With the 2012 NFL Draft just over two months away, my first attempt at projecting the Patriots' selections:
Round 1, Pick 27: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
At this point, Sanu could be seen as a slight reach, but I think he will rise up the draft boards fast in the coming weeks. Sanu is the type of receiver that the Patriots desperately needs. He has good speed - not elite - but at 6'2" and 218 lbs, he has plenty of size and strength. He can beat any corner who presses him - something the Patriots need in a wide receiver. He's also a solid route runner and seems to be one of the most NFL ready receivers in the draft (which is something else the Patriots could use with quarterback Tom Brady's career clock ticking). Sanu would come in, and depending on whether or not the Patriots added any veterans via free agency or the draft, could get the chance to start immediately.
Round 1, Pick 31: Mark Barron, S, Alabama
I sort of struggled to make this pick. A lot of the players that I liked for the Patriots likely will go early on (Michael Brockers, Courtney Upshaw). Mark Barron is a guy the Patriots could use at a position of need - he's a big, physical, instinctive, and smart safety with a lot of talent. There's no question that Barron could make the Patriots' secondary better. The real question is, since he projects as more of a "strong" safety, whether or not he would compliment incumbent strong safety Pat Chung. My feeling is that Patriots coach Bill Belichick could make it work, with Chung playing the deep half of the field more often than not. Barron is just too good to pass up here.
Round 2, Pick 48: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
The Boykin pick is one that I'm really excited to make at this spot. Although he stands at just over 5'9", Boykin has great athleticism, closing burst, and is very experienced playing the slot. At the Senior Bowl, he proved he can play press coverage - in addition to his usual effectiveness in the zone. He also has versatility, playing some offense and also returning kicks. Overall, he seems like a perfect fit for New England's scheme, and he could instantly be plugged in as the team's "star" cornerback.
Final three picks after the jump!
Round 2, Pick 63: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
The Patriots know that Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters isn't going to be around for much longer, and at pick 63, Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler would represent excellent value for the Patriots. He's a very tough player, standing at 6'4" and 315 lbs. He has good mobility and can be effective on pulls and screens. Again, you might not think guard is a position of need, but with Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly both free agents, the Patriots could use additional depth along the interior line. Marcus Cannon could start at RG when Waters' inevitably retires, but I think Zeitler could be the better player.
Round 3, Pick 94: Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia
At this pick, I have the Patriots adding a piece to their front seven in Virginia defensive lineman Cam Johnson. At 6'4" and 270 lbs, Johnson has experience as an OLB in the 3-4 (played under Al Groh his first two years) and at DE in the 4-3. Of all the OLB prospects in this draft, Johnson has got to be one of the very best at setting the edge against the run. He doesn't have elite athleticism or change of direction ability, and his pass rush production wasn't great, but he's still a solid player that could have a role in the Patriots outside linebacker and/or defensive line rotation.
Round 4, Pick ??: Kheeston Randall, DL, Texas
I have the Patriots adding to their defensive front for the second straight selection, taking the 6'5", 297 lbs defensive lineman Kheeston Randall out of Texas in the fourth round. Randall is a bit of a sleeper at this point, and could rise up the board in the coming weeks. He is decent at holding up against double teams, but also has enough athleticism and a good first step to occasionally rush the passer. In the fourth round, the Patriots would get a developmental guy with the upside to become a starter in a year or two at right end in the 3-4.