The Senior Bowl has past and with that; we're on to the always intriguing build-up to the draft. In the spirit of draft season, I thought I would put together a fortnightly mock draft. Each change will account for obvious risers and fallers in the build up to the big day. It is difficult to say what will remain a need for the Patriots or what needs may open up before the draft commences. As most can appreciate, mocks are fun but difficult given the unpredictability of a football roster come draft time, i.e. the situation with Logan Mankins. Furthermore, this draft does not account for, nor suggest any trades which the Patriots (almost inevitably) will make come draft day. Enjoy and feel free to comment...
Round 1, Pick 17: Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue
I have constantly swayed back and forth on Kerrigan. Prior to Senior Bowl week, I was not sure as to whether he had the fluidity to drop into coverage effectively for the Patriot system or to constantly apply pressure against top competition. However, the more I watch him go after quarterbacks and blow past left tackles with incredible burst; I must say that Kerrigan is simply awesome! His rush ability is unbelievable. He's had an outstanding week at the Senior Bowl, both in practices and in the game; so much so that he could easily be off the board before this pick. If Kerrigan can diversify his rush moves a bit more at the next level, he will be unstoppable. Consider Kerrigan's 2010 stat line...13 sacks, 5 FFs and 26 TFL! He can bull rush or use his speed to get after the quarterback. What makes Kerrigan so impressive is not simply his sack or TFL numbers, but rather that fact he plays in the opponents backfield on almost every snap. He is a game-long disruption, as oppose to an intermittent one. Furthermore, he also sets a great edge against the run...vital to the Belichick scheme. As a bonus, Kerrigan's motor allows him to be a three down option for the Patriots, particularly when we employ the 4 man D Line in sub packages where Kerrigan can put his hand in the dirt and get after it. I have to believe, given Kerrigan's work ethic, that he will develop the necessary coverage skills vital to the Patriot system. I initially considered Aldon Smith here, but the more I watch Smith, he often seems lethargic and inconsistent. At 17, we need a high motor, high production player. I think this would be a great selection, a player who brings a blue collar love of the game approach to his craft and fill a huge need for the Patriots.
Round 1, Pick 28: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
Get ready for the league to fall in love with Wilkerson in the build up to the draft. There is no telling how high he could go, especially if he performs well at the combine and on his Pro Day. It is no joke to suggest he could go in the top 15 picks. The primary questions about him surround his small school status. He has ideal 5-technique size (6'5", 305lbs)...in fact he looks physically identical to Richard Seymour. He plays the run superbly, destroys double teams and is constantly able to shake off blocks to rush the quarterback. Oh, and he's played extensively at end in a 3-4. Sound perfect? Let's look at his stats: In 2009 he had 10.5 TFL's, 7 sacks and 61 tackles. The 61 tackles alone show his run stopping prowess. In 2010, it got even better: 13 TFLs, 10 sacks and 70 tackles. Of all the players in this year's draft, this is the guy I really want the Patriots to get...someone who can sure up our run defense (ranked 32nd in the league when opponents run at RDE) but also provide a great pass rush. Closer to draft time, I agree with Greg's mock draft in saying he will almost certainly move up the list. I could see Muhammad Wilkerson and Ryan Kerrigan teaming up on the right side of the Patriots for years to come.
Round 2, Pick 33: Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Anyone questioning selecting a cornerback at this stage of the draft only needs to look at how important three very good cornerbacks have been to the Green Bay Packer Super Bowl run. There is no doubt the league is shifting to a more pass dominant era, so the need for solid corner play has never been more paramount. However, I can understand if people wonder why take Dowling over someone like Brandon Harris. I really did consider Harris, but watching some of their games and tape, I believe Dowling has much more potential to be dominant at the next level. An injury in his senior season and also during senior bowl practices has knocked Dowling's stock somewhat. However, there is no doubting his ability to be a potential shutdown corner at the next level. He has the size (6'2", 200lbs) and speed (4.4 40 time) to match up with the elite WRs in the league, along with the technique and natural ability. He also has a good work ethic, and doesn't necessarily rely on his athleticism to make plays. When he is on his game, he simply shuts people down, together with a providing a strong presence against the run. A criticism made of Dowling is that he occasionally loses concentration in coverage, a criticism which can also be made against Brandon Harris (watch the tape). If Dowling can maintain concentration at the next level, he will be a pro-bowler. Despite how well Kyle Arrington played, his place on the roster is and should be special teams ace and backup/dime CB. Given the fact the Patriots were in sub packages over 50% of the time defensively last season, a corner back trio of McCourty, Bodden and Dowling would be very difficult for some of the 3 WR opponents the Patriots regularly face in the AFC (Jets, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers) to pass the ball on. Adding a player like Dowling could really push the Patriot defense towards the dominance they crave.
