Each year, I like to produce four to five seven round Patriots NFL mock drafts. I usually find them fun to make, and by the end (with all of the draft accumulated), I usually hit on a couple of players (2010: Hernandez; 2009:Butler, Hoyer; 2008: Bo Ruud. Of course, these things, especially at this point, are hard to do. We don't really know who the Patriots are interested in as of yet, and of course, the draft board is really going to move around over the next couple of months so there's no telling who will be available at next spots. Still, I thought I'd give it a try:
Round One, Pick 17: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
I fully expect to be burned for making this pick, but I'm ready to defend it. With the Patriots picking at seventeen, I think they should be targeting an impact player that is really going to be a playmaker. While I'd like to pursue a top need here, I'm not sure there's anyone I really like here. Derek Sherrod? Maybe, but he doesn't have that nasty streak that the Patriots like in their linemen. Robert Quinn? Absolutely, but there's almost no feasible way that he'd be around at #17. Marcell Dareus? Yes, but again, he won't be around at 17. J.J. Watt? I'm a fan and I do think he can adjust to the 3-4, but there's the issue of his agent (Tom Condon) and his relationship with the Patriots' front office.
I'm going with Julio Jones. Jones doesn't have elite speed or hands, but he does have a lot of Patriots-esque attributes. He's a solid route runner with surprisingly quick feet for his size. He can create separation with his breaks, and isn't afraid to go over the middle and take the big hit. He's even played in the slot. In addition, he's terrific after the catch: he will fight for every yard possible. Let me make this clear: I'm not trying to replace Randy Moss here. I think that Jones can be an addition without being a subtraction. He's not going to complain when he doesn't get the ball, he's not going to be used to exclusively take the top off the defense (although he will help). He's a receiver, that in my opinion, fits the Patriots system. The only difference is that he's not 5'9", and at 6'4", 220 lbs, will actually be able to beat the tight press coverage that the Jets and Packers had success with. Adding Jones would help the Patriots offense significantly without changing the tempo or style of the offense.
Of course, you can challenge me by saying that wide receiver isn't a great position of need. But lets not forget that not many of us thought cornerback was a big position of need heading into last year's draft when the Patriots selected Devin McCourty. Throw in the fact that only Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, and Taylor Price are signed past 2011, and you've got the potential for the Patriots to take a player like Jones on a best-player-available basis.
Round 1, Pick 28: Mike Pouncey, OG/C, Florida
This was another tough pick for me. I decided that the Patriots needed to address their interior offensive line (sorry Cam Heyward fans) with this pick. I was down to Penn State center/guard Stefen Wisniewski and Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey. Both have shown versatility, each starting at both guard and center (Wieniewski's transition was more semless). Both are athletic, with good initial quickness, balance, and ability to seal off defenders on pull blocks. Both play aggressively, although Pouncey gets the slight edge in terms of balance, nastiness, and size/strength. There's a lot of things I like more about Wisniewski, including his football heritage (father and uncle both played in the NFL), but when you've got a division that includes three 3-4 teams and some of your biggest rivals in the AFC have the likes of Haoli Ngata and Casey Hampton on their defensive lines, you've got to stay as physical as possible. Pouncey may be a little more raw that Wisniewski, but he's got the natural size/strength (6'4", 310 lbs) that Wisniewski does not have, while maintaining that athleticism that the Patriots love in their linemen.
Rounds 2-7 After the Jump!
Round 2, Pick 33: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT, Temple
It's very possible that in a month or two, we'll be talking about Muhammad Wilkerson at number seventeen for the Patriots. For now, he's regarded by most as a second round pick, so I have him going number 33 to the Patriots. Wilkerson surprised some when he declared early for the 2011 NFL Draft. However, considering his body of work at Temple, people really shouldn't be. The first thing that stands out to me is his consistency in production. Often, when looking at early-entry college defensive line or pass rushing prospects, you often only see one year of high sack/tackle production. Ever since Wilkerson entered the starting line-up as a sophomore, he's produced: with 61 tackles and seven sacks as a sophomore in 2009, and 70 tackles with 9.5 sacks as a Junior in 2010. Wilkerson is close to elite at stopping the run. He can take on double teams, and consistently sheds blocks to make tackles in the backfield. As a pass rusher, Temple lined him up at both left and right end in 3-4 fronts, as well as in both interior defensive tackle spots. He doesn't have many agility moves, but he's good with his hands and can really push the pocket and get to the quarterback with his high motor. He could probably start from day one as the right end for the Patriots, but will also have the size (6'5", 305 lbs) and versatility to play most positions on the defensive line for the Pats.
