NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
It’s March, and that means things are starting to take shape across the football landscape.
The NFL Scouting Combine closed along with February. The deadline for teams to use the franchise tag passed Monday, March 11 at 4 p.m. ET. The door to unrestricted free agency opens March 11. And college pro days are starting up as spring draws near.
Boxes are being checked, but the 2014 NFL draft is still over two months away.
In other words, there are a lot of moving pieces in play. Much will hinge on the next couple of weeks. And like all 31 other organizations, the same is true for head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
Who will be re-signed, who will restructure, who will depart – it’s hard to say at this moment. Yet if the war room was set and the Radio City Music Hall festivities were tomorrow, how might it all unfold for the Patriots?
Here is a pre-free agency seven-round mock draft scenario, with trades and compensatory picks included.
- New England currently holds seven picks. Yet when accounting for compensatory selections, that could translate in two sixth-rounders for safety Patrick Chung and offensive guard Donald Thomas, and potentially an additional seventh-rounder for halfback Danny Woodhead.
Round 1, Pick 29 – Traded to Jacksonville Jaguars
The depth in this year’s class is beneficial for a team like New England, as quality players will be available later on each round, and consequently, later on in the draft. NEPatriotsDraft editor Mike Loyko further explained this sentiment on Twitter, opining that teams will be finding third-round talent well into the fifth round.
Due to this, it’s entirely possible that Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and Co. decide to move out of Day 1. The drop-off between the top-32 picks and the top-40 picks isn’t as significant as it may seem. And accruing selections to minimize risk has been New England’s method of operation before.
It is once again, in this case, as the Patriots trade the 29th overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for the 39th overall pick and the fifth choice in Round 4. Now it may seem like an uneven move on the trade value chart, but this year’s pool of prospects should skew some numbers. If New England’s ideal first-round candidate is off the board, the decision could be all that easier.
Round 2, Pick 7* – Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
In response to the Jacksonville trade, the Patriots take a step back from the norm and draft an interior offensive lineman with their first selection. If that transpires, it would be the first time New England used their initial pick on an NFL guard prospect since Fresno State’s Logan Mankins in 2005. But much like Mankins, UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo spent most of his collegiate career at offensive tackle, and he showed the versatility to play all across the line when attrition arose.
Su’a-Filo figures to kick inside to guard full-time at the next level. But the 6’4”, 307-pound 23-year-old boasts 33 3/8-inch arms, fluid hips and footwork, excellent hand replacement, and 40 games of starting experience. He should be a day-one starter, and he could be one at right guard for New England.
Round 2, Pick 30 – DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
With New England’s second selection of Round 2, the copy-editing nightmare comes to fruition as a third Jones is added to the defensive line. Penn State’s DaQuan Jones proved to be a 6’4”, 322-pound force on the Nittany Lions front over his last two collegiate campaigns. The team captain can play the three-technique, the five-technique and even nose tackle, as his strength and quickness off the snap translates in effectiveness, regardless of starting point.
The 22-year-old was, of course, coached by former Patriots offensive coordinator and play-caller Bill O’Brien for two seasons. And while that “pipeline” may be a moot point now that O’Brien is in Houston, similar coaching philosophies have their way of utilizing similar players. Jones is a scheme-flexible defensive tackle who boasts heavy hands and driving bull rush. He dropped upwards of 25 pounds over the offseason, but he still commanded the run gaps and pressured the quarterback last fall. He could play next to a block-absorber like Vince Wilfork, or he could filter in for him.
Round 3, Pick 29 – C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
Tight end is an undeniable need for New England, which may make you wonder why it’s addressed thirdly in this mock. By this time, the likes of North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas are expected to be long gone, but Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz could still be waiting.
Fiedorowicz is a dependable all-around tight end who can block arguably better than his positional peers and can catch arguably better as well. Although the 6’5”, 265-pound Hawkeye is a traditional “Y” tight end who predominantly plays inline, he is also a trusted receiver who can make plays in the seam, hauling in intermediate and red-zone receptions. Although he doesn’t carry the explosive open-field traits other alternatives do, the 22-year-old ran a respectable 4.76 40-yard dash, a 7.10 three-cone and a 4.26 short shuttle in Indianapolis – all of which coincide with the Patriots’ criteria. And for what it’s worth, New England’s coaching connections in Iowa City run deep.
Round 4, Pick 5* – Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich combined for 2,256 defensive snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That total was the most on the defensive side of the ball; and for the sake of durability and sustainable pass rush, that total will have to decline in 2014. Now it is expected that New England will add a defensive end in free agency or the draft, even though the future could still be bright for 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Buchanan. And with the fifth pick of Round 4, that addition could be North Carolina’s Kareem Martin.
At 6’6”, 272 pounds with 35-inch arms, Martin looks the part of a Patriots edge-rusher. His athleticism looks the part as well; the 22-year-old Tar Heel ran a 4.72 40-yard dash, a 7.20 three-cone drill, posted a 35 1/2-inch vertical leap and a 129-inch broad jump at the combine. Martin hits on the New England benchmarks for a 4-3 seven-technique, and he bends the arc with good flexibility and lateral agility. And the three-year starter and team captain can also line up as a five-technique in a 3-4. But at this time, Martin’s combine performance is ahead of his on-field performance, which is why he could be available on Day 3.
Round 4, Pick 30 – David Fales, QB, San Jose State
With the 25-year-old Ryan Mallett heading into the final leg of his rookie contract, and with Tom Brady set to turn 37 in August, the Patriots are slowly merging towards the next quarterback chapter. And while there are no guarantees that a fourth-round QB will develop into an NFL starter – let alone an NFL backup – there is a lot to like about San Jose State’s David Fales.
