NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
The 2013 NFL draft came to an end Saturday, but the careers of 254 draft picks have just begun. We won’t know who will end up a bust or who will end up in Canton, but we do know who the New England Patriots selected over the course of three days this April.
And with that, it’s time to reflect upon the draft day decisions of head coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and the rest of the Patriots staff.
Accumulating Options Early
Day 1 was about as eventful as a first round could be for the Patriots, even though no players were selected. The decision to trade out of Round 1 looked like a relatively easy one for New England, as the Minnesota Vikings were offering Nos. 51, 83, 102 and 229 for No. 29 overall. That’s more compensation for a late-first than the Oakland Raiders got for No. 3 overall. Check mate.
Starting the draft with only five picks, it was no surprise to see the Patriots trading back. The Minnesota swap gave New England some much-need flexibility. And odds are the prospects New England had circled at 29 were no longer on the board. Either that or the team’s brass thought they could nab them in the second round.
The difference in value between a late Round 1 prospect and a mid-Round 2 prospect was minimal in this draft. Belichick was likely aware of this, and he set the tone by gathering picks in the heart of the Day 2 order.
While being patient has its benefits, the Patriots did miss out on early second-rounders like Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter, Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine and USC wide receiver Robert Woods. All of whom had the skill-set to be excellent fits with the Patriots. But that is the risk New England took by trading down.
Round 2, Pick 52 Overall: Jamie Collins, DE/OLB, Southern Mississippi
With the team’s first selection, the Patriots added an athletic edge-rusher in Jamie Collins. Although he played for a college bottom feeder that went 0-12 and was coached by three different coordinators, Collins has the abilities you can’t teach. The NFL Scouting Combine was the venue for those abilities to be showcased. In Indianapolis, Collins was one of the top positional performers in the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 60-yard shuttle and New England’s personal favorite: the three-cone drill.
A converted quarterback, safety and inside linebacker, Collins may be a bit of a ‘tweener in the NFL. He’s not New England’s prototypical “Elephant,” as he’s 6’3” and 250 pounds. He may be more of a third-down pass-rusher and a special teams stalwart initially, but his production with the Golden Eagles can’t be shrugged off. Collins posted 92 tackles, 10 sacks and five pass deflections as a senior in 2012. He does not miss tackles and is light on his feet, which should bode well for him in sub packages.
Ultimately, Collins is valuable insurance with both Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes, who are both heading into the final year of their deals. While many would have elected to go with Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor with this pick, New England was thinking years ahead in a different direction.
Round 2, Pick 59 Overall: Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
Who would have thought the Patriots’ first two picks would be out of Conference USA? At the end of Round 2, the Patriots addressed the wide receiver position with Marshall deep threat Aaron Dobson. And yes, that’s the same school that produced Randy Moss and Troy Brown.
Although many considered him a third-round talent, the Patriots thought otherwise. Dobson is 6’3”, 210 pounds with good-but-small hands and a reportedly 4.37 40-time. Dobson doesn’t play as fast as that number suggests; he’s more of a strider. But the Patriots felt confident enough in the Thundering Herd target to grab him at 59.
A big body with a knack for the spectacular catch, Dobson has the tools. But there were some better route-runners still available — like California’s Keenan Allen and Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton — and that’s been where young Patriots receivers have struggled.
Acclimating to New England’s offense quickly has been a challenge for most, so Dobson has his work cut out for him. If the team captain can pick it up, he could be a very potent ‘X’ receiver who could not only spread the field, but be a factor in intermediate routes.
Round 3, Pick 83 Overall: Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
The Patriots continued the Rutgers pipeline by drafting zone cornerback Logan Ryan. This pick came as a bit of a surprise, but it’s possible that New England was sensing a run on cornerbacks and had to join the party. The third round saw Connecticut’s Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, San Diego State’s Leon McFadden and LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu all come off the board.
Ryan was a teammate of Belichick’s son Stephen at Rutgers, and he joins former Scarlet Knight Devin McCourty in New England’s secondary. Ryan has good but not great size at 5’11”, 191 pounds, an excellent three-cone time at 6.69 seconds, and he brings a physical nature to the cornerback position.
Ryan isn’t a technician; he has some flaws in his footwork and backpedal, but the Patriots saw an opportunity to nab a corner while the getting was good. He’s a smart player and a sure tackler. He is not, however, a cornerback in the Aqib Talib press-man mold.
Round 3, Pick 91 Overall: Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers
And with New England’s final pick of Day 2, the team took a Tavon Wilson-esque under-the-radar safety in Duron Harmon — another Rutgers guy. Harmon was the first non-combine invitee drafted, and he was fully prepared to go undrafted.
No television network had any cut-ups prepared for the Harmon selection. That’s because no one saw it coming. It just goes to show that Belichick values the draft completely differently than other coaches and general managers. He writes his favorites down on a piece of paper. Then he drafts them.
Harmon is a high-character teammate who was overshadowed by the likes of Ryan, linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais. The 6’0”, 192-pound strong safety has solid 4.5 speed and a high football IQ. He’s another name in the mix at the clogged safety spots. There’s aforementioned 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson, 2012 sixth-rounder Nate Ebner, veteran acquisition Adrian Wilson, as well as Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty.
