NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
We are officially in the month of April meaning the NFL Draft is almost here. In less than four weeks we will have answers to all the questions we have been asking for five months.
The Patriots have done well in free agency to get the majority of their own players resigned and replace the ones they lost. The Patriots roster still has a few (glaring) holes that will be filled in the draft, because the free agent market is all dried up at those positions.
This is my latest projection for how the Patriots will use each of their selections in the upcoming draft.
Wide Receiver (2) – Despite replacing Wes Welker with Danny Amendola and adding two other free agent wide receivers in Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins (ugh) the Patriots still have a big need. They lack an outside the numbers receiver, preferably one with a combination of size and speed to stretch the field a little bit. I would also like to see them add a more athletic possession receiver that can replace some of Brandon Lloyd’s production. This is the biggest need because the free agent market is bleak at the position.
Cornerback – The Patriots best move of the off-season was getting Aqib Talib to resign to an affordable contract. Having Talib in the fold for next season along with Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard gives the Patriots continuity they haven’t had in a long time. The team still needs one more impact corner that can be at least their #3 next season if necessary. By resigning their players, the need isn’t as vital as before, but this is still far from a strength of the team.
Defensive End – This is an area I anticipate the Patriots to still address in free agency via a veteran pass rusher. (Yes, they are still very much interested in John Abraham. They are holding firm to their price and will be the one that comes to their price, not vice versa). Even if they do add another veteran pass rusher this is a position that should be addressed every year. A team can never have too many pass rushers and adding a young bookend pass rusher to Chandler Jones should be a priority.
Defensive Tackle – If there is one position that the Patriots could surprise people and use a first round pick on it’s Defensive Tackle. They did sign Armond Armstead out of the CFL, essentially giving them an extra draft pick, and that may limit their willingness to use their top pick there, but they still have a need there. Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick are serviceable players, but neither one offers much upside, pass rusher or penetration ability. Finding a big-bodied DT that can take some of the workload off of Vince Wilfork is still a big need.
Linebacker – The starting linebackers are set for at least next year (and likely beyond). The team lacks depth and coverage linebackers on the roster. Adding some speed and athleticism to the position in the later rounds is a possibility.
* Keep in mind the NFL expanded off-season roster limits to 90. Currently, the Patriots are sitting at 67 on the roster and only have 5 draft picks at their disposal. I anticipate a much larger UDFA class than 2012 as well as some UFA depth signings up through June.
Patriots Mock Draft
First Round (29) - DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Every time I evalute the wide receivers in this draft to try and find fits for the Patriots I always come back to DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is one of the most polished outside receivers in this year’s class. He catches the ball extremely well, demonstrating great body control and the ability to impact the passing game at multiple levels. Hopkins is a controlled and savvy route runner, knowing how to set up the defender to get open.
On film, he comes off as someone that understands the position and got better each game. To play Wide Receiver in the Patriots offense, the number one requirement is that the player is football smart. They have to be able to make sight adjustments and adjust their route at a seconds notice, and I believe Hopkins can do some of those things. While he isn’t a true vertical threat, he would add size and athleticism to the perimeter of the defense. The Patriots haven’t had a wide receiver in Hopkins mold in a long time.
Second Round (59) – Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
There is no doubt the biggest weakness on the Patriots roster right now is at the wide receiver position. Lucky for them this draft is loaded at the position from picks 30-75. The Patriots are sitting in a position where they are poised to “double dip” at the position if they want to. After adding a big-bodied, versatile receiver with great hands in the first round with DeAndre Hopkins, the Patriots come right back and grab another explosive receiver. Bailey has been overshadowed by Tavon Austin, but his game translates just as well to the NFL level.