The 6’2”, 212-pound Fales transferred from Monterey Peninsula Community College after the 2011 season and went on to complete 639 of 938 passes for 8,382 yards, 66 touchdowns and 22 interceptions for the Spartans over the last two years. Fales is accurate in the short and intermediate passing game and throws a tight spiral without top-end arm strength or large hands. He may not possess ideal height or a driving deep ball, but he’s a smooth athlete who showcases clean footwork and a swift three-quarters delivery. The 23-year-old two-year starter would find himself in an ideal learning environment if he were to land with the Patriots.
Round 6, Pick 22 – T.J. Jones, WR, Notre Dame
The Patriots had seven rookie wide receivers on the roster in some capacity last season. And there’s reason to believe that a full offseason will help the progression of second-rounder Aaron Dobson, fourth-rounder Josh Boyce, the undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins and the rest of the group. Yet on Day 3 of the draft, the young could get even younger with an often overlooked receiver in Notre Dame’s T.J. Jones.
While only 6’0” and 188 pounds, Jones plays bigger than his size and functions with tremendous body control. He was a key cog in head coach Brian Kelly’s offense, catching 181 passes for 2,429 yards and 19 touchdowns since 2010, including a 70-catch, 1,108-yard, nine-score senior season. Jones is a “Z” target, slot option and punt returner who runs detailed routes and fights at the catch point and after. He fits New England’s wideout measurables, too, notching a 4.48 40-time, 6.82 three-cone, 4.27 short shuttle as well as a 33-inch vertical at the combine. Now ultimately, he may be a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver in the NFL, but he has the upside to be a No. 2 in time.
Round 6, Pick 30 – Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame
There’s a subtle Notre Dame trend on Day 3 of this mock, as Fighting Irish cornerback Bennett Jackson is the choice here at pick 30 of the sixth round. The 6’0”, 195-pound never missed a game during his time in South Bend, playing in 52 and starting his last 26. The team captain has the length to play outside and the athleticism to stay with his assignment. He ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, a 6.75 three-cone time and a 4.00 short shuttle at the combine, but he also showed lower-body explosiveness with a 38-inch vertical and a 128-inch broad jump.
The 22-year-old has the willingness to contribute as a special teams gunner and kickoff returner. And while he can play out of control in run defense and isn’t technically refined coverage-wise, he’s a seasoned, high-effort player who could potentially rise through the ranks in Foxborough.
Round 6, Compensatory – Tyler Starr, OLB, South Dakota
New England’s linebacking corps appears to be set at the top, with Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and 2013 second-round pick Jamie Collins in line for starting duties in 2014. But with Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher set to enter free agency, the Patriots are in need of reinforcements. And that is where South Dakota outside linebacker Tyler Starr comes into the picture.
The 6’4”, 250-pound Starr lined up all over the Coyotes defensive front. The once-freshman safety put his hand in the grass as a seven-technique defensive end; he stood up in the nine-technique off tight ends; he dropped back in coverage from the seam; he drifted in from the boundary. Starr was all around the football, and he earned Missouri Valley Football Conference defensive player of the year honors because of it. Although he didn’t have the combine performance he hoped for – running a 4.95 40-time and looking stiff in on-field drills – he still posted a 6.64 three-cone and a 4.15 20-yard shuttle. All things considered, he could be a worthwhile project for a team like the Patriots on Day 3.
Round 6, Compensatory – Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota
The Patriots could look to add safety help if it isn’t accounted for earlier. And that’s the idea here with a familiar name in Minnesota’s Brock Vereen. Halfback Shane Vereen’s younger brother, Brock’s skill set also illustrates interchangeability. He played cornerback, safety and gunner for the Golden Gophers. And he provided consistency for the Minnesota secondary as well, playing in every game over his final three seasons while starting 32 of them. Now No. 21 isn’t often the primary focus of film cut-ups – as his teammate was defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman – but the following video provides of glimpse of his ability at corner and nickelback.
Belichick is often drawn to safeties that can play cornerback or vice versa, like Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson and even Eugene Wilson. Vereen is in that mold, as a compact but rangy 6’0”, 199-pounder. He didn’t look out of place at the combine, either, running a 4.47 40-time, a 6.90 three-cone, a 4.07 short shuttle, benching 25 reps of 225 pounds, and recording a 34-inch vertical jump. He embodies the criteria New England’s personnel department has valued.
Round 7, Pick 29 – Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
It’s reasonable to think the Patriots look to acquire a different type of tight end at some point in the draft. And that’s the plan here as the team’s seventh-round pick is spent on Utah’s Jake Murphy. Murphy served a two-year LDS mission and has a family of his own, which likely played a part in his decision to enter the draft as an under-the-radar junior. He will be a 25-year-old rookie, but he’s a sure-handed “F” tight end who can stand in as H-back as well as in the seam.
Murphy stood out at the combine, not necessarily for his 4.79 40-yard dash, 7.18 three-cone, 4.27 short shuttle or his 24 bench reps, but because he was smooth in on-field workouts. The gauntlet and other tests exemplified his swiftness through the catch and sure hands. He’s only started 14 games over the past three years and was unsteady as a blocker, but he’s a 6’4”, 249-pound receiver who brings a different card into the shuffle.
Special thanks to DraftBreakdown.com.
Tags: 2014 NFL Mock Draft