NEPD Editor: James Christensen
As the Patriots ready themselves to take on the Baltimore Ravens this weekend in the AFC Championship game, here is a mid-week diversion to tide you over.
Here is my current projection on how the Patriots will tackle the 2013 NFL Draft.
In my last Patriots Mock Draft, I had the Patriots trading back and I’m going to continue that theme in this draft. With a lot of depth at positions that the Patriots could conceivably upgrade, it is smart to start accumulating draft picks again.
For example, at the defensive tackle position there are a host of prospects that should be around in the 25-50 range: Jesse Williams, Sylvester Williams and Kawann Short just to name a few. If the Patriots have those guys graded out in a similar range and all of them are still available, trading down makes sense.
In this projection, I have the Patriots sending their first and seventh round picks for picks in the middle of the second, third and sixth rounds.
2nd Round (via Trade)
Two years ago it was Shane Vereen. Last year it was Chandler Jones. This year Kawann Short (DT, Purdue) is the guy who seems to be the right fit at the right time for the Patriots.
With the release of former second round pick Ron Brace, the Patriots have an opening in the defensive line rotation. Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick have each played admirably alongside Vince Wilfork, but adding another disruptive interior presence could make Wilfork even better.
Short improved a lot as a senior for the Boilermakers, adding a more consistent motor to go with his penchant for making splash plays. If he were able to give the Patriots 30-35 snaps per game as a rookie, I think that would be a success.
2nd Round (Own Pick)
The Patriots interior offensive line has been in flux since Dan Koppen went down with an injury last year. With his subsequent release, injuries to Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, and the retirement of Brian Waters, Offensive Line coach Dante Scarnecchia has certainly earned his pay this year keeping Tom Brady healthy and the running lanes open.
While the Patriots have found a good group inside with Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Connolly, if the Patriots feel like they can upgrade inside, they will.
Travis Frederick (OC/OG, Wisconsin) has played both center and guard at a high level for the Wisconsin Badgers. He excels blocking on the second level, moving much better than you’d expect for a 6’4” / 325 pound player.
He has the blend of strength, power, speed and agility that will allow him to operate in the Patriots diverse offensive sets. If Frederick is there late in the second round, he should be very tempting to the Patriots offensive staff – although I suspect he will creep closer to the first round as the draft process continues.
3rd Round (via Trade)
After a rough start to the year, the Patriots defensive backfield has really started to play up to their capabilities. However, that has had a lot to do with the addition of Aqib Talib and the position change of Devin McCourty from cornerback to safety.
If Patrick Chung isn’t re-signed this off-season, the Patriots would seem to be lacking in safety depth. McCourty and Steve Gregory seem to be the odds-on favorites to return as starters next year. Tavon Wilson has had flashes of brilliance this year, but after that is only rookie Nate Ebner.
Adding a strong safety like Matt Elam (SS, Florida) that can play as a third safety and be a big-time contributor on special teams seems like a Belichick type of move – the Florida connection certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Elam isn’t a fluid cover guy, but he supports the run with a vengeance and will create some turnovers. Put in a position to hide his weaknesses, I think Elam could make a nice impact as a potential Chung replacement.
3rd Round (own pick)
Only having five picks in the 2013 NFL Draft will really hamper the trademark flexibility Belichick operates with during the draft. I see the Patriots shipping this pick for a fifth round selection this year and a third rounder in the 2014 NFL Draft. Having ammunition in that loaded draft is going to come in handy.
5th Round (via Trade)
The Patriots have shown that they can do very interesting things with college quarterbacks – just look at Julian Edelman. MarQuies Gray (QB/WR, Minnesota) is my pick here for two very different reasons.
First of all, he is as dynamic with the ball in his hand as nearly anyone in college football not wearing an Oregon uniform. He has a big frame, is very smart and has the work ethic that is needed to make the conversion full time to become an NFL “Joker” – a combination WR/TE/HB position. In the Patriots offense, I’m sure they will find a way to create mis-matches with him.
Secondly, and this is a bit out there, but Gray might join Mallett as a potential heir to Brady’s throne as starting quarterback for the Patriots.
Brady has stated that he’d like to play into his 40’s, so this might be a bit premature, but you can never have too many options at quarterback – especially if Belichick were to retire as well. Having both Gray – who can throw a decent ball when he is given the opportunity – and Mallett would give the Patriots more options in pursuing head coaches. New England could have a guy in place that could run both Chip Kelly’s offense as well as Josh McDaniels’.
6th Round (Via Trade)
Quanterus Smith (DE/OLB, Western Kentucky), also known as “Q”, tore his ACL earlier this year, but not until posting some very impressive numbers. He totaled 12.5 sacks in just ten games, including three against Alabama.
At 6’5” and 250, Smith looks like an ideal sub-package rusher that could possibly fit in as a 3-4 OLB given some time to develop.
We had Smith as a fringe top-100 prospect before his injury, so this could be a great value late in the draft.
7th Round (Own Pick)
It seems that over the last few years, it just wouldn’t seem like a Patriots draft if they didn’t sign a slot receiver. Julian Edelman and Jeremy Ebert are just two of the latest guys to be brought in to work with the master: Wes Welker.
Connor Vernon (WR, Duke) hasn’t got a lot of national attention – playing football at Duke will do that to you – but he has an NFL-ready skill set and was very productive. He finished his career as the all-time receiving leader in the ACC.
At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Vernon is a little bigger than Welker, but the sharp, precise routes and ability to separate underneath are quite familiar. His mid 4.5 speed isn’t a huge concern as his short area quickness is top-notch.
If either Edelman or Welker doesn’t get re-signed for some reason, slot receiver could be a priority.
Adding some talented and versatile prospects that have the ability to contribute within the next two years is just what the Patriots need. They don’t need quantity, they need targeted quality for some specific roles.
How would you change things for the Patriots 2013 NFL Draft?