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
All 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:
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon St. (Proj. 2nd Round)
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.
Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida St. (Proj. 2nd Round)
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.
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)
Maybe 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.
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)
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.
Dominique Easley, DT, Florida (Proj. 2nd Round)
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.
(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)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, look out for another mock draft in two weeks, and keep coming back to isportsweb for more Patriots news!