Today we continue our breakdown of the incoming 2013 Patriots Draft Class with the first of New England's two 3rd round picks. Bill Belichick spent the second round of the draft addressing two major areas of need - pass rush and receiver - by selecting Jamie Collins and Aaron Dobson. Round three saw him return to his roots of doing the only thing he may love even more than trading down, stockpiling picks and securing "value players": drafting defensive backs.
Logan Ryan, cornerback, Rutgers (83rd overall pick)
Strengths: Tall, physical, and aggressive. Extremely agile with great hips and the speed to go stride for side with a streaking receiver. Good tackler who is strong in run support and able to beat blockers downfield. Experienced in both man and zone coverage schemes and is able to transition from pass protection to run defense very smoothly. Excellent on-field awareness allows him to be around the ball on almost every play. One of the most well-rounded corners in the 2013 draft and was projected as a top 50 pick by a fair number of analysts.
Weaknesses: His aggressiveness leads him to overpursue and take bad angles at times; has been known to go for the highlight reel hit instead of the form tackle. Physicality at the line translates to a lot of jostling for position downfield, which can then lead to PI and Defensive Holding. His speed is good, but not elite, and he can get burned by faster receivers. Known to bite heavily on playactions and pump-fakes. Short arms and mediocre vertical leap means that he loses a lot of jump balls.
Roster Lock? He should be. The Patriots currently have seven cornerbacks (including McCourty) on the roster, but there are only three players I would consider locks (Talib, Dennard, and Arrington, with McCourty still at safety), meaning that the training camp battle at DB will be one of the more interesting ones to follow this preseason. I'd currently give Ryan the edge over some of the other corners on the roster, as he has the physical tools and the relatively high draft stock to justify keeping him around to groom him for the future. Still, I don't know if I'd go so far as to call him an absolute lock - he's playing at a crowded position, and while a roster spot is pretty much Ryan's to lose at this point, he's still going to need to bring is A-game to OTAs.
Role in 2013: The biggest knock on Ryan coming into the draft was that he would need to polish up his technique in order to be successful in the NFL; the way he plays now, using strength over ability and being slow to turn his head around in coverage, will likely lead to more penalties than broken-up plays. Luckily for Ryan, New England seems to be the primary landing spot for DBs who don't know how to turn their head around, so he'll be in good company. The Patriots have enough defensive backs currently on the roster so that Ryan won't be forced into active duty before he's ready, meaning he'll have this season to learn, improve, and spend some time as the 4th/5th cornerback on nickel and dime packages. However, I will admit that one thing about the cornerback position is that it is one of the few areas where a rookie can come in and excel right away, and so should Ryan prove himself worthy during training camp, he could definitely work his way into the roster as a situational starter against some of the more physical receivers in the NFL. At this stage, though, I think he's best suited as a rotational cover corner/run defender that will only see the field in limited packages as he continues to improve his technique.