Potential Draft Strategy for New England Patriots Following Free Agency’s First Waves

How has re-signing Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib and others changed the Patriots draft strategy?

NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope

The New England Patriots have kept with their usual strategy during the first two weeks of this year’s NFL free agency.

The Patriots haven’t made many big-ticket signings, but they successfully re-signed most of their key free agents (right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington), found ample replacements for the key free agents they did lose (Danny Amendola for Wes Welker at slot receiver, Leon Washington for Danny Woodhead at situational running back), and added another veteran bargain in strong safety Adrian Wilson.

Following the Patriots’ re-signing of Vollmer to a four-year deal worth $17-27 million, the Patriots are unlikely to make any more major free-agent moves. It is still a definite possibility that the Patriots could sign restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders away from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and/or bring in a veteran pass-rushing defensive end in Dwight Freeney or John Abraham. Nonetheless, enough of free agency has passed where we can take a closer look at potential draft strategies for the Patriots.

After years of employing a strategy of trading down and accumulating future picks, the Patriots switched up their strategy for the 2012 NFL draft, instead trading up twice in the first round to move up and select two key defensive players.

With only three picks in the draft’s first six rounds this year, trading up is unlikely, but will the Patriots aggressively use their early picks to pick up potential impact players at their needs, or will they trade for potentially better value while accumulating more picks?

How Remaining Free-Agent Moves Could Affect Draft Strategy

The Patriots have until April 19 to sign Sanders to an offer sheet and potentially sign him away from Pittsburgh, but if they do that, then trading down becomes an even more likely possibility. The Steelers signed Sanders to a third-round restricted free agent tender, which means the Patriots would have to give that pick to the Steelers should they sign Sanders to an offer sheet and the Steelers choose not to match their offer.

If the Patriots end up not signing Sanders, or sign him to an offer sheet but the Steelers choose to keep him, then it should be expected that the Patriots will use at least one early draft selection on a wide receiver.

The Patriots currently have only two wide receivers, Amendola and fellow free-agent signing Donald Jones, with any considerable NFL experience at the position. The Patriots need to add outside playmakers at the position, which could come in the form of Sanders and/or draft selections. But if the Patriots sign Sanders, then they should trade down before drafting another wide receiver, as the draft class is deep with receiving talent and the Patriots have additional needs to address.

Signing Freeney and/or Abraham would not likely have any major effect on the Patriots’ draft strategy. While the Patriots could certainly use another pass-rusher to rotate with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, it is not among their top needs, and they should not use a top draft choice to address the defensive end position unless there is value too good to pass up.

Will the Patriots Trade Down?

It would come as a surprise if the Patriots do not trade down at all in the 2013 NFL Draft. The Patriots do not currently have any draft choices in Rounds 4-6. In a draft class rich with talent in the middle rounds, picking up additional Day 2-3 draft selections would be a valuable move, while moving down in the early rounds may not result in a major drop-off in talent.

Recent draft moves indicate that the Patriots have specific targets and values attached to those targets, and will consistently work the board when possible to get their targets and avoid reaches. While they have often traded down for favorable return packages, they have shown they will move up for a targeted player, as they did last year for both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the first round.

My expectation for this year’s draft is that the Patriots will end up trading down from their original draft slot in either Round 1 or 2. The Patriots find themselves in a great position to trade down, because their three biggest positions of need — wide receiver, cornerback and defensive tackle — are arguably the draft’s three deepest positions.

While the pass-rushing defensive tackle they should be looking to place next to Vince Wilfork may be harder to come by after the first two rounds, there is plenty of talent at wide receiver and cornerback that should leave some great players still on the board in the middle rounds. By picking up selections in those middle rounds, the Patriots can get better value on talent while also having the ammunition to address other areas of their roster, such as adding a much-needed coverage linebacker and continuing to add depth in the trenches.

Players The Patriots Should Target

As mentioned, wide receiver is the team’s most pressing need, and they still must address the position one way or another. There are some definite possibilities for the Patriots to draft with the No. 29 overall pick, including USC’s Robert Woods and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins.

