NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The NFL Combine wrapped up last week giving us a little more clarity and a lot more data when it comes to projecting potential draft picks. Even though a major mile marker is in the rear-view mirror there are sill two months remaining until the draft begins April 30th. With teams and prospects jet-setting around the country to get acquainted with each other draft boards and projections will change. As we sit today, 2 months out from the draft and roughly a week and a half away from the start of Free Agency here is what the New England Patriots 2015 NFL Draft Class could look like.
Notes: After completing this exercise it became even more clear that this is a draft where the Patriots to be very aggressive moving up the draft board. First, they are slated to have nine or ten selection (six in the top 105) and there is no way nine rookies are making next year’s roster. Secondly, the talent in this year’s draft tails off towards the end of the second round and once again around pick 100. While I didn’t project trades, because they’re impossible to predict (especially before free agency), I do expect the Patriots to package some of their 3rd and 4th Round picks as currency.
The Patriots have yet to make a single roster move as it relates to their 2015 Roster. That is bound to change any day now. Once we find out what they chose to do with Darrelle Revis, which players they chose to resign, and which areas they target on the free agent market, all of this will change. For now here is what the Patriots 2015 Draft could look like.
** Finally, I don’t want to hear “There is no way Player X will be available at Pick X”. The draft is two months away. Some of you say that every year and every year it turns out to be false.**
Round One (32) – Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State
It’s nice to be back home in the 32nd draft slot. With his selection the team can do in a number of different directions including pass rusher, wide receiver, and even offensive tackle. As of right NOW it looks like the top tier of pass rushers will be off the board and I’m not sure there is a Wide Receiver worth taking here that fits their system immediately. For those reasons I project the Patriots to go back to the well at Florida State and add another Seminole to their Interior Offensive Line. Dante Scarnecchia has a tight relationship with Florida State OL Coach Rick Trickett and I expect Scar to be making multiple voyages down to Tallahassee this spring. Erving is the most talented Offensive Lineman coming out of Florida State this year and a great fit for the Patriots.
Erving is a superior athlete that moved inside from Tackle to finish the year at Center. The Patriots Center position looks solid with Bryan Stork, but I don’t think Erving will have any issues moving to Right or Left Guard. Erving has great size, athleticism, and his mobility fits the Patriots blocking system well. Interior Offensive Linemen get devalued and pushed down the draft board each year, so there is a good chance Erving makes it to the end of round one. It’s not sexy picking an Interior OL in round one, but he checks a lot of the Patriots boxes and his versatility will be extremely attractive to the coaching staff.
Round Two (64) – Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
Pass rush depth is a major area of need for the Patriots. Rob Ninkovich played a higher snap % than any other Defensive Lineman in the NFL and they were forced to make a trade once Chandler Jones went down. Luckily for the Patriots it’s an incredibly deep draft for Edge Rushers and they should be able to get one in the second round. After hearing Nick Caserio talk about their analytics for evaluating Chandler Jones at the Sloan Sports Conference and mentioning that his height, arm length, and agility numbers all fit their requirements for the position, two players came to mind for the 2015 Draft; Preston Smith and LSU’s Danielle Hunter.
For the sake of this mock I went with Mississippi State’s Preston Smith. The Patriots have made a concerted effort to sign at least one UDFA from Mississippi State the last four years, so they obviously like the schematic fit. Smith’s raw measurable and combine testing is ridiculously similar to Chandler Jones’s testing in 2012. Here’s the comparison:
22 24 (Bench)
7.07 7.07 (3-Cone)
4.38 4.28 (Shuttle)
Smith doesn’t have the same upside that Jones has as a pass rusher, but he does many of things that the Patriots value. His size, length, and agility numbers are all solid indicators that the Patriots will have interest in drafting Smith. Danielle Hunter has similar measurables, but he’s younger, more flexible, and a superior athlete. I believe that both player will be selected at some point in round two and they could even make it to the end of the round with so many edge rushers coming off the board in the first round. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots go after an edge rusher in round one albeit one with a higher ceiling. In that scenario they could select a receiver in round two and hold off on adding to the Offensive Line until the middle rounds of the draft.
Round Three (96) – Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami (FL)
Wide Receiver is a difficult position to project for the Patriots right, because a lot is going to change in the next three weeks. Regardless of what happens to the current roster (Amendola, Boyce, Tyms) the Patriots need more speed on the perimeter and at least he threat of a receiver that can stretch the field vertically. Dorsett is arguably the most explosive receiver in the draft class and he can impact the passing game at every level of the field. He wasn’t the most consistent receiver in college, but his speed and lateral quickness are both needed commodities on this roster. Dorsett makes the Patriots receiving corps more diverse and will open things up a little bit in the middle of the field by forcing the Safeties to respect his vertical speed. Dorsett lacks the size that most Patriots fans want, but he’d add another layer to the passing attack.
Round Three (97*) – Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson
Linebacker depth is always a concern for the Patriots. Now with the injuries to Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower coming off shoulder surgery adding another capable linebacker to the roster is imperative. Anthony has the size the Patriots prefer at the position and is in the midst of a tremendous draft season. He was named the best Linebacker at the Senior Bowl and reportedly impressed teams during combine interviews. Anthony is the type of Linebacker take some of the load off Jamie Collins in terms of run support and even play in some sub-packages. He played on the Inside at Clemson, but should be able to play on the Strong-side if needed.