Harmon could take a back seat in year one, or challenge both Wilson’s and Steve Gregory for work in the “money” role. It’s really too soon to make much of judgment on a guy few even evaluated. Nonetheless, the Patriots probably could have drafted Harmon in Round 7 and nobody would have blinked. Instead, West Virginia wideout Stedman Bailey and Utah State cornerback Will Davis were drafted immediately after Harmon.
Round 4, Pick 102 Overall: Josh Boyce, WR, Texas Christian
The Patriots double-dipped at wide receiver and drafted TCU’s Josh Boyce early on Day 3. A 6’0”, 205-pound pass-catcher with a 4.38 40-time and a 6.68 three-cone time at the combine, Boyce is an explosive runner will add firepower and physicality to the Pats’ receiving corps.
Boyce is more than just a pair of wheels, however, he’s a very intelligent player who graduated early and decided to turn pro. The Horned Frog can be used in the screen game, the play-action game and the deep-ball game. Boyce has the shiftiness you want in a receiver and has the vision to get yards after the catch.
Boyce and Dobson were on the same visit to Foxboro, so for once we can see a player-team meeting come to fruition in the draft. Looking down the road, it’s feasible to think Dobson could play split end and Boyce could be in the flanker. He has the athleticism and fundamentals to play on both the inside and outside.
While some other touted receivers — including Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers and Kansas State’s Chris Harper — could have been taken 102 overall, you can’t go wrong with Boyce, either.
Trading Jeff Demps to Tampa
In the midst of Round 6, the Patriots came to an agreement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and traded Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick for running back Legarrette Blount. The move suggests that ex-Rutgers and current Bucs coach Greg Schiano is alright with Demps splitting his time between football and track.
What’s surprising here is that Demps was traded along with pick 229, since Tampa could have very well released the 26-year-old Blount if no suitors arose. Blount is a former 1,000-yard rusher, but he saw his role diminish with the emergence of Doug Martin.
There’s no guarantee that Blount makes the final roster for New England, as the running back depth chart is a crowded one. Still, Blount is a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of back with good size and physicality. He’ll be in camp, whereas Demps would likely not be.
Round 7, Pick 226 Overall: Michael Buchanan, DE/OLB, Illinois
The Patriots went to the bargain bin and drafted Illinois pass-rusher Michael Buchanan, an end who fits the prototypical Belichick parameters in terms of size and athleticism.
At 6’5″, 255 pounds, with long arms, a 4.78 40-time and a 6.91-second three-cone time, Buchanan has all the prerequisites. He’s got a good first step and knows how to set the edge. Although he’s a little lean, he is great value late in Round 7, especially considering he was projected as a fourth-rounder in most draft circles.
New England’s pass rush is revitalized. But it’s also important to remember that last year’s undrafted pick-up Justin Francis, last year’s third-rounder Jake Bequette and 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham are still in the fold.
Buchanan joining forces with Ninkovich and Jones may move second-round pick Jamie Collins to outside linebacker. Both are “bandit”-types, but Buchanan has the size advantage. It’s a thought that can’t be ruled out at this point.
Overall, this is a tremendous choice in Round 7. Buchanan is more than just a camp body. He could potentially be a future starter at left defensive end.
Round 7, Pick 235 Overall: Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers
This is getting borderline ridiculous, but that’s okay. The sixth Rutgers player drafted is Steve Beauharnais — the third Scarlet Knight to be drafted to New England this year alone.
At 6’1”, 240 pounds, Beauharnais is a tough inside linebacker with good instincts. He may have been overshadowed by Khaseem Greene, but Beauharnais was a sound blitzer who’s very capable of making plays as a zone coverage backer. On top of that, he’s a rugged run-stopper who plays with heart.
A 4.84 40-time with a 6.99 three-cone time, Beauharnais may surprise some people as a sub linebacker and special teamer. All in all, this isn’t a bad way for the Patriots 2013 draft to go out. Foxboro is officially home to the New England Scarlet Knights.
Undrafted Free Agency
Even though the final seconds have ticked off the clock, the draft process is not over. There are plenty of undrafted free agents looking for homes. And thus far, the Patriots have agreed to terms with 15 of them. Although they’re not all big names, they will go a long way towards filling out the 90-man training camp roster.
Arguably the most notable undrafted signee is Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe, a 5’11”, 204-pounder with a staggering 6.53 second three-cone time. Although Moe doesn’t have excellent straight-line speed, he’s quick in space and could develop into a solid inside target if he can take advantage of the opportunity.
Two other names who stick out due to their college are cornerback Stephon Morris and offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch, two Penn State products who were likely given the good word from ex-Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.
There also may be a sibling rivalry brewing in New England, as Michigan State offensive lineman Chris McDonald — brother of Nick McDonald — has joined the Patriots. If he’s got the grit and determination of his older sibling, he may have enough to stick around.
Rounding out the list, the Patriots also signed Akron running back Quentin Hines, Nevada tight end Zack Sudfeld, Kent State offensive lineman Josh Kline, Tennessee fullback Ben Bartholomew, Troy safety Kanorris Davis, Missouri offensive tackle Elvis Fisher, Clemson tight end Brandon Ford, Cincinnati wideout Kenbrell Thompkins, Louisiana Tech punter Ryan Allen, South Florida defensive tackle Corey Grissom and, of course, Rutgers cornerback Brandon Jones.