NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
With the Patriots season coming to a screeching halt last weekend, it seems NFL Draft fever has hit New England fans in full force. My inbox fills up daily with questions asking who the Patriots will pick or which prospects are “Patriot” type players. This year the Patriots hold their full allotment of selection (slight alteration) and I anticipate them to add at least two compensatory selections. With the team so close and the window on the Tom Brady era inching closed, there’s no denying the importance of adding impact players through this draft. Between now and May (ugh), plenty of speculation, rumors, and inuendo will occur, but as of January 25, this is how I project the Patriots draft to unfold.
Team Needs: TE, DT, OG, DE, WR, RB, LB
First Round (29) – Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
After Vince Wilfork went down the Patriots run defense was a major area of weakness with teams just gashing big run after big run. Guys like Chris Jones and Joe Vellano played admirably, but they were put in a role that wasn’t cut out for them. Players like Louis Nix are rare, in that he is a massive kid (345 lbs.), but carries the weight well and moves fluidly for his size. The lack of size and point of attack strength is what really killed the Patriots run defense.
Their DT were unable to anchor and hold the line of scrimmage, creating massive running lanes. Plugging another 330 lbs + run defender next to Vince Wilfork immediately makes the Patriots interior defensive line better. With two space eaters, the Patriots LB will have an easier job and teams won’t be able to carve up the middle of the Patriots defense with such ease.
Second Round – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Whether the Patriots have to trade up into the middle of the second round or sit tight they can’t afford to come out of this draft without landing one of the top 3-4 TE prospects. I know people will knock Seferian-Jenkins for his lack of effort at times and his perseved attitude issues, but that will likely help the Patriots land him in the second round. ASJ is literally a power forward on the football field. His size and catch radius present such a mismatch for defenders that once he gets put in a system and learns the finer points of the position he will dominate.
Seferian-Jenkins is a willing blocker and I believe that like Gronkowski he can develop into a very good NFL run blocker with time. Obviously the Patriots could target Amaro in the first round, but they’d miss out on improving the run defense. Rolling the dice and making a move for ASJ in the second round makes more sense to me. Gronk and Seferian-Jenkins together could arguably be a bigger mismatch than Gronkowski-Hernandez, because both guys are just so big and long.
Third Round – Aaron Lynch, DE/OLB, South Florida
Pass rush is one need that is really being understated by people that evaluate the Patriots. I thought their pass rush really let them down when it counted last year and needs to improve this year. Aaron Lynch is someone that not enough people are paying attention to. He had one of the best freshman performances I’ve seen from a pass rusher while at Notre Dame. After that season Lynch decided to transfer closer to home in Florida, ended up at USF. Lynch is up to 260 pounds, training at API and from all indications I’ve gotten he’s ready to tear up the combine. At 6’5″ 260+ he fits the Patriots edge rush model.
He can play both 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB, adding versatility to the Patriots front. Bill Belichick goes down to USF pro day every year and loves taking kids from this program. Lynch will get knocked because he wasn’t as productive on a real bad USF team. Put on his freshman tape, project him playing at 265 pounds, and tell me he can’t help the Patriots pass rush.
Fourth Round – Joel Bitonio, OT/OG, Nevada
Out of all the OL I talked to in Mobile, Bitonio was the one that impressed me the most. He really understood blocking concepts and was able to explain responsibilities at multiple positions on the offensive line. Bitonio is in the same mold of Zack Martin for me, a player that can be a good OT in the NFL, but could be an even better offensive OG. Bitonio played left tackle at Nevada and shut down UCLA’s Anthony Barr when they matched up back in September.
From watching him in practice he seems like a very savvy offensive lineman. He keeps good positioning, a wide base, and uses his hands well. Even though he is likely to be a 3rd or 4th round guy, he can come in and start right away in my opinion.
Sixth Round (via Philly) – Vinnie Sunseri, SAF, Alabama
Sunseri opted to enter the draft a year early, despite tearing his ACL this past fall. I really like watching Sunseri on film. He’s a smart player and the son of a football coach, so he’s grown up around the game. Sunseri has experience as a dime and nickel back in Alabama’s defense and was elevated to starting strong safety as a Junior.
The reason I love Sunseri is because what he can offer on Special Teams. He made an immediate impact at Alabama on special teams and even if he never develops into a starting strong safety in the NFL, he’ll be a core special teams guy at the very least. One of my favorite prospects in the draft.
Sixth Round – Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
If you don’t know about Latimer right now, you probably will after the combine. He’s a big, strong, fast Wide Receiver that was the centerpiece of the Hoosiers high powered offensive attack. While I think the Patriots probably opt to upgrade the receiver position through free agency they will use a late round pick on a high upside guy.
At 6’3″ 215 pounds Latimer adds more physicality and size to a position that lacked it for much of the year. At worst he comes in and is an upgrade over Kenbrell Thompkins.
Sixth Round (Compensatory for Patrick Chung) – Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
Tripp’s a four year starter at the University of Montana and an ultra-productive defender. Went down to Mobile this week and didn’t look out of place. At 6’3 and close to 240 pounds he has the size the Patriots like from the position and plays with a great motor. At this point in the draft teams look for depth players and players they can develop, Tripp is an under the radar guy that I believe eventually becomes a productive NFL LB.
Sixth Round (Compensatory for Donald Thomas) – James White, RB, Wisconsin
There will be shake-ups at RB this off-season, which will result in the Patriots drafting one at some point in the draft. White really impressed me at the Senior Bowl with his pass blocking potential. He wasn’t afraid to initiate the contact and used his hands to punch the defender. He showed better hands than I expected and ran hard. His lower body is really built and should be able to run through lower body contact. We all know his story at Wisconsin and I believe he becomes a better NFL RB than he was in college.
Sevneth Round – Matt Patchan, OT, Boston College
Patchan gives the Patriots an athletic developmental tackle prospect that has experience starting on the left side. Patchan showed up to the Senior Bowl with a rocked up, tall, physical body. He impressed this year at BC opening holes for Heisman Finalist Andre Williams and is worth a late round flyer at this point in the draft.
*It’s possible the Patriots could get an additional 7th Round Compensation pick for Danny Woodhead.