To be fair, predicting what Bill Belichick will do on draft day is a bit of a lost cause.
He’s a coach who loves to disregard the big boards of every other GM across the league and who loves to pick players with little to no hype early in the draft (Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson spring immediately to mind).
He’s also a GM who has struck out occasionally in the early rounds (Ras-I Dowling, Jermaine Cunningham, Taylor Price), while often mining the late rounds for players who would be key contributors (Alonzo Dennard, Nate Ebner, Marcus Cannon, Julian Edelman, David Givens).
He’s unpredictable, and will trade his picks at a moment’s notice if he feels like he can obtain better value elsewhere.
Trying to guess what the New England Patriots will do on draft day is a bit of a lost cause. But…it’s still a lot of fun.
Despite the plethora of injuries and the icky finish, the 2013 Pats season was a definite win, especially in terms of player development. The second-youngest team in the NFL felt even younger when seemingly EVERY SINGLE VETERAN LEADER WENT DOWN WITH AN INJURY ACROSS THE BOARD (I’m not bitter).
But those young players impressed immensely. Chandler Jones slowed down a bit towards the end, especially without Vince Wilfork absorbing double teams in the middle, but still finished with a team-high 11.5 sacks. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins were studs in the second half of the season. Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, and Alfonzo Dennard all impressed, keeping the secondary stable while the rush defense struggled. Stevan Ridley (Van Riddles) and Shane Vereen (Golden Bear) both had tremendous flashes (and some admitted bumps), and even the trio of rookie receivers turned into steady contributors.
That means two things: 1) You add back those missing starters and this team is immediately better (I’m beyond giddy) and 2) The Patriots are really good at developing their young talent into NFL starters.
But this team definitely has its holes. Some of them will be addressed in free agency, but, especially with the up-in-the-air chances of retaining Julian Edelman and Aqib Talib, they’d much rather patch them up via the draft.* There are five positions that the Patriots are guaranteed to come away with a rookie.
(Quick sidenote. I’m going to do all of this under the assumption that Talib and Edelman will return. If the Pats lose one of those two, their positional priority obviously rises to the top)
Presented in reverse order of need:
The Patriots secondary has improved significantly in the last two years, a lot of which can be attributed to the presence of Aqib Talib, but Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan also look like they can contribute for years to come. However, as the AFC title game showed, the Pats are still thin at the position, and could always do with another high-quality prospect.
4. Wide Receiver
Yes, one year after taking Dobson, Thompkins, and Boyce, the Patriots should once again take a wideout in the draft, specifically a tall, strong receiver who can help in the deep ball and in the red zone. Dobson showed signs of improvement before being hampered by injury, but the rest of the receivers on the team are really slot receivers. This is a higher-risk position (especially from where the Pats will draft) but one that should still be addressed.
3. Interior Offensive Lineman
What the Patriots will undoubtedly go after is an offensive lineman that can play at different positions along the line (Marcus Cannon, Logan Mankins) but, if made to focus, will go after an interior lineman. Ryan Wendell (an upcoming free agent) and Dan Connolly both had shaky seasons, especially in pass protection. With the Dave DeGuglielmo era underway, a cerebral, versatile lineman is a must in this draft.
2. Defensive Tackle
I love the three-headed monster of Chris Jones, Seaver Siliga, and Joe Vellano. But none of them should be counted on as three-down starters for this defense. While all three are strong pass-rushers, all three struggled in run defense. While having Vince Wilfork back obviously helps, a big young tackle next to him will help immensely, and make stopping the run the strength it used to be for New England.
1. Tight End
I don’t care how you look at this. If you have all the faith in the world in Rob Gronkowski, then you yearn for the days when the New England Patriots made the two-tight-end offense unstoppable. If you worry that Rob Gronkowski can’t stay on the field, you want a rookie who could possibly replace him. Either way, the Patriots are drafting a tight end, lock it down. Luckily, this is a deep tight end class, with 2-4 1st-round grade prospects. (More on them later)
So over the next week (and a bit), I’ll be going through those five positions one by one, and targeting five players that the Patriots should consider, at different points on the draft board. On the last day, hopefully, we’ll have a few mock drafts assembled, different game plans, if you will, for how the 2014 Draft might go.
Now, obviously, my knowledge of college football only goes so far. If there are any players who you think would look good in a Flying Elvis, and that fit any of the above criteria, feel free to let me know!
(And if you send me any video footage/game tape, I’ll credit you/love you unconditionally).
Also, be sure to check my twitter (@isportsPeters) for when all of these articles get posted
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