There are plenty of other good options, however, that should be available to the Patriots on Day 2 should they draft another position in Round 1 or trade down. Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, Baylor’s Terrance Williams and Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton are among the other potential targets who could be dynamic outside playmakers in the Patriots’ offense.

By re-signing Talib and Arrington, the Patriots no longer have a pressing need for a starting cornerback. That said, Talib’s contract is only for one year, while fellow starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is facing potential prison time after being convicted for assault on a police officer. Even with both Talib and Dennard in the fold, depth at the position is very much needed.

While the Patriots could have a solid starting trio at cornerback, that should not stop the Patriots from drafting a cornerback as early as Round 1. Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes are all possible selections at No. 29 overall who fit the Patriots’ bill for physical, man-to-man cover cornerbacks. Any of them could be a quick upgrade at the position and/or be groomed as Talib’s replacement in 2014.

If not in Round 1, drafting a cornerback on Day 2 is very likely. There are many possible second- and third-round picks for the Patriots in a deep cornerback class, but some of the best fits include Rutgers’ Logan Ryan, Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer and William and Mary’s B.W. Webb.

One of the best moves for the Patriots with their first pick would be to add a legitimate inside pass-rusher to line up next to Wilfork at defensive tackle. While trading up for Florida’s Sharrif Floyd or Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson looks unrealistic, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams or Purdue’s Kawann Short would be a great choice in Round 1 or 2 as a quick, explosive starting-caliber defensive tackle.

If the Patriots trade down into the middle rounds, expect the Patriots to target a coverage linebacker, defensive end depth and/or interior offensive line depth at some point. Some potential mid-round choices at those position areas include Florida outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins, Ohio State defensive end/outside linebacker John Simon and James Madison guard Earl Watford.

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28 Responses to “Potential Draft Strategy for New England Patriots Following Free Agency’s First Waves”

  1. Nik says:

    Banks? Seriously? How are we still considering his underwhelming everything in the first round? And we already have two starting cb’s…why on earth would BB waste a first on a CB. It’s deandre Hopkins or bust in the first, unless we get real lucky..

  2. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    I was asked about my Patriot draft picks without a trade. So here’s what I think;

    #29- DT Brandon Williams, I have Jesse Williams scored the same, for some differant reasons, but feel Jesse will be off the Board. I also think Barrett Jones will be off the board, tho many Mocks have him in the 2nd round. I think Brandon is a targeted player, with great size,( 6’2″ 335) strength, and is a hard working player, with good intangables.

    #59- WR Markus Wheaton, I think he will be on the board here, because the WR class is so large. Markus runs very good patterns, has good speed, not as tall as I would like at 6′ 185, but he is a very intelligent player. I liken him to Troy Brown, with better speed.

    #91- CB Micah Hyde, this is early as Mocks have him in the 5th, but as we have seen, BB will grab the guy he wants. Hyde is very underated, is 6’+ 197, runs 4.5 -40, 6.78 cone drill, and last year had 74 tackles, 44 Solo. Hyde has played both CB positions as well as S. Has punt return ability, taking 27 back, for an avg. 7.5 yds per return, over the last two years.

    7th- OG/C T.J. Johnson
    7th-RB Derrick Washington

    • Don Di Giovanni says:

      I think the steal in this draft is a freak athlete from Southern Methodist named Margus Hunt. He is 6’8″ tall 275 lbs defensive end with 4.7 speed. He has a wing span of 81″ and has a 36″ vertical jump. At the Hawaii Bowl selected MVP for 2 forced fumbles 3 sacks inc. 1 safety and forced 2 interceptions.He also broke the school record for blocked kicks.

    • Bob Shannon says:

      Take all these no names and trade them a pick in the top 15 and a second rounder in the top 45…Take a CB and DL trade back in and pick up a few sixth or seventh rounders….

  3. cc says:

    Corners are in NEED; as its only…
    Aqib Talib (replace with a top tier shut down corner as Ras-I-Dowling….dud’ is his back up & he’s gone at years end).
    THEN IT’S:
    Alfonzo Denard(questionable), w/ Kyle ” nothing special and just got burned again” Arrington as his slater backup. + What? Maquies Cole & the 63yr old Will Allen……!

