Rich Hill's Patriots Top 50 Draft Big Board

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Tis the season!

Let me throw this out there: the draft is honestly my favorite part of the season. Now the regular season is great, and the playoffs are what it's all about, but the draft is my perfect cocktail of analysis, evaluation, projection, and results, all that can't be full appreciated for another two or three years. Add in the fact that Bill Belichick and the Patriots put together some of the most intriguing draft plays every single year, and this is just too much fun to follow.

So here's where we currently stand: the college football season is over and a record number of underclassmen have declared for the draft. The prospects have already started their off-season programs, attending the Senior Bowl and Shrine games in order to impress coaching staffs against the top talent in the country.

The Patriots have the 29th overall pick in the NFL draft and quite literally zero people have any idea what the Patriots want to do with it. Historically, we could have shrugged and said that it's very likely that the Patriots would trade down. However, after an aggressive 2011 season that yielded two studs in Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, the Patriots direction is up in the air.

Of course, that's exactly where they want to be. Belichick has spent the past decade showing teams that he's willing and ready as a trade partner, providing him some liquidity if he desires to move somewhere else on the draft board. If there's a player he wants who has slid further than expected, Belichick will be on speed dial as a trade partner. Likewise, if the sliding player reaches the Patriots draft spot, every team knows that Belichick will hear out their trade offer.

However, we also know that Belichick values his draft picks and won't move to certain places. He's expressed, in the past, that the Falcons overpaid for Julio Jones (Falcons traded two firsts, a second, and two fourths to move up to the 6th overall position to grab Jones), and that it'll be more than just unlikely for Belichick to trade that far up the board. In fact, since the Patriots have started their reign of success, the only times New England has drafted in the top 20 have been the result of historical trades.

The Patriots have shown a willingness to move to the 21st spot (moved up to acquire Daniel Graham, Chandler Jones), but they clearly wish to hold onto their chips and stay in the lower portion of the first round.

As a result, I remove the top 15 prospects from my draft board, since the likelihood of the Patriots moving themselves into a position to acquire them is very low. Belichick has also admitted in the past to knowing which players are generally expected to be drafted early on and purposefully removing them from the equation.

So good-bye Teddy Bridgewater. Adios Sammy Watkins. See you on a different franchise Jadeveon Clowney. I'm not even going to fantasize about what the Patriots would have to do to snag you in the first.

I've also taken the liberty to remove certain positions from focus. I don't believe the Patriots are in the market for a quarterback, with Ryan Mallett in the final season of his rookie contract. I also don't think the Patriots have a special need at, offensive tackle, safety, or inside linebacker. Of course, there will always be exceptions (if the top quarterback in the draft slides to the third round, the Patriots are going to think about taking him. Looking at you, Mallett), but for the sake of evaluating the Patriots' focus, these positions just create noise around their ultimate goal of grabbing impact players.

Instead, I've put my focus on the remaining players in the draft. The tight ends, wide receivers, running backs, interior linemen, defensive ends, defensive tackles, outside linebackers, and cornerbacks. If we're taking a peek at the top 50 Patriots prospects, we're generally examining the first three rounds of the draft (there will be roughly 64 draft picks between the Patriots first and third round selections).

Keep in mind that the Patriots have a special type of player that they look for in each round.

1st Rounder: They want an immediate impact player with a proven track record and plenty of upside.

2nd Rounder: These are players with first round talent who fell out of favor due to injuries, physical stature, or lack of production. Belichick has admitted that the second round runs the highest risk of bust selections.

3rd Rounder: They've put up elite production, but they don't project as well into the NFL. Usually used to be a supporting player (ie: WR2, CB2, RB2, etc).

Of course, the draft is always in flux. these "rules" aren't so much set for the rounds, but for the talent level of the player. The difference between the 30th pick (end of the 1st) and the 34th pick (start of the 2nd) is minimal and Belichick likes to take advantage of this. The 30th pick in 2012 may or may not be of the same caliber of the 30th pick in 2014. As a result, Belichick can move from taking a player with a "1st round" grade into a "2nd round" grade, regardless of what pick is actually on the clock.

