Gauging how the Patriots will likely approach the draft is not the easiest thing to do, as they often rate players in what appears to be a nonsensical fashion. They will have a plan for what direction they want to take the team in, and if you are not close to being on the same wavelength as they are, any projections as to who they will pick will be completely off.
We could look at the recent FA signings of the team and conclude that with the signings of Lloyd, Gonzalez and Stallworth that the WR position will not even be looked at in coming draft, however if McDaniels wants to spend the season spreading the field and putting 5 receivers out there as often as possible, then perhaps not.
Some years a team will have so many needs that it just makes sense to build your draft board and take the BPA. The Patriots in 2008 and 2009 had years like that, trading down and collecting picks later in the draft and for the future set them up well. Where as in 2010, it seemed they had certain players targeted and made sure once they were in the team's given 'value' area, they moved to select them (IE - Gronk and Spikes). 2012 feels like it should be a target the right players and get them year similar to 2010.
Below is my attempt to guess at which players would fill Patriots needs, and where they most likely would be available, a critical component in attempting a mock draft is having a realistic (informed) idea of where the players will actually fall. It doesn't matter how good a player may look, if he is likely to go in the top ten, then he is unlikely to be drafted by the Patriots who's earliest pick is #27... as the Patriots are very unlikely to trade up more than a couple of positions in the first round.
#1 SELECTION - #27 or higher
Whitney Mercilus OLB 6'4 265
Why the pick - With the success they had this year with Carter and Anderson, and with the former success they had with McGinest and Colvin, it seems a worthwhile investment to bring in a potential game changing pass rusher who may have the potential to develop into a fulltime OLB/DE hybrid for the Patriots Defense. Mercilus' value has moved up drastically since the combine, now it is unlikely he will fall to #27 and the Patriots may have to move up a few spots if they really want to select him.
About the Player - Very active and plays with top effort on every snap. Moves all around the defensive line, lining up off the edge and inside at defensive tackle. Has the natural speed to win the edge and closes in a flash. Attacks gaps and is a pesky rusher, finding ways to squirm into the backfield. Hard player to block cleanly. Plays with a fighting mentality and has the violent hand usage to battle through the trash and make the play. Tends to play high and needs to be coached up on technique and fundamentals. Still developing his snap anticipation and will be a project player that will not likely make a huge impact for the Patriots Defense until well into the season when the coaches have more confidence in his grasp of the system and what they want from him.
Run defense: Lacks edge awareness and will over run his responsibilities, struggles to shed blocks can be overpowered at the point of attack. Still developing his recognition skills and instincts.
Explosion: Fires off the snap with a quick first step that really stands out. Lacks great change of direction ability laterally or to redirect his momentum. Has excellent straight forward burst and speed, if not fully blocked he will be in the QBs lap a second after the ball arrives.
Very good arm/body length and overall measurables which BB is high on when evaluating players.
Tackling: Physical in the trenches and doesn't try to avoid contact. Has long arms to wrap and wrestle ballcarriers to the ground. Takes pride in his ability to finish and complete tackles.
Intangibles: Has only one year of starting production under his belt and was a relative unknown entering the 2011 season. Had above average production in 2011, leading the nation in sacks (16.0) and forced fumbles (9) and finishing second in tackles for loss (22.5) consistent production week-in and week-out as a junior in 2011. Decided to leave early to help his family financially (both his parents are immigrants from Haiti).
ALTERNATE PICK TO FILL THIS NEED - SHEA McCLELLIN who showed the capacity to make a major change to his game from DE to OLB in the SR Bowl. Shea will likely be selected from the #31 to #41 range in the draft.
#2 SELECTION - #31
Mark Barron S 6'1 215
Why the Pick - I never gave much consideration to Barron being selected by the Patriots prior to this for a couple of reasons, first it was expected earlier that he would be a top 20 pick, second because it was perhaps the most well known want/need of the Jets. And if the Jets have any tendency at all under Tanenbaum, its to draft for need, to target a player and pay the price to go get them (IE - Revis, Harris, Sanchez). With the Jets recently signing Laron Landry to a 4million dollar deal, drafting a Safety may not be #1 on their priority list. To top it all off, many teams have a tendency to lower the value of an injured player... while BB has a tendency to take gambles on such players when they fall (IE - Dowling and Gronk).
The Patriots' have two major need areas that they cannot improve enough IMO... drafting a Safety that can cover the field and has the ability to read and react as well as handle complicated schemes is second only to their Pass Rush needs, barely.