    Looking at the roster right now I’d’d look at going for a (CB), (WR) & (DE)/(OLB) with the teams picks.

    Look to Upgrade significantly from Tarpinion & Rivera. While looking at the clear & massive (DE) NEED…
    J. Bequette. GONE.
    J. Cunningham. GONE.
    Trevor Scott. GONE.
    Marcus Bernard?????
    + Rob Ninkovich is respectivly an asset, but NOT at all a starter.

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      I see Bequette and Cunningham staying with cheap contracts. Next year Cunningham is gone. Bequette worked hard in the weight room, and understanding his gap control, on D should see more time this year. Scott and Bernard gone.

  4. Ryan says:

    What do you guys think of Grey from Minn?

    McDaniels took Decker from Minnesota. Being a QB one would think he would be able to understand the Patriots offense quicker. Good height also.

  5. Jim R says:

    A big part of what the Parts are successful at is UFA’s They always seem to get players after the draft who contribute. They have had more hits there than rounds 6/7. With all the reporting that BB is hitting workouts it looks like this trend could continue.

  6. ActonBob says:

    Very nice article for all of us “arm chair” QBs. I hope they keep their #1 & 2 pics because their hit rate drops off fast just like most NFL teams. If they can secure 2 starters on D or at least 1 starter and a good sub from the first 2 pics, it just makes everyone else better on D and without that, no SB rings. Personally I am hoping for a D-Lineman next to Vince: just imagine getting this guy good help… Using the #3 for Steward looks good again because he “should” be a low risk starter vs a risky draft pic for a QB that is very, very selective on who he works with. Just bring back Dion again so he is happy. Beyond that, the Pats do an amazing job with UFA so let them beat the bushes once more. They will come up with some good options as usual and some will make the team and provide good competition. Looks like a quietly nice offseason.

  7. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    Trading back sure looks like the most likely move to get extra picks. The #29th pick offers the most value, and the trading partner will be key.
    I’m projecting the Patriots trade #29 to Tampa, for #43, #112,and #126. This is a fair value trade for booth teams, allowing Tampa TWO 1st round picks. The Patriots add a 2nd-round , and Two 4th picks. This only work’s IF BB can get his targeted players.
    Patriot draft could look like this DEPENDING on how the draft board goes;
    #43-OG/C Barrett Jones, if he is on the board here , just to good a talent to pass, unless DT Jesse Williams, is on the board.
    #59- DT Brandon Williams, is a top target, I think, and may be picked 1st, unless Jesse williams is picked at #43
    #91- LB DeVonte Holloman, this maybe alittle, early, but again, I think a targeted player, for depth/coverage guy at LB, having played S, with good size at 6’2″ 246, 4.7 -40
    #112- CB Micah Hyde, very underated player, 6’+ 197, 4.5-40, 6.78 cone drill. Good punt returner, great tackler, 78 last year,44 solo. Played both CB spots as well as S.
    #126- WR Mark Harrison, also a sleeper, at 6’3″ 231, runs 4.46 -40, 6.99 cone drill.
    7th- If we pick Barrett Jones, then another CB-Demetrius McCray 6’1″ 190, if not then OG/C T.J. Johnson
    7th- WR DaVonte Christopher, 6’1″ 195, 4.5-40
    I would not be suprised, if BB takes a RB late, like Derrick Washington.

    • J H TARBORO says:

      Russell, love your big board

      • Russell Easterbrooks says:

        I have narrowed my Patriot draft board to, 22 players for our 5 picks, after the free agent signing’s. I will have it down to 15 players soon, that I think will be on the board for the Patriots, as their pick’s NOW Stand. I will list them here soon. Then I will list my 5 Patriot draft picks, a week before the draft.

    • George says:

      Yea – that draft is definitely not going to happen and don’t be surprised that BB does not trade down for the pure fact that he is looking for impact players rather than getting more depth players which Hyde, Holloman, Williams and Jones are.

