The draft is a tricky landscape to navigate. Teams have needs and it's easy enough to point at the draft board and say hey, that's someone that I want on my team. With the departure of both starting cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis, the Patriots have an undeniable need at cornerback. There's a general consensus that, yes, New England has to take a cornerback this year.
It's never that simple.
There are roughly nine cornerback prospects considered worthy of a first or second round pick, and most would be considered as a top 40 or 50 player in this draft. It's extremely unlikely any of these players will be on the board when the Patriots pick at 64.
Michigan State's Trae Waynes is considered a top 20 pick, while Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson, Connecticut's Byron Jones, and Washington's Marcus Peters are locked in as first rounders. Florida State's Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams are both fringe first round candidates, along with Louisiana State's Jalen Collins and Utah's Eric Rowe. Miami of Ohio's Quinten Rollins is the only player firmly placed in the second round, but in his only year of football he won his conference's defensive player of the year award, so he'll be in high demand.
But with nine players potentially considered first rounders, shouldn't one be available at 32nd overall? I went through all of the draft scuttlebutt to see if there were any team connections to note and jotted down if a team had met directly with a player, or showed special interest during a Pro Day.
First, the Panthers and Vikings are on the record for visiting at least six of these nine players, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Carolina take one in the opening round, at 25th overall. According to draft insider Tony Pauline, the Vikings are more interested in one of the Florida State prospects and will likely take whichever player is available at the top of the second round.
The Cowboys, sitting at 27th overall, have visited with five of these players and they're not very happy with their sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, cornerback Morris Claiborne. They could very well be on the market, even though most link Dallas to a running back. Dallas has met with Kevin Johnson, Byron Jones, Ronald Darby, and Quinten Rollins.
The Patriots and Eagles (20th overall) have met with four of the players, with the Eagles showing special interest in both Byron Jones and Eric Rowe. The Eagles were in hot pursuit of Devin McCourty and Rowe projects to be a similar type of impact flex corner/safety at the next level. The Patriots attended the FSU and LSU Pro Days, but there isn't much information about connecting with the defensive backs.
The Browns (12th and 19th), Saints (13th, 31st), 49ers (15th), Steelers (22nd), Lions (23rd), and Ravens (26th) have all visited with three of these top players. Press corners like Marcus Peters, Byron Jones, Eric Rowe, P.J. Williams, and Jalen Collins were a common thread amongst these defenses and the Steelers and Ravens are both hoping that Jalen Collins and Marcus Peters fall to them, respectively.
It seems more likely that the Browns (rumor has it they want to trade up for Marcus Mariota) and the 49ers (can wait until round 2) won't take a corner in the opening round, but the Saints have the ammo and they're relatively thin at the position. The Lions are a dark horse, but they have plenty of needs to fill.
If I were to create a projection for the draft, I would have it as follows:
10th Rams take Trae Waynes
20th Eagles take Eric Rowe
22nd Steelers take Jalen Collins
24th Cardinals take Byron Jones
26th Ravens take Marcus Peters
30th Packers take Kevin Johnson
This wouldn't be out of the ordinary and it would leave the Florida State corners (Darby, Williams) and Quinten Rollins on the board. It's also quite possible that Darby goes to the Panthers (25th overall) or the Cowboys (27th) at the end of the first. It should be noted that Rollins is the only cornerback without a shred of connection to the Patriots throughout the draft circuit. None of these three remaining players make sense as fits with the Patriots.
Rollins only has one year of experience in football and doesn't match the Patriots modus operandi. Williams was the worst in college football with eighteen missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus, which is inexcusable. Darby was the least targeted cornerback in college football, but has poor reaction ability when thrown at and managed to give up huge plays to NFL caliber receivers like Louisville's Devante Parker and Miami's Phillip Dorsett. It should also be noted that, while cleared, Darby was present during Jameis Winston's alleged rape.
I would expect the Vikings to take one of Darby or Williams at 45th overall, and the other Florida State cornerback to go in the middle of the round to either the 49ers or Browns. There's little chance that Quinten Rollins will pass the Lions (54th), Panthers (57th), Cowboys (60th), Colts (61st) stretch in the second round.
It's far more likely that the Patriots will take one of the middle round prospects, instead of resorting to overdrafting at the cornerback position in the first two rounds. It will be painful if the draft board falls as I laid out, but it's also an extremely possible scenario.
New England would likely have to offer up its 3rd round pick to move into the mid-20s if it wants to take one of these top cornerback prospects.