About the Player -Barron was the on-field quarterback for Alabama's Secondary. After the snap, he became an enforcer whose physical play was a reason Alabama's defense was No. 1 in the nation. He was especially responsible for preventing the big play, which he did well enough to be named first team All-American in 2011.
Barron's play does reflect a combination of great film work and instinctive reactions, which gets him in the middle of action on most plays and rarely allows ballcarriers to get very far beyond the line of scrimmage.
"We played in a very difficult defense," Barron said of the Crimson Tide. "We did a lot of different schemes. As far as communicating, I had a lot to do with that on the back end."
Man Coverage: Was not required to handle man coverage or cover the slot, is not likely to prove very good at it, but then again, would likely be an improvement over anyone the Patriots currently have to throw into the role of second Safety, including their recent FA signing.
Zone Coverage: Good instincts and overall athleticism for zone coverage. Does show a late burst to close on the football. Reads the quarterback's eyes and has good feet, balance and straight-line speed, aiding him in being in consistently good position when in pass coverage.
Ball Skills: Classic ball hawk. Reads the quarterback's eyes and does a nice job of breaking on the throw. Good acceleration and straight-line speed. Times his leaps well and has good hand-eye coordination to make the difficult grab. Good vision and natural running skills with the football. Ability to make a play that can change the course of a game.
Run Support: Reads run quickly and aggressively attacks, taking out blockers when he has help behind him. Unafraid of playing near the line of scrimmage, though he shows only average strength and technique to disengage. Good agility and speed to avoid blockers, showing an ability to make a lot of plays at or near the line of scrimmage. Prone to overrunning the play, however, and leaving potential cutback lanes for backs to exploit but this can be coached and corrected with experience.
Takes good angles when in pursuit. Understands his role as the last line of defense and rarely allows ball-carriers to get past him when he is in this position.
Intangibles: Missed the Capital One Bowl after suffering a torn right pectoral muscle against Auburn. The injury played a major factor in Barron electing to return to Alabama for his senior season. Considering this along with his Hernia operation, the chances of him dropping to the 31st pick of the draft are good IMO.
ALTERNATE PICK TO FILL THIS NEED - Harrison Smith - Smith has good hands, he led ND in interceptions (seven) and pass breakups in 2010. He has the athleticism and ranginess to cover in a deep shell, and also possesses the work ethic and intelligence to play within a constrained system. Smith has good lateral movement and is willing to come up and play the run, and he has the size (6'2 215) to handle it. He can likely be selected mid to late 2nd round.
#3 SELECTION - 2nd round
Janoris Jenkins CB 5'10 195
Why the Pick - He's a former Gator (former Meyer player)... he's got 1st round skill, he's BB's ideal size and probably has the best swivel hips in the draft... I could try and fool myself into thinking BB won't draft a CB in this year's draft... but why bother? When I consider the type of CB BB prefers, and how Jenkins will likely be considered a 'value' in the second round, its not a stretch to imagine BB selecting him.
About the Player - Jenkins as a freshman was only the second Gator cornerback to ever start his first collegiate game. Jenkins in 2008 had 39 tackles, 11 passes broken up and three interceptions and followed up a year later with very similar numbers (38 tackles, six passes broken up, two interceptions).
Jenkins emerged in his junior season as one of the most instinctive and competitive young cornerback prospects in the country. He surprised many with the decision to return for his senior campaign after earning first-team All-SEC honors from the media and second-team recognition from conference coaches for a strong junior season in which he registered 43 tackles, eight passes broken up and three interceptions. Rather than return for a triumphant senior season, however, Jenkins was kicked off the team by the new head coach. Jenkins then transferred to Northern Alabama.
He was rarely challenged in coverage while at UNA and yet still racked up 53 tackles, six passes defensed, and two interceptions. He also blocked a kick and returned a fumble for a score as well as three punts for touchdowns.
Jenkins is considered by some scouts to be the best cover corner in the country.
Possesses the quick feet, loose hips and good speed to recover if the quarterback doesn't attack immediately. Quick to react to the run. Excellent read and react skills and anticipates routes very well... this kid has the physical gifts BB saw in the likes of Butler, and he also has the football savy and experience to actually be a good corner in the NFL... if he falls into the 2nd round I will honestly be shocked if BB passes on him, as he will be the best smurf CB to be within reach of BB drafting in more than a half-dozen years.
Man Coverage: Low, quick backpedal. Loose hips and smooth acceleration. Easily changes directions to mirror receivers. Doesn't have great size, but flashes good physicality in press coverage. Gets a good initial jam on the receiver and has the agility to turn and run downfield.
Zone Coverage: Good awareness for zone coverage (a higher priority in the Pats' system). Has a good feel for the receivers and their routes due to film preparation and keeps his eyes trained on the quarterback. Can drift when he sees the quarterback focusing on an area and is therefore susceptible to savvy passers. Quick to react to the thrown pass and converge on the ball.
Closing/Recovery: Very good downhill closing speed due to his willingness to gamble by reading the quarterback's eyes as well as exceptionally quick feet. Times his leap well and has good ball skills for the INT. Can extend and pluck outside of his frame. Good vision and elusiveness for the return.
Run Support: An underrated component to his game. Reads run quickly and isn't afraid to go inside the box. Fights through the receiver block and is willing to take on bigger ballcarriers. Good lateral agility to break down in space.
Tackling: A bit inconsistent in this area, though he's more physical and typically a more reliable open field tackler than most at his position. Will lead with his shoulder trying to make the highlight reel hit and leave himself vulnerable to missed tackles. Will sell out for the PBU/interception and, if he misses, leave the receiver running away from him. Takes good angles in pursuit and breaks down to make the secure stop against elusive athletes in the open field.
Intangibles: Started 37 of 40 games over his career; missing only one (2010 Outback Bowl) due to injury. Showed his toughness by playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder nearly the entire season. Injury worsened throughout the year, forcing him to miss the Outback Bowl to have surgery to repair it. Arrested in May, 2009 for his role in a fight. Was tasered and originally charged with affray and resisting arrest without violence, both misdemeanors. The affray charge was later dropped. Was arrested twice in the span of four months following the 2010 season for marijuana possession. His second arrest prompted new Florida head coach Will Muschamp to kick him off the team, leading to Jenkins' transfer to North Alabama. Was ejected for throwing a punch at a Delta State player on October 13 and had to sit out the first half of UNA's next game (West Alabama). When it cvomes to risk vs reward BB is more than bold enough to take a chance, as we saw with plenty of his FA pick-ups last year.
Second 2nd round selection - Traded out, hard to imagine the Patriots not trading down/out at least one pick.
3rd round selection - Kheeston Randall DE/DT 6'5 305
Reasons for the Pick: Ellis is gone, and Warren at 34 will most likely not return, Wright has been released and Brace may be soon enough. Patriots will have more than one spot available on the D-line that is up for grabs. One has to look for a player with the size, and consistency to his game, that shows he can play the position at the next level and not be a detriment to his team. Randall looks like he would fit that need.
About the Player : Randall has shown the strength and ability to stand up to double teams without losing ground consistently in games, and he has shown the ability to penetrate thru the line when one blocker is assigned against him consistently enough, and he has shown durability to last throughout an entire game, and throughout a season. Has the size (6'5) and awareness to knock down passes and block kicks.
Playing on the Longhorns' three man fronts, Randall had 39 tackles, one sack, three pass break ups, and two blocked kicks in 2010. Those stats don't make you go wow, but one has to consider the reasons why he doesn't notch sacks and gets only the occasional pressure, is because he is asked to eat up blocks rather than to penetrate gaps. Similar to what would be asked of him on the Pats' D.
4th round selection Devon Wylie WR 5'9 190
Reason for the Pick: Welker doesn't have a longterm deal done yet, Pats don't have enough sure fire returners and could use a game changer.
About the Player: Intense hard charging player, has very good short area quickness and initial burst off the line. Plays both inside and out, and possesses a good feel setting up his routes underneath, he makes sharp, decisive cuts and has an elusive quality. Keeps his feet under him, can drop his pad level and quickly accelerate out of his breaks. Showcases a good use of shoulder/head fakes to set up defenders and plays very fast in tight areas. Is also a pretty good route runner on the outside. Stems his routes well at full speed, drops his pad level and initially can get out of his breaks. Knows how to separate on the quick out and adjust to the football.
Is a natural catcher of the football who has some savvy to his game working his way open and adjusting to the catch. Is a tough kid who is willing to work the middle of the field and will get up and attack the football. Secures the ball quickly and showcases the initial suddenness to slip a defender and accelerate. Gets up to speed quickly and showcases good straight-line speed. Isn't as shifty when trying to avoid the bump off the line, as he has a tendency to try and run around corners on the outside.
