So, some of you may remember that I used to post some stuff over the past couple of seasons. Unfortunately, this past fall was laden with a ton of drama and dumb choices that greatly hindered my time/ability to post on here. Luckily, I have rectified things and stuff is going great as of now, so I wanted to share some stuff with all of my guys at Pats Pulpit.
First of all, I'm doing a new Youtube series: I'm looking at the draft propensities of every single NFL team. I just did the Patriots video -- here is the link. Feel free to check it out, and if you ever want to talk, Tweet me @Ethanhamm.
Also, I wrote a long piece about the Patriots draft propensities in relation to this year's group of draft prospects. I figured I would repost it here for your enjoyment. Please comment and tell me what you think!
Hopefully I will be posting here more in upcoming weeks, nice to be back!
The Patriots have, of course, had the luxury of a franchise quarterback for most of Coach Belichick’s tenure. However, that does not necessarily suggest that quarterback is seen as a throwaway position by the front office. Since 2000, the Patriots have drafted six quarterbacks, a relatively large number over such a span. They also signed two rookie free agents, Matt Gutierrez and Brian Hoyer, who ended up making the team’s final roster as rookies. The Patriots seem to value their own means of evaluating quarterbacks more than the mainstream’s perspective. In recent drafts, they have taken gunslingers who were a bit off the radar when it came to typical draft boards. They also have shown a willingness to take platoon quarterbacks: Matt Cassel and Brian Hoyer are examples of this. The Patriots also seem to value mobility, as all of their quarterback selections (except, arguably, Brady) were touted for their mobility coming out of college.
In terms of the quarterback talent in this draft class, the Patriots have a bunch of options. I could theoretically see them look longingly at the quarterback position in Round 3, a period where they have traditionally taken risks in the past. Colin Kaepernick and Ricky Stanzi probably will not slip to that point (if they did, both would certainly be strong possibilities for the Patriots), but a player likeAndy Dalton could prove to be enticing. He may be a tad small for their system, but he has the leadership and mobility to be an interesting long-term project. The Patriots also could look toward Big 10 talent for their selection: both current rostered quarterbacks are from the great conference. An intriguing late-round sleeper is Scott Tolzien of Wisconsin. The guy is a born winner, he has a really good work ethic, and he has a decent floor along with a fairly high ceiling. He was not the most impressive physical specimen in college, but he could be well-worth a sixth round pick.
The Patriots could definitely use some youth at the running back position, but at the moment it does rest in capable, if not good, hands. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a reliable ball carrier who had upwards of 1,000 yards this season. Whenever the Patriots got over 100 yards on the ground, they won the game; this trend has been clear for years now, and makes Ellis’ emergence even more timely. I still think that an upgrade from BJGE to a more dynamic runner would not hurt the team, but I am happy with him starting in the backfield at the moment. The Patriots have not drafted a running back who has weighed in at less than 200 pounds in the past ten years. However, they signed one this past season: Danny Woodhead. Oddly enough, with him at the position I feel that the chances of the team taking ANOTHER back who is so light is even less. Woodhead is an absolute demon all over the field, and I see him holding onto a spot in Foxboro for a nice, long time. This one-two punch is young and talented; however, with the bevy of washed-up veterans behind them, a third option could be a possibility in the later rounds of this draft.
So, who could the team look at to supplement their ground attack? I don’t see the speed backs even factoring into the conversation; what I look for with Patriots runners is versatility and viability in the passing game and pass blocking game as well as the power run sets. I don’t see them looking at an early round running back, other than possibly Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech if he slips enough. Otherwise, I think that they would target a back later in the draft, paying special attention to versatile, bigger guys. Alex Green of Hawaii is an interesting physical specimen at the position. He has good explosiveness, is apt in pass-protection, and has a lot of versatility to his game. Some other options include Georgia Tech’s Anthony Allen, USC’s Stanley Havili, and UCONN’s Anthony Sherman. Sherman, especially, would be a likely target. He has great versatility and showcases a surprising amount of athleticism for a man his size. Plus, he’s a local player: running backs coach Ivan Fears attended the UCONN Pro Day, where Sherman was sure to impress. It will be interesting to see how they address the position in the draft.`
This is the hardest position to project for the Patriots over the past ten years. They have run the gambit with receiving prospects, from long, lanky sprinters to small, compact route-runners. The Patriots have had a pretty good record of drafting (or trading draft picks for) wide receivers in the last decade. From Randy Moss to Wes Welker to Deion Branch to David Givens, there has been no shortage of great pass catchers to grace Gillette Stadium. Even more interesting is the diverse body types that the Patriots have brought in at the position. The Patriots have only had five rookie wide receivers over the past decade that have measured in at under six feet tall, yet Branch was a Super Bowl MVP and Julian Edelman looks like a future contributor. I would set the baseline for the Patriots at around six feet tall, maybe a little above or below. I would also consider that, for this year, unless the Patriots absolutely love a certain prospect, it would be almost a necessity for that man to be special teams. Branch and Taylor Price are non-factors in that respect, and Welker is being phased out as the punt returner in favor of Edelman. Tate and Jules both factor into that aspect of the game. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Patriots at this position.