Round 2, Pick 60: Jeremy Beal, OLB/DE, Oklahoma
Looking at potential 3-4 outside linebackers in the 2011 NFL Draft, none stands out to me as more complete than Oklahoma defensive end/outside linebacker Jeremy Beal. At 6-3, 267lbs, Beal has similar size to last year's second round pick Jermaine Cunningham. Similar to Cunningham, he already has a good amount of experience dropping back into coverage, and has shown some skill in zone coverage (although he needs some work in man). He isn't the fastest (4.7 - 4.8 40 yard dash), but he has a quick first step on his pass rush, good experience (senior), consistent sack production (8, 11, and 8.5 his final three years), and the frame/ability to set the edge (even if he hasn't quite developed those skills as of yet). Beal probably won't put up double digit sack numbers in the NFL, but in terms of having the overall skill-set to be productive as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could be one of the best the draft has to offer.
Round 3, Pick 74: Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida
I have Bill Belichick going back to the Urban Meyer connection with this pick. Marcus Gilbert is a 6'6", 318 lbs senior right offensive tackle who also has limited experience at both guard positions, as well as protecting Tim Tebow's blind side for two seasons at Florida. He is a pretty well rounded player, who seems like a fit for the Patriots, and could see his stock his in the months leading up to the draft. Gilbert is pretty quick for a player of his size. He gets out of his stance quick, and is effective block defenders down-field at the second level as well as on pulls, although his balance isn't his greatest attribute. He has good hand use and extends and engages blockers well in the run game. While he may need a little refinement on his technique, I'm sure Dante Scarnecchia could fix any issues he does have. Overall, I see Gilbert as an underrated prospect who could start in a year if not sooner.
Round 3, Pick 92: Rashad Carmichael, CB, Virginia Tech
Cornerback isn't a need for the Patriots, as the team has veteran Leigh Bodden returning from injury, and he will join Devin McCourty in the starting lineup, with Darius Butler, Kyle Arrington, and Jonathan Wilhite as the backups. Still, I have the Patriots going with Rashad Carmichael from Virginia Tech here. Not only do I believe he would represent a BPA scenario, but I think he embodies everything the Patriots look for in their players and specifically their cornerbacks. Before Carmichael ever received regular playing time as a cornerback, he had to make his mark on special teams, and is excellent in that area. Carmichael is also blessed with elite speed (said to have timed at 4.26 at Virginia Tech) and quick feet/athleticism. In case you haven't noticed, Bill Belichick has been enamored with fast cornerbacks with quick closing ability/athleticism (See: Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler, and Devin McCourty). Carmichael is also versatile, with the ability to play both the slot and the boundary. He's excellent in zone coverage, and is also good in off-man (something the Patriots like to run). He's no elite cover cornerback and he doesn't handle bigger receivers well due to his size, but he'll rarely make the big mistake. In addition, Carmichael has good ball skills and is a film hound.
Round 4: John Moffitt, OG/C, Wisconsin
The Patriots continue the process of rebuilding the interior of their offensive line by taking Moffitt here. Moffitt isn't as quick as the Patriots look for in most of their offensive linemen, and his hand use/technique is only average. However, Moffitt does have the size the Patriots look for in their interior lineman, and he has the versatility to play all three interior positions. He is a mauler, excellent run blocker, and physical presence that the Patriots could really use on the interior of their line. He likely wouldn't be ready to start as a rookie, but give him a year or two, and he'll be ready to go.
Round 5: David Carter, DE, UCLA
David Carter is a really interesting prospect who could really rise up draft boards as we move closer to the draft. In terms of 3-4 defensive end prospects, he has the skillset that really could intrigue some teams, including the Patriots. At 6'5", 301 lbs, Carter would likely line up at right end for the Patriots. He's shown that he can anchor against double teams and defend the run. At the Shrine Game practices, he really impressed a lot of folks with his ability to win one-on-one match-ups in pass rushing situations, meaning he could be a welcome addition on the Patriots' defensive line. Still, Carter recorded sacks in just two games last year (four total, including a three sack game against Washington State). With his skillset to get to the quarterback, one has to ask, where was that production during his college career?
Round 6: Alex Green, RB, Hawaii
With Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and Fred Taylor all free agents, the Patriots could certainly add a body or two at the running back position in the draft. Sure, they could make a big splash and go for a Mikel LeShoure or DeMarco Murray early on, but settling for a developmental prospect wouldn't hurt either. Alex Green has some good size (6'2", 220 lbs), runs a 4.6 40 yard dash, and was highly productive at Hawaii. He is a decent blocker, is decent as a receiver, and really impressed scouts at the East-West Shrine Game. He's a big body who could turn into a solid third string running back for the Patriots, should he make the team.