2014 NFL Draft Close-Up: Notre Dame Tight End Troy Niklas

Troy Niklas wasn’t a full-time receiver in Notre Dame’s passing attack last fall, but he seldom left the field. (USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

In the coming weeks and months leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, NEPatriotsDraft.com will profile college prospects that potentially fit the needs and draft seating of the New England Patriots. In this 10th installment, we will take a closer look at the film behind Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas.

Troy Niklas has football bloodlines. He has experience playing all over the field. And he also has the size, strength and athleticism to never leave the field.

But as a tight end who carries traits that cannot be taught, his development will hinge on what can be.

After all, as the nephew of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, the cousin of current NFL linebackers Clay and Casey Matthews, and the brother of former Air Force linebacker Austin Niklas, the 6’6”, 270-pound Niklas has done more than catch passes since his days at Servite High School.

Up through his junior season in Anaheim, Calif., Niklas was a tight end. He wasn’t fused to that position, though; he battled on both sides of the ball. And as a senior in 2010, he converted to offensive guard while also forging ahead from the defensive tackle spot.

The Friars went 14-1 that season and won a second-consecutive CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division championship. Niklas, meanwhile, was named Los Angeles Times lineman of the year, a CalHiSports.com first-team all-state offensive lineman and an Orange County Register all-CIF Southern Section Pac-5 defensive lineman.

He found himself a four-star recruit, a member of the Rivals.com top-250, and on nearby USC’s radar. Yet on national signing day, the west-coast recruit decided to head east, signing his letter of intent with the University of Notre Dame.

Niklas arrived in South Bend, Ind., and carved a purpose early on. As a true freshman transitioning to outside linebacker, he played in 12 games and started one. He recorded 20 tackles, .5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in the process.

A change of scenery came along with the 2012 season, however, as the sophomore moved from the defensive edge to the offensive edge during spring practice.

He traded in his No. 58 jersey for a No. 85 jersey. Then he went on to participate in seven contests behind future first-round tight end Tyler Eifert, registering five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown by year’s end.

But as Eifert departed for the Cincinnati Bengals and the fall of 2013 rolled around, the junior became the starter. Niklas made the most of the title, playing in all 13 games to amass 32 receptions for 498 yards and five scores.

He functioned as an every-down tight end. He garnered recognition as a first-team All-Independent pick and a John Mackey Award semifinalist in result. And not long after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, the 21-year-old declared for the 2014 draft.

The underclassman will have his share of suitors anywhere from late Round 1 to early Round 3 this May. And while it remains to be seen where Niklas will land, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com, we can see where he left his mark.

An Inconsistent But Active, Powerful, All-Purpose Blocker

In a four-game sample size from last season, Niklas was deployed as a run-blocker for 122 snaps and stayed in as a pass-blocker or chip-blocker for 49 snaps. Those totals may strike semblance to a different age of tight ends, but that was how Irish head coach Brian Kelly elected to use his strengths in the offense.

Predominantly as an inline player, a seam player and sparsely as an “F” tight end, Niklas was trusted to control the corner as a run-paver. It was because he’s adept at it.

On run plays, Niklas is smooth transitioning between opponents and combination blocks. He can hold his ground at the point of attack; he can also drive, follow through and chase his assignments until they’re on the ground or out of bounds. He is effective in squaring and punching underneath the defender’s pads. And from then onward, he showcases an ability to stiff-arm the inside hand to lock the opposition at bay.

All of which make him a go-to lead on outside runs, where defensive backs are forced step up and make stops versus an oversized barrier. Yet while he is an asset in the run game, it would be remiss to call him seamless.

Niklas will occasionally lose sight of his target off the snap. Every so often, he will also exude ‘now what?’ body language after defeating his defender. But when he doesn’t defeat them, it’s often because he will catch bull-rushers, leaving his length on the wrong end of leverage.

Much like in the ground game, Niklas is a dynamic contributor in pass protection. And while he’d likely rather be running routes than blocking for them, he remains a flexible blocker who knows how to bend his knees, lower his hips, and kick and slide laterally. He can take on edge-rushers with swiftness and a powerful anchor, but he can step into a defender and seal them out of the arc when the play unravels as well.

These characteristics go a long way towards sustaining play-action rollouts and quarterback scrambles.

Now his athleticism assists him in recovery when he casually exits his stance, but it comes at the sacrifice of technique. Wasted movement and misreads can snowball into defensive ends knifing inside or around the corner. At that juncture, he has a tendency to bend his waist and rely upon his range to slow pass-rushers. This can end with Niklas grasping at helmets instead of bodies, particularly against edge players who can bend and burst underneath his arms.

Taking it all into consideration, Niklas had a lot on his plate in Notre Dame’s blocking scheme. And that was even realized through his bubble-screen blocks, like the one he delivered versus the Temple Owls in Aug. 31.

On 1st-and-10 early in the first quarter, the Irish offense assembled in “11” personnel inside its own 20.  Niklas evened up on the left hash as part of a trips grouping, but only one of whom would be embarking on a route.

That was senior wideout T.J. Jones, who, as the inside-most target, was prepped to reel in a quick screen and find a runway outside Temple’s sugaring seven-man front.

He would need a key block from Niklas to ensure a starting point.

Quarterback Tommy Rees handled the shotgun snap and stepped left to face the slot receiver. Out in front, Niklas took an angle parallel to the intended direction of the run.

He monitored 5’11”, 190-pound Owls defensive back Stephaun Marshall, bracing for contact.

Rees released the ball; Jones readied to receive it. And as the wideout maneuvered towards the flat, he had reinforcements maneuvering towards the secondary.

Niklas leaned in and cast his arms out to forklift No. 29.

Then he ran through.

By the time Jones harnessed the ball, he had room to roam. Niklas got underneath Marshall’s chest plate and knocked him back onto his heels.

Jones turned upfield, where Niklas had moved his defender from the seam to the numbers.

He continued to move him until the boundary. Jones was long gone by then. 

The play passed through four defenders and netted a 51-yard gain.

