If you're like me, you have probably been reading mock draft after mock draft since the start the 2011 NFL season. Here's who I have the Patriot's picking in the upcoming NFL Draft:
Pick #27 - Dont'a Hightower - ILB, Alabama (6'4, 260lbs.)
Not many people would agree with me on this pick because they would prefer the Patriot's addressing their defensive line or their secondary. This pick makes a ton of sense because Dont'a Hightower has the versatile skillset that Bill Belichick covets in his players. He can be used as a 4-3 DE, 3-4 OLB, Mike/Will/Jack/Sam linebacker, you name it, he can do it. He is strong against the run and has a knack for making plays, which the Patriot's defense desperately needs. We need to find a replacement for Gary Guyton, and Dane Fletcher is a great back-up option. Tracy White should only ever play on special teams. Dont'a Hightower would infuse the Patriot's linebacking core making it one of the youngest and one of the strongest in the country. Can you imagine what it would be like having Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont'a Hightower on the field at the same time? Amazing.
*Video: Dont'a Hightower vs. Tennesseee (just watch how he plays in this and you will know exactly what I mean. he plays in multiple positions, but excels at each one. just what the Pats need.)
I would much rather the Patriot's getting Michael Brockers from LSU, but he will definitely not be on the board past the 20th pick. Fletcher Cox has elite athleticism which the Patriot's D-line needs. He can overpower blockers and he makes a ton of plays behind the LOS. He is a solid pass-rusher and with some coaching can become even more disruptive. He can shed blocks easily, and has a relentless motor. Very strong on special teams. (blocking kicks) He is just a little raw, and can get too aggressive, but he would make such an improvement for the Patriot's defensive line.
Pick #48 - George Iloka - FS/SS, Boise State (6'3, 222lbs.)
Even with Mark Barron's recent surgery, I don't see him being on the board over here because too many teams are in need of a safety. Iloka can play both FS and SS which Belichick looks for in his safeties. He has perfect size for a defensive back. Has some speed too, (projected high 4.4) He can stick with his man in coverage whether it be in man or zone. Can cover TE's. Physical. Can deliver the big hit. He is what the Patriot's need at the safety position. An immediate help at the 31st ranked pass defense.
Pick #63 - Joe Adams - WR, Arkansas (5'11, 190lbs.)
The Patriot's need an X Factor in their offense. The tight-end's can't do it all, and Wes Welker could sure use some help. Deion Branch is getting old and can't get separation. Joe Adams is VERY fast, and can get open down field. He can run in the 4.3's. He had a strong Senior Bowl. He was one of the best receivers there. He proved he can get open and can make the catch away from his body. He had very reliable hands. I like to think of him as the poor man's Kendall Wright - although they are very similar players. His greatest asset may be his return abilities. Just watch this video:
Pick #94 - Chandler Jones - DE/OLB, Syracuse (6'5, 265lbs.)
I wanted to put another defensive back in, but I couldn't pass up on Chandler Jones. I doubt he is on the board here but I sure hope so. Chandler Jones may have the highest ceiling in the pass-rushing department. He has the potential to become elite. He is very similar to Jason Pierre-Paul and if the Patriot's are able to grab Chandler Jones here, consider it a steal. He is right now listed as a 4-3 DE, but I would move him to a 3-4 OLB, and use him as a pure pass-rusher. I can see him becoming one of the best.
Pick (TBD) - Donnie Fletcher - CB, Boston College (6'0, 200lbs.)
I envision the Patriot's starting corner's to be Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling, next year. Kyle Arrington can return to the slot, where he excels. Patrick Chung and either a draft pick or a FA will be our starting safeties. Sterling Moore has proven he can be a reliable cornerback. Julian Edelman, can fill-in when needed. I can guarantee you all, that next season, the Patriot's secondary WILL be greatly improved. I believe Devin McCourty will return to his freshman form. Why? The Patriot's will shore up their safeties. This is important to McCourty's improvement because without a reliable safety back there helping him, McCourty was lost out there. He had to much to worry about. With a reliable safety back there, McCourty can worry more about his man and making plays on the ball. Ras-I Dowling played very well his 2 games this season. I'm throwing in Donnie Fletcher here because he can become successful in the Patriot's system. I know they have already had scouts looking at him. He had a strong Senior Bowl, and can be a physical player. He showed he has the ability to play man coverage, and can jam receivers at the LOS.
Now free agency is another story. the Patriot's still need another wide receiver, safety, and center. They have the cap room to sign talented players. I first expect them to shore up their own FA's and then go after whoever else they need in the league. Reggie Wayne is a great fit in New England. Same for Brandon Lloyd, Marques Colston. As for safety, I like LaRon Landry, Tyvon Branch, Michael Griffin, and Dashon Goldson. Any of them would be an upgrade.
P.S. I expect Dan Koppen, Wes Welker, Mark Anderson and Brian Waters to return. Dan Koppen may test the water but I believe he will be a Patriot. I'm also not to worried about the offensive line. It had a solid year. Dante Scarnecchia is one of the best offensive line coaches. Also, they may sign Andre Carter back but for less money. We don't know how his injury will affect an aging player like him. I also anticipate more 3-4 looks next year from the Patriot's Andre Carter is primarily a 4-3 guy.
Let me know what you think. Looking forward to a great 2012 NFL season, Go Pats!