NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
The New England Patriots’ best chance to improve their roster is less than three weeks away, when the 2013 NFL Draft begins.
With only five total picks in this year’s draft and only three within the first six rounds, it is important for the Patriots to maximize their selections for both value and need, especially with their picks in Round 1-3.
Trading down from at least one of their first three picks is a definite possibility, and may be the optimal move, for the Patriots to pick up additional selections in the middle rounds of the draft. But even if they don’t, hitting on the right targets in the first three rounds could make this a very fruitful draft for New England as they attempt to build their roster for another potential Super Bowl run.
Based upon my latest mock draft projections, here is one scenario for the Patriots that projects as a very positive outcome for New England in terms of both value and need:
Round 1, Pick 29: Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
If the value is right at the cornerback position, the Patriots should strongly consider drafting a potential No. 1 cornerback with their first-round pick. With Aqib Talib signed only for 2013, the Patriots should find a long-term successor for him while also adding depth and insurance, which is especially important with Alfonzo Dennard potentially facing prison time for assault on a police officer.
A big cornerback with great length, who plays with physicality and is good in both man and zone coverage, Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks would be a great fit for the Patriots late in Round 1.
Banks is falling on many draft boards due to a thin frame at only 185 pounds and subpar speed (4.61 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine per NFL.com). That said, he is a polished, experienced cornerback who can step in and contribute right away, can bulk up in an NFL weight room and makes up for some of his shortcomings with his length and ball skills.
Fortunately of the Patriots, there are many potential options for the Patriots to draft early in a deep cornerback class, even at the No. 29 overall pick. If the Patriots are not sold on Banks or he is off the board, other possible choices who could be available at No. 29 including Boise State’s Jamar Taylor, Washington’s Desmond Trufant and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes.
Round 2, Pick 59: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
The Patriots still need to bring more pressure from their defensive front, and specifically, they need an upgrade over Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love at the under defensive tackle spot next to Vince Wilfork. If Purdue’s Kawann Short is still available toward the end of Round 2, he would be tremendous value and be a great fit as an upgrade at that spot.
Short is a quick, explosive penetrator who can be the interior pass-rushing threat the Patriots currently lack at the defensive tackle position. He can be a three-down lineman for the Patriots, as he would be a pass-rush upgrade at either the nose tackle or 3-technique spot, but is also a strong and physical run-stopper who is good at shooting gaps and making plays around the line of scrimmage and in the backfield.
Short could be a first-round pick, and likely would be in a weaker defensive tackle class. If he is still available at this point in the draft, the Patriots really shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to select him and continue building up their defensive front seven.
Round 3, Pick 91: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
If the Patriots draft with both of their first two picks, they will likely trade out of Round 3, but that would be a tougher decision if Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton is still on the board. The Patriots’ most pressing need is at wide receiver, and they would be smart not to pass upon Wheaton in this scenario, for he is a potential late second-round pick who would be very good value as a late third-round pick.
A dynamic playmaker who has both great straight-line speed and change-of-direction quickness, Wheaton is the type of versatile playmaker that thrives in the Patriots offense. Wheaton can play both outside and inside, as he makes up for his small stature (5’11”, 189 pounds) by playing with physicality, has reliable hands and runs good routes.
The Patriots could target a bigger receiver such as Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers, Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton, Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills or Marshall’s Aaron Dobson to add more size at outside receiver. But for a team who needs a deep threat but relies mostly on the intermediate passing game, they would benefit by adding a player who can do both well — and also be used creatively on screen passes and designed run plays — in Wheaton.
Round 7, Pick 226 (from Bears via Buccaneers): Terence Garvin, OLB/SS, West Virginia
The Patriots have a solid starting trio of linebackers who are good against the run and have some pass-rushing skill, but they all struggle in coverage. The Patriots should be looking to add at least one situational player at the position who can be an upgrade in pass coverage, and West Virginia’s Terence Garvin would be a good choice in Round 7.
At 6’3” and 217 pounds, Garvin is a definition ‘tweener who is too small to be a three-down linebacker, and not fluid enough in deep coverage to be a safety. He could be a good fit as a situational player, however, in a hybrid “star” role where he can drop back into coverage from the linebacker position.
Garvin is a good athlete who can make plays in space, and whether he ends up at linebacker, safety and/or as a possible special teams standout, he is worth taking a chance on in the final round of the draft.
Round 7, Pick 235: Earl Okine, DE, Florida
Earl Okine didn’t get much playing time at Florida, but he has garnered attention from NFL scouts leading up to the draft.
Okine made a name for himself in the Texas vs. the Nation game, earning the Defensive MVP award for that contest by notching two sacks and scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery. He has the potential to really blossom at the next level, with an impressive set of measurables. He measured in at 6’7” and 284 pounds at Florida’s pro day according to NFLDraftScout.com, and is explosive off the line of scrimmage.
The Patriots recently held a private workout with Okine, according to a source, and could be interested in adding Okine as a player who can provide pass-rush depth at both defensive end and as an inside rusher. Late in Round 7, he would be worth taking a flier to increase the team’s defensive line depth.