Is a big threat on special teams as well. Is a gifted return man who accelerates quickly, has a good feel and has the moves and speed to make defenders miss. Plus he's a tough gunner, who will get down the field and tackle. Isn't the kind of size/speed guy you want at the position at the next level, but then again, neither is Welker.
Wild Card position in the Draft:
The Patriots could of course trade down/out of any of their picks, the Patriots could select a solid O-lineman and go the safe route with any of their top 4 picks... and possibly the Patriots could decide to expand on their TE based Offense, broaden their ability to gain mismatches against Defenses by adding another top TE prospect from this draft, and incorporating 3 TE sets into their attack.
This is where MY personal views stray from what is likely to happen, with the Patriots signing Fells, they are now 3 TEs deep on the roster. I have adjusted my Mock Draft to reflect the Patriots additions and likely targets... but if it were me, I'd make drafting Fleener a top priority, and I'd go into 2012 with 4 TEs with full expectations to use 3 TE sets as the dominant portion of my attack.
You know what the difference is between Calvin Johnson and Gronk?
Very little IMO... neither can be covered or stopped easily.
Lets say the Patriots added Fleener and Wylie (back-up and protege to Welker - see above)...
The Patriots would line up in every formation with Hernandez-or-Fleener Welker-or-Wylie and Fells-or-Gronk on the field... two players deep and a solid consistent formation of a 2 TE set ... often times going to a 3 TE set. With that thrid TE being able to flex into nearly any role, fill any slot.
Having three guys all around 6'5 and 250 pounds able to release downfield and plow thru smaller opponents, combined with one incredibly difficult to cover cut-one-a-dime slot Reciever always being out there... you tell me, what Defense in the NFL has the personel to match up with that and stop it?
Coby Fleener TE 6'6 245
Why the pick - With the success the Patriots had with the two TE Offense, it makes sense to ensure they have the talent to keep it rolling, even if an injury arises to either Gronk or Hernandez, Fleener ensures the offense will not be crippled as it was in SB46. In addition, Fleener allows them to expand the TE based Offense allowing for Hernandez to flex to H-back and WR. Fleener as well has this flexibility, allowing for the Patriots to go into formations with 3 TEs, two of which are flexible enough to handle H-back and WR duties.
As off balance as the NFL was when facing the Hernandez and Gronk attack, they would be thoroughly overwhelmed by the 3 TE formations, and the Patriots would take apart Defenses with as much success in 2012 as they did in 2011. This is the type of pick (and shift in Offense) that takes the NFL by surprise and it takes them a season (or more) to come with an answer to counter.
About the Player - Fleener isn't a thumper as a blocker, but he does have surprising foot speed, agility and leaping ability for a player of his size, making him a legitimate threat down the seam. His size makes him a match-up nightmare for any CB, and his speed makes it almost impossible for all but the fastest Linebackers to keep up with.
Reception Skills: Has excellent (soft) hands and presents a big target to the quarterback, he knows when to allow the ball into his pads to protect it when about to absorb a big hit over the middle. Good body control to reach back for the pass behind him. Also shows the ability to high-point passes, showing a good vertical, timing and hand-eye coordination in jump-ball situations. Catches the ball cleanly outside of his frame and secures it quickly.
Route running: Among his better attributes. Gains a quick, clean release and has enough speed to challenge down the seam. Varies the speed of his route, using a variety of pauses and shoulder fakes to get the defender guessing. Quick feet and good balance to create some separation on the stick and post routes despite lacking elite speed.
After the catch: Above average acceleration for a big man and possesses impressive leaping ability to avoid defenders trying to tackle him low. Only average lateral agility to elude and may not be fast enough to be a consistent threat down the seam against NFL competition. Willing to lower his shoulder and fight for additional yardage, but isn't going to strike fear into the hearts of defenders with his physicality.
Blocking: While far from an intimidator, Fleener does a nice job of helping to seal the edge when operating as an in-line blocker, showing enough strength, leverage and a solid base considering he's a former wideout. Looks to get involved downfield and will block multiple defenders on a single play when he can. Understands his role as a blocker and doesn't shirk from it.
Intangibles: Played tight end, wide receiver and safety in high school. An "outstanding" high school basketball player who earned all-area honors as a junior. Caught a career high six passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in the Orange Bowl. His three scores went for 41, 58 and 38 yards, respectively …