Why the New England Patriots will trade down this year

I’m sure you’re reading this title and feeling absolutely no surprise.

Of course. This is Bill Belichick. This is the New England Patriots. This is what they do, as the team has traded a whopping 11 first-round picks since 2000 (the only real outlier being 2012).

But this year, it makes more sense than usual for New England to trade back. And here’s why:

First, who might be available at #29?

Before we talk about why they should abandon their first round pick altogether, we need to ascertain who might be available at that spot.

Everyone’s big board is different, but, looking at Scout Inc. and NFLDraftScout.com’s rankings, there are a handful of players that land in that 22-32 range, that could be potential fits:

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville; Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State; Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri; Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame; Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State; Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech; Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Louisville Football v RutgersAll would be solid picks, to be sure. But all, with the possible exception of Ealy, have the high possibility of falling into the second round. Calvin Pryor sits behind Ha-Ha Clinton Dix on almost everyone’s big board, and his shakier cover skills have him behind the more polished Jimmie Ward on others. Ryan Shazier’s size has some teams worried, and he’s firmly behind Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, and Dee Ford. Amaro, while having the frame and athleticism of a classic joker tight end, has some teams questioning whether he can succeed as an in-line end at all.

And almost certainly one, if not two, of those three defensive tackles will fall out of the first round. Aaron Donald is the consensus No. 1 DT, certain to go early-mid first. Louis Nix and Timmy Jernigan are two outstanding run-stuffing prospects, but with the NFL becoming more and more a passing league, that’s less of a need. And Ra’Shede Hageman, while having the athleticism and build that had scouts drooling, hasn’t shown the consistent motor and production to match.

 

An Argument for Spreading the Wealth

With the extension given to nose tackle Vince Wilfork, the resigning of Julian Edelman, and the acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, many of the glaring needs for the Patriots have been satisfied. Instead of one position that the team desperately needs to fill, there are four or five to be addressed over the course of the draft:

Defensive End/Edge Rusher – Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich desperately need to lower their snap count, and having a third rusher in passing downs will help matters.

Fourth Linebacker – The Patriots have a stellar starting trio in Mayo, Hightower, and Collins, but depth is weak after that. A 4th linebacker, comfortable in coverage and rushing the passer is key.

Running Back – Winnebago Blount is gone, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are free agents next year. A third back is key, and the Patriots prize players who can block and receive out of the backfield.

Interior Lineman – Resigning Ryan Wendell eases this need, but a player with higher upside at either guard or center for David DeGuglielmo to groom could be useful.

Defensive Tackle – Ditto for defensive tackle, as Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are getting up there in years.

Tight End – With Rob Gronkowski’s health still a concern, having either a traditional in-line end or joker tight end will give Brady another big target in the middle.

The good news is there is incredible depth at each of those positions in Rounds 2 through 4. Rather than focusing on one of those positions in Round 1, where value is questionable, trading down allows them to get blue-chip prospects at several of those positions. While the Patriots don’t have any needs that need to be filled in the late 1st, other teams do, especially if one of the Top 4 QBs should fall, or if one of the top WRs or CBs is available. As boring as it might be for the Patriots not to make a Day 1 pick, the best-case scenario is for the team to have 3-4 picks on Day 2.

Here are my favorite prospects at each of those positions to be found in the middle rounds:

 

Defensive End:

Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon St. (Proj. 2nd Round)

downloadEasily one of my favorite players in this draft. Unquenchable motor, highly productive despite lack of elite athleticism. Dangerous on the edge, but could kick inside in a pinch. 

Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (Proj. 2nd/3rd Round)

Opposite of Crichton, Tuitt is all upside. Huge frame that could easily be used at tackle, but doesn’t play with the same motor and functional strength as you’d hope. Playing with vets in Patriots club house could help him achieve upside.

Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia (Proj. 3rd/4th Round)

Lacks finesse, but his size (6’6, 271) and high motor could help him find success at the pro level. Clarke would need to be eased into a defense, something the Pats could afford.

 

Linebacker:

Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida St. (Proj. 2nd Round)

download (1)If I were an NFL GM, I’d draft Telvin Smith and worry about whether to put him at OLB or SS later. The dude makes plays all over the field: in coverage, run defense, and getting at the QB. Huge motor, team leader. Add 10 lbs, and he’s a stud.

Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana (Proj. 3rd/4th Round)

If you’ve read any of my mock drafts, you know about my unstoppable football crush on Jordan Tripp. He can play inside and out, comfortable doing everything, and the only knock on him is a lower level of competition. Which is silly.

Christian Kirksey, OLB, Iowa (Proj. 3rd/4th Round)

Could very well be the best coverage linebacker in this year’s draft class. Fluid athlete with impeccable instincts. Doesn’t make a ton of plays in the backfield, but, if used correctly, could be an immediate contributor.

 

Running Back:

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio St. (Proj. 2nd Round)

A wrecking ball of a running back, Hyde’s 6’0 230 build would punish tacklers in the open field, while still having enough agility and speed to hit that second gear. Needs a bit of work, especially as a receiver, but good upside.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington (Proj. 2nd/3rd Round)

imagesMaybe the best all-around back in the draft. Not a home-run hitter, but has good speed, is a great receiver out of the backfield, and is a willing and able pass-blocker. Also, one of the greatest football names of all time.

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU (Proj. 3rd/4th Round)

Big, bruising north-south runner, who gains plenty of yards after contact, a lot like LeGarrette Blount. Also like Blount, Hill has some character concerns coming out of college, but with the right team he could flourish.

 

Interior Linemen:

Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA (Proj. 2nd Round)

Highly versatile, unstoppable motor, plays with a mean streak akin to Logan Mankins. Needs to work on his balance a bit, but would already be a top guard in the NFL.

Weston Richburg, C, Colorado St. (Proj. 2nd/3rd Round)

images (1)Best center in the draft: Team leader, relishes neutralizing defenders, superb game IQ. Would immediately be an upgrade over both Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly.

Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson (Proj. 3rd Round)

Thomas performed well in Clemson when he moved to his ideal position of guard, showing off strong upper-body strength, high IQ, and great motor. He has less than ideal agility (his Combine times there were especially poor) but could improve.

 

Defensive Tackle:

Dominique Easley, DT, Florida (Proj. 2nd Round)

images (2)Easley’s injury concerns (in 2013 he suffered his second ACL injury in two years) have pushed him out of the 1st round, where his talent shows he should be. Wildly explosive and versatile, Easley could be a huge steal in the 2nd.

Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU (Proj. 3rd/4th Round)

Ferguson was overshadowed in his time at LSU by his teammates, but he was a stellar run defender, who seems to control blockers with ease, and free up his fellow linemen to make plays. Needs work as a pass rusher.

DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State (Proj. 3rd/4th Round)

Like Ferguson, Jones is already a great run defender, who uses his huge size (6’3, 322) and strength to bully interior linemen and get at running backs. Also like Ferguson, he doesn’t offer much help in the pass rush, but, in the right role, he’d be great.

 

Tight End:

(Quick note: there are actually a few late round options who could interest the Pats, including Colt Lyerla, Jake Murphy, Jordan Najvar, Jacob Pedersen, and even Trey Millard. But for rounds 2-4…)

Austin Seferian Jenkins, TE, Washington (Proj. 2nd Round)

Huge size and strength, and a fine in-line blocker. He doesn’t have the speed or agility to be an elite move tight end, but his hands make him a dangerous red-zone target on Day 1.

Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame (Proj. 2nd/3rd Round)

images (3)Dripping with upside, and perhaps the best blocker in this draft class, teams are hoping that Niklas will use his 6’6 270 frame to bully defenders. But he lacks both speed and agility, and didn’t have to run a lot of routes at Notre Dame. A definite project, but a worthwhile one.

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa (Proj. 3rd/4th Round)

A supreme blocker, with great hands, Fiedorowicz projects as a solid traditional tight end in the NFL. His lack of athleticism limits his ceiling severely, but he’s dependable, with a high motor, and would be a QBs best friend in short routes. 

 

Conclusion: See what I mean? The Patriots could very well stick with their current picks. But with the wealth of options in Day 3, and the handful of needs that the team has without a concrete priority, the Patriots can cover a lot of bases by trading down. If the Patriots somehow end up with four picks in Rounds 2 and 3 it would be a major coup for the team, and make them even more dangerous than they already are.

 

But what do you think? Should the team trade down or not? Which combination of prospects would you like to see them take? Anyone I missed?

As usual, you can find me on twitter @isportspeters or send me stuff at isportspeters@gmail.com. Also, look out for another mock draft in two weeks, and keep coming back to isportsweb for more Patriots news!

