The Patriots, in large part to having the foresight to plan ahead for no CAP growth this year, and also in large part because Brady was willing to show great foresight as well, and extend out his contract on team friendly terms which gave it several million more to play with this year... are sitting pretty heading into FA this year.
To be sure, the only team in the AFC that really was equal to the Patriots were the Ravens in 2012. But while the Ravens were getting healthy come the playoffs this year, getting players like Suggs and Lewis back for their Championship run, the Patriots were losing critical players like Jones and Gronk.
But the Ravens will be hit by a large number of players hitting FA this year, Ed Reed Paul Kruger, Chris Johnson and Joe Flacco, to name a few of the DOZEN who are FAs, along with another half dozen RFAs... this combined with the SB Bullseye that will be on their backs, and Ray Lewis' retirement, realistically puts them in uncharted territories. For sure I expect Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh to have them back in contention in 2014 but I expect the Ravens to fall short of even making the playoffs in 2013.
In essence, I see the AFC this year as wide open for the Patriots to claim, the closest competition would have to be the Broncos, and P. Manning is still not a cold weather QB, nor is he much more than average come playoff time, combine that with Fox not being a stellar HC, and I don't consider them a big time threat to the Patriots' chances.
Still the Patriots' Offense has proven to be just too easy to stop in the playoffs without a legitimate outside WR threat, we have seen that 3 years running in the playoffs (Jets, Giants, Ravens)… as much as I wish it were otherwise. When the Patriots have lost Gronk, combined with no deep threat, they have been stopped by Defenses which could focus on clogging up the middle and keeping things in front of them without worrying about the big play deep. In order for them to excel come playoff time in 2013, that has to be changed.
I wouldn't be shocked to see the Patriots reverting to form come this draft, and trading down from the #29 spot. This really seems as good a year to do so as any, unless a player expected to go before #29 drops to them,but I will make the picks as they stand now.
1st round (#29 Overall) Desmond Trufant CB - 6'0 191 4.31
Trufant has the most upside of any DB in this year's draft, if indeed he did fall to the Patriots at #29, I have no problems saying the Patriots would be making a foolish decision if they did not take him. Too often the Patriots have moved down in the past, trading down from players (IE - Clay Mathews) to pick lower in the draft only to see those selections amount to nothing (IE - Brace and Butler) when an exceptional prospect falls into your lap, and he also fills one of your biggest needs, the smart thing to do is take them.
Now let me qualify this pick a bit, and consider the Ed Reed situation, IF the Patriots were to pursue Ed Reed, there is even more reason to make CB the top selection in the draft because there is no better player who could teach a rookie what to look for and how to study film and play the game than Ed Reed. The Pats have a young Secondary, and Trufant and the others could only benefit from learning from the best.
Strengths: Athletic with fluid footwork, flashing the foot agility to drive quickly on the play. Looks natural in space, staying balanced with the hips and transition skills to redirect in any direction. Physical and fights for the ball when it's in the air, showing an excellent competitive nature. Doesn't shy from contact and will get his nose dirty in run support. Very good job tracking and highpointing with a top vertical to get his hands on the ball. Good bloodlines and understands the NFL process. Good experience as a four-year starter (47 career starts), spending time both inside and outside and in both man and zone coverage. Has speed to run with better receivers. Plays a lot of press-bail but has length and tenacity in coverage. Regularly rips off and out-quicks receiver blocks to get into position to make plays. Competes for the ball in the air and won’t back down from physical challenges from receivers.
Weaknesses: Only adequate in his overall strength and physicality, often whiffs at tackle attempts, jumping at feet or throwing a weak shoulder. Has mental lapses in coverage that lead to big plays. Poor technique in press makes him susceptible to giving up plays. Gives up the sideline in the run game when failing to get outside leverage against receiver blocks. Will open up his hips far too quickly and immediately give up inside leverage.
2nd Round (#59 Overall) Aaron Dobson WR – 6’3 210 4.50
No known legal issues and has a good reputation as a leader on and off the field. He uses long strides to get down the field and stretch the defense vertically, with his sub 4.5 speed. I would rate him as an elite pass catcher, able to make difficult catches without breaking stride. Has a background in basketball, which lends to his good body control and leaping ability. Tough competitor, works a lot over the middle and always secures the football. An excellent red-zone target with his ability to go up and get the football, uses his body well to box out and create passing lanes for the quarterback. Has a great feel for changing speeds and shielding the defense away from his reception. Good hands off the line against press coverage, good awareness and recognition of when to sit down in zone coverage. Works through contact well, and will give 100% effort blocking when not receiving.
In short, Aaron is a skilled playmaker with height, body control, better quickness than anticipated and exceptional hands. He is good enough to come in and start on the outside for the Patriots, and become the vertical threat they need to pull a Safety and help open up the middle for Hernandez and Gronk, or make a Defense pay for focusing on them and leaving him on an island with a CB.
He has excellent work habits according to coaches, making it likely he could be incorporated into the offense and be successful working for the very demanding Brady, this is another critical aspect of what to look for in any potential WR pick... as we have seen with the likes of Price, Tate, Ocho, and many others, physical talent is not enough to make it in the Patriots Offense. For those that think this is too high for Dobson, all I can say is, it is never too high to take the right player who will fit the team and what it needs.
