By Chris Warner
Today we preview potential Pats picks for defensive linemen, one of the team’s biggest areas of need (emphasis on “biggest”).
While New England boasts human doorstops Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, the team has had a difficult time tracking down a long-term solution for a third upfront defender. Veterans like Gerard Warren have filled in well, but the Pats need a young run-stopper who can occupy blockers and provide consistent pressure.
The Patriots have two picks in the first round (27 and 31 overall), two in the second (48, 62), one in the third (93) and one in the fourth (126). They traded away their fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks.
DAY ONE (Round One)
Overview: Some strong talent at the top here, opening up the possibility of a major rookie contributor making his way to Foxboro.
Michael Brockers, LSU (6-6, 322). Though Brockers’ combine events don’t necessarily jump at you, his size and technique have called to mind none other than former Patriot All-Pro lineman Richard Seymour. (And what size. Seriously: think of former Celtic Glenn “Big Baby” Davis. Now add 40 pounds of muscle.)
Coach Bill Belichick may need to trade up for a shot at Brockers. Four total picks in the first two rounds should enable him to do so.
Kendall Reyes, UConn (6-4, 299). After toiling away in the relative anonymity of the Big East, Reyes nabbed scouts’ attention with some impressive workout numbers (4.95-second 40-yard dash, 36 bench press reps of 225 pounds). He has played defensive tackle and end and can get into opponents’ backfields. Could become a steady player and a long-term solution for New England.
Plus, the kid’s from Nashua, NH! Going from the land of snow and despair to the NFL? Who wouldn’t root for that?
DAY TWO (Rounds Two and Three)
Overview: A noteworthy drop in talent from Round One to the middle of Round Two, but still some potential projects to be found. Size-wise, many players in this area of the draft fit into the Patriots’ 3-4 scheme that calls for larger defenders. A few smaller, quicker guys here also seem worth reviewing.
Ta’amu Alameda, Washington (6-3, 348). Alameda’s about the size of a bookshelf, but a bookshelf can’t bench 225 pounds 35 times. Possesses the build and strength to occupy blockers and generally make things difficult for offenses, but fails to live up to his physical build on a regular basis. Though his leadership skills have been called out by scouts, he was named a captain of the Huskies this past season.
Bill Belichick’s gotta get a closer look at this guy before New Englanders start saying, “Te amo, Ta’amu.”
Josh Chapman, Alabama (6-1, 316). Chapman excelled as a nose guard for the Crimson Tide, almost literally holding down the front in 2011 while helping ’Bama keep opponents under 75 yards rushing per game. He also endeared himself to scouts when it was revealed that he played the last several games of the season on a torn ACL and partially torn meniscus.
Coincidentally, Torn Meniscus was the name of former Mass. Gov. Michael Dukakis’ personal assistant. (Note: The preceding statement is categorically false.) In any case, a stalwart on an SEC defense has enough going for him without toughing out a nasty knee injury for the good of his team. Could help as a situational player immediately.
DAY THREE (Rounds Four through Seven)
Overview: The Patriots seem to have plenty of role-playing defenders, but if they feel they need one or two more, such athletes can be had on Day Three.
Derek Wolfe, Cincinnati (6-5, 295). Wolfe has the speed (5.01-second 40) and strength (33 bench reps) to rush the passer, though he may not have the bulk to hold down his side of the line. He’s a prime example of the level of talent available on April 28: potential contributors who, at best, would become part of a specific rotation.
Jaye Howard, Florida (6-3, 301). Howard ran a 4.82-second 40, faster than most fullbacks. An Honorable Mention All-SEC defender, he played both end and tackle for the Gators, tallying 10 tackles for loss in 2011.
Belichick, who – like most New Englanders – has a Florida thing, has surely taken notice. In this zone of the draft, Howard could prove a low-risk pick.
UNDRAFTED ROOKIE FREE AGENTS (UDFAs)
Overview: Remember that Love made the team as an undrafted rookie. With many current players on the roster closer to retirement than to their rookie campaigns, any one of several “Day Four” picks could find a home at Gillette.
Matt Conrath, Virginia (6-7, 290). Conrath played tackle in college and possesses the build of a 3-4 defensive end. He made the All-ACC First Team for his senior campaign while blocking three field goals. Playing under former Cavalier coach (and Belichick bud) Al Groh only adds to his Pats-friendly allure.
Logan Harrell, Fresno State (6-2, 278). Though 278 pounds will make an impression in most circles, the NFL isn’t one of them. His conference coaches voted him as an All-WAC selection due to his hustle (displayed in his 4.95 40) and determination (17 tackles for loss in 2011, including a team-leading six sacks).
Harrell may go undrafted due to his lack of size (a ridiculous statement in every walk of life outside of the NFL and possibly sumo wrestling), but his production and connection to Fresno State coach Pat Hill (another Belichick pal) could show him a path to the Patriots.
Our Call: New England’s defense needs to improve, and that begins up front. Lacking a top-tier player to anchor the line causes other defenders to come unmoored. Finding that Kyle-Love-like diamond probably won’t happen again; therefore, selecting a versatile, tough defender on Day One would do much to get the Patriots back on track this season.
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Email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org