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) :
|1||*Jace Amaro||TE||6'5||260||20||1||Texas Tech|
|2||*Eric Ebron||TE||6'4||245||20||2||North Carolina|
|5||*Louis Nix||DT||6'2||345||30||2||Notre Dame|
|6||Zack Martin||OG||6'4||305||30||1||Notre Dame|
|8||*Marqise Lee||WR||6'0||195||30||1||Southern California|
|10||*Stephon Tuitt||DT||6'6||312||40||4||Notre Dame|
|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|
|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|
|25||Will Sutton||DT||6'1||315||60||7||Arizona State|
|27||*Brandin Cooks||WR||5'10||186||75||7||Oregon State|
|28||Gabe Jackson||OG||6'4||339||75||5||Mississippi State|
|30||DaQuan Jones||DT||6'4||323||75||8||Penn State|
|32||*Bradley Roby||CB||5'11||192||75||3||Ohio State|
|33||*Davante Adams||WR||6'2||216||75||8||Fresno State|
|41||Justin Gilbert||CB||6'0||200||100||6||Oklahoma State|
|42||*Scott Crichton||DE||6'3||265||100||1||Oregon State|
|48||Marcel Jensen||TE||6'6||264||125||6||Fresno State|
|49||*Donte Moncrief||WR||6'2||226||125||13||Ole Miss|
2 Running backs
6 Tight Ends
12 Wide Receivers
1 Defensive End
9 Defensive Tackles
3 Outside Linebackers
Let me know what you think and we'll delve further into each player over the next few months.