NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
There may have been time for another attempt at a New England Patriots 2014 mock draft before things kick off this Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, but how the board falls will inevitably dictate what can be addressed and when.
It is understood that head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots war room will add prospects – and potentially picks – over the course of the draft’s three days. Positions of need will be deepened, yet opportunities to attain value elsewhere will not be overlooked, either.
New England heads into the draft with picks 29, 62, 93, 130, 140, 198, 206 and 244 overall. And with those choices looming, here are seven rounds of thoughts to ponder.
The way this year’s draft class is seated, it would be a surprise to see the Patriots move up from the 29th spot. All the more likely, the prospect depth could work into the team’s favor and lead to a possible trade down into early Round 2. This would make sense for New England, not only because it could lead to an accumulation of choices in the second or third rounds, but also because the organization may find the same talent in mid-40s as it could in the late-20s. Yet, on the other hand, it takes two sides to swing a deal; there could be many teams content with waiting for their candidates to fall.
As a result, fair trade value might be skewed in this well-stocked class. Ideally, the Patriots enter negotiations with a quarterback-needy team looking to get back into Day 1. Despite the smoke surrounding Louisville signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater, it’s hard to believe he’ll make it that far; and if he did, it’d be hard to believe New England would pass on him. More realistically, the Patriots stand pat and select a top-20 prospect at a different position to round out the first.
The way the draft pool is shaping up, there could be four or five wide receivers taken in the first 32 selections. But with this considered the best receiver class in several years, there’s reason to believe the Patriots could find a starting-caliber target later on if the right prospect is there. And that’s a big if, seeing how New England did invest a second and a fourth in Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce last April.
In terms of value, I tend to believe that defensive tackle is the most worthwhile investment in Round 1. But it hinges on what are the Patriots looking for. It could be a Vince Wilfork-type nose like Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III, or a streaky but athletic three- to five-technique like Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman. But a polarizing, high-injury risk, high-reward interior pass-rusher like Florida’s Dominique Easley could find his way into Round 1 as well.
If any of those defensive linemen are available, presumably the Patriots would give them a close look. But going tight end with Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, offensive line with Notre Dame’s Zack Martin or UCLA’s Xavier Su’a Filo, outside linebacker with Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier or BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, or perhaps even safety with Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward all have their merits, too. Not all of whom will be there, though; around pick 25 overall, Belichick and Co. should have a keen understanding as to who will be.
With minimal drop-off, Round 2 appears to be an extension of Round 1 this year. That could alleviate pressure when it comes to an organization in good standing like New England. If defensive tackle is passed on in the first, or the team trades back into the early second, taking a flier on Easley, an undersized but explosive run-plugger like Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan or Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt – who could be a logical fit as a 3-4 defensive end or three-technique in New England’s multiple front – is conceivable.
Given that the 2014 tight end group isn’t perceived to be very deep, another name to keep in mind towards the middle to tail end of Round 2 is Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas. Selecting Niklas in the second may be a slight reach in regards to immediate impact; he has some injury concerns and is still learning the position as a converted outside linebacker, but he also carries the physical traits of a starting “Y” to complement or emulate Rob Gronkowski.
If Niklas or Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins are there at pick 62, all the better. If they are not, defensive end, interior offensive line, strong safety, and defensive tackle are other variables to watch for – barring New England doesn’t bolster those areas earlier.
The 2014 crop isn’t all that bountiful when it comes to edge-rushing 4-3 defensive ends. And after Missouri’s Kony Ealy and Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence, a high-effort bull-rusher like Oregon State’s Scott Crichton may be the last call before the subsequent tier. Crichton has some physical limitations bending the edge, but he could carve a niche for New England as a third rusher behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, with the hopes that he could develop into a starting left end in time. It would be remiss to count out 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Buchanan and the newly signed 32-year-old Will Smith. However, their presence should not restrict a move.
If the pool runs shallow at end, that could leave the Patriots tackling the heart of the offensive line instead, where Colorado State center Weston Richburg could be on the radar. Richburg, a 50-game starter, has experience at guard and offensive tackle. He plays with toughness, quick feet, and the athleticism of a high school quarterback-slash-linebacker. And he’s the type of unexciting but invaluable prospect the Patriots could plug in at center or right guard.
Much like the interior O-line, much is up in the air for New England at strong safety. Duron Harmon has a shot to go from third-round enigma to full-time starter next to Devin McCourty. But if the Patriots decide to draft a safety for the third consecutive season, that could come in the form of a hard-hitter like Deone Bucannon from Washington State.