  • Matt

    What kind of trade scenarios do you envision here? I’m guessing most teams know of the depth in those rounds at multiple positions. In the past the Pats have usually gotten a first rounder in the next draft, but do you think they would try to get only picks in this years given the short window left with Brady? Is there any teams that have an unusual high amount of picks this year and do you know who might be desperate to jump back into the first round this year maybe something like the Vikings did last year. Sorry for the barrage of questions, I’m going a little stir crazy waiting for the draft and I’m really bummed out we have to wait even longer this year

    • Alex Peters

      Matt,

      Never apologize for going stir crazy, WE ARE ALL STIR CRAZY.

      The first team that springs to mind is Oakland. I strongly doubt they’ll spend the #5 pick on a QB, and will instead take the BPA from Watkins, Robinson, Mack, Matthews, and Clowney. But if one of the four QBs should slip (especially D. Carr) they might want to hop back up and snag him, and give him a year under Matt Schaub. Also the Patriots have done a bunch of deals with the Raiders in the past, as well as with Reggie McKenzie when he was with Green Bay. Something like the Pats giving up their 29 and 130 for the Raiders’ 36 and 67 possibly.

      Same goes for Minnesota, who may want to jump back into the 1st for a straggler QB or top WR. And the obvious one is San Francisco, who, as far as I can tell, won’t be able to fit all of their draft picks on their roster. If I’m the Pats I’d trade the 29 for their 56, 77, and 129th in a heartbeat, even if by the draft value chart, that’s better for the 49ers.

      Hang in there dude. Just 30 more days!

      • Matt

        Thanks Alex this was great! Do you think there is any one guy the Pats would take with their first rounder if he slips? Also if Carr were to fall would the pats consider him and hope for an Aaron Rodgers like scenario or is that a little rich for them? I know they have been linked to guys like AJ and Savage, more later round types but at one point Carr was thought to be a top 10 pick.

        • Alex Peters

          As much as I like Carr (I rate him above Bortles and maybe even Manziel), the timing just doesn’t make sense to spend such a high pick on a player as NFL-ready as Carr. Brady wants to play until he’s at least 40. Still think more of a mid-late round developmental QB to take over for Mallett and then focus on a higher prestige QB in two years.

          As for players to watch who might slip: Ebron (obviously), Kony Ealy, Louis Nix, and Zack Martin would give me pause but otherwise, trading down is the best value as of now

          • Matt

            Thanks again for the great feedback and all the past draft coverage. I’d like to get your thoughts on Florida States RB Wilder Jr. After to watching some clips of him, when he’s on his game, his violent running style and big frame remind me of a poor mans AP. From what I’ve heard he has character issues and may go under the radar a bit but not much else in terms of projected round he might end up going in. Here’s one of his better clips if your interested http://youtu.be/q5w7YW0hEjo

          • Alex Peters

            There are four things that worry me about JWJ: 1) Despite being the athletic freak that he is, he got the third most carries on his team (fourth if you count Jameis). 2) The off-field issues 3) His combine time was 4.86. CJ Fiedorowicz ran a faster 40 than that. 4) I can’t watch a single game tape of Wilder without wanting to scream “Lower your pad level!” at the computer. He’s big, but he’s standing straight up when he faces contact. He’s gonna get pummeled in the NFL if he doesn’t fix that.

            Overall, a project. I’d take him in the seventh, maybe. About a dozen running backs I’d take over him.

          • Matt

            I see the downsides more now and definitely a longer term project. I was thinking he could fit in well with a committee philosophy like the pats use and be something like Blount. Since neither are fast and Blount had similar problems lowering his pads. Florida state had a talented backfield so I thought little about the lack of carries. The pats have had a great success history with project guys making a fair amount of undrafted players useful like Green-Ellis, and Bolden, but those two held onto the ball. I’m not sure if he had fumbling issues cause then I would throw him out the door. I had some wishful thinking for him to say the least.

          • Alex Peters

            The Blount comparison is good, though it should be noted that he only started becoming Winnebago when Belichick kept pushing him to lower his pad level. It’s hard to say whether Wilder would respond to the same coaching as well, but his raw potential is there. Again, if he slipped into the late rounds, I’d take a flier on him, but there are a lot of running backs I like better. Haven’t seen enough of his tape to judge his blocking/receiving though, if he doesn’t show that it’s a dealbreaker.