Here’s our final New England mock draft, with the actual NFL draft due to begin May 8. If you like comparing the NFL draft to Christmas, this year it takes place in January.
As mentioned in our previous mock, instead of deleting past potential picks, we decided to show our work. For our final attempt, we’ve kept most of our previous picks and added some last gasp comments on each selection, including other potential picks to consider.
Round One: The Versatile Defensive Lineman
Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
(6-6, 312). (Actually 6-5, 304.) (Actually, 299.) Tuitt was diagnosed with a foot injury at the combine and had surgery to correct it. Though unable to participate in his pro day on March 20, he spoke with reporters and mentioned that his weight was down to 299. At the combine, he did put up 31 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
Tuitt played all along the defensive line at South Bend, with 49 stops and 7.5 sacks on the year. He would add a dynamic, versatile pass-rusher to New England’s front seven. Coach Bill Belichick has a friendly relationship with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, a potential window into Tuitt’s abilities and tendencies.
Final Word: Aw, hell. They’re going to trade down, aren’t they? They got Will Smith as veteran insurance, so now they’re going to look at their board and figure they can get Tuitt or somebody similar in the early second round; they’re going to trade this pick and take someone in the second round who needs a year to develop.
Are we over thinking this? Maybe we’re over thinking this. Is it June yet?
The Long-limbed Cornerback The Overlooked Defender Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska, (6-3, 215). (Weighed in at 218 pounds.) With the additions of Revis and Browner, we assume the Pats will seek to bolster other parts of the roster.
Their history of picking defenders in the second round has been about as secure as one of those rope bridges in an Indiana Jones movie, with such names as Terence Wheatley, Patrick Chung (yup, that Patrick Chung), Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling, Tavon Wilson, Ron Brace and Jermaine Cunningham coming to mind. They seem to covet players that other teams may not, which brings us to…
Brock Coyle, Montana LB (6-1, 235). Looking for another athlete who could move around a defense? Someone with the speed of 2013 second-rounder Jamie Collins crossed with the relative anonymity of 2012’s Tavon Wilson? Look no further than Coyle, a combine snub who turned heads at his pro day with a 4.60-second 40 and a 6.74-second 3-cone drill. (For comparison, Shane Vereen had a 6.95 3-cone.)
In 2013, Coyle led the Grizzlies with 125 tackles, including four sacks. He added two interceptions and five forced fumbles. His work on defense earned him Montana’s Co-MVP award with QB Jordan Johnson. Considering the Patriots play sub defense most of the time, this gives Coyle chances to display his positional versatility.
Final Word: We like Jean-Baptiste here, but the team’s history with Round Two picks forces our hand into less familiar territory. Depending on their Round One decision, a D-lineman like Penn State’s DaQuan Jones might fit their needs. Utah cornerback Keith McGill, like Jean-Baptiste, also comes in at a bigger size (6-3, 211) and could get the call here. In any case, we look for them to bolster the defense.
Round Three: The (Other) Big Tight End
C. J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
(6-6, 262) (Actually 6-5, 265). Due to numerous ailments in the past year, tight end Rob Gronkowski has been sliced up more than an Easter ham. Matthew Mulligan left New England for Chicago in free agency, depleting the team of a butcher-block end, albeit with limited catching ability (two receptions, one TD in 2013). In a limited TE draft class, Fiedorowicz looks like one of the most complete, with a notable ability to block and a size-speed combination (4.76-second 40, 7.10-second 3-cone drill) that makes him a tough match-up. Fiedorowicz caught 23 passes for five touchdowns in 2013. The former Hawkeye made the Senior Bowl and was lauded as the best tight end in attendance. For what it’s worth, two Patriots representatives attended Iowa’s pro day.
Final Word: We assume Troy Niklas from Notre Dame will be gone. Do the Pats trade down again and settle on a plugger like Arthur Lynch out of Georgia (and Dartmouth, Mass.) or an overlooked athlete like Blake Annen out of Cincinnati (he of the 4.41-second 40)? Is their necessity for a faux Gronk overrated, meaning they’ll settle on having an O-lineman block and using in-house personnel as a “move” tight end? (I feel like we should accompany the preceding with soap-opera organ music.) Fun to watch for these developments.