Niklas was a vital part in that outcome.

When accounting for his high school blocking background, his 34 1/8-inch arms, and his muscular yet well-grounded build, you’d think Niklas was a third offensive tackle on the field.

That’s how he was utilized.

An Unrefined But Underutilized, Big-Play Receiver

Niklas’ receiving role in the Notre Dame offense was tempered. With the raw skill and size to mismatch secondaries, there’s reason to believe he could have been unleashed in more third-down and red-zone situations than he was. There’s reason to believe he could have dictated coverage to open his teammates more than he did.

Instead, he was used like the antique muscle car your friend’s father used to drive on sunny Saturday afternoons.

Over the four games observed, Niklas ran 75 routes combined. In some cases, he wouldn’t run his first route of the contest until the second offensive series. There were times where he would go upwards of 25 consecutive plays between patterns. There entire games where he’d run as few as a dozen in all.

Yet when he was taken out of the garage for a drive, he exemplified the home-run ability NFL teams look for in a tight end.

Niklas looks the part of an inline “Y.” That said, he is no stranger to splitting off the line or merging into the slot. Niklas breaks off the ball faster than most would anticipate. Albeit without great burst, he has respectable get-up speed for his size, and he can stretch the field to alleviate the underneath.

Along with that, he shows the lower-body litheness to twist and turn in and out of breaks to some success. And when space is allotted, Niklas is comfortable catching the ball in stride and turning downhill.

On the other hand, there are concerns with the cleanliness of his routes, as he doesn’t always sell his movement or synchronize his pattern as well as he’ll need to at the next level. Defenses can sit on these miscues, and it can yield to misreads by the quarterback, as well as problems optimizing the depth of the back line in the end zone.

One of the most prominent issues with Niklas’ route-running is his willingness and stability in fighting through contact. He lacks the jolt to bypass responsive linebackers and safeties. Branching off of that, he can get jammed off the snap and bumped at the top of his routes.

When he neglects to keep his head on a swivel, his balance and chances of finding coverage voids are hindered. There isn’t always time for the QB to wait for him to break free from a man-to-man linebacker matchup or a safety shell.

Due to this, Niklas will have to become more aware of his on-field surroundings and how to use his basketball build to his advantage. He runs his fair share of out, corner, post, comeback and seam routes, and getting the most out of each one will be paramount.

In the meantime, though, he can still create plays by thrusting off defenders and fighting back to the ball. He can still stretch the seam or swing down the sideline to find the soft spot in coverage. And although those wrinkles aren’t visualized on a snap-by-snap basis, they aren’t outliers, either.

He displayed them against Arizona State on Oct. 5.

Approaching the red zone on 2nd-and-10 with four minutes to play in the third, Notre Dame dispersed in an empty-backfield set.

The element of the run may have been gone, but with the Irish route-runners gearing up for a double-smash concept, there was room for surprise.

Niklas’ seam route was an added variable for the Sun Devils’ zone-nickel blitz to calculate.

As the play got underway and Arizona State’s nickelback stormed the backfield, Rees had to think on his feet to find the zone’s flaws.

Niklas was quickly exploiting one, as 6’1”, 236-pound linebacker Steffon Martin abandoned the tight end to cover the deep corner.

That left Niklas waving his hand as he crossed through the 10-yard line. No safety was in the vicinity.

It took Rees time to identify his red-zone threat. The edge rush flushed him from the pocket, forcing him to adlib in the hopes of keeping the play alive.

Niklas did some adlibbing himself, extending his vertical pattern by veering around the back of 5’11”, 195-pound safety Alden Darby.

He saw his quarterback, he saw Darby, and he saw where he could get open.

Niklas accelerated through the turn and grazed the defender to establish inside seating. As he did, Rees fired the ball his direction before scampering out of bounds.

Niklas used his size to shield and attack the ball at its highest attainable point.

He snared it with both hands as Darby flailed before him.

It was a 21-yard touchdown on a broken play.

Niklas will drop a pass when he hears footsteps on occasion, yet he will come back and latch onto the next one. He understands how to track the ball, box out, leave his feet, and use his 10-inch hands to secure.

The rest takes care of itself.

Outlook

Niklas has the features of a multidimensional difference-maker at the tight end position. He has the features of a player who can command the line of scrimmage as a blocker, test coverage as a runner, contest the catch point as a receiver, and barrel through opponents as a ball-carrier.

He may not be that player now. He may never be that player. But he carries all the features to become that player.

And considering he was a linebacker two years ago, it appears that Niklas is well on his way.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Draft Close-Up, Film Breakdown, Notre Dame, Troy Niklas

54 Responses to “2014 NFL Draft Close-Up: Notre Dame Tight End Troy Niklas”

  1. Jim R says:

    WR is not a high priority however the more I see film on Cody Latimer, I would like to see him get drafted by the Pats. Kid snatches everything with his hands

  2. Daniel R. Martin says:

    I apologize for the multiple repostings. My comments kept being held for moderation for some reason.

  3. Daniel R. Martin says:

    Because we have invested heavily in the wide out position over the last season, to results that are hardly worth being enthused about, I think 4th is the earliest that I’d want our team to take a wide receiver. However, if no one can see the value of a talented receiver who is measured between 6’-05” and 6’-06” as an end zone target if nothing else, there is no point in belaboring the point.

    Seantrell Henderson is the Colt Lyerla of the offensive linemen in this draft class. He has the physical gifts of a first round player, the talent of a second rounder at worst, but the mentality of a UDFA. The risk of a sixth round compensatory pick is minimal. Conversely, the upside of him being molded properly into a mature young man and dedicated player in THE preeminent locker room fabled for its ability to do just so, is huge. In other words, it is worth the miniscule “risk.”

    Loston may not be perfect in coverage, but he is graded as the 3rd best strong safety in this draft class. What’s more is that he is the only talented SS that is even going to sniff the 4th round. And since he hits like a monster and by all accounts likes to do so, I’m not unhappy about that.

