NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
The New England Patriots’ focus has shifted to the offseason and the 2013 NFL Draft, in which they hold the No. 29 overall pick in the first round following their loss in the AFC Championship Game.
While Patriots fans unfortunately do not have a Super Bowl to look forward to this Sunday, they are already thinking ahead to what players will make up the next rookie class in New England at the end of April.
The Patriots currently have five draft picks, with two seventh-round picks but no picks between the fourth and sixth rounds. Trading up or down the draft board is always a possibility — and a likelihood as long as Bill Belichick is running the show in New England — but for this Patriots mock draft, we focus on who the Patriots could select if they keep the selections that they currently do have.
Round 1, Pick 29: Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
Whether Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are back or not, at least one more wide receiver is needed to start on the outside across from Brandon Lloyd in slot receiver formations. There are many talented receivers who are fringe first-round picks, but the best choice for the Patriots may be Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton.
An athletic receiver with great hands, body control and ball-tracking ability, Patton can be the additional outside receiver the Patriots need. But while not the speed burner that some of the class’ other receivers are, he is a great fit for the Patriots’ offense, which is predicated on the intermediate passing game.
Patton is an outstanding route-runner who does a terrific job of getting open. He has the skill set to line up both outside and in the slot, and that versatility combined with his playmaking ability would make him a great choice regardless of which free agent receivers the Patriots bring back.
The ideal first-round pick for the Patriots would be a pass-rushing defensive tackle such as Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, or a playmaking defensive back such as Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks or Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. But if the top players at both positions are all off the board, then the best choice may be picking from a talented crop of receivers.
Trading down is also a strong possibility if there are no great values available at either defensive tackle or in the secondary. But if they end up keeping their pick, Patton is a player who could be an immediate playmaker on their offense.
Round 2, Pick 59: Datone Jones, DE/DT, UCLA
The Patriots need to bring more pressure against opposing quarterbacks, especially from the inside, which in turn would take some pressure off the Patriots’ oft-maligned secondary. If Datone Jones is still available when the Patriots are on the clock in Round 2, he would be a terrific choice to help rectify that problem.
Jones is a big yet very quick and explosive defensive lineman who has experience playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. This would make him a great addition to the Patriots, for whom he could join the defensive end rotation on run defense downs while he would be a great fit to kick inside as a pass-rusher next to Vince Wilfork in passing situations.
Jones is being considered by some as a first-round pick, but with inconsistent collegiate play and a fifth-round pre-Senior Bowl projection from NFL scouts according to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, the second round seems like a more likely landing spot for him. Although best suited to play in a 3-4, he would be a very good fit for what the Patriots need on their defensive line.
Round 3, Pick 91: John Simon, DE, Ohio State
On paper, John Simon may not be the best choice for the Patriots even in the third round, but if he is still on the board at this point, do not be surprised if the Patriots pounce on him.
Simon could be yet another strong addition to the defensive line rotation. He is undersized for the position and does not stand out athletically, but he is a strong player who is sound against the run, has good pass-rush technique and a constant motor.
A Mike Vrabel/Rob Ninkovich type player who can be a defensive end/linebacker hybrid in the Patriots’ defense, Simon’s style of play has future New England Patriot written all over it, and he has obvious connections to Bill Belichick as well. Vrabel was Simon’s defensive line coach at Ohio State, while Belichick has a well-noted friendship with Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer.
A cornerback like William and Mary’s B.W. Webb would also make sense if available at the end of Round 3, but the Patriots could find themselves hard-pressed to pass up Simon if he is still on the board.
Note: The Patriots traded their fourth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for cornerback Aqib Talib and a seventh-round pick. The Patriots traded their fifth- and sixth-round picks in separate 2011 trades for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Seventh-round pick numbers are not yet known, as compensatory selections for the 2013 NFL Draft have not yet been announced.
Round 7 (from Chicago Bears via Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut
The Patriots struck gold in Round 7 last year with the selection of cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, and could look to catch another falling gem at the position this year. An instinctive, physical cornerback like Connecticut’s Dwayne Gratz would be a great player to take a chance on if still available in the seventh round.
Like Dennard, Gratz does not have great length or athletic attributes, but he is a big cornerback who plays well in press coverage, tackles well and has good quickness (Gratz does not, however, come in with the baggage that likely caused Dennard’s drastic fall in the draft).
If Gratz is off the board, there are numerous other potential late-round cornerbacks who could be steals. LSU’s Tharold Simon and Tyrann Mathieu both have the potential to fall steeply, and other potential choices include Nevada’s Khalid Wooten, Oklahoma’s Demontre Hurst and Purdue’s Josh Johnson.
Round 7: Alonzo Tweedy, SS/OLB, Virginia Tech
The Patriots have a history of drafting players for special-teams reasons, and Virginia Tech’s Alonzo Tweedy would be no exception. Tweedy is a collegiate outside linebacker who is far too small to play the position in the NFL, but is a terrific special-teams player who also might be able to be an asset in a “star” safety/linebacker hybrid role.
Tweedy is only 6’1” and 195 pounds, but he is athletic and has a knack for making plays. He is very good at making plays on kickoff and punt coverage, but also has some potential as a blitzing safety and coverage linebacker.
Tweedy may not have a true position at the next level, but for special-teams reasons, he would be worth a flier from the Patriots in Round 7.