After the first and second rounds of my mock of the 2011 NFL Draft, as expected the Patriots have been the dominant player moving around the draft board to acquire a player in a position of need or to acquire more draft picks. To summarise my two round mock and how it relates to the Patriots, some of the major moves they have made are as follows:
- Selected their future left tackle, right defensive end and outside linebacker, while giving up a 2011 4th round pick to move up from 28 to 25 and select Cam Heyward.
- Acquired a 2012 1st round draft pick from the San Francisco 49ers after trading down from 33 to 45, giving the Patriots two first round picks in 2012.
- Acquired a 2012 2nd round draft pick from the Cleveland Browns by trading out of the 60th slot. Furthermore, in this complex trade, the Patriots recouped a 2011 3rd round pick while giving up a 2012 3rd round pick.
Anyway, onto my final 2011 Patriots Mock Draft. This of course includes the trades made from my 2 round mock draft...
Round 1, Pick 17 Anthony Castonzo (6'7 - 308lbs) OT Boston College
The Patriots main weakness on their offensive line has been Matt Light. That is not to say he has not played at a good level but he is a weakness nonetheless. In Anthony Castonzo, the Patriots have selected a player who can play either tackle position, has great size, intelligence and athleticism and can start from day one - all prerequisite characteristics of a Patriot first round selection this high in the draft. Castonzo is a blue collar player who works very hard to improve his game. He also plays with a nastiness that has been missing on the offensive line, particularly in the playoffs. Castonzo will need to be coached up a little on dealing with speed rushers, but he will be learning his craft under one of the best in the game and will provide excellent protection for Tom Brady for the remainder of his career.
Round 1, Pick 25 (from Seahawks) Cameron Heyward (6'5 - 294lbs) DE Ohio State
At this point in the draft, Cam Heyward is the last blue chip five technique available and so the Patriots choose to eliminate any risk he ends up with the Ravens and trade with Seattle to move above Baltimore. In this writers opinion, Heyward represents the ideal player both physically and mentally to take over the reins at the right defensive end position. Heyward has outstanding size for the position and plays with tremendous power and tenacity. He has long arms and very strong hands and his first step speed will give the Patriots a solid contribution in their pass rush. Furthermore, Heyward can play all across the defensive line in either the base defense or on sub packages - providing the type of value Bill Belichick seeks in first round selections. While he needs to develop more consistency and more of an arsenal to rush the passer, Heyward is a very coachable player and has a strong work ethic. He would add a much needed pass rush and run stuffing ability in a key position of need for the Patriots and is well worth the trade up.
Round 2, Pick 45 (from 49ers) Brooks Reed (6'3 - 263lbs) DE/OLB Arizona
The Patriots entertain a bidding war for the 33rd selection from quarterback needy teams and it's the 49ers who offer the best deal. After trading down, the Patriots return to a familiar source from 2010 in the Arizona Wildcats and if Brooks Reed can provide the impact and show the same promise of former teammate Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots will have found the pass rusher they seek. He has great speed (4.65 40 time), strength (30 bench reps at the combine) and excellent explosion and change of direction skills - all essential for a Patriot outside linebacker. His ability to drop into coverage was showcased at his Pro Day although proof on film is somewhat lacking. Reed showed significant improvement throughout his collegiate career which culminated in 17 career sacks and 25 tackles for loss. Reed has the work ethic and talent to succeed at the next level and would thrive playing outside Cameron Heyward in the base defense.
Round 3, Pick 70 (from Browns) Will Rackley (6'4 - 309lbs) OG Raleigh
After addressing the tackle position in round one, the Patriots look to address their interior offensive line and solidify its future. Rackley has everything a good interior lineman needs in the Patriot system - size, power, athletic ability and intelligence. He did not allow a sack while playing tackle in his senior year at Raleigh and he was extremely durable. He was also a captain in his last two years, showing his leadership qualities. He has long arms which have helped make him an accomplished pass protector and he is a very good run blocker. Importantly, Rackley plays with bad intentions and will bring that attitude to form a fearsome guard combination along with Logan Mankins. Given Dan Connelly's presence, Rackley would not have to start straight away. After learning the Patriot system under Dante Scarneccia, the Pats will have found themselves a steal in the third round.
In this scenario, the Seahawks trade up to select Ricky Stanzi, the best of the remaining quarterbacks on their draft board.
Round 3, Pick 90 Brandon Fusco (6'4 - 306lbs) C Slippery Rock
Dan Koppen is a free agent after the 2011 season. While he has been a solid player for the Patriots, like Matt Light, his performance (particularly in the playoffs) has slipped somewhat. In the 3rd round, the Patriots draft what they hope will be their Center of the future in Brandon Fusco. Whilst he comes from a small school, Fusco has ideal size and athleticism to play the position in the Patriot's system. He has solid strength and plays aggressively with a mean streak. His leadership skills are outstanding as he was a team captain for a number of years. He will need to work on his strength and use of leverage, but he will be afforded time to improve his skills under Scar and develop into a quality Center. While some may see this as a reach, more teams (including the Patriots) are looking at Fusco, particularly in a poor Center class, so this seems an ideal place to take him.
Round 4, Pick 99 (from Seahawks) DeLone Carter (5'9 - 222lbs) RB Syracuse
The Patriots continue to address positions of need with hardnosed, tough players. Carter embodies the physical running the Patriots expect from their running backs - he doesn't dance and picks up plenty after initial contact. Like current starter Benjarvis Green Ellis, Carter takes care of the football and his combination of patience and power would be an ideal fit for the Patriots. Despite limited production in the receiving game, Cater is a very productive runner; he responded after injuries early in his career with back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons and has seemingly put the injuries behind him. He has some character concerns to overcome but could thrive in the right environment. He has decent but not great speed but it would certainly represent a very solid pick at this stage of the draft.
Round 5, Pick 159 Stevan Ridley (5'11 - 225lbs) RB LSU
Perhaps optimistic to expect Ridley to fall this far, although a number of mocks have him a late round or even free agent prospect. Stevan Ridley had an awesome 2010, to the tune of 1,147 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He has great size and good frame with solid but not great speed. Ridley would be a powerful runner who would excel in goal line and short yardage situations, but could certainly contribute as a consistent between-the-tackles runner. Ridley is a patient but decisive runner who doesn't often lose yards. He is also a solid locker room presence who would also contribute on special teams. Despite a lack of elusiveness or breakaway speed, Ridley produced big time against top SEC defences in 2010 and would be a great pickup if he were to make it this far.
Round 6, Pick 193 Mistral Raymond (6'1 - 200lbs) FS/CB South Florida
This former walk-on turned team captain would represent terrific value for the Patriots in the 6th round. Having already held a private workout with Raymond (and Belichick himself saw his Pro Day) the Patriots brain trust will be familiar with Raymond's impressive coverage skills and versatility. He would provide solid corner depth for the Patriots but, significantly, could be a great free safety project particularly with uncertainty surrounding the future of Brandon Meriweather. Raymond has solid character and has worked extremely hard for everything he has achieved so far in his career, both traits which appeal to the Patriots.
Following on from the 2010 NFL draft where the Patriots sought to draft high character, team captain-type players, the 2011 draft somewhat follows that mantra with an added emphasis on drafting players who play with a sense of urgency and nastiness, wanting to punish those who they play against. The obvious quality of these additions would really go a long way towards giving the Patriots the edge they have missed in recent post-seasons.
Furthermore, this draft would allow the Patriots to stack their 2012 draft board knowing they have two 1st round, two 2nd round and two 3rd round picks in consecutive years. Before the 2011 draft began, the Patriots had 6 picks in the first three rounds. Under this mock, the Patriots will make 5 of those picks (making a trade up for one) whilst acquiring future 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks - excellent business in my opinion which would set the Patriots up once again with 6 picks in the first three rounds of the 2012 NFL draft!