Round Four: The Solid Interior Lineman
Tyler Larsen, Utah State (6-4,
317). (Weighed in at 313 pounds.) Worth repeating that Larsen started 51 consecutive games at Utah State, making the All-Mountain West Conference team three times and qualifying as a Rimington Trophy finalist (for best center) his senior season. He’s an experienced, sturdy pivot who bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times at the combine, tied for second-best overall. The Aggies’ offense scored 32.6 points per game.
Final Word: New England may also seek a tackle here, such as Justin Britt out of Missouri. Still, despite the presence of 2013 starter Eric Wendell and second-year player Braxston Cave on their roster, we see them adding depth in the middle of the line with Larsen.
Round Four (Compensatory): The Hard-hitting Linebacker
Max Bullough, Michigan State (6-4, 250). With both Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher gone to Buffalo and Tampa Bay, respectively, New England could use their extra pick to bulk up a bit in the middle. Bullough quarterbacked the Spartans defense (his coach’s words, not ours). The feisty Spartan made All-Big Ten First Team with 76 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) and a forced fumble. He ran a 4.78 40 and benched 225 pounds 30 times at the combine (top bench for all linebackers at Indy), then ran a 7.08 in the 3-cone at MSU’s pro day.
Bullough missed MSU’s bowl game due to undisclosed reasons (only a vague “violating team rules” was offered). If New England checks him out – and, oh, they will – he could add important depth to the position and contribute right away on special teams.
Final Word: We would still love to know the “undisclosed reasons” but figure the Patriots will get a handle on that. Bullough looks like the kind of nail-spitter the Pats need to take reps in the middle. They could go for Avery Williamson out of Kentucky if they seek better athleticism at the position, or even take their time converting a college defensive end in the Fletcher mode like Aaron Lynch from South Florida.
Round Six: Doubling Down On Round Four
Marcus Martin, USC (6-3, 310). Would be nice, but …
John Urschel, Penn State (6-3, 313). We let Martin go here because the junior has risen up draft boards. We go with two offensive linemen because it seems that the Pats have doubled up each year, nabbing two receivers in 2013 (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce), two defenders in 2012 (Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower) and two running backs in 2011 (Vereen, Stevan Ridley). Urschel played at Penn State under Bill O’Brien, who coached New England’s offense for years. Urschel earned a 4.0 average both as an undergrad and grad student in math.
The former Nittany Lion ran a less-than-spectacular 40 in 5.31 seconds, but he showed good strength (30 reps in the bench press), and agility (7.55-second 3-cone drill, top 10 for all O-linemen). Most importantly, he has experience in a New-England-style offense, and he looks more and more like a Foxboro candidate.
Final Word: We’re sticking with Urschel here. Too much good stuff (brains, brawn, be knowing the Pats’ system – and yes, that last “B” was a stretch), and only a mediocre 40 time against him. Maybe Urschel knows the statistical probability of landing in Foxboro, but we’ll just say it’s pretty good.
Round Six: The Complementary Receiver
Kevin Norwood, Alabama (6-2, 198). We crossed off Norwood after his successful combine – coupled with his SEC pedigree – made him unobtainable in the sixth round.
Cody Hoffman, BYU (6-4, 223). Hoffman’s 4.65-second 40 time should keep him on the board, along with his senior year nagged by injuries. He caught 57 balls for 894 yards and five touchdowns in his last season at Provo after a 100-catch effort with 11 TDs as a junior. This pick would add more variety to a multi-pronged passing attack.
Final Word: In a draft where slot guys seem about as plentiful as fleas on a beach dog, we see New England hunting for larger game here. (You like your metaphors neat, or mixed?) They could take a look at Bennie Fowler (6-1, 217) who left Michigan State early, ran a disappointing 4.52-second 40 at the combine, improved that to 4.35 at his pro day, and showed potential as a pass-catcher. If Rutgers alum Brandon Coleman remains available here, New England will take a long look at him, despite his physical similarity to current Patriot receiver (and Rutgers alum) Mark Harrison.
Round Six (Compensatory Pick?): The Special-Teamer/Quality Backup Tyler Starr, South Dakota (6-4, 250). Nope. As previously noted, the Pats get their compensatory pick earlier than anticipated. If Starr remains available after the draft, we imagine they’ll give the linebacker a call, especially considering his 6.64-second 3-cone drill and 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle.
Final Word: If the first-round trade goes down as predicted, the Pats could pick up Starr in this area of the draft after all. Someone call former Patriot linebacker/South Dakota alum Matt Chatham and see if he can help this happen.
Round Seