NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The Patriots are right in the middle of the Super Bowl hunt, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking for ways for this team to improve in 2015. Regardless of which free agents return to New England next year, the Patriots will have a deep team to go with a considerable amount of draft capital.
Bill Belichick already used some of that capital to acquire key veterans in the middle of the season (Ayers, Casillas), but with the loses of Aqib Talib, Logan Mankins, and Brandon Spikes, the Patriots will have a cache of valuable draft picks at their disposal in April.
Projected Team Needs for 2015:
Wide Receiver: Another year and another draft where the Patriots need a Wide Receiver. If the Patriots hit on their 2013 picks at the position they wouldn’t be in this position, but given the misses and the unproductive Danny Amendola it’s a lock they use a pick on a receiver.
Offensive Guard: The interior line has been volatile all season long. They’ve been able to find some stability by shifting players around, but Dan Connolly is a free agent and even if he returns the team can do much better. Ryan Wendell has held up admirably at Guard, but like Connolly he can be easily replaced by a more talented player.
Edge Rushers:Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are penciled in as starters and Akeem Ayers (a UFA to be) has been a revelation after his mid-season move from Tennessee. Ayers should be one of the off-season priorities, but even if he resigns the Patriots need to become more explosive on the edge. The team lacks a viable edge rusher to develop behind Jones and Ninkovich. The edge rush position appears to be one of the deepest positions in the draft and the Patriots will get their shot at a number of talented pass rushers.
Traditional Linebacker: Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower have developed into Pro Bowl Caliber linebackers. Jerod Mayo, even with his large cap number, is likely to return in 2015 giving the team a great linebacking trio. After the top three there is almost zero depth signed beyond 2014. Look for the Patriots to add another “off the line” Linebacker to the roster through the draft.
All-Purpose Running Back: Both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are free agents after this season. With Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount signed past this season it appears likely that Ridley has played his final game in New England. Vereen has a better chance to return and despite productivity in the pass game, he hasn’t developed as much as many had hoped. He provides almost nothing in the run game and I suspect the Patriots will look for a more dynamic pass catching back at some point in the draft.
Cornerback: This is fully dependent on the contract status of Darrelle Revis. If Revis signs a long term extension, this position becomes an afterthought. If he leaves in free agency then it becomes a priority.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski has been an animal all year and Tim Wright has contributed when he’s in the game. It’s still likely the Patriots add another pass catching Tight End to the mix, preferably one that can both block and catch.
Draft Pick Status:
1st Round (Own)
2nd Round (Own)
3rd Round (Own)
**Patriots are likely to receive a third round compensation pick for losing CB Aqib Talib in free agency**
4th Round (Tampa Bay) – Pick will be in the top 3-4 of the 4th Round
4th Round (Own)
**5th Round Pick Traded to Tampa**
6th Round (Tampa Bay) – Pick will be in the top 3-4 of the 6th Round
**Patriots are likely to receive 6th Round compensation pick for losing LB Brandon Spikes in free agency**
7th Round (Tennessee) – Top 3-4 of the 7th Round
It appears the Patriots will have at least nine draft picks heading into the draft and they could even add another compensation selection for losing LB Dane Fletcher in free agency. Due to their trades the Patriots will be picking at the top of the 4th, 6th, and 7th rounds with their 4th round selection possibly being the first pick on day three of the draft. Given the likelihood of the Patriots receiving a compensation pick in the 3rd round and making a deep playoff run, the team could have three selections in span of 5-6 picks between end of the third round and the start of round four (around #94-#102)
Patriots Mock Draft
First Round: Alvin “Bud” Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
This draft class is loaded with Edge Rushers and the Patriots will get to select from a number of different options available to them at the end of the first round. “Bud” Dupree is a versatile and athletic edge rusher. He can play both Defensive End or Outside Linebacker in a 3-4 and gives the Patriots another option behind Chandler Jones. Dupree has four seasons of production in the SEC and is lauded for his intangibles. Unlike other pass rushers in this draft Dupree has a more well-rounded combination of size, speed, and strength at this time. At 6’4″/264 Dupree can add a little more weight and make the Patriots even more multiple with the way their scheme their edge pass rushers. A depth chart that consists of Jones, Ninkovich, Ayers, and Dupree is fun to think about.