    I, like many others, mocked OG Spencer Long in the seventh. He is a team leader with a physical style of play and a tenacious attitude who fell a couple of rounds because of injury. Since interior linemen are of need, I continue to include him in my draft plans. However, I think he can be picked up as an UDFA. Millard, however, will likely be drafted.

    I’m open to replacing Dri Archer only because I am unsure his frame will endure NFL level competition. However, to replace him with James wilder jr. would be redundant because of the Millard selection. If nothing else, Dri Archer adds a new offensive dynamic to the team, and dynamism is all the rage these days.

    • acm says:

      not many people here would say no to having a player like Coleman on the Wr corps but it’s already full as it is and there will be some players who will have to be cut as they aren’t gonna carry more than 5-6 WRs.
      So, the question is no longer can they use a 6’6″ Wr in the 4th but would he be able to stick on the roster and how much wuuld a rookie Wr contribute? This is a position that is notoriously difficult for rookies to master (in the Pats offense), after all. Plus there is more to a difference maker at WR than just pure size. Coleman has plenty of shortcomings – lack of breakaway speed, not much of a leaper (which limits his catch radius and advantage of being so tall), drops, catching the ball into his body and not extending his arms as much, etc, etc.

      The problem with you picking Hendersen wasn’t that you spend a late round pick on him. It was that a questionable player like that was the first OL-man you drafted i.e. your hopes of improving the OL hinge on a shot-in-the-dark, at best, type of pick. That only creates the illusion of having improved the OL. Illusion only bolstered by the addition of two UDFAs later on.
      btw, just for the record, after the heroics he pulled off at his pro-day, there is no way in hell Henderson gets drafted, so for next mock you may save yourself the pick and just put him in the UDFA column, if you like him so much.

      Loston is a good player and if he’s played as an extra man in the box SS, that should mask pretty well his coverage issues. But if you can have a more complete player, who’d give you scheme versatility, why not go a bit higher with Bucannon? Plus the Pats just brought back Chung for the role of the hard-hitter in the box but clueless in coverage player for the secondary. Loston would be overkill of sorts at this point in time.

      • Alex (freemanator) says:

        I was going to reply to this, but you did the job better.

        Basically swap out Trent Murphy for an OG/OC and Chris Borland for a DT, or vice versa, and I’d love your draft.

        However much you like Borland, the question remains who will he replace? And does that guy need replacing? More than say Wendell and Connolly?

        I’d suggest Collins – Hightower – Mayo is a highly formidable front three at LB, who lack depth at OLB, and cover if Collins was to switch to DE for passing downs (I hope he doesn’t, as I feel he’s best mixing up rushing and dropping back in coverage to keep the QB guessing).

        Attaochu could provide that depth for Collins, as well as depth at DE on passing downs. Add Lokombo late, and you have the LB position taken care of with Beauharnais as the ILB depth. Then adding a vet DE for further depth, and factoring Attaochu into the mix there, would free us up to take a promising 3T DT / 5T DE in one of the first three rounds.

  4. DRM says:

    Because we have invested heavily in the wide out position over the last season, to results that are hardly worth being enthused about, I think 4th is the earliest that I’d want our team to take a wide receiver. However, if no one can see the value of a talented receiver who is measured between 6’-05” and 6’-06” as an end zone target if nothing else, there is no point in belaboring the point.

    Seantrell Henderson is the Colt Lyerla of the offensive linemen in this draft class. He has the physical gifts of a first round player, the talent of a second rounder at worst, but the mentality of a UDFA. The risk of a sixth round compensatory pick is minimal. Conversely, the upside of him being molded properly into a mature young man and dedicated player in THE preeminent locker room fabled for its ability to do just so, is huge. In other words, it is worth the miniscule “risk.”

    Loston may not be perfect in coverage, but he is graded as the 3rd best strong safety in this draft class. What’s more is that he is the only talented SS that is even going to sniff the 4th round. And since he hits like a monster and by all accounts likes to do so, I’m not unhappy about that.

    I, like many others, mocked OG Spencer Long in the seventh. He is a team leader with a physical style of play and a tenacious attitude who fell a couple of rounds because of injury. Since interior linemen are of need, I continue to include him in my draft plans. However, I think he can be picked up as an UDFA. Millard, however, will likely be drafted.

    I’m open to replacing Dri Archer only because I am unsure his frame will endure NFL level competition. However, to replace him with James wilder jr. would be redundant because of the Millard selection. If nothing else, Dri Archer adds a new offensive dynamic to the team, and dynamism is all the rage these days.

  5. Matt says:

    What happens if the Pats draft a player in the first round?

    • jim r says:

      It will be Zach Martin

    • acm says:

      they will have a player drafted in the 1st round ;)

      • Matt says:

        Right but do you think a lot of people would be upset because they think the Pats should trade out of the first round. I don’t think they should.

        • Dylan C says:

          I wouldn’t be upset if the right player fell to them, Im sure the team is taking a similar approach.

          They probably have a few names in mind who they really like, have a chance to fall to them, and if they do they will take them. They probably also have a second tier of players who they like but think they can get in the early/mid second round and if the first group isn’t available they will look to trade back and take someone from the second group. But even if they do look to trade there may not be a deal offered to them giving what they think is a fair return available. Obviously its not realistic to expect a return like they got from the Vikings last year. If that happens sometimes teams are forced to stay put and take the second tier of players in the first even if ifs a little early. That’s what happened with the Cowboys and that center they drafter at the end of round 1 last year. He was on top of their board at that point, they knew he could be taken later, but no one offered a fair trade so they took him anyway.

        • acm says:

          well, couldn’t have said it better than Dylan.

    • GM-In-Training says:

      I’m expecting the Pats to draft in the first round this year. I think it’s very unlikely that too many teams are willing to trade 2 or more decent picks to move up this year. Rounds 2 and 3 are just too rich, so it throws the points chart out the window.

      That said, of teams that might move up (think 49ers with 6 picks in the top 100), the pick they would trade in the 2nd round would be 56 or 61, which is a pretty long way to drop for the Pats before making a pick.