      This draft class is not as good as many are stating, including the author. This is a talented 3-round draft and the value of prospects by the middle to end of round 4 is lacking.

      All of the guys that you listed would have to fight for a roster spot and the Patriots roster, as it currently stands, is loaded. They need a starting weakside linebacker (Arthur Brown), a replacement for Lloyd (Emmanuel Sanders), and a player in the secondary.

      They are already loaded, depth wise, at defensive end and defensive tackle.

      The Pats have 3 needs to address with their remaining cap space and in the draft. They won’t be trading down out of the 1st round this year. Not so that they can get a couple of 4th round picks. The value is simply not there this year.

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      There is no one in my draft that I think will be in the starting line-up. HOWEVER, OG/C Jones, DT Williams, CB Hyde,WR Harrison I see as future starters, and, valueable situational players, as well as injury back-ups for now.
      So I disagree with George, as BB is always looking toward the future, and added value with depth. Last year C. Jones, and Hightower started, which is not the norm, more like N.Solder, spot playing, before becoming the starter at OT the next year.

      • George says:

        Russell – no offense, but you are so far off of what the Patriots are going to do in this draft that it is not even funny.

    • Bob Shannon says:

      Extra picks get the Pats nowhere…trade up inside the top12 and get a bonafide football nfl starter………Same with the second round trade up and get another starter inside the top 40 and again at 59…Get three really good playmakers and look for unsigned free agents after the draft….If the Pats just had this type of strategy The Organization wouldn’t have three losses in the SuperBowl and would have been one of the teams more frequently.fighting to defend the title…

  8. Pete says:

    Dan – at the corner back position, I see you didn’t mention Desmond Trufant. Is the reason because you don’t think he’ll be available at 29 or do you think Xavier Rhodes, Jamar Taylor and Johnthan Banks are better fits for the Pats?

    • Dan Hope says:

      I do think the other three are better fits, but Trufant wasn’t left out for any major reason. I decided just to list three, but Trufant would be a good choice at 29 as well, and is definitely also a possibility.

      • J H TARBORO says:

        DAN, NFL network Mayock just vaulted DJ Hayden in front of Trufant, what do you think of that!

  9. J H TARBORO says:

    The Patriots should trade down if they can’t get the player they’re targeting and should trade with teams that recieved many compensatory picks. The Browns just signed Jason Campbell to a 2yr. deal and that means that the Ryan Mallett trade may be off the table, also effecting our draft outcome.

  10. td says:

    Think it’s a coincidence that the draft is deep in the Pat’s biggest areas of need?

    I didn’t think so.

    With the current salary cap and CBA, teams can only afford to pay elite money to a few key players, develop players at lower costs and draft younger, cheaper talent…..or they can go the way of the Ravens.

    I used to follow the annually awful NYGiants as a kid in the 70’s; the way the Pat’s keep building winning teams year after year is much better as a fan.

  11. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    Very well done article Dan Hope !!

  12. George says:

    They won’t need a trade down in order to get a weak side linebacker if they decided to pursue Arthur Brown or Alec Ogletree with their 1st round pick and I predict that is exactly what they are going to do after signing Emmanuel Sanders, re-sign Julian Edelman, or bring back Brandon Lloyd.

    Their first pick will be a weak side linebacker so that they can run more 4-3 sub-packages with Mayo-Hightower-Brown/Ogletree and Spikes seeing less time on the field so that their defensive fronts can match-up better against RB/TE tandems like Ray Rice/Dennis Pitta.

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      They will not sign, WR Sanders, to much money/draft pick.

    • cc says:

      Ogletree…..a 1st rounder…..?
      I would however take him with our late 2nd actually. Even would give up the (2) 7th rounder (s) OR even pitch in a mid-later round 2014 if I needed to jump up a bit in the 2nd…. for him…. He’s noted as a “fringe” player-not being soley confined to one spot so to speak, but for a slated OLB with some DE in him as well…,he’s got a versatile skill set & that’ll actually work great REPLACING THE STILL 2nd ROUND BOMB- that is J. Cunningham!!!!!

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