First of all, I have heard the rumors swirling about the Patriots trading up for a wide receiver. If trades are allowed in this draft I would think that it is a slight possibility, but it would go against every single trend that we have seen in the past. I WILL say that A.J. Green seems like the exact type of prospect who could be up their alley at the position. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens. Later in the first round, Torrey Smith would fit as a developmental-type of prospect, and he does have value as a returnman; however, he might be a tad bit redundant with Brandon Tate on the team. Still, he cannot be taken out of the equation. Leonard Hankerson reminds me a bit of Chad Jackson coming out of school, so he’s a possibility for sure, although he does not have the special teams acumen that could be necessary to be considered. Jerrel Jernigan and Titus Young are both dynamic players, but they may be a tad small and/or overvalued for the Patriots. Still, neither pick would surprise me immensely. Ex-Cornhusker Niles Paul, as a prospect, reminds me a bit of Taylor Price insofar that he has great physical gifts but was underutilized in an anemic passing offense. I could see him being an extremely viable third round pick. Other late round prospects at the position include Jeremy Kerley of TCU, Cecil Shorts III of Mount Union, and Greg Salas of Hawaii. I especially like Salas; he has a lot of upside as a big body on special teams as well as a receiving prospect.
I love our tight ends. Last year, I made the point that we liked TEs who were around 6 foot 3 and 245 pounds, and we got one in Aaron Hernandez. Then, we also stole the goliath also known as Rob Gronkowski. These two players, along with Alge Crumpler, make up as good a trio of tight ends as there are in the NFL. I cannot wait to see Gronk and Hernandez develop over time; I believe that they could be as good as any tandem of receivers, whether out wide or inside at tight end, in the NFL if they work hard enough. The unique Patriot offensive system that was constructed around the athleticism of these two tight ends will only get better as these young players improve. I am excited to see what happens next.
In terms of draft possibilities, I don’t see tight end being high on the Patriots’ list. However, if they decide to go for one, I could see them look at a bigger tight end who could learn under Crumpler and eventually succeed him as a bigger, blocking option at tight end. Andre Smith of Virginia Tech or Chris Farmer of Villanova could be interesting options. If the Patriots stay more in-line with past tight end propensities, D.J. Williams or Julius Thomas could round out quite the fabulous young trio at the position. However, I fully expect tight end to not be addressed, at the very least, until the fifth round of the draft, if it is made into a priority at all.
I am going to lump all of the offensive linemen together because, at some positions, there are not enough observations to really make a clear decision as to what the decade’s trend could be. The Patriots definitely have their own brand of offensive lineman though, and it is pretty obvious what they like. They want intelligent guys who can block the sun and know where to place their hands. Size matters to an extent but it certainly is not a deal breaker. The Patriots do tend to view 6 foot 4 as a baseline for tackles and 6 foot 2 as a boundary for guards and centers; anything equivalent or upwards seems to work for them. However, what is more important to them seems to be value. If they see an offensive lineman that they really like, they will try their darndest to get him. They basically traded Ellis Hobbs, a proven cornerback, for Rich Ohrnburger, a guard who some teams did not even see as a draftable prospect. They drafted Logan Mankins in the first round of a draft when most analysts saw him as a third round pick at best. They drafted Sebastian Vollmer a full three rounds earlier than some projections. It always seems to work out for them in the end. I know this is the same explanation that I used last year, but it really seems to hold true on a consistent basis. The Patriots have a certain brand of offensive lineman that they target, and not much can make them deviate from this norm.
In this year’s draft, I see the offensive line being a need for this team, and I expect some selections to be made that reflect this need. Most specifically, I feel that this is a very strong class for interior linemen, and I would not be surprised if the Patriots plucked one or two of the big guys in the early portion of the draft. The Patriots love versatility from their interior linemen, so that could raiseStefen Wisniewski’s stock in their eyes. He is a mauler, has great hands, and would start for the Patriots immediately. He has a rare blend of size and strength, and he could immediately take over for the withering Dan Koppen. Rodney Hudson, if Wisniewski is passed up, could be intriguing at the top of the second round. He’s probably a bit more of a "Patriots-type" player than Wisniewski is as well; he has Koppen’s exact measurables. There is a lot of depth in this class as well, with guys like TCU’s Jake Kirkpatrick, Missouri’s Tim Barnes and Slippery Rock’s Brandon Fusco looming in this class. The Patriots have a lot of options at the position; I would have Barnes as the most likely pick at this point, followed by Hudson and Fusco. All three fit their paradigm perfectly.
Some other offensive linemen to keep an eye on include Baylor’s Danny Watkins, who has a Nick Kaczur-esque versatility and style of play, Lehigh’s Will Rackley, who has a very intriguing game and seems like an intelligent, heady talent, and Jah Reid of Central Florida, a guy who reminds me a bit of Sebastian Vollmer in terms of his underrated nature, on-field mean streak, and overall ability. I think that Watkins is certainly a likely pick if he slips; the Patriots have made a living on choosing slightly more mature players on the offensive line like Vollmer and Kaczur. He is someone to watch out for in the second round. Overall, I think that if the Patriots do go offensive line in the draft, they may go from the inside-out, and spend multiple picks on the unit.
The Patriots were one of the first teams in the NFL to convert to the now en-vogue 3-4 defense. On the backs of large defensive linemen like Anthony Pleasant and Bobby Hamilton, they started their dynasty based on their nasty defense. Since then, a funny trend has occurred; in the past decade, each year that they drafted a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft (Richard Seymour in 2001, Ty Warren in 2003 and Vince Wilfork in 2004) they have won a Super Bowl. That’s a trend that should continue this year. The Patriots value 3-4 defensive ends similar to other teams that run the scheme. They look for big players, usually in the 6 foot 4 range, who weigh 300 pounds or above. They tend not to like smaller players at the position, unless they constitute great value in the later portions of the draft. They look for guys who focus on stopping the run more than rushing the passer, though a combination of these two factors would be ideal.
The Patriots value 3-4 defensive ends highly, so it would be no surprise if they took one early in the draft. I’m not sky high on Muhammad Wilkerson as a prospect, but I do concede that he could be a possible pick for the Patriots in the draft. I personally like Jarvis Jenkins of Clemson a lot more as a prospect, and I think he has a solid chance of being selected by New England. He gets good push on every snap and is a really solid overall talent. Lawrence Guy from Arizona State is another potential fit. He has the size and explosiveness to be an ultimate fit as a 2-gapping defensive end. If the Patriots do choose to trade up (something, as I have said before, which is unlikely), then I could see Marcel Dareus being a possible target for them. A couple of super-sleepers at late round projects: 6 foot 7 Charlie Bryant of Memphis, Ricky Lumpkin of Kentucky and even Kenrick Ellis, the absolute behemoth from Hampton.
The Patriots, when it comes to nose tackles, are all over the map. One thing they appreciate, though, is leverage. They do not draft guys over 6 foot 3, but then again there are not a lot of teams in the NFL that do so either. The Patriots also seem to have a nice range of weights and heights at this position, from the gargantuan Vince Wilfork to the small Dan Klecko, who became a Gillette Stadium darling before he was cut.
With Wilfork in tow, I do not think that defensive tackle will be such a pressing need for New England. However, if they were to look at one later in the draft, Cornell Banks of Fresno State could be a possibility. He’s a big body and a bit slow, but he is stout at the point of attack and could at least fill in occasionally as a depth guy on the defensive line. Someone with a bit higher upside at the position is Ole Miss’ Jerrell Powe, who could be an intriguing depth-based third round pick. He has exceptional explosiveness, but some character issues. He could be a risk pick in the mid rounds. There are other possibilities here as well, but I doubt that defensive tackle will be of utmost importance during the draft.
Inside linebacker is, by far, the easiest position to translate to at the professional level. You can do an adequate job as an inside linebacker by basically being able to run laterally and make a tackle. The Patriots had not taken an inside linebacker on the first day of the draft until 2007, when they picked Jerod Mayo. Brandon Spikes was a second round pick for the Patriots last year, and played very well in limited action. The Patriots look for heady players who can fill a diverse number of roles. Usually, at this position, they will be willing to wait until after the draft unless a great talent somehow slips.
This year, I do not see a ton of inside linebackers who would appeal to the Patriots. They probably will not draft one this year; they have an overflow of depth at the position. However, if they were to take an inside linebacker, they could do a lot worse than Jeff Tarpinian of Iowa, a project player who could be a nice physical presence on special teams.
The most famous Patriot necessity of all is the "tall 3-4 outside linebacker." This may be the year where Coach Belichick finds that "elephant" he once had in Willie McGinest, that supremely athletic physical talent who can both put his hand down and rush the passer from a standing-up position. The Patriots like linebackers around 6 feet 4 inches tall, but this is not a necessity. They can be a bit smaller: they just will not be valued as highly as the longer players. The Patriots OLBs need to be able to set the edge against the run game. Pass rush is certainly preferred, but by no means essential according to the philosophy behind this defensive scheme.
This may be the year where Coach Belichick can pick the elephant that he so craves. Three players in this draft class, Miami (FL)’s Allen Bailey and Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, have the sort of physical ability to play OLB in this scheme. From a personal standpoint, I’m not a huge fan of Clayborn; however, he would seem to have the versatility to be a possible long-term answer at the position. I need to watch more tape on his hips though. Ballard is a physical freak who would be a long-term project. I think his value could rise closer to the draft, and he’s certainly a possibility at the pick, but I’m not sure that he would transition too well. Bailey is the type of athlete who would be fearsome standing up; I think he could be an interesting project in the second round or so. He has a lot of potential; he just needs some help in putting it all together. If there was an elephant in the past three years though, he is it. Full discretion: I was not sold on Bailey until recently, but after watching some more tape, I saw the potential that he has. He could be special with enough time to develop.
Aldon Smith is a bit of an idealistic option at this point, but I could see the Patriots trade up to get him. Ryan Kerrigan also has upside as the 17th pick, although he may not slip that far and he is slightly limited from an athletic standpoint. I can see Justin Houston being a really viable pick as well. He is a perfect schematic fit. Some possible later picks include Arizona’s duo of Ricky Elmore andD’Aundrae Reed as well as Rice’s Cheta Ozougwu. I would not be surprised if the Patriots pair up a larger guy (like Bailey) early with a smaller selection (like Ozougwu) in the fourth round of the draft, similar to their pairing of tight ends last year. Regardless, this will be an interesting story to watch during this year’s draft.
There are two sides to the debate about the cornerbacks on this team. On one hand, the Patriots have not drafted any cornerbacks over 5 feet 11 inches or 200 pounds in the past decade, both of which are pretty amazing. However, they have also signed two cornerbacks via free agency in recent years, both of whom are 6 foot 1. Leigh Bodden and Kyle Arrington buck the drafting trend. This makes me think that speed is a bit more important than size when evaluating talent for New England, although I still will not mock any corner over 5 foot 11 to the Patriots this year.
There are some options for the Patriots at this position. However, many of them will be around later in the draft. The only cornerback I can see them taking in the first two rounds is Miami (FL)’sBrandon Harris, and I find that to be doubtful. I see them being more patient and looking at some of the later round guys instead, if they decide to address the position at all. Some potential prospects include Brandon Hogan of West Virginia, Ramon Broadway of Arkansas, and Josh Thomas of Buffalo. A rookie free agent to keep an eye on is Reggie Rembert of Air Force; I do not think that he will be drafted, but he has a ton of versatility and the Patriots might sign him to a Futures deal.
The Patriots tend to draft safeties that weigh over 200 pounds and are around six feet tall. They could need help at this position. They have a lot of young talent, but I doubt that Brandon Meriweather will be back past this season (if there even is a regular season) and James Sanders is not a great safety despite his timely interceptions. I do think that Pat Chung has a boatload of potential; he has to improve in coverage a bit though. He was only average, if a bit below, this past season.
This year, there are a couple of guys I can see the Patriots target. Rutgers alum Joe Lefeged intrigues the heck out of me. He has value on special teams and is an ex-teammate of Devin McCourty’s. I could honestly see Lefeged go in the first two rounds; he could even be a shocker pick at the end of Round 1. He has the type of versatility that would make Coach Belichick drool. I’m not sure of his draft stock at the moment, but it would not surprise me at all if he ends up being a Patriot. However, if the Patriots decide to bide their time instead and go for a different flavor of player, Nebraska’sDeJon Gomes, Villanova’s John Dempsey, and South Florida’s Mistral Raymond all make sense to varying degrees. This will be another interesting story to watch in this class.
Finally, here is my extremely tentative, no-trades mock draft that will almost certainly change. No explanations here; if you want some, I'd be happy to answer questions. Full discretion: I expect them to trade around a bit; I do not value my first pick as highly as I place him here, although I do think that he will be the Patriots first pick in the draft at this point in time. As I wrote, though, this mock will undoubtedly change over time. Even now, I am playing tennis between Justin Houston and Allen Bailey with that first round pick; I could see either happening.
1. Allen Bailey, OLB, Miami (FL)
2. Danny Watkins, OG/OT, Baylor
3. Jarvis Jenkins, DE, Clemson
4. Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers
5. Tim Barnes, C, Missouri
6. Greg Salas, WR, Hawaii
7. Cheta Ozougwu, OLB, Rice
8. Scott Tolzein, QB, Wisconsin