus on his teammate Ricardo Allen, but Johnson has NFL ability as well. The Patriots secondary has made some strides, but it’s far from a finished product and needs depth. At this point in the draft Bill Belichick looks for players who can offer special team’s ability, which Johnson does. When you factor in that he has been selected to the All-Big Ten Academic team two times and could play as a rookie like Alfonzo Dennard has, it makes Johnson a very interesting prospect that the Patriots will take a look at.
Round 7 – John Boyett, FS, Oregon
One Oregon Safety might be on his way out with the Patriots, why not replace him with another Oregon Safety. Boyett has been the leader of the Oregon defense for the last couple season, but has missed almost the entire 2012 season after undergoing surgery on both knees to repair partial tears to his patella tendons. Those surgeries will definitely cause Boyett to slip, but this is the type of pick I can see the Patriots making late in the draft, as Boyett could turn out to be a steal.
The son of a coach, Boyett has shown himself to be a very smart and instinctive player. He is definitely limited as an athlete, but he finds a way to make plays. He’s a good tackler and a well respected player among his peers. At the very least he could develop into a core special teams player, with a ceiling to be much better than that.
Conclusion: The Patriots offense is on pace to break the NFL record for most points in a season, there aren’t many needs on that side of the ball except at Wide Receiver. Before the season I believed that they needed to add depth along the offensive line, but players like Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell and even Nick McDonald have developed into quality NFL linemen. I can’t see the Patriots spending one of their few picks on an OL after the first or second round when they have been so good at finding and developing UDFAs. On the other side of the ball the Patriots spent the majority of their 2012 draft picks on defensive players many of whom have made an impact this year, needs still exist. I expect the team to continue to build up that side of the ball, adding depth and using picks even at positions where they look strong going forward.
The Patriots still lack depth at Defensive Tackle. They need at least one more impact pass rusher, coverage linebackers and depth at corner and safety.
I project the Patriots to focus on the defense in this year’s draft and it’s a good year to do it. The 2013 draft looks like it is going to be very deep at many of the need areas that the Patriots have. Defensive end/Outside linebacker is deeper than ever with impact pass rushers, the cornerback and safety positions have incredible depth and the defensive tackle position is top heavy, thus I have them targeting that position early.