And lastly, filling out Round 2 alternatives, Penn State’s DaQuan Jones could be a fine consolation prize if New England leaves defensive tackle unaccounted for in Round 1. Jones has scheme flexibility, playing nose tackle, the one-technique, the three-technique and defensive end for the Nittany Lions. In the second- to third-round range, that could be what New England is looking for.
The way this year’s draft is built, the Patriots figure to have plenty of positional choices at pick 93. One still could be tight end, providing that the value of an Amaro, a Niklas or a Seferian-Jenkins didn’t equate to a pick in rounds one and two. If so, Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz could present starting capability as a well-round inline target in Round 3. Although if Fiedorowicz – who’s prominently viewed as a top-five tight end in this class – is off the board, the Patriots would likely be better served waiting until the later rounds to rejuvenate the position.
That could leave a powerful running back like LSU’s Jeremy Hill, or a viable receiving one like West Virginia’s Charles Sims, in the mind of New England’s brass. Even so, the notion of adding a wide receiver could come into play here if someone like LSU’s Jarvis Landry or Colorado’s Paul Richardson is still waiting. Nonetheless, with the way the Patriots’ roster sits right now, there may be more pressing depth needs in the eyes of Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio.
Outside linebacker could be one of them, and Iowa’s Christian Kirksey – a nickelback by trade – might fit the bill just as sufficiently as a first-day pick would. Along those same lines are Florida State’s Telvin Smith and Montana’s Jordan Tripp.
All three could be in flux between Day 2 and Day 3 of the draft. Which begs the question: With the spike in sub-package defenses, is a cover linebacker as integral as a second tight end or third pass-rusher?
The beneficiary of a compensatory selection, New England is expected to head into Day 3 with the 30th and 40th picks of Round 4.
And if the Patriots still are searching for a fourth linebacker of the off-ball variety, UCLA’s Jordan Zumwalt has some versatility and plays with an edge. Boston College’s Kevin Pierre-Louis, moreover, could also pique New England’s interest for speed and coverage ability on the weak side.
If the Patriots are still searching for a tight end, Colorado State’s Crockett Gilmore or Georgia’s Arthur Lynch could be complementary pieces. If the Patriots are holding off on wide receiver, this could be the venue to shore up the depth chart with a lengthy field-stretcher like Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman, who has, in many ways, become a forgotten name in a surplus market.
The fourth could also be the venue to draft a versatile safety prospect like Minnesota’s Brock Vereen. On the same token, with Ryan Mallett entering the final year of his contract, a quarterback like Georgia’s Aaron Murray or San Jose State’s David Fales could pay dividends down the road.
All of the above would be second-day picks in most drafts.
The fifth round will be an interesting one for the Patriots. The team doesn’t currently have the rights to a pick between 140 and 198 overall, but that could certainly change if a trade transpires.
This may be a convenient place to draft a running back, as LeGarrette Blount is now a Pittsburgh Steeler, and Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are set to become unrestricted free agents in 2015.
If Central Florida’s Storm Johnson happens to slip through the cracks, he’d be a sought-after acquisition in this region, as would Boston College’s Andre Williams. Jerick McKinnon – a Georgia Southern option quarterback, slotback, fullback, defensive back and kick returner – is another enticing one who emerged nationally for his performance versus Florida in 2013, then at the NFL Scouting Combine. Also on the watch list, Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Towson’s Terrance West could draw some demand in this expanse as well.
In all, running back group may lack firepower, but there will be some immediate contributors found in the later rounds. And that same sentiment is likely to ring true at inside linebacker, where Louisville’s Preston Brown, Kentucky’s Avery Williamson and others should warrant some food for thought. In a diverse front, varying edge linebacker-types in Florida’s Ronald Powell and Colorado State’s Shaquil Barrett may also garner attention.
Round 6 & Beyond
With two sixth-round picks and one seventh on the docket, the Patriots’ approach is likely to grow significantly more straight-forward – best available player over greatest roster deficiency. Because of that, throwing a dart at the board could reveal an equally accurate guess, with the exception of some notable pre-draft contacts.
An offensive lineman like Boston College’s Matt Patchan, Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson, or Purdue’s Kevin Pamphile could add some interchangeability and depth in the trenches. A safety with special-teams upside, like Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri or Arizona State’s Alden Darby, may coincide with what the Patriots want out of a third-day pick as well.
That said, the tight end position may creep back into the picture, as could quarterback. Cincinnati’s Blake Annen, Utah’s Jake Murphy and Anthony Denham, Florida’s Trey Burton, as well as Marshall H-back Gator Hoskins have ingredients to be offline threats at the next level. And at QB, Ohio State’s Kenny Guiton, Ball State’s Keith Wenning, Cornell’s Jeff Mathews and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw all have developmental qualities.
It’s just a matter of determining the cost.
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft