NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
One more piece of the draft puzzle was completed over the weekend. With the NFL Combine in the books, we now have confirmed height, weight, and, speed numbers on most of the prospects, which brings some clarity to which players could fit the Patriots draft profiles. The combine, like always, creates some movement on draft boards. As player injuries are revealed and lack of speed is exposed, players are moved down or dropped off of draft boards. How did the combine change the Patriots potential draft haul? Here’s my latest attempt at projecting their 2014 Draft.
Draft Needs: DT, TE, DE, OG/OC, WR, SAF, LB
I normally refrain from projecting trades in my mock drafts. However, with such a deep draft class and recent history being our guide, it’s something that needs to be accounted for. As I’ve said multiple times on Twitter, I believe it’s vital that the Patriots come out of the first two rounds of the draft with the Defensive Line upgraded and one of the top 4-5 Tight Ends. It may take some moving around the draft board, but it’s very possible. Unlike last year where the Patriots entered the draft missing 4th, 5th, and 6th round picks, they enter this year’s draft with a full compliment (no 5th, but two 6th), making it easier to move around.
First Round (29) – TRADE
Last year, the Patriots traded this pick for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th round selection. That was a great deal value wise. While I think that may be a little too optimistc to project this time around, It’s not unrealistic to believe they could trade down into the first half of the second round and add and extra 3rd and 5th round pick. It’s too difficult to project the exact team they will trade with, but picks 29-32 are always prime spots for teams to move up for a Quarterback.
Second Round (Between 42-45) – Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt measured in at 6’5″ 304 pounds at the NFL Combine. He played Defensive End at Notre Dame, but I like him to kick inside and play a hybrid DE/DT role in the Patriots front. Tuitt will help fix two problems, lacking on the Patriots Defensive Line last season; size and versatility. Tuitt gives the Patriots a huge, yet athletic body that can stop the run and push the pocket from up the middle. It’s no secret that the Patriots haven’t been able to find a player like Tuitt on the free agent market in recent years. It’s hurt their ability to alternate their front seven alignments with success.
Doctors found a hairline foot fracture during Tuitt’s physical at the Combine and he will undergo surgery in the next few weeks to fix it. The foot injury, along with an inconsistent season spent recouping from hernia surgery drops his stock into the second round. The Patriots are able to trade out of the first round, get their big defensive lineman, and acquire more draft capital in the process.
**Trade** Patriots Acquire a 2nd Round Pick and a 4th Round Pick for their 2nd and 3rd Round Selections.
Second Round (Between 48-52) – Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
This is where the Patriots make their move to grab one of the top Tight Ends in the draft. None of the top Tight Ends stole the show in Indianapolis, which is actually a good thing for the Patriots. In all honesty I’m not 100% sure more than one Tight End (Ebron) goes in the first round, when all is said and done, but I expect them to come off the board quickly in the second round. The Patriots can’t risk missing out on the top tier and give up their 3rd round pick (and pick up a 4th) to move up 10-12 slots and get their guy. Niklas is a massive and athletic speciman. Out of all the Tight Ends, his ceiling as a blocker is the highest and he provides another massive receiving threat in the middle of the field.
Why Niklas over the others? If the Gronkowski injuries persist, then they will need someone to play his in-line role. Niklas can do that and be split out as a receiver. He just provides some more options for the Patriots and that’s something they value highly. In 2014, Notre Dame is the new Rutgers. Bill Belichick has been to the campus each of the last three years to do coaches clinics and he has a very good relationship with Head Coach Brian Kelly. He will have intimate knowledge of all Fighting Irish prospects in this draft class, and there are upwards of 10-12 prospects that could interest the Patriots from South Bend.
Third Round (74-78) - Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The Patriots weren’t happy with their defensive end depth chart last season. They felt the need to release the majority of it at the end of training camp, including recent draft bust Jermaine Cunningham. Old man Andre Carter needed to be signed a third of the way through the year just to provide sub-package pass rush. It’s painfully obvious to all observers that Jake Bequette’s days in Foxboro are numbered. He’s failed to do anything that could be remotely mistaken for making an impact on the football field, so another defensive end is needed. This is a position they could ultimately use a first round pick on, but for the sake of this mock they wait until the third.
Scott Crichton is in the second tier of rushers in this draft. He posted impressive numbers in Oregon State’s defense, winning with power and a relentless motor. Crichton’s knock is that he can’t bend the edge. He’s stiff in the lower body and has to defeat blockers by using power, because he can’t get around them. On the surface his measurables and workout numbers match what the Patriots look for on the edge. Adding Crichton to Stephon Tuitt will instantly add size, power, and boost the pass rush potential at two positions.