  6. Daniel R. Martin says:

    This is my first season attempting mock drafts. I don’t watch college ball and have been watching professional football closely only for about five years. I worked hard on it and would very much welcome and appreciate any and all feedback.

    1st Round selection traded for picks in the 2,3,6 & 7th Rounds.

    2 – Jeremiah Attaochu OLB

    2 (Received for 1st Rd pick) – Trent Murphy DE / OLB

    3 – Chris Boreland ILB

    3 (Received for 1st Rd pick) – C. J. Fiedorowicz TE

    4 – Craig Loston SS

    4 (Received in trade for QB Ryan Mallet) – WR Brandon Coleman

    5 – Lost in trade with Eagles for Isaac Sopoaga

    6 (Received in trade with Eagles) – Dri Archer RB/WR/PR/KR

    6 – Colt Lyerla TE

    6 (Compensatory) – Tom Savage QB

    6 (Received for 1st Rd pick) – Seantrell Henderson OT

    7 – Boseko Lokombo OLB

    7 (Received for 1st Rd pick) – Trey Millard FB

    UDFA Targeted Acquisitions:

    Spencer Long OG

    Corey Linsley C

    • Alex (freemanator) says:

      How many LBers does a team need? Certainly we don’t need to add three/four, let alone spend our first two/three picks on them.

      I like the late round picks, but we need a better plan at the start of the draft. I’d target a DT or DE with the traded second, ideally Tuitt or maybe Kareem Martin, and then an O-lineman like Bitonio or Marcus Martin or TE like ASJ or Niklas with #62. After that grab a TE/O-lineman with one third, depending on who we didn’t get, and a LB like Kirksey with another.

      I also wouldn’t trade Mallett for a fourth because he’s worth more to us than that as a backup, although I think it is likely that is the best offer we’d be able to get.

      • Daniel R. Martin says:

        I think Savage can be better than Mallet.

        Also, the second pick in round two, Trent Murphy, is primarily a Defensive End. He is also The D-End with the highest sack total this season. He has positional versatility that allows him to also play linebacker.

        Right now we have about 15% of a 53 man roster space dedicated to the D Tackle position. Which is a position at which only 1 (3-4) or 2 (4-3) players are fielded at a time. And yet you still have people clamoring to draft another D-Tackle high.

        Essentially I think those are the three best players that will be available, and they happen to play positions of need. Additional, it is rather fortutious that this draft is deep enough to present opportunities to target other positions of need in the latter rounds. i.e. the TE, SS, FB, WR, RB, C, OT, OG etc. players that I selected in this mock. I wasn’t high on Fiedorowicz until I accepted that he would be far more than serviceable, and the selection of Lyerla in the 6th would represent the greater play maker at the TE position. this mock only works with the selection of both.

        • Alex (freemanator) says:

          Maybe Savage can be better than Mallett, but I can basically guarantee he’d be worse than Mallett next year. What happens if Brady has to miss a few games, we may miss out on the #1 seed, the bye or even the playoffs, if we can’t get passable play from our backup.

          If we trade Mallett, we’ll bring in another vet as backup. So the talent question isn’t the one to be asking, it is the what do we do if we need to limp along at .500 while Brady gets healthy.

          Fair enough with Murphy, but even with him as a DE, you spend two of our top three picks on back up LBers, and a late round pick as well. We already have a starting three, and in Beauharnais, we have a guy that can back up HT and replace Spikes as the big run thumper.

          We need another coverage and STs guy, ideally in the 4th round area, although a good talent early would make sense. But don’t forget we have a top 10 pick, a first round pick and a second round pick starting there already. One high pick for depth and versatility would make sense in a BPA scenario, but depth there is only so important.

          Personally I’d much rather Kareem Martin or even Jackson Jeffcoat over Murphy at DE, as I feel they other better athleticism and a chance to get to the QB quicker.

          As for your DT point, the numbers on the roster are irrelevant, it is the talent we have that matters. And we have a top 4 that would do for next season in Wilfork, Kelly, Siliga and Armstead, with Jones as a possible keeper if he makes a second year leap, so standing pat there would be fine. But with age and injury concerns, adding one guy this year would make a tonne of sense, otherwise we face a possible total rebuild at the position next year, and more troubles this year if any of the injured guys can’t make it back. Also given their positional value, most good D-linemen go very high in the draft, hence I’d suggest a top pick there, even if we have bigger immediate needs elsewhere, it is a position that is hard to fill well with later picks.

          I also think that the interior O-line is our biggest current weakness on the roster, and really needs a top talent and a developmental late talent for the future. With Scar gone and a new O-line coach, I’m really hoping to never have to see Wendell and Connolly alongside one another again.

          After that we need TE, DE and LB depth, a future starter at DT and long term contracted depth at RB. Add a double dip in for the interior O-line and maybe at TE, with a possible developmental SS and you have our needs list in my opinion.

        • Daniel R. Martin says:

          Fair enough. I asked for feedback so I want wine about the generally critical nature of it. This mock is somewhat different than my previous mocks. Although it is the same general idea in terms of positional needs that I’ve targeted and is still somewhat consistent. What I mean is I’m really trying to think about this critically. I’m not throwing out radically different mock drafts because I think it is fun to arbitrarily throw a mock draft together. I am entertaining myself in the off-season by attempting to complete a draft outline that I believe would most greatly improve the team if followed. Some of my mock draft was informed by the opinions of contributing members on this site, especially acm and Steve Earle. Speaking of which, where is Steve? I’ll go back to the drawing board. But I’ll explain the direction I’m attempting to go in, and ask for further suggestions.

          The areas I’d most like to improve are pass rush and offensive explosiveness, specifically at the TE position. I would like to create in our front seven what Seattle has done in their secondary. I’d also like to bolster the offensive line.

          I was sleeping on Attaochu until acm plugged him a couple of times. On defense I would like almost exclusively players that play with his angry, hyper-aggressive temperament. I’d really like to find hitters like Attaochu who have the coverage skills of Jamie Collins. Believe it or not, Boseko Lokombo appears to combine those traits, although he is, admittedly, mildly undersized. Lokombo gets interceptions almost as well as a cornerback.

          I am very surprised that anyone would argue against defensive end being a position of dire need. Jones may have already reached his ceiling and Nink was never supposed to be a marquis starter. Then again neither was Brady, but I digress. Even if we had two Jadeveon Clowney’s at the position, two isn’t enough. Murphy is a very large, quite rangy defender who has the positional versatility to contribute on the outside in both levels of the defensive front.

        • acm says:

          I don’t think anyone’s arguing vs the need at DE, DRM. That’s where players like Attaochu and Murphy come in (while Alex prefers K. Martin). Problem is they are identical in their role, which creates a redundancy, and to make matters worse, all this is at the price of the two highest picks. Also, you improve pass-rush altogether by improving the push on the interior, not just the edges.

          I am also all for a more athletic front 7 and that’s why I have been mocking players like Daquan Jones and Caraun Reid at Dt and Attaochu/D. Lawrence at DE/OLB. Right now the Pats don’t have players at DT that combine pocket push and run-stopping abilities, D. Jones and Reid would come in.
          As for DE, my philosophy for a while has been that smaller but more agile and explosive players would complement better the big DEs the Pats already have on the roster (C. Jones and Bucanon). Adding a bigger player there like Murphy or K. Martin would create redundancy to the existing skill set instead of complementing it. An additional bonus is that Attaochu/Lawrence both have that “anger” in their game and are stronger than one would expect from such “tweeners” at the position. And then there is the positional flexibility as an extra too.
          If we speak big DEs, my favorite option would be someone like Aaron Lynch late in the draft; he does have some red flags about him but the talent is there too. The low price would make the risk worthwhile, imo.

          This is not unlike Seattle’s D front which relies (or used to) on players like Avril and Clemons as speed-rushing DEs, players who themselves were described as “tweeners” back in the day; and there is also guys like Red Bryant, McDonald, Mebane, who provide athleticism and pass-rush on the inside. Thru the additions of D. Jones, C. Reid and one of Attaochu/Lawrence, I am basically suggesting to bolster the Pats D front by adding to what they already have, some of the features that made Seattle’s D so successful. Of course an athletic front 4 or 7 is only part of the formula but with the additions of Revis and Browner, the Pats secondary is only a proper SS away from being a complete unit.

        • Alex (freemanator) says:

          Sorry Daniel,

          I hadn’t meant to be too negative, I was just shocked to see you stock up with so many LBers. I try and give feedback chronologically, rather than good then bad, as it seems less fake. And I liked the late picks, but the main thing that stood out to me were too many LBers. Also I was trying to be brief (had other things to do for once) and didn’t consider the tone, so sorry for being too negative.

          I was certainly not trying to argue that DE wasn’t a need. It definitely is, but it is more of a depth need. We have two starters in place, and need someone to rotate in with them. We also have Buchanan a very promising prospect who looked good early on, but struggled with his rush discipline. Another year and camp, and he should be stronger and better, and a good rotational option. Still would love to add another talented body there to replace Bequette. My preference would be Kareem Martin or Jackson Jeffcoat over Trent Murphy though, but either way taking a DE high would be a good pick. But we just need one guy. Attaoachu would also be an interesting rush option, that could also provide LB depth, while we added a stouter option later.

          I definitely think we should try and prioritise the pass rush in the draft, but would love for that to come through interior pressure as well as edge pressure, hence my hope for a disruptive 3T option, as well as a guy to join the DE rotation.

          At LB we have some great starting options, but could do with another great cover guy, to give us some depth and STs contributions. Someone like a Kirksey in the 4th, or Lokombo in the late rounds could fill that.

          Agree that we need some more options at TE too, but I do feel the interior O-line is the biggest weakness on are team when everyone is healthy.

          The problem is that we just don’t have enough top picks to fill all our current and future needs, so we need to sue them wisely, and hopefully get some good late round value, and some guys from the last two drafts stepping up this year.

        • Alex (freemanator) says:

          ACM,

          I do think Attaochu would be a good option at DE/OLB/DPR too, and I agree with the premise of trying to add speed there and not just length.

          DeMarcus Lawrence tested very poorly at the combine though, and I feel that Jackson Jeffcoat offers the best length, speed and agility mix at the position.

          Also given that Buchanan was disruptive as a pass rusher last year, but was dropped because of lack of rush discipline, I’m slightly reticent to suggest adding a pass rush only guy, as it seems they might struggle to hold down a job under BB.

        • acm says:

          Lawrence didn’t exactly set the combine on fire but wasn’t poor either underwhelming only in his 40 time. Combine warriors however don’t necessarily translate well onto the NFL, so I try not to take combine results too seriously, as long as a player doesn’t bomb it completely, which raises questions about discipline and mentality. A reason why I am not as high on Jeffcoat despite his very good to excellent showing at the combine.

          I see your concerns about the DE role but Lawrence has good discipline vs the run and is stronger/stouter than his size would suggest. What I like about him the most over a player like Jeffcoat is that he plays aggressive, angry and also has explosion in his hands and some pretty good pass-rush moves, more or less all areas where someone like JJ lags behind. Add to that JJ’s physical issues and Lawrence being still very raw at the DE position and I like DL’s NFL potential and ceiling a lot better.

          Another player in that category, albeit a bit bigger, is Scott Crichton, who reminds me of a Michael Bennett/Everson Griffen type of DE/smaller DT on passing downs. He may well be targeted by the Pats considering BB drafted a similar player in the past in J. Cunningham. Crichton is obviously a much better player in that regard.

      • acm says:

        Couldn’t agree more with Alex here – he just saved me a lot of typing.

        Not a big fan of most of the players there except Attaochu, CJF and Millard and to a varying extent Murphy and Loston. Big issue for me too is the redundancy created at LB and especially OLB with the first two and most valuable picks in the draft. The biggest issue, however, is the lack of an OL-man early and the one you finally take in the 6th is a player with a truckload of red flags in the commitment/effort department, who just quit half-way thru his pro-day.