Bailey has hands that are very good and he exhibits amazing body control to drift or fade away from defenders to haul in catches. The way he tracks the ball and can adjust his body in tight coverage reminds me some of Brandon Lloyd. Bailey is already a good route runner and has an explosive element to his ability. With the way he sets up his routes and his quickness will allow him to play in both the slot and outside. At the NFL combine he was one of the top performers in the 3-Cone drill which the Patriots love. The team has worked out both Bailey and Hopkins privately, only furthering the speculation they may be interested in the two.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, UConn
I honestly think the Patriots are set up well to double dip at either Wide Receiver or Cornerback. In the first scenario I had the Patriots take Bailey, adding two WR in the first two rounds. In this scenario they add a top-flight CB and set themselves up to grab another one in the third round. While it’s conceivable they use their first round pick on a cornerback, I think it’s more likely they select a corner in rounds two or three as opposed to the first. The simple reasoning being because their is so much depth at the position, that’s where the value is. Very little separates the #3 CB in this draft from #13 (honestly), by taking a top WR in round one they are able to maximize the value at both positions.
Wreh-Wilson is a great fit for the Patriots system. He’s a big, athletic cornerback that has been a two time captain at UConn. Wreh-Wilson is a very efficient zone corner, excelling in reading routes and anticipating throws. His size and athleticism allows him to play at the line and play some press coverage. He’s an aggressive run defender with the ability to come up and strike the ball-carrier. At 6’1″ 195 pounds he will give the Patriots another big corner that can develop this season and then potentially replace Aqib Talib if he should leave. Wreh-Wilson was one of the hardest workers on the UConn team, is a good student and a natural leader with passion for the game.
Think he fits the mold? He tore up his pro-day in Storrs, CT last week which Bill Belichick happened to be at.
Third Round (91) – Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
I have put Mathieu in this slot for months and I am going to continue to do it. The Patriots have been one of the teams linked closest to Mathieu throughout the draft process. Recently, he was on NFL Network saying the Patriots were one of the teams that were most interested in him and now he is scheduled to visit Foxboro next week. Mathieu is a playmaker plain and simple. There is a part of his game that can’t be quantified by numbers or statistics. He plays much bigger than his size indicates and has an innate ability to create turnovers.
The Patriots had no viable back-up at slot CB last season and once Aqib Talib went down in the AFC Championship game the Ravens exploited an overmatched Marquice Cole. Mathieu would provide an immediate upgrade on Cole and gives them a special teams standout, especially on punt returns. A lot has been made about Mathieu’s off the field behavior, but we have seen Bill Belichick take these kinds of risks before and they have paid off.
Seventh Round (226)-Brandon McGee, CB, Miami(FL)
It looks like the Patriots hit a home run with last year’s 7th round pick of Alfonzo Dennard. Despite wasting early picks on corners, Bill Belichick has had some success picking corners late in the draft. McGee is a corner who has come into his own late in his career. He is the typical Miami(FL) corner; fast and athletic. He is raw in most of his ability he has the potential to develop into a very solid number 3-4 corner.
I was extremely impressed one of his interviews on NFL Network, where he came off as very sharp and showed a high football IQ. Belichick was the only head coach down at the Miami Pro Day this year, so it’s likely he got a real good look at McGee.
Seventh Round (235) -Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State
The Patriots don’t have a huge need a RB, but the loss of Danny Woodhead makes me think they will try to find a replacement for that role. Yes, they brought in Leon Washington, that may help but, there is no guarantee he even makes the team. Washington is only on a one year deal and wasn’t heavily involved in Seattle’s offense last year. Robbie Rouse is undersized, but uber-productive all-purpose RB. He’s got a thick lower body which allows him to run through tacklers and demonstrates more physicality than you would think from a back of his size.
Rouse is a very good pass catcher and can be effective out of a hurry-up spread offense. He didn’t have a great combine, but was able to improve his numbers across the board at his pro-day. Rouse strikes me as a Patriots type of player. He is a very good football player who will be undervalued because of his size. During Senior Bowl week, no player enjoyed their time there as much as Rouse. It was clear he loves the game of football.