Fourth Round - Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
“I thought you said Notre Dame was the new Rutgers?”. I did and it is. But, Rutgers has one last draft class of prospects with the Greg Schiano influence and Brandon Coleman is at the top of that list. Coleman is exactly the type of Wide Receiver the Patriots don’t have. He possesses rare size and combines it with staight line speed to create chunk yardage. Coleman has averaged over 19.0 yards per possessions, ripping off monsterous plays in big situations. He is a supreme Red Zone threat and would give the Patriots that sorely needed big bodied, vertical receiver. His intangibles are immacculate as well. He’s a team captain, will graduate this semester, and has perserved through four different offensive coordinators and horrendous QB play. People may freakout if Bill Belichick picks another Rutgers player, but in this case it would be welcomed.
Fourth Round (126) – Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Looking at the Patriots LB depth chart really isn’t pretty right now. Behind the starters there are no established players that can step in an play major snaps at either position. This is another need that’s been understated by most observers of the team. Christian Jones is a big, athletic, and versatile linebacker. He can play both Outside or Inside and can stay on the field in passing situations. He’d add athleticism and versatility to the depth chart, with Jerod Mayo coming back from injury that is needed.
Fifth Round - Chris Watt, OG, Notre Dame
We’ve seen Bill Belichick do this before and take a handful of kids from the same school. In 2010 it was Florida, in 2013 it was Rutgers, and in 2014 it’s Notre Dame. Watt has been overshadowed by Zach Martin, but he’s a good player in his own right. Watt is a tough kid that will battle and maximizes his talent. The type of hard-nosed kid the Patriots covet. If you discount Logan Mankins (he was drafted as a Tackle and stuck at Guard), then the Patriots have only drafted three true Offensive Guards in the Bill Belichick era (two if you discount Mike Elgin who would’ve played Center) and none before the 4th round. While many mocks have the Patriots selecting an interior Offensive Lineman early, it’s just not something Bill Belichick does.
Sixth Round (182) – Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
Gaffney helped himself as much as any Running Back in the draft with an awesome combine performance. His speed doesn’t necessarily show up on film, but Gaffney is a tremendous natural athlete that gave up a baseball career to return to Stanford. Gaffney is a tough, determined runner. He likes to go through people and doesn’t waste time dancing around the line. Gaffney isn’t flashy, but will get what’s blocked. The Patriots don’t need flashy running backs and they like their runners in this mold. Since Belichick has been in New England he has never drafted a RB under 205 pounds, so keep that in mind when projecting RB to the Patriots.
Sixth Round (190) - Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
Colvin tore his ACL at the Senior Bowl and will miss his entire rookie season. At this point in the draft I’d like the Patriots to continue with their strategy of taking high risk high reward players. It paid off with Alfonzo Dennard as they were able to secure a starting cornerback in the 7th round of the draft. Colvin has starting potential and was off to a great start in Senior Bowl practices before blowing out his knee. Take the kid, stash him on Injured Reserve, and the team essentially has an extra mid-round draft pick in 2015. Colvin deserves a chance to be drafted after getting injured in such an unfortunate manner.
Sixth Round (Compensation) - Brock Vereen, SS, Minnesota
The last two drafts have seen the Patriots reach for Safeties and yet they still have needs at the position, especially at strong safety. In fact if Steve Gregory is let go this is a position I can see them target much much earlier. As of now there will be no reaching and no surprise names. Brock Vereen is the brother of Shane Vereen and possesses a high football IQ like his brother. A former Cornerback, that moved to Safety halfway through his career and has steadily developed into a draftable prospect. Vereen had himself a great combine. He’s a physical safety that isn’t afraid to put his body on the line. For a team that receives almost zero physicality from their Safeties that edge would pay dividends.
Sixth Round (Compensation) - Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass
Bill Belichick loves to take Tight Ends as evidenced by selecting 9 in his first 7 drafts in New England. He has doubled up at the position multiple times including 2006 and 2010. With so many late selections in this draft I can see Bill Belichick double dipping at the position and taking a chance on the local product that has battled injuries all year. Blanchflower played his high school ball at St.Johns-Shrewsbury and played his college “home” games at Gillette Stadium. He’s someone the team should know very well. If he wasn’t injured this year he could have gone much higher, he’s well worth the risk in the late 6th round.
Seventh Round (221)- Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
Bromley is a disruptive interior defensive lineman that had 10 sacks this past season. He’s a big bodied kid that can penetrate and make plays in the backfield. Usually when the Patriots have extra compensation picks, they like to use them to add depth to both the defensive and offensive lines. Bromely is a good value in the 7th, with the potential to stick as a developmental tackle.