NEPD Editor: James Christensen
As the sun sets on the 2014 Senior Bowl — make sure you check out all of Mike Loyko’s notes on Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 — it is time for another New England Patriots Mock Draft.
Here is one version of what Bill Belichick and company might do this May in the 2014 NFL Draft.
First Round – 29th pick
After eschewing a first-round pick in 2013 in order to select Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Josh Boyce and part of LaGarrette Blount via a pretty lop-sided trade with the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots are set up to pick talent over depth in 2014.
With Ryan Wendell a free agent and Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins with cap-heavy contracts, the Patriots might be looking to add to their talent pool along the offensive line.
Zack Martin (OL, Notre Dame) would give the Patriots a plethora of options on how to structure their offensive line going forward. A starting five of perhaps Nate Solder at LT, Mankins at LG, Connolly at C, Martin at RG and Sebastian Vollmer at RT looks pretty menacing. Having Marcus Cannon as a backup is just icing on the cake.
Martin projects as a guard due to his shorter arms, but he has the feet to play outside at tackle as well. With Vollmer and Solder’s injury histories, you can’t have enough protection for Tom Brady.
It isn’t a sexy pick, but Martin gives the Patriots exactly what they need. If the Patriot do wait on offensive line help, Xavier Su’a-Filo from UCLA and Weston Richburg from Colorado State are likely targets.
Second Round (via HOU) – 33rd pick
With Bill O’Brien in Houston, rumors abound that Ryan Mallett could be on his way to the Lone Star State. If New England is able to move him for the 33rd pick in the draft, I don’t think they’ll hesitate.
Two things Patriots fans hear a lot about are Rutgers players and big wide receivers. Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers) is the combination of both worlds.
His 6’6″, 220-pound frame alone would allow him to compete in the NFL, but he has exhibited some legitimate receiver skills over the past two seasons. He adjusts well to poorly-thrown balls—a requisite at Rutgers—and uses his physical skills to gain separation both at the line of scrimmage and down the field. Coleman has also shown that he can be a willing and able blocker.
Coleman needs to work on his consistency in route-running, concentration and ball-security, but I think many of his problems stemmed from the mediocre offense he had to deal with in college.
While Coleman is certainly a top-20 pick based on his physical skills, I think he’ll fall further down the board due to his lack of college production. Getting him in the second round would be a steal.
Second Round – 61st pick
Sealver Siliga played well, and the duo of Chris Jones and Joe Vellano filled in admirably as rookies, the defensive interior was an issue in 2013. While the return of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and perhaps even Armond Armstead will be helpful in 2014, Bill Belichick will have a tough time passing up on a disruptive defensive lineman.
DaQuan Jones (DL, Penn State) would add another strong force in the middle. At 6’4″ and over 320 pounds, Jones is adept at fending off multiple blockers in the run game. He led the Big 10 conference with 11.5 tackles for loss. When singled, he can walk back defenders into the pocket, creating sack opportunities for edge rushers.
Jones could be used inside as either a 1-tech or 3-tech. He also has the edge-setting ability to play as a 5-tech when called upon. Wherever he is used, Jones will be a solid member of the rotation.
Third Round – 93rd pick
The Patriots need for tight ends is hardly a secret. Rob Gronkowki is coming off a major knee injury, while Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan are both scheduled to be free agents.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa) reminds me a lot of Steelers tight end Heath Miller. He is solid—not flashy like Jace Amaro or Eric Ebron—in the passing game excelling in the red zone and on short and intermediate routes. He isn’t a huge threat on 25-yard seam routes like Gronkowski due to his 4.8 speed, but he is able to present a big target down the field with his 6’7″, 265-pound frame.
Where Miller and Fiedorowicz really provide extra value is in their blocking. Like Gronkowski, Fiedorowicz is like a third offensive tackle on the field. He is a devastating blocker in the run game and has movement skills to slide with edge rushers when asked to stay in and block on passing plays.
He was schooled under Kirk Ferentz, who coached with Belichick in Cleveland, and Brian Ferentz, who coached tight ends in New England during Gronkowski’s record-setting season. D.J. Hernandez—yes, that Hernandez family—was his positional coach at Iowa.
With all those connections and positive traits, Fiedorowicz is a very likely pick come May, even if they have to move up a bit to secure his rights.
Brandon Spikes has probably played his last game for New England. They should look to replace him with a quicker linebacker that can do some of the same things that Spikes was tasked with.
Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa) might be undersized as a Patriots linebacker—he measured in at 6’2″ and 234 pounds—but he showed the ability in college to make an impact on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Like Spikes, Kirksey has excellent timing when blitzing and rarely misses when he has a chance at an impact play in the backfield. Unlike Spikes, Kirksey is fast enough—probably a 4.7 player—to make more of an impact in the passing game.
Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower on running downs, with Collins/Mayo and Kirksey in on passing downs is a big improvement over 2013. The additional depth would allow defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to once again hide his defensive players’ deficiencies.
In addition to helping on passing downs, Kirksey would be a core-four special teams player—a trait that can’t go unnoticed with Belichick around.
Fifth Round (via two 6th rounders)
If a quarterback that the Patriots like falls into the late fourth or early fifth round area, they may look to trade some selections to go up and secure their guy.
Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia) doesn’t have the same size as many of Belichick’s quarterback picks, but his experience, leadership and competitive drive should endear him to coaching staffs.
Murray was probably a late day-two pick before tearing his ACL during his senior season. In the fifth round, Murray would be an excellent value.
If the Patriots do move Mallett and pick up a rookie like Murray, I would expect them to add a veteran quarterback—think Chad Henne—that could come in and win a game or two if Tom Brady had a short-term injury.
Sixth Round (Projected Compensatory)
Bill Belichick likes to target special teams on day three of the draft. Nate Ebner, Jake Ingram, Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater… the list goes on and on.
Vinnie Sunseri (SS, Alabama) would continue that trend, but also give the Patriots more upside than Ebner gave them at the safety position. Defensive backs schooled by Nick Saban would certainly have a leg up on learning the daunting Patriots defense.
Like Murray, he is recovering from a torn ACL and could even be placed on the NFI-list for a year as a sort of redshirt season.
You just can’t replace an Aaron Hernandez. You could try with Oregon’s Colt Lyerla, but you are getting the good and the bad there as well. Gator Hoskins (TE/FB, Marshall) reminds me a lot of Marcel Reece and could do a lot of things that James Develin and Michael Hoomanawanui do with some increased explosiveness on the outside.
Hoskins scored 13 touchdowns last year for the Thundering Herd and would be an additional red zone threat for Tom Brady to exploit.