NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Bill Belichick and the Patriots are notoriously difficult to project when it comes to the NFL Draft. No one truly knows what Belichick is thinking or what the perceived needs are in his mind. This year is no different, if anything it’s even tougher to project the direction the Patriots will go with their early round selections. Some clear need areas exist on the roster such as Interior Offensive Line, Cornerback, and Defensive Tackle. However, this year’s draft class is as fluid as I can remember, making it tricky to lockdown possible fits for the team. As we stand 10 day out there are still many different ways the team could go with their early round picks. Here is my latest attempt at projecting the Patriots 2015 NFL Draft Class.
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Now on to the draft…
First Round (32) – If the plan is to address the Interior Offensive Line early in the draft, the smartest play is to move down 10-12 picks to acquire an extra third round pick. If Cameron Erving is there at 32, the Patriots could jump at the opportunity to select him, otherwise drop down to pick 40 where there is better offensive line value.
Second Round (via Trade Down – Option A) – T.J. Clemmings, OL, Pittsburgh
I’m trying to think outside the box on some of these projections because all I’ve seen in most mocks are the same 3-4 names repeated over and over. Clemmings hasn’t been publicly connected to the Patriots yet, but it won’t surprise me if he’s on their draft board. Clemmings began his career on the Defensive Line before transitioning to Right Tackle before the 2013 season. During the draft process it’s become pretty clear that Clemmings isn’t ready to contribute on the outside as a rookie. However, his skill-set makes him a highly attractive Offensive Guard candidate, especially for a team like the Patriots. Clemmings is versatile, extremely athletic, has great length, and is only scratching the surface of his potential. Clemmings can begin his career at Left Guard and add depth at multiple other positions as he develops.
Second Round (via Trade Down – Option B) – Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke
The other scenario is that the Patriots will trade down a few spots and move into position to pick a pure, “plug and play” Offensive Guard. Tomlinson has rapidly climbed draft boards since January and has now cemented his status as one of the best pure Guards in the draft. While Tomlinson lacks versatility and isn’t the best fit in a Zone Blocking Scheme, he’s rock solid in all the important areas. He’s the best pass protector of any Interior Lineman in the draft. Tomlinson is extremely smart and durable. He’s adept at using angles to complete his blocks and generates plenty of movement off the line of scrimmage. He’ll have no trouble learning an NFL system of adjusting to NFL lifestyle. Former Patriots OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia has spent time working him out privately over the last week. When I spoke with Tomlinson at the Senior Bowl he struck me stereotypical Patriots type prospect.
Second Round (64) – Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State
The Patriots have made offers to multiple Linebackers in free agency only to strike out thus far. As they head into the draft Linebacker along with Offensive Guard are the thinnest positions on the entire roster. Jerod Mayo is coming off his second season ending injury and Dont’a Hightower could miss time at the beginning of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery. The Patriots have very little “quality” depth behind their top three, making it very likely they address the position early in the draft. McKinney is a linebacker who fits all the prototypes of a Bill Belichick linebacker. He’s big (6’4″), versatile (can play inside, outside, and in both 3-4/4-3 defenses), and fast (4.66). The Patriots have tapped into the the Mississippi State program multiple times over the last few seasons to add depth to the defense (Deontae Skinner, Dwayne Cherington, Kyle Love), making the fit of McKinney stand out even more. Adding McKinney to an existing core of Hightower, Collins, and Mayo would give the Patriots the biggest and one of the most dynamic Linebacker groups around.
Third Round (Acquired in Trade Down) – Trè Jackson, OG, Florida State
An all Florida State Interior Line for the Patriots? It’s not as crazy as you think, especially if they stay put in the first round to target Cameron Erving. Jackson is another Florida State product they’ve done plenty of homework on heading into the draft and he seems like a logical candidate to fill one of their Guard positions. Jackson is a big-bodied and powerful drive blocker with three years of starting experience at Right Guard. While Jackson isn’t the most mobile blocker in space, he operates well in tight spaces and elevated his stock with a dominating performance at the Senior Bowl. Jackson is a superior run blocker right now, but he has a strong anchor and knows how to mirror interior rushers in the pass game. While he doesn’t fit the traditional Patriots OL model, no one expected the team to select Cameron Fleming, Jon Halapio, or Marcus Cannon in recent years. Perhaps the model is changing a little bit. Jackson has a chance to step in and play significant snaps as a rookie Right/Left Guard.