Round 2, Pick 60: Ben Ijalana, OG/OT, Villanova
The Patriots need improvements along their offensive line - recent playoff defeats have rammed that message home. In my opinion, the most apparent need is at tackle and with Matt Light a free agent, it may well be the Patriots will look for tackle help in the draft. I personally think the Patriots move Sebastien Vollmer to LT, opening up a need at RT. Step up Ben Ijalana. Ijalana was an outstanding Left Tackle at Villanova. With similar size to Michael Oher, Ijalana (6'4", 320 lbs) was a three time first team all-CAA selection and two-time first team All-American. He has started all 4 years in his college career, so has lots of experience. He is very strong with his initial punch but also has great footwork and form in pass protection. Although he is projected by some to play Guard at the next level, it is his strong footwork and short area quickness that make him a strong pass protector. He would be ideally suited to play RT for the Patriots, given his outstanding ability in run blocking but also pass protection. Ijalana is perhaps second amongst Tackle prospects only to Gabe Carimi in run blocking ability but is a more advanced pass protector than Carimi. There will be questions about the level of competition Ijalana faced but given his athletic ability, production and excellent intangibles, I think he would be a great pickup.
Round 3, Pick 74: DeLone Carter, RB, Syracuse
Addressing another area of need, Carter would be an excellent pickup at running back for the Patriots. Despite missing serious time through the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Carter has answered any concerns regarding his ability to stay healthy, with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. Carter has the height (5'10") and the size (215lbs) to be an every down back in the league. He can pound the ball through the middle, but also has the speed to get to the edge and make plays. Furthermore, Carter has an ability to make people miss in the open field and take the ball to the house, something BJGE does not possess. Adding Carter to the mix with BJGE and Danny Woodhead would be a great move for the Patriots.
Round 3, Pick 90: John Moffitt, OG/C, Wisconsin
At 6'5" and 323lbs, Moffitt has ideal size to play an interior line position in the NFL...and he can indeed play all three very well. A blue-collar player, Moffitt has a nasty side to his game, which Logan Mankins aside, the Patriots sorely miss at times, especially in the playoffs. Given his ability and the fact Moffitt has already played against some top competition, he would be an instant upgrade over the Patriot backup players and I think he could be a day 1 starter in this league for a team lucky enough to grab him. However, given the Patriots depth on the interior line, he could take time to improve his technique, particularly relating to pass protection. Dante Scarnecchia will love working with him, given his excellent work habits.
Round 4: Niles Paul, WR, Nebraska
I think this year, the Patriots will want to see what they have in Brandon Tate and Taylor Price. Having spend 12 months developing Price, I have to believe he will see extended playing time. Combine this with the 2 TE approach we have adopted and I can't see the Patriots using a high pick on a WR. What I can see is taking someone like Niles Paul and giving him a redshirt year to develop as they did with Taylor Price. Paul has comparable size and speed to Price. However, his draft stock has been really hurt by the fact he has had terrible quarterback play at Nebraska. The signs are there however - in his junior year, he racked up nearly 20 YPC and 4 TDs, pretty impressive considering the QB. Furthermore, he practiced against Prince Amukamara and the formidable Nebraska defense throughout his college career, which surely must have given him significant insight into playing and adjusting against top competition.
Round 5: Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa
Despite having a hall of fame quarterback and solid backup currently on the roster, if there's one thing we know Belichick is a believer in, it is acquiring late round quarterbacks when there is seemingly no real need. It's how we got the HOF and solid backup QBs! Its good sense when you consider we also got a second round pick for the previously undrafted Matt Cassel - so expect the habit to continue. At 6'4" Stanzi has ideal size for the quarterback position in the NFL. Furthermore, he made significant improvements in his game in 2010, completing 64% of his passes, good for 25 TD's and only 6 INTS. He protects the ball very well, is accurate on intermediate throws and has a knack for the clutch play - all traits essential for a Patriot quarterback. He needs work on his mechanics but he has been working with Brady's private quarterback coach Tom Martinez.
Round 6: Dain Taylor, DE/OLB, Drake
Small school prospect who could be this year's Dane Fletcher. 15 sacks in his senior year followed 10.5 sacks and 19.5 TFL's in 2009. This guy just makes plays including blocked kicks, interception returns for touchdowns and fumble recoveries. Admittedly, he plays at a small school so competition is not the highest. However, he plays with solid strength, speed and technique and has all the measurables. He's also a finance major, so clearly he's an intelligent person. In the 2010 draft, the Patriots made use of their late round picks taking fliers on Defensive line players like Brandon Deaderick and Kade Weston to see what would stick. I can see Belichick doing something similar this year from a pass rush perspective and this pass rusher would be an excellent pick.