        OL is the bread and butter of any team whose offense features a franchise QB like Brady. You need it to keep Tom upright and also to run the ball when needed. Just look at the number of talented rosters that were sunk by the lack of good OLs whether due to injuries or lack of talent – Atlanta, Ravens, Giants, Bears, etc, etc, etc. Sure they had other underlying issues but at the heart of their failures was the lack of a good OL. A top notch OL doesn’t guarantee a SB appearance but the lack of one virtually guarantees you ain’t getting there. T

        The Pats have always been a team to start building from the trenches, so considering the age of their two best OL-men and their increasing injury issues, as well as the struggles at C and RG last year, I fully expect at least one OL-man in the top 3 rounds; depending on how many picks they may create there thru trades, possibly even 2.

        Here is some food for thought: http://www.patspulpit.com/2014/4/4/5581232/patriots-offensive-line-are-under-pressure

        As for drafting another DT – you keep mentioning the numbers on the roster but the reality is that the quality is suspect in the middle of the D with no sure starter there. Kelly and Wilfork are huge question marks to say the least and would be no better than situational players even if they do make it back at some point (when and if that’s to happen, is anybody’s guess); and considering their advanced age, for how long could the Pats rely on either of them? Siliga and C. Jones are promising, serviceable players but both are late picks or UDFAs and have a lot left to prove for being more than just OK; same with Armstead who has talent but can’t seem to get a snap or two under his belt.

        • Daniel R. Martin says:

          Fair enough. I asked for feedback so I want wine about the generally critical nature of it. This mock is somewhat different than my previous mocks. Although it is the same general idea in terms of positional needs that I’ve targeted and is still somewhat consistent. What I mean is I’m really trying to think about this critically. I’m not throwing out radically different mock drafts because I think it is fun to arbitrarily throw a mock draft together. I am entertaining myself in the off-season by attempting to complete a draft outline that I believe would most greatly improve the team if followed. Some of my mock draft was informed by the opinions of contributing members on this site, especially acm and Steve Earle. Speaking of which, where is Steve? I’ll go back to the drawing board. But I’ll explain the direction I’m attempting to go in, and ask for further suggestions.

          The areas I’d most like to improve are pass rush and offensive explosiveness, specifically at the TE position. I would like to create in our front seven what Seattle has done in their secondary. I’d also like to bolster the offensive line.

          I was sleeping on Attaochu until acm plugged him a couple of times. On defense I would like almost exclusively players that play with his angry, hyper-aggressive temperament. I’d really like to find hitters like Attaochu who have the coverage skills of Jamie Collins. Believe it or not, Boseko Lokombo appears to combine those traits, although he is, admittedly, mildly undersized. Lokombo gets interceptions almost as well as a cornerback.

          I am very surprised that anyone would argue against defensive end being a position of dire need. Jones may have already reached his ceiling and Nink was never supposed to be a marquis starter. Then again neither was Brady, but I digress. Even if we had two Jadeveon Clowney’s at the position, two isn’t enough. Murphy is a very large, quite rangy defender who has the positional versatility to contribute on the outside in both levels of the defensive front.

          Chris Borland has the team leader, hard charger, big hitter attitude I want. If he wasn’t so damn small for a linebacker I am quite sure he’d be a shoe-in first rounder. Also, he is a ball hawk with great coverage skills. Borland makes plays happen from sideline to sideline and he is always around the ball.

          Yes, I admit my latest mock is top heavy on the defensive side of the ball. However, I believe that is because the offensive players that fit into the overarching scheme of my draft can be had in the latter rounds. I wanted ASJ in the second before I realized he may be lazy and unmotivated. I liked Niklas and believed he had the greatest upside. But I realized that he is very raw and unrefined, and furthermore that Colt Lyerla paired with CJF would give the team a TE corps that has everything needed at the position, alongside Gronk of course. Additionally, selecting CJF in the 3rd would provide an opportunity to get two elite level pass rushers in the 2nd. I can’t imagine how any fan is satisfied with the level of productivity in the pass rush department over the past few years. Our defense is better but will not be elite until that shortcoming is shored up.

          Because we have invested heavily in the wide out position over the last season, to results that are hardly worth being enthused about, I think 4th is the earliest that I’d want our team to take a wide receiver. However, if no one can see the value of a talented receiver who is measured between 6’-05” and 6’-06” as an end zone target if nothing else, there is no point in belaboring the point.

          Seantrell Henderson is the Colt Lyerla of the offensive linemen in this draft class. He has the physical gifts of a first round player, the talent of a second rounder at worst, but the mentality of a UDFA. The risk of a sixth round compensatory pick is minimal. Conversely, the upside of him being molded properly into a mature young man and dedicated player in THE preeminent locker room fabled for its ability to do just so, is huge. In other words, it is worth the miniscule “risk.”

          Loston may not be perfect in coverage, but he is graded as the 3rd best strong safety in this draft class. What’s more is that he is the only talented SS that is even going to sniff the 4th round. And since he hits like a monster and by all accounts likes to do so, I’m not unhappy about that.

          I, like many others, mocked OG Spencer Long in the seventh. He is a team leader with a physical style of play and a tenacious attitude who fell a couple of rounds because of injury. Since interior linemen are of need, I continue to include him in my draft plans. However, I think he can be picked up as an UDFA. Millard, however, will likely be drafted.

          I’m open to replacing Dri Archer only because I am unsure his frame will endure NFL level competition. However, to replace him with James wilder jr. would be redundant because of the Millard selection. If nothing else, Dri Archer adds a new offensive dynamic to the team, and dynamism is all the rage these days.

