Would Andre Branch make a good fit as an outside linebacker in the Patriots 3-4 defense?
Here is my latest attempt at projecting the Patriots' 2012 draft picks, following the 2012 NFL Combine:
Round 1, Pick 27: Michael Brockers, DT/DE, LSU
Previous Pick: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
There's no telling if Michael Brockers will actually fall this far in the 2012 NFL Draft. But one thing is clear: running a 5.36 40 yard dash certainly hasn't helped his stock? Nonetheless, I don't think that 40 time was truly indicative of his athletic potential. Brockers added about 20 pounds to his frame (weighed in at 322) prior to the combine, and was likely getting used to his new weight. He is pretty fluid for a player his size, and would be an excellent fit as a 3-4 defensive end for the Patriots (and remember, the Patriots drafted Ron Brace, who plays LE, in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL Draft after he ran a 5.48 at the combine). I think the Patriots, in addition to upgrading their secondary, will look to beef up their front seven in the 2012 draft. Luckily for them, at this point, Brockers would also be the BPA.
Round 1, Pick 31: Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson
Previous Pick: Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
Aside from Courtney Upshaw, who figures to be picked long before the Patriots select at 27, there are not many pass rushers that would seemingly fit the Patriots scheme. Players such as Nick Perry and Whitney Mercilus are undoubtedly talented, but might not have what it takes to fit into the Patriots defense. Projected to go near the end of the first round, I think Andre Branch does have the skill-set to become an OLB in the Patriots 3-4. He's got the typical height-weight-speed combination the Pats like, standing at 6'4", 259 lbs, and running a 4.7 40 yard dash at the combine. He rushed on his feet at times at Clemson, and also dropped into coverage a little. He doesn't hand a huge array of pass rush moves, but has good arm length and extension, and can use a rip move to turn the corner and take down the quarterback. He's a high potential player and I think it could serve the Patriots well to draft a player like him sometime early in the 2012 draft. In terms of fit, Branch would probably project as a ROLB since he played on that side during college, but I like his ability to stack and shed against the run, and I think he could move to the left side if he added a bit more bulk.
Round 2, Pick 48: Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
Previous Pick: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
I had Sanu going to the Patriots at 27 in my last mock draft, but since then, I think his stock has leveled out to the mid-2nd round range. And at this point, I think Sanu would be an excellent choice for the Patriots. At 6'2", 211 lbs, he has the size and strength to beat press coverage. He doesn't have good vertical speed (4.67), but nonetheless, can make acrobatic catches down the field. He's also a fluid athlete and smart receiver who can run the entire route tree. While some may want the Patriots to go with a 4.3 athlete at the receiver position, I think that if the Patriots can pick up a downfield threat in free agency to go with Sanu, then he will represent a very viable option at the position.
Final three picks after the jump!
Round 2, Pick 63: George Iloka, FS/CB, Boise State
Previous Pick: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin
When evaluating a player such as George Iloka, it's hard not to be immediately attracted to his size. He stands at 6'4" and 225 lbs. However, Iloka can bring a lot more than just size to a football team. He has great instincts and is a fluid athlete. He had 40 consecutive starts while at Boise St. He can drop down into the slot and cover well, and even played the boundary CB position at times while in college. He's the type of player that is pretty good at most things, and while he may never develop into an elite player, could become a solid starter at safety for the Patriots in the future.
Round 3, Pick 94: James Brown, OG, Troy
Previous Pick: Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia
Much like Logan Mankins during his time at Fresno State, James Brown played left tackle during his time at Troy. Standing at 6'3" and 306 lbs, Brown would likely slide inside to guard for the Patriots. He doesn't have the mean streak that Mankins has, but he is a hard worker who finishes his blocks, can get to the second level, and has the potential to grow into a solid starter. The Patriots wouldn't need Brown to become a day one starter - he could work behind Brian Waters for a year while working on his technique with Dante Scarnecchia - before stepping into a full-time role his second season.
Round 4, Pick??: Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
Previous Pick: Kheeston Randall, DL, Texas
The only thing preventing Omar Bolden from being a top 75 selection could be his injury history. Bolden suffered two knee injuries during his time at Arizona State, and missed his entire senior campaign after being sidelined by a Torn ACL suffered in spring practices. Nonetheless, the Patriots have taken risks on players with an injury history before, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Patriots went that way again with the Bolden selection. Bolden is an excellent kick returner and could become a big time contributor on special teams. He can play well on the outside and despite being only 5-10, can be pretty effective in man coverage. He also excels in zone, can make breaks for the ball, and has pretty good hands. Of course there is some risk here due to his injury history, but I see Bolden as the type of player who could surprise some at become an eventual starter at the cornerback position.
Grade this mock draft:
A (78 votes)
B (221 votes)
C (179 votes)
D (75 votes)
553 total votes