NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The NFL Draft season moves full steam ahead with the Combine kicking off later this week in Indianapolis. All eyes will be on the top prospects and how they look going through drills. Unlike in past years the Patriots only hold five selections, meaning they have to make them all count. The team is extremely close to being championship caliber and I expect them to be aggressive and active this off-season. Here is a look at how I believe the draft could play out if it were held today.
State of the Franchise – The Patriots are in a strong position prior to the start of free agency. They are in a position to possibly return every single starter from last years team based on who they choose to resign. We have seen the Patriots take a proactive approach already this off-season signing CFL Stars Armond Armstead and Jason Vega. Armstead has the potential to be an impact player and part of their young core of defense. I expect the Patriots to continue being active and aggressive to fill their needs. Their two biggest free agents are Wes Welker and Aqib Talib The status of both players will greatly effect the direction the team goes in the draft. Sebastian Vollmer is another big UFA piece, but I believe he will be back one way or another.
Currently, the biggest needs on the team are Cornerback, Wide Receiver, Pass Rush, Safety and Defensive Tackle. The Pats could also upgrade the RG position, which is their weakest link on the OL. The addition of Armstead fills one of the needs, but they could still opt to address the DT position early in the draft. With the team being so close to a championship, filling theses needs via the draft and free agency are critical.
Patriots Mock Draft
First Round (29)- Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
It’s tough not to give the Patriots a cornerback or wide receiver in this spot of the draft. However, there is much better value at those positions later in the draft if the Patriots can weight. Hankins is a legit first round talent who would give the Patriots another versatile 320+ lbs. DL that excels vs. the run. It’s something the team has been missing. They tried and failed to address the position last off-season and it really hurt them throughout the season. Hankins can play 5-Tech, 3-Tech, 1-Tech and NT. He displays very good agility and quickness for a 320 lineman. He will be able to play next to Wilfork at times forming a massive and athletic run stuffing combination. At other times Hankins can spell Wilfork to keep him fresh during the stretch run. Hankins hasn’t put up exciting pass rush numbers, but displayed enough quickness, hands usage an movement ability to develop more pass rush ability. The Pats did add Armond Armstead out of the CFL, but he is more of a traditional 3-Tech and it will take time to know what they have in him. A team can never have enough versatile and athletic defensive linemen, this adds another building block to a young Patriots defensive corps.
Second Round (59) – Matt Elam, Safety, Florida
After addressing the front seven with the first pick it’s time to start adding talent to the secondary. Elam is a great athlete who plays a physical and aggressive brand of football. He is the type of safety the Patriots have lacked on the back end since Rodney Harrison retired. While Elam is limited in his coverage skills, pairing him with a rangy FS like Devin McCourty will allow him to do what he does best, that is attack. Elam anticipates plays in front of him well and delivers devastating hits. He’s passionate and vocal on the field. It’s critical that the Patriots add speed, physicality and toughness to their defense this off-season and Elam adds a little of all that.
Third Round (91) – Projected Trade
It’s unfathomable to think that Bill Belichick will go some 120 picks without making a selection. This draft has good value in the middle rounds and the Patriots will find a way to pick up extra picks by trading out of day two. In this scenario I have the Patriots trading their 3rd round pick for a 4th and 5th round selection. To balance out their draft and give them more flexibility.
Fourth Round – B.W. Webb, CB William & Mary
The Patriots have had more success picking CBs later in the draft and Webb could be another steal. In the mold of Asante Samuel he is a quick twitch athlete with very good speed and recovery skills. Webb is able to break on routes and make plays on the ball, which the Patriots badly need. More of a zone corner right now, Webb will have to improve his man to man cover skills and his physicality in coverage. But, there is no denying his upside going forward. He’s quick enough to play in the slot or outside and took very well to coaching at the Senior Bowl. He adds special teams value as he is a good punt returner.
Fifth Round- Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
By trading out of the third round the Patriots are able to fill two positions of need. Vernon is one of the most reliable receivers in this years draft. Vernon is a smart player who can adjust his route based on the defense, shows good hands and solid routes. His coach called him the “most fearless WR he has ever coached” for his willingness to go over the middle and lay his body on the line. He’s not a burner, but he comes out of the line quick and showed he can separate out of his breaks. He fits the mold for a Patriots type WR and has the mental capacity to handle all the information that gets thrown at WR in the Patriots passing offense.
Seventh Round (210)- Kapron Lewis-Moore, DL, Notre Dame
With a big gap between picks and not many roster spots available I believe the Patriots try to swing for the fences with their two seventh round selections. Lewis-Moore tore his ACL in the national championship game, which will likely take him out of the mix for next season. If healthy the 6’4″ 306 lbs. DE would be a mid-round selection. He offers the ability to play in different fronts and can offer some sub-package pass rush. The Pats have found good value in the seventh round over the years and this could be another example of that.
Seventh Round (219) - Tourek Williams, DE/OLB, Florida International
Williams is a good developmental pass rush prospect. He has the frame the Patriots look for in an edge rusher and has consistently gotten to the QB over multiple seasons. It remains to be seen if he is a DE or OLB, but he is expected to run very well at the combine which will put him on the radar. At the very least he can provide depth at the position or become a practice squad candidate. There is a real possibility that by the time the draft rolls around he is much higher. At this point of the draft it’s all about best player available and Williams fits the bill.