      • rdf63 says:

        Agree! The Pats need to focus on a DT, DE and TE early in this years draft. Last year the Pats had the WORST rushing Defense in the AFC and the third worst in the NFL. They need a player like Truitt or Hageman because we don’t know how good Vince and Kelly will be next year. The depth of the Defensive Ends is too weak and Bequette will probably be released by the Pats and been a disappointment. The longevity of Gronk is unknown. He had back problems at Arizona, ACL and multiple forearm surgeries at a pretty young age. The Pats have to find a Tight End with the potential to be an immediate starter in the draft. I like Niklas but a little weary because of the concussions he had at Notre Dame. CJF may be a better fit and should be available in the 3rd round. Really hope the Pats focus on what they need in this years draft.

      • Daniel R. Martin says:

        No worries Alex. My feelings weren’t hurt too badly. :-) I was trying to explain why I selected the players I did without coming across as a no-it-all or someone who is disinterested in other opinions. I really am having fun pursuing the perfect mock draft (there is a David Allan Coe joke in there somewhere), but I’m trying to learn as much about this sport as possible by doing so.

        Before i make other modifications, left me ask for a bit more directed feedback.
        There has been some speculation that Stephon Tuitt might fall to the early to middle section of the second round. This would create an option to trade back and still pick up a marquise level talent at the DT position. Is this plausible or hopeful, and would Tuitt admirably fill this need?

        #3.) I knew Henderson was possibly immature. I had no idea he was a weak willed slug as well. He has been shifted to an UDFA spot.

        • Daniel R. Martin says:

          Part of what I typed was erased for some reason.

          #1.) I had mocked OG Gabe Jackson in the second round. Is he the right player to address our needs on the interior O-Line?

          #2.) Could Stephon Tuitt really fall to the second? Is so, should we target him?

        • acm says:

          Not Alex but could drop in my two cents :)

          1) I don’t think Gabe Jackson fits what the Pats do at the OL position. He is a big-bodied, road-grader type of OG and if the Pats need someone like that, they could plug in Canon there. More importantly, however, Jackson’s pass protection isn’t where he is at his best and he suffers in zone blocking due to lack of mobility. It’s such versatility in their linemen that the Pats usually crave at the position. Jackson would be a very good player for the right scheme, just not in the Pats OL scheme, imo.

          2) At this point, I’d say I’d even be a little surprised if Tuitt doesn’t fall to the 2nd round. How far into it, no idea. I think if there is a team that could well potentially take him in the 1st, that’d be the 49ers as they may be on the lookout for a Justin Smith replacement. However common sense would have it they go CB in the first and may even trade up for one (like they did for Reid last year). So, my money is on Tuitt dropping into the 2nd.
          I think the Pats could well use a player like him who’d be a replacement for Kelly or an alternative to Armstead on the current roster. His production did fall from 2012 onto 2013 season and raised some concerns but he had some injury issues and that may well explain it all … even then, however, you have concerns regarding possible durability issues. If they can get him near the mid of the 2nd round, I think he would be well worth it.

        • Daniel R. Martin says:

          Assuming I want Tuitt and Attaochu in the second, who would you recommend at OG or Centerin the 3rd to satisfy this need, acm?

        • acm says:

          Dakota Dozier (earlish to mid 3rd) and Cameron Fleming (late 3rd to earlish 4th) would be good value and fit for the Pats needs at OL, imo. Both can play RT as well as OG and should be able to contribute immediately, at a reasonable cost, pick-wise.

          The Brandon Thomas injury makes things a bit trickier when it comes to drafting OG in the 3rd. Thomas was a sure-fire 2nd rounder, so his injury is likely to move up people like Bitonio and Dozier, for example. I had Dozier as a mid to late 3rd rounder before, now I am guessing they may have to even take him in late 2nd or very early 3rd (in case of a trade). Bitonio is quite possibly a lock for the 2nd now, I think.

          All in all, players I like for OG for the Pats, depending on how the draft goes, are: Bitonio (now a 2nd), Dozier (earlish 3rd), Cameron Fleming (late 3rd/early 4th). All these players used to play at OT in college, project better at OG in the NFL so there is some scheme versatility and athleticism in them. Later I like OG Anthony Steen (4th/5th), OC/OG Russell Bodine (5th/6th), and Spencer Long (6th/7th).
          Brandon Thomas would be a good pick up in 5th/6th range but would have to shelf him for 2014.

          Centers I like this year, besides Bodine late, are Marcus Martin and Weston Richburg, both of whom have a 3rd round grade or so. Problem I have with them is that they project only at OC, imo i.e. they lack the versatility to play even at OG, let alone OT. I am not sure that would be a good way to spend a 3rd round pick – on a 1-dimensional OL-man, that is. Pats would have to really love one of them to do itbut again, versatility is what they cherish the most.

        • Alex (freemanator) says:

          Sorry I missed this. But I mainly agree with what ACM has said.

          Tuitt will likely fall back into the 2nd round, but both him and Attaochu are unlikely to last until our original 2nd round pick I’d think.

          As for third round lineman, Bitonio would be the dream, although I think he’ll go early to mid second, and he could even crack the first. Yankey’s stock has taken a fair hit in the post season draft process, and so he may last, and he’d be really great value in the third. Then Billy and Trai Turner both offer some potential as developmental Guards who have the athleticism to Zone Block and Pull.

          I think acm makes a good point about the Centres and lack of versatility, but if the team feels they are/will be high level starter calibre, then it doesn’t matter if they are a OC only. I feel both martin and Richburgh could offer that, and Marting offers some versatility at OG, even if he isn’t well practised theree.

    • jim r says:

      If they can get those picks for their # 1 I would be very happy. I think you did a good job of addressing some of the positional needs. IMO I think O-Line will be will be something they look at in the first 4 rounds. Seantrell Henderson tapped out on his pro day.

  7. Dan Sullivan says:

    Patriot Predictions
    Free Agents
    Adam Carriker DE Redskins
    Damian Wiiliams WR Titans
    Dennis Rowland OL Bengals

    Draft
    1 Trade for 1st and 2nd round picks
    2 Pierre Desir CB Lindenwood
    2 Jace Amaro TE Texas Tech
    3 Trent Murphy DE Stanford
    3 Anthony Johnson DT LSU
    4 Max Bullough ILB Michigan State
    4 Michael Schofield OT Michigan
    6 James Sims RB Kansas
    6 Asa Watson TE NC State
    7 Brock Vereen S Minnesota

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Correction trade 1st for a 2nd and 3rd round picks.