Second Round: Josue Matias, OG, Florida State
Bill Belichick has only selected one Offensive Guard in the first two rounds during his 14 year tenure running the Patriots draft and that was a converted Left Tackle named Logan Mankins. If the Patriots pick a OL in the first two rounds, that player has to be able to step in and play from day one. Josue Matias is one of the top 2-3 Guard prospects in this draft class and has plenty of experience competing against NFL level talent. Matias has great size while utilizing a combination of power and agility to sustain blocks. Patriots went down to Tallahassee to secure their long term Center last draft and I can see them mining the Florida State program for their long term Left Guard (either Matias or Tre Jackson).
Third Round: Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
Greene has every attribute an NFL team looks for in a Wide Receiver besides size. He’s very thin (listed at 175-180), but makes up for his lack of size with savvy, smooth route running and an understanding for how to beat coverage. Greene possesses a high football IQ and receives strong character references from coaches. Greene projects to the “slot” in the NFL and could step right into the Patriots offense to replace the overpaid, under-productive Danny Amendola. Greene’s lack of ideal measureables will force him down draft boards, but make no mistake about it, he’s as NFL ready as any WR in this draft.
Third Round (Compensation): Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina
Looking ahead at the Patriots 2015 depth chart there are only two locks at Wide Receiver; Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. If the Patriots double dip at a position during the draft, it’s most likely to be at the Wide Receiver position. Justin Hardy one of the most versatile receivers in the draft. He’s been ultra-productive during his college career and has displayed a diverse skill-set to win at multiple levels of the field. He has the ability to play in the slot or out on the perimeter. He can be used on bubble screens or stretch the field vertically. Hardy adds some much needed speed to the receiver corps and gives the Patriots the type of receiver Josh Boyce was supposed to become. Supplementing the offense with two smart, productive, and savvy Wide Receivers would make the Patriots passing attack even more deadly.
Fourth Round (Tampa Bay): Erik Kendricks, LB, UCLA
Kendricks is exactly the type of Linebacker the Patriots have neglected to add the last few seasons. Kendricks is a tackling machine and impact presence against the run. He’s an instinctive player that can diagnose, avoid blocks, and finish. Kendricks is best suited to play on run downs as he’s been exposed in coverage. Not only does he add depth to the Patriots talented linebacker corps, but he’d free up Hightower and Collins to play more of an attacking role on defense. By adding such a savvy run defender Collins is freed up to move around and Hightower can rush off the edge more often. Jerod Mayo is still slated to come back in 2015, but Kendricks provides insurance in case Mayo doesn’t recover and is an upgrade over any other depth LB currently on the roster. Kendricks is a team captain, intense competitor, and an Academic All-Conference performer on top of everything else.
Fourth Round: Javorius “Buck” Allen, RB, Southern California
Bill Belichick loves to use a rotation of Running Backs and while the Patriots have some roster depth entering 2015, they lack an All-Purpose back like Buck Allen. Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount are poor pass catchers, Shane Vereen is a Free Agent, James White is unproven, Tyler Gaffney is even more unproven, and Stevan Ridley is a huge question mark to return, so there are plenty of questions at the position. Allen has impressive size (6’1/220) with a combination of skills to play on all three downs. He caught 40 balls as a Junior and looked to have a natural feel for getting open. At one point Allen was 5th or 6th on the USC depth chart and managed to work his way into a workhorse capacity. Allen showed he can be in a Running Back rotation during his Sophomore season and that’s another important component for a Patriots running back.
Sixth Round (Tampa Bay): Eric Rowe, CB, Utah
If Darrelle Revis leaves in free agency Cornerback becomes a much bigger need. Even if he stays the Patriots have a tendency to pick at least one defensive back each draft and this year will be no different. Eric Rowe is a four year starter that has rotated between Free Safety and Cornerback throughout his career. He has great speed (reportedly sub 4.40) and when combined with his size (6’1″), versatility, and game experience, you have a very attractive Defensive Back prospect.
Sixth Round (Compensation): Gerald Christian, TE, Louisville
It’s a thin draft class for Tight Ends and ideally the Patriots would like to find a more complete one, but Christian offers a lot of upside. Originally enrolled at Florida to be another one of their “move Tight Ends” in the mold of “you know who”. Christian transferred to Louisville after the 2011 season and has been a consistent pass catcher the past few seasons. While he profiles as a traditional move TE/H-Back he does have experience throwing blocks and offers some upside in that area. Christian provides Tim Wright some competition heading into 2015.
Seventh Round (Tennessee): Brett Boyko, OT, UNLV
Boyko is a four year starter at Left Tackle and an accomplished pass protector. It’s tough to garner any attention when playing football for UNLV, but Boyko has been one of the more consistent performers in the Mountain West. Plus his name is really really close to mine.