Now that the draft is over and the media is back to talking about Tim Tebow at least once an hour, I thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at the Patriots 2013 Draft Class and try to see where each player will fit within their system. In a draft that was known more for depth than elite talent, it's difficult to predict exactly what role each rookie will have this season and beyond; however, New England picked up some very good players and addressed some areas of need through this draft, so there is a legitimate chance that any or all of the incoming rookies could find a role on the gameday roster. This series will take a look at each member of this draft class individually and try to predict what his role will be with the team this season. And what better place to start than at the top?
Jamie Collins, linebacker, Southern Miss (52nd overall pick)
Strengths: Hybrid type end/linebacker, much in the mold of Rob Ninkovich. Can play standing up or with his hand on the ground and has tremendous explosive power in his legs, as evidenced by his Combine-record setting 11 foot 7 inch broad jump. He was strong against the run in college and has the quick feet to close the gap between himself and the ball carrier- or more importantly, the quarterback. Collins is also very strong in coverage, an area where the Patriots linebacking corps has really struggled as of late. Great straight-ahead speed and is a very strong blitzer.
Weaknesses: Collins was a good player on a very weak team in a fairly week conference; the Southern Miss Golden Eagles went 0-12 last season, losing most of their games handily. So it's hard to accurately predict how Collins' skillset will translate into an NFL game. Furthermore, at this juncture Collins lacks the size and elite strength to be an every down player, and his arsenal of pass rushing moves is very small. His coverage skills are pretty solid, but he can still get burned by shifty ballcarriers in the mold of Darren Sproles.
Roster lock? Absolutely. While technically nobody is guaranteed a roster spot on the Patriots, there's no way that the team's first draft pick of 2013 gets cut, no matter how rough his transition into the pros is.
Role in 2013: While I'm not going to go so far as to call 2013 a red shirt year for Collins, he has a lot of learning to do, and could use a year of strength and conditioning training to put on some more muscle. Collins is most likely going to see the field on passing downs, both as a situational pass rusher and as a coverage linebacker responsible for tight ends and running backs motioning out wide. Depending on how he performs this year and how the Patriots use him, Collins could become Brandon Spikes' replacement or he could mold into the player that Jermaine Cunningham was supposed to be. There is a lot of skill and flexibility in the New England linebacking corps at the moment, and Collins has the player versatility to line up all over the place. He may ultimately grow into a strong side linebacker, but look for the Patriots to ease him into the 2013 season by limiting his responsibilities to passing downs.