    • acm says:

      not bad at all except for the very first pick – CB is one of the best covered positions on the team, so spending your first pick and doing so on an anything but a unique player, is just a waste, plain and simple.
      If you think they can use another bigger CB, that’s fine, take one later on but not with your first pick; it’s actually something I did in a mock earlier in this thread or the previous one – had FS/CB Dontae Johnson taken with the 4th comp pick.

  8. TD says:

    It’s pretty awesome as fans predict the Pat’s getting an extra 1st or 2nd round pick by trading their backup QB’s that rarely play behind Brady. First Hoyer, now Mallett. If Houston or Cleveland really thought that highly of Mallet, they would have made a deal by now.
    Teams are not giving up picks in rounds 1 or 2 for guys that were undrafted and rarely played or were drafted in the 3rd round and rarely played.
    My guess is that Mallet will go through what Hoyer did; 2nd round restricted tender next year in case another team wants to take a risk on him.

  9. Joe Blake says:

    Hope the Pats pass on the ‘Bama QB (McCarron) and go with the LSU QB instead. M..berg should be a similar or slightly lower mid round pick. They should go LSU QB particularly if Mallett is not traded thus giving M…berg a year to recover from his knee injury. practice squad potential placement to save a roster spot.

  10. Dan Sullivan says:

    Niklas I think will be selected on round 1 even though he has a second round rating as he has great potential.

    Patriot Predictions
    Danario Alexander WR Chargers
    James Anderson LB Bears

    Draft
    1 Kony Ealy DE Missouri
    2 Additional pick for possible Mallett trade. Zach Martin G/OT Notre Dame
    2 A.J. McCarron QB Alabama
    3 Josh Huff WR Oregon
    4 Arthur Lynch TE Georgia
    4 Devon Kennard OLB USC
    6 Crockett Gilmore TE Colorado St.
    6 Kevin Danser G Stanford
    7 Bruce Gaston DT Purdue

    • Pete H. says:

      I’d be excited if Kony Ealy was available in the first round. I wouldn’t mind seeing a vet brought in as well, maybe Will Smith or Anthony Spencer? I’d like to see DT and DE as the top picks this season and next as well. That would really solidify defense. Personally, I don’t like the McCarron pick in the second – rather see a second rounder go O-line or TE.

    • Trev says:

      Getting a 2nd for Mallet ain’t gonna happen. Sorry Man. He just doesn’t have any value. Not sure why people think he does. I’ll tell you right now that Mallet will back Brady up next year, and then sign elsewhere in 2015. Best you can hope for is a late round Comp pick for him after that. Nobody wants to trade even a 4th for him right now, guaranteed.

      • Matt says:

        What makes you think that? He knows the same system that O’ Brien will be running in Texas.

        • Trev says:

          O’Brien isn’t going to give up a mid round pick for NE’s backup QB, even if he does know the system. That’s the kind of move that gets young coaches fired. Mallet hasn’t shown much, if anything since he has been in NE.

  11. acm says:

    OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a Canadian prospect from McGill, seems to be attracting looks for the 2014 draft. Raw in his technique but a supreme athlete with smarts and great upside. A candidate for the Pats’ compensatory pick, maybe?

    • Pete H. says:

      I’d love to see the Pats grab an OT with one of their 4th rounders. Seems like there are lots of good ones in this draft, so there might still be a good one available to develop for a year and then backup Solder and Vollmer for the next few years.

  12. GM-In-Training says:

    I like Niklas’ height, 34″ arms, size-10 hands and 27 reps in the bench press, but we don’t have a 40 time for him, and his 7.57 3-cone is slow even by TE standards. His 3-cone was 12th among TE at the Combine, and 7th among TE weighing >255. In fact, he had the SLOWEST 3-cone of all TE timed.

    Based on the article above, it seems like his route running problems may also stem from a lack of burst and lateral agility. I’m concerned he won’t be the mismatch-machine-over-the-middle we want because of that.

    • Matt says:

      I have watched him play at ND and he can run and catch the ball and block when he has to just fine. The 3 cone much like the rest of the drills in the combine are crap.

    • acm says:

      Niklas had some sort of an injury at the combine, iirc and that was why he didn’t run the 40. Given the circumstances, I wouldn’t take his other times too close to heart as they may well have been affected by said injury.

      As for his route running, he is simply still developing his role in the passing game and maybe should have stayed for another year at ND. Similarly, he also still shows some awkwardness in the way he catches the ball. Another aspect of the passing game he needs to work on and clean up.

      Has a bigger upside, imo, than other Y-TEs in this draft like say CJF, for example, but potential is a dangerous word. Niklas is no Gronk but provided he develops his passing game a good deal, I think he is the one TE this year who would come closest to being it.

      • SFL says:

        Niklas had double hernia surgery on Mar 11. Sure that’s why his combine stats aren’t what you’d expect.

  13. Dylan.C says:

    I like Tom Savage allot more than someone like AJ Mccaron who everyone seems to be obsessed with despite his noodle arm. He would be a great late round pick IMO.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqnwiSLXrdI

    • Matt says:

      Aj Mccaron’s noodle arm? A QB can develop his arm just like Brady did. 2001 a lot of Brady’s passes where short passes. But over time he built up strength in his arm so he could from time to time though longer passes.

      • Jack says:

        I don’t know about McCarron, but Brady could throw long from day 1. I remember when he first came out and there was a controversy about him vs. Bledsoe, and a lot of people at that time claimed he had a weak arm and couldn’t throw long. But, if they actually looked at his long balls, they would have seen he had plenty distance and accuracy. It is possible that he gained some distance from filling out, but his arm strength was never an issue imo.

  14. Jim R says:

    I would like to see the Pats get Nicklas or CJF.

  15. Matt says:

    Hes a good TE that can catch and block very well. I hope the Pats draft him.






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