Patriots Draft 2011: With the 28th Pick...

Over at Mocking the Draft, our friends are hosting an NFL Mock Draft. Cameron O helped out and did a fantastic job. At 28th overall, the Patriots appeared to be in a great spot. Potential OLB prospect Ryan Kerrigan was dropping down the board, until the Ravens scooped him at #26- specifically so the Patriots couldn't grab him. Cameron O and I talked about a bunch of different possibilities at this spot. The following players were still on the board:

Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State

Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple

Phil Taylor, DE/NT, Baylor

Stefen Wisniewski, C, Penn State

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

We had a tough selection on our hands. We didn't believe that Wisniewski presented enough value to take him at #28, so we took him out of the running. We also believed that Leshoure could drop to #33 if we wanted him since only the Packers were really a threat to draft him. We reasoned that because there were three defensive end prospects, at least one of them would be remaining at #33. I specifically stated that Cameron Heyward would be on the board at #33 so I convinced Cameron O to look in a different direction. Silly me- Heyward was taken #30 by the Jets.

Therefore, we debated between the two cornerbacks. I wanted Harris. Cameron wanted Smith.

With the 28th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots select:

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Read the analysis after the jump!

Here at the Pulpit, we've talked about how the cornerback position is a big question mark when looking at the draft. There's Devin McCourty, who should be a stud for years to come. However, after that, we're not sure what the team has. Leigh Bodden will be returning from injury, but if he returns to his peak the defense will excel. If not? We'll be looking at a repeat of last season's secondary. There's Kyle Arrington who filled in admirably all last season, but he struggled to defend the deep pass and was unable to turn around his head when the ball was in the air. He's greatly improved, but I, personally, would not feel comfortable if he was the #2 cornerback and played at the same level as last season. There's Darius Butler who has not reached his potential and seems to be sitting at the bottom of the cornerback depth chart. Finally, there's Jonathan Wilhite who is on the bubble and returning from a season ending injury.

What happens if Leigh Bodden doesn't recover from his injury to play at a high level? What if Kyle Arrington peaked last season, which led to his benching? What if Darius Butler doesn't put everything together? What if Jonathan Wilhite...is Jonathan Wilhite?

The pick comes between Smith and Harris. Here's a case for both:

Brandon Harris, 5-11, 195 lbs.

Run Defense: Willing run defender. Doesn't wrap up tackle, which could lead to problems in the NFL.

Pass Defense: Better covering one on one, instead of playing in the zone scheme. Makes the tackle instead of the interception.

Intangibles: Weak tackler. Takes some poor angles. Opposing quarterbacks stopped throwing at him over the course of the season. Great locker room player.

Jimmy Smith, 6-2, 205 lbs.

Run Defense: Willing run defender. Sometimes bites on the play action, but he can recover. Sometimes struggles to disengage from blockers.

Pass Defense: Breaks up passes in the air because of his size. Great in zone and in man.

Intangibles: Willing tackler who needs to improve on disengaging from blocks. Thrown at 20 times his senior season, breaking up 25%. Special teams player. Blazing fast.

I honestly thought it was a toss-up between the two players. The more I watch Smith, the more I like his game. Harris is always consistent. My comparisons? I feel like Harris is like a bigger Darius Butler. I think Smith compares well to a larger Kyle Arrington. However, Smith is better in coverage, while Arrington is a little better in run defense. After research, I couldn't help but think that Smith would be a great fit for the defense.

I believe that the Green Bay Packers showed the importance of having multiple elite cornerbacks in an increasingly passer-oriented league. Taking Smith would give the Patriots one of the better secondaries in the league with McCourty and Bodden as the lockdown corners and Smith as the 3rd DB, in a semi-safety position. Remember last season how Pat Chung struggled to play at nickelback? Well, Smith would allow Chung to move back to his safety spot and Smith could take the coverage duties.

Smith also would allow the Patriots to part ways with Jonathan Wilhite, or trade Butler or Arrington, while keeping considerable depth on the roster. The Patriots can't keep all of the cornerbacks, but the secondary is one injury away from a defense akin to 2009 and 2010- solid, but not elite. Having Smith on the roster gives the Patriots three potentially elite caliber cornerbacks in Smith, Bodden and McCourty and two depth players in Arrington and Butler. That's a secondary I can believe in.

I understand if some people aren't happy with the selection of a cornerback. After all, there are plenty on the roster and there are much more pressing needs. I wouldn't have been upset with taking Phil Taylor at #28 and Mikel Leshoure at #33, but we knew the Patriots had to take a defensive lineman. The other draft pick was a luxury selection. The question is which player has more additional value for the Patriots?

Will Leshoure play enough on the offense to outweigh the impact of Smith on defense? Possibly- possibly not. There are other running backs who would be available later, but there are also plenty of cornerbacks. This draft has pretty comparable depth in respect to cornerback and running back (after Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara). A couple top prospects in Mark Ingram and Leshoure, and Harris and Smith, then plenty of depth in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

Looking back, I might not have gone this route in the draft. So far, the Patriots have a tackle in Derek Sherrod at #17 and a cornerback at #28 in Jimmy Smith. Personally, I might prefer the following draft:

17. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

28. Phil Taylor, DL, Baylor

33. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

However, I honestly cannot complain with the positions of the players drafted. There are a lot of players that would fit very well with the Patriots and I would be extremely happy if the Patriots traded down from the 17th spot, especially in this mock draft, to pick up another early second round pick. The level of player at #17 overall is extremely similar to player #37 in this draft- and trading down can save money and add more draft picks. Instead of picks at #17, #28 and #33, imagine the damage the Patriots could do at #28, #29, #33, and #35. Those four picks could elevate this team to the next level.

Looking at the Smith pick, I'd give it around a B-/B. I believe that in this mock draft scenario the Patriots would trade down, but since we had to take a player, Smith is about as good as it would get at this spot. There are no OLBs worth taking and under the expectation that a DE would drop to #33, the #28 player would be a luxury.

What do you think?

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