NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The 2012 College Football season wraps up with the highly anticipated match-up between two historic programs, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Alabama Crimson Tide. In terms of draft talent there will be more NFL talent on the field tonight than during some Jaguars games (just kidding, kind of).
Both teams are loaded with prospects who will hear their names called early in the draft, whether it’s 2013 or years down the road. The Patriots will have their eyes on a number of players who they would like to bring to Foxboro next season. Here’s who they are.
The National Championship Game features literally dozens of prosepcts. Not all of whom are a fit for the Patriots roster due to three main factors, depth of the position on the roster, draft position and scheme fit.
We are aware there are prospects we may leave out in our preview, but theses are ones who we think fit the Patriots best. For a complete list of NFL Draft Eligible prospects to watch scroll to the end of this article.
Potential Patriots in the National Championship Game
#54 Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama (6’4/320) (#4 Ranked Defensive Tackle) – Out of all the prospects in this game Williams fits the Patriots best. A massive interior defensive lineman who is one of the strongest players in the country. Williams can play multiple positions on the line, eat up blockers and be a force as a run defender. While he won’t offer a lot in terms of pass rush, he is quick and strong enough to penetrate and get into the backfield.
An Australian native, Williams is relatively new to the game and just scratching the surface in terms of potential. With the Patriots are in need of another versatile, 300 lbs+ run defender and Williams could be the guy. Highly unlikely he makes it out of the first round.
#28 Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (6’1/199) (#2 Ranked Cornerback) – Milliner is an All-American and consensus top two corner in this year’s draft. It would take a move up the draft board or a slide in his stock in order to be a realistic option for the Patriots. None the less, Milliner’s combination of size, speed and recognition skills make him an ideal fit in the Patriots defensive backfield.
Milliner possesses the tools to play in multiple different schemes, while also being a force as a run support corner on the edge. Players with his size and agility at that position are rare, so if the Patriots have a chance to get him they would likely take it.
#35 Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama (6’3/240) (#5 Inside Linebacker) – Johnson is the latest in what will be a long line of Bama linebackers to play in the pros. Johnson isn’t on the level of last year’s first round pick Dont’a Hightower and isn’t as good as fellow teammate and likely first round pick (in 2014) CJ Mosley. But, Johnson is another big physical inside linebacker who shows good instincts and play-making ability inside the tackle box. He recognizes plays quickly, can fights through blocks and is a sure tackler when he gets there.
Like Hightower he is limited as a coverage backer and likely has to come off the field on third downs. I believe that linebacker depth is a major issue after the top three. The Patriots don’t even have enough linebackers to withstand a serious injury and can’t run as many different looks as they would like due to the lack of linebackers on the roster. While Johnson may be a bit repetitive on the roster, he would provide another big, physical linebacker to add to the rotation. Johnson is not likely to go in the first or second round, but could be worth a third round selection.
#89 Michael Williams, TE, Alabama (6’6/269) (#9 Ranked Tight End)- The best inline blocking tight end in the country in my opinion. Hasn’t posted the great receiving numbers, but has shown improvement as a pass catcher. Has the ability to be a short yardage and red zone threat. Williams would be a great addition to the Patriots TE corps because it would allow them to limit the workload on Hernandez and specifically Gronkowski. Williams has shown excellent technique and leverage as both a run and pass blocker.
At 6’6″ 270 pounds, Williams functions as an extra offensive lineman, with the ability to catch the occasional pass. With the way the Patriots run multiple TE sets, he could be a very valuable asset. They brought in Daniel Fells during the off-season, who hasn’t worked out as well as it hoped and could be cut in the off-season to save approx. one million off the cap. In order to get Williams teams will have to use a third round pick, because he won’t last longer than that round.
#75 Barrett Jones, OC/OG, Alabama (6’5/302) – (#1 Ranked Center) – In terms of a perfect Patriots prospect Barrett Jones might be that guy. He’s played both Guard and Center at an extremely high level and has shown the technique and fundamentals to play either at the NFL level, so he’s versatile. He’s an extremely smart player both on the field and off the field. He’s a FOUR time Academic All-American and has won multiple National academic awards.
On the field he exhibits those smarts by showing a tremendous awareness for what the defense is trying to do and is responsible for calling out the OL alignments. Not only that he is the team captain and one of the most respected players in college football. This isn’t just a smart player, who has over-achieved. Jones is a talented linemen who will be picked in the top two rounds. He fits the bill for everything the Patriots look for in a draft prospect, but the team has bigger needs at other positions that must be filled first.
#65 Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (6’3/320) (#1 Ranked Offensive Guard) – Warmack is the best interior OL in the draft with out a doubt and possibly the most physically ready player to enter the league. It’s rare for interior OL to go high in the draft, so Warmack makes this list. He’s a devastating run blocker, exhibiting quickness and strength at the point of attack to just blow defenders off the line of scrimmage.
As a pass blocker has done a good job of moving his feet and anchoring at the line. Has the strength to pick up blitzers and stop them in their tracks and moves very well for his size and combines it with good playing leverage/strength. If the Patriots have a weakness on their line it’s at RG which was held down by Dan Connolly this year. While it’s unlikely Warmack gets near their pick at the end of the first round, he is simply too good to pass up if he does.
#37 Robert Lester, SAF, Alabama (6’2/210) (#11 Ranked Safety) – Lester had an incredible sophomore season, which put him on the NFL’s radar. But, ever since then it’s been downhill for Lester. He’s had another inconsistent season with questionable coverage mistakes and a lot of missed tackles. He does a good job of reading the QB and making plays on the ball, but has simply made too many mistakes over the last two years, to be a high pick. Athletically Lester is just average for the position, his range is adequate and his straight line speed is the same.
This is the type of player who should be able to contribute on special teams in the pros and work his way onto the field as a rotational safety. As a 5th-6th round pick, the Patriots could take a chance on him in hopes he returns to earlier form.
#90 Quinton Dial, DE, Alabama (6’6/307) – Dial is a 300+ pound Defensive End who has the ability to play multiple positions along the defensive line. Dial plays the same position in the Alabama defense that current Patriots DL Brandon Deaderick played in 2010, so Dial will be of some interest. Dial doesn’t have much natural pass rush ability, but has good strength and holds up very well in the run game. Dial likely has a future in the NFL as a rotational Defensive Lineman and will draw interest from a lot of 3-4 teams for his ability to play the 5-Tech.
Notre Dame prospects can be found on page two.