Third Round (96) – Marcus Hardison, DT, Arizona State
Many feel the Patriots need to replace Vince Wilfork early in the draft, but I believe Wilfork’s replacements are already on the roster. Sealver Siliga’s snaps will increase next season and Alan Branch was brought back on a multi-year deal after an impressive second half with the team. There are a finite number of Nose Tackles and Run-Stuffers available during the first two rounds and if the Patriots miss out on them, it makes no sense to reach for one. Instead the Patriots can add a dynamic, disruptive, and versatile Interior Pass Rusher to partner with Dominique Easley. Unlike Easley, Hardison brings great size and length to the position. Hardison can play just about anywhere on the defensive line and most scouts believe he can also play 3-4/4-3 Defensive End. Even though he’s not overly stout vs. the run, he’s disruptive as he’s shown an ability to slip blocks and penetrate gaps. Hardison would be a great addition to the Patriots sub-package defense in 2015.
Third Round (97) – Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
It’s safe bet that the Patriots will add a Wide Receiver at some point in the first three rounds. You need an enigma machine to figure out the way the team evaluates receiver prospects, making it nearly impossible to project the ones they’ll draft. In my mind Diggs is a pretty good fit. He’s coached by Keenan McCardell whom Bill Belichick coached while he was in Cleveland, so there is a relationship in place. Diggs is a supremely gifted receiver who has been held back by injuries each of the last three seasons. Diggs can play both outside or in the slot and will add significant Special Teams value as a return man. There is a large “boom or bust” factor with Diggs, which seems to fall in line with all Patriots WR selections. The things to like are his short area quickness, separation skills, and his ability to create big plays after the catch. Diggs physique also translates a little better to the NFL when compared to other inside-outside WR in this class.
Fourth Round (101) – Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
With so many picks between the 3rd and 4th Rounds, the Patriots will be sitting in prime position to “steal” a talented running back prospect. The team made the decision to walk away from both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley this off-season, transforming the Running Back depth chart. Ideally, they’d like to add another back that can catch the ball and play on 3rd Down, but one that offers a little more inside running ability than Shane Vereen.
In this area of the draft the Patriots will surely consider the likes of T.J. Yeldon, Tevin Coleman, Buck Allen, Duke Johnson, and Mike Davis. I went with Davis in this mock because there has been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding him and the Patriots’ interest. He possesses a strong and compact frame that is built for the NFL Game. He’s a very good receiver out of the backfield and runs with power between the tackles. If they choose to draft a Running Back a little earlier I think Yeldon, Coleman, and Johnson all become strong candidates.
Fourth Round (131) – Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State
Steven Nelson won’t replace Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner, but what he will do is give the Patriots a feisty, aggressive, and competitive corner. Nelson harasses receivers at the catch point, refusing to give up easy completions. He has average size, but he plays more physical than his frame indicates. Nelson can play both man and zone coverages. He’s not afraid to play from the line or use his hands to disrupt timing. Nelson has amassed 122 tackles over the last two seasons showing a willingness and aggressiveness to defend edge runs. He’s the best tackling corner in the draft, a trait that won’t be lost on Bill Belichick. He has experience on Special Teams units and can return kicks if needed.
Sixth Round (178) – Bobby McCain, CB, Memphis
McCain is a quick-twitch Nickel Corner with some of the best agility times in the entire draft. On film McCain exhibits great burst out of his peddle and the ability to “click and close” on routes in front of him. He’s at his best deployed in zone coverage where he can see the ball and read the Quarterback. He’s able to transition his coverage smoothly and his sudden change of direction allows him to mirror shifty slot receivers. McCain possesses a filled out 5’9″ frame that holds up well in run support. He does his part to fill edge run lanes and plays with a surprisingly physical edge about him. Like Nelson, McCain can play on Special Teams and return kicks if needed. McCain has already has a private workout with the Patriots leading up too the draft.
Seventh Round (220) – David Parry, NT, Stanford
Stout, powerful run defender that holds up well when asked to 2-Gap. Parry has good anchor strength and can occupy blockers to allow others to run free. Parry will give the Patriots some depth at Nose Tackle and add another defender that can play in odd-man fronts. The Patriots have begun to tap into the Stanford program more often as of late and it was rumored that Nick Caserio spent extensive time with Parry at his Pro Day. There’s nothing flashy about his game, however Stanford coaches considered him an invaluable piece to their front seven success over the last four seasons.
Seventh Round (254) – A.J. Derby, TE, Arkansas
Purely a “boom or bust” selection. Derby switched to Tight End from Quarterback before the 2014 season and flashed exciting potential at the position. He has good speed and created a number of big plays in SEC play. He’s extremely raw and has a long way to go in terms on his blocking ability. However, he showed enough potential in his short time at Tight End to warrant a developmental selection in the 7th Round.