+Great size, long athletic frame.
+Toned, muscular build, solid strength profile.
+Excellent leaper, controls body well in the air.
+Doesn’t have elite speed, but gets to top-speed quickly.
+Has some power and elusiveness in the open field.
-Lacks a fifth gear to separate at the top of his route.
-Should run in the low 4.5 range, but could be a bit higher.
-Has had some trouble with hip, ankle, knee injuries.
-Had some conditioning issues coming off of an injury in one game.
+Has made some of the most amazing catches ever seen on the football field.
+Incredibly strong hands, plucks the ball out of the air at its highest point.
+Controls body in the air, makes tough catches look routine.
-Will let a few balls get into his body, especially on slants.
+Gains position on defenders, presents a good target to the quarterback.
+Sells double moves and play-action very well.
+Wins vertically on a consistent basis, despite speed concern.
+Physical enough to beat press coverage, able to get a clean release.
-Drifts a bit, needs to work back to the quarterback better.
-Has improved, but needs more precision on underneath routes, rounds them off a bit.
+Willing blocker, able to sustain blocks down the field.
+Not overly physical, but uses positioning and effort to get the job done.
+Plus awareness on the field, knows the down/distance, finds the sticks.
+Team captain his Senior season at Marshall.
+Humble player, confident but not cocky and self-promoting – reminds me a bit of Andre Johnson in that aspect.
Aaron Dobson has quietly had a great career at Marshall, despite not having an NFL-quality arm throwing to him. With an arm that can deliver the ball down the field on a consistent basis, Dobson’s production would have been greatly improved.
He has improved every year in college and I expect his best football to be played in the NFL. If he is able to refine his technique a bit, he will quickly become a fixture on highlight shows.
3rd Round (#91 Overall) Shamarko Thomas SS 5'9 220
This kid has an exceptional ability to sniff out the runner and make the play, getting to him at or behind the LOS. He attacks low, and gets through traffic, he reminds me a bit of Bob Sanders (of the Colts) but his method of tackling is better (better angles).
Thomas is an explosive hitter that delivers big hits. He is able to stop and often knock down much bigger players. He is very quick and has a good reaction time. Very good speed. Takes good angles when in pursuit.
Thomas dealt with some serious hardships in his life over the last couple of years starting with losing his father during the summer right before his sophomore season. Nine months later his mother passed away. Rather than being torn down by the tragedy, he devoted himself more to being successful on the field in their memory.
While stopping the run is clearly his biggest strength, his pass coverage is pretty good as well. To play strong safety you need to be able to stop the run or drop into coverage and defend the pass quickly. You need to have a good reaction time. Thomas is definitely a tough and explosive player, with a great reaction time and he’s quick and fast enough to cover receivers. He would obviously be mis-matched against TEs, his size detrimental against bigger receivers, but in certain formations and against most teams, he would be an asset to have out on the field much like Bob Sanders was for the Colts.
STRENGTHSTough safety with a linebacker’s mentality and good thickness throughout his frame. Used around the line throughout his career, but also possesses the closing speed to make plays from a two-deep look. Attacks run plays when his recognition skills tell him to come downhill, makes jarring stops by flowing through traffic and lining up his target. Will finish tackles when at his best, wrapping with authority and even throwing running backs of similar size to the ground. Mixes it up in the box despite his size, won’t back down from lineman blocks and will extend his arm to keep them at bay. Effective blitzer off the edge using his speed and change of direction ability to make plays. Speedy and athletic enough to stay with slot receivers down the seam, can show blitz off-tackle and get back to handle slot coverage responsibility. Covers a lot of ground in the secondary when deep, can change directions effectively to get angles to prevent explosive plays. Strong enough to win 50/50 scenarios with receivers in coverage. Leader and communicator in the secondary. Aggressiveness and speed should make him an outstanding special teams coverage player early in his career.
WEAKNESSESLacks ideal height for a defensive back, though his arm length appears to be more than adequate. Has been a safety/linebacker hybrid through most his career. Leaves his feet on some tackles trying to make the big hit or swipe down defenders instead of taking them on. Gets jumpy and needs to use his hands more effectively when pressing in the slot, can be head-faked at the line to give up inside leverage – though he has recovery speed, length, and toughness to stay in the play. Must prove he possesses the hands to play the ball in the air and to make more difficult interceptions. Lack of height makes him a potential liability in downfield coverage against NFL receivers and tight ends.
BOTTOM LINEThomas lost both his parents before his sophomore year in college, and is now the head of a family including six children. The hard-hitting and speedy safety considered leaving for the NFL early, but returned to get closer to achieving his degree and increase his value to NFL scouts. Though his lack of height is not ideal for a pro defensive back, his coverage skills and ability to support against the run make him a potential starting strong safety who is likely to be selected in the middle rounds.
For their 7th round and UFA selections, the following are some of the players/positions I would consider:
A.J. Francis, DT
Nick Becton, OT
Joe Madsen, C
Sam Barrington, ILB
Mike Shanahan, TE
Demetrius Hartsfield, OLB