11. DJ Fluker Rising Up Draft Boards - Even though he was unable to participate in Senior Bowl drills the behemoth Alabama Offensive Tackle, may have walked away from the week as the biggest winner. Fluker weighed in at 355 pounds, but carrier the weight extremely well. He didn’t look sloppy or out of shaped, in fact he looked quite athletic. Fluker also had his arms measured at over 36″ long which is remarkable. During the season many people wondered if he could even stick at right tackle or if he would have to be moved inside to OG. However, right now Fluker has a lot of positive momentum inside the NFL and it looks like he will not only be drafted as an OT, he could be a top 20 pick. Fluker is so big and powerful teams see him as a natural fit at right tackle. Personally, I agree that he’s a RT, although I would be more comfortable drafting him in the late 20s or early second round. If Fluker displays good athleticism and footwork during rush pass protection drills he could cement his spot in the first round.
12. Pass Rush Sleepers – Usually pass rushers come off the board early in the first round and this year will be no exceptions. As many as 7-8 edge rushers are likely to hear their names called on day one of the draft. Pass rush is at a premium and teams are willing to pay to get it. If team’s miss out of the top tier of edge rushers, there are a few mid-round prospects I like as value picks. The first is Trevardo Williams from UConn. He’s shown an explosive first few steps off the edge, plays with good leverage and coverts the speed to power by extending his arms into the chest of the OT. He should test very well this week and could add some pass rush to a team in the mid-rounds. Georgia’s Cornelius Washington is another player who will interest 3-4 teams in the middle round. Washington put forth a good performance at the Senior Bowl with an NFL ready body and the ability to covert speed to power. The third is Florida’s Lerentee McCray. McCray will probably have to play OLB at the NFL level, but he has shown some well developed rush moves during his career. He was also one of the only players to give Luke Joeckel trouble over this past season.
Three players with injuries that will slip in the draft, but could provide an impact down the road are Washington State’s Travis Long, Notre Dame’s Kapron Lewis-Moore and Western Kentucky’s Quanterus Smith. All three are currently recovering from knee injuries and have limited ceilings. Smith is probably the best of the bunch, while Lewis-Moore projects as a 3-4 DE or DT. Travis Long is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on. The brother of former All-American Rien Long, Travis had 9.5 sacks this past season and is a hybrid DE/OLB. As I said earlier, the medicals will be very important, but as later round picks I would take a chance on these guys.
13. What Prospects Are Being Overrated? With such a fluid draft board this year, everyone will have their opinion on players who are being overrated by the media, teams and analysts. A couple of guys stand out to me who are being projected much too high:
Texas S Kenny Vaccaro – Vaccaro has incredible versatility and covers like a corner from the safety position. I have major questions about his ability to be a team player, play with-in a system and not be over-aggressive. I still believe Vaccaro is worth a late first round pick this year, but I am not seeing a top 10-15 talent.
Texas DE Alex Okafor – Sorry Longhorn fans, I believe Okafor is being overrated as well. It seems like the same issues that Okafor had early on in his career, he had late in his career. I didn’t see a great deal of improvement and he is a major liability against edge run plays. I thought he was dominated at the Senior Bowl at times, finding himself on the ground or unable to get off blocks. For a Texas defense that supposedly had a lot of talent on it, they where brutally bad and that worries me. I would have a tough time taking him before the third round.
QBs Ryan Nassib and Mike Glennon – Both QBs are artificially elevated up draft boards because of the lack of an elite QB this year. I don’t see first round talented and I don’t see second round talent. Both players have major issues to overcome if they are to be successful in the NFL.
SMU DE Margus Hunt – The freakish frame and athleticism is enticing at times, but Hunt is extremely raw and has a tough time playing with leverage. There’s a chance he can develop into a rotational rusher, but unless he figures out a way to play like a 6’3″ DL I don’t see if happening.
Texas A&M LB Sean Porter – He was really underwhelming this year and I don’t see the consistency with him. When I watch him play I see a reserve player at best, while others have him rated much higher. I have a late 5th round grade on him.
14. What do the Patriots Watch at Combine? - It’s been discussed at length what the Patriots need in terms of positions and roles filled. But, what drills do the Patriots watch the closest and value the most during the combine. If history is any indication they value one drill very highly; the 3-Cone drill. The drill is used to measure change of direction, foot speed and agility. It’s a vital drill for defensive backs, wide receivers, pass rushers and linebackers. Among the past Patriots draft picks who were among the top 10 performers at their position are Devin McCourty (6.70), Stevan Ridley (6.78), Jake Bequette (6.90) and Chandler Jones (7.07). This year with so many needs in the defensive back field and at receiver the results of the 3-cone drill could have an impact on who they end up selecting. Like everything in the draft process, it’s only one piece of the puzzle, but there is no doubt they value the drill more than some others.
15. New College Connections for New England? – We’ve seen in the past how Bill Belichick’s connections with college coaches has had influence over who he has drafted. In 2010 the Patriots drafted three players from the University of Florida where Belichick’s friend Urban Meyer was the head coach. This year Bill Belichick seems to have even more connections throughout the college coaching ranks than ever before and it could have some weight over the picks that are made. Urban Meyer now coaches at Ohio State, along with former Patriots legend Mike Vrabel. They have a bunch of draft eligible talent. Last year, the Patriots picked their first player from Ohio State in the Bill Belichick era, using a 6th round pick on Nate Ebner (coincidence?). This year, Ohio State players like Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Etienne Sabino and Nathan Williams could all interest the Patriots. Aside from Ohio State, former Patriots Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien is at Penn State which opens up another pipeline. A lot was made during the season how Bill Belichick developed a relationship with Chip Kelly. Even though Kelly is now in the NFL, he has back channel communications into the Oregon program. Belichick will always have easy access to Alabama, with his good friend Nick Saban there and still is seen around the Rutgers campus from time to time. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots pick any players from these schools this year and how Belichick’s relationships effected the picks.