So without further ado, and much room for improvement and movement, here's my Top 50 Draft Board for the Patriots (and special thanks to CBS for providing such high quality content; * = Underclassman; grade = what pick they should be drafted by) :

Rank Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Grade Pos. Rank School
1 *Jace Amaro TE 6'5 260 20 1 Texas Tech
2 *Eric Ebron TE 6'4 245 20 2 North Carolina
3 RaShede Hageman DT 6'6 318 20 1 Minnesota
4 *Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE 6'6 276 30 3 Washington
5 *Louis Nix DT 6'2 345 30 2 Notre Dame
6 Zack Martin OG 6'4 305 30 1 Notre Dame
7 Aaron Donald DT 6'1 288 30 3 Pittsburgh
8 *Marqise Lee WR 6'0 195 30 1 Southern California
9 Travis Swanson C 6'5 310 40 1 Arkansas
10 *Stephon Tuitt DT 6'6 312 40 4 Notre Dame
11 *David Yankey OG 6'5 314 40 2 Stanford
12 *Xavier Su'a-Filo OG 6'3 305 40 3 UCLA
13 *Timmy Jernigan DT 6'2 298 40 5 Florida State
14 *Ryan Shazier OLB 6'2 230 40 1 Ohio State
15 *Kelvin Benjamin WR 6'5 235 40 2 Florida State
16 *Troy Niklas TE 6'6 270 50 4 Notre Dame
17 Weston Richburg C 6'4 300 50 2 Colorado State
18 Jordan Matthews WR 6'3 209 50 3 Vanderbilt
19 Kyle Fuller CB 6'0 194 50 1 Virginia Tech
20 *Odell Beckham Jr. WR 5'11 193 50 4 LSU
21 Kyle Van Noy OLB 6'3 244 50 2 Brigham Young
22 *Allen Robinson WR 6'3 210 60 5 Penn State
23 *Jarvis Landry WR 6'0 195 60 6 LSU
24 Dominique Easley DT 6'2 285 60 6 Florida
25 Will Sutton DT 6'1 315 60 7 Arizona State
26 Anthony Steen OG 6'2 310 75 4 Alabama
27 *Brandin Cooks WR 5'10 186 75 7 Oregon State
28 Gabe Jackson OG 6'4 339 75 5 Mississippi State
29 Cyril Richardson OG 6'5 348 75 6 Baylor
30 DaQuan Jones DT 6'4 323 75 8 Penn State
31 Jason Verrett CB 5'10 176 75 2 TCU
32 *Bradley Roby CB 5'11 192 75 3 Ohio State
33 *Davante Adams WR 6'2 216 75 8 Fresno State
34 *Ka'Deem Carey RB 5'10 207 75 1 Arizona
35 Dee Ford OLB 6'2 243 75 3 Auburn
36 E.J. Gaines CB 5'10 195 100 4 Missouri
37 Jaylen Watkins CB 6'0 194 100 5 Florida
38 Jared Abbrederis WR 6'1 189 100 9 Wisconsin
39 C.J. Fiedorowicz TE 6'6 262 100 5 Iowa
40 Dakota Dozier OG 6'4 312 100 7 Furman
41 Justin Gilbert CB 6'0 200 100 6 Oklahoma State
42 *Scott Crichton DE 6'3 265 100 1 Oregon State
43 *Marcus Roberson CB 6'0 195 100 7 Florida
44 Devin Street WR 6'3 195 100 10 Pittsburgh
45 *Louchiez Purifoy CB 6'0 190 100 8 Florida
46 *Bishop Sankey RB 5'10 203 125 2 Washington
47 *Anthony Johnson DT 6'2 295 125 9 LSU
48 Marcel Jensen TE 6'6 264 125 6 Fresno State
49 *Donte Moncrief WR 6'2 226 125 13 Ole Miss
50 *Paul Richardson WR 6'1 172 125 12 Colorado

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Breakdown:

2 Centers

7 Guards

2 Running backs

6 Tight Ends

12 Wide Receivers

1 Defensive End

9 Defensive Tackles

3 Outside Linebackers

8 Cornerbacks

Let me know what you think and we'll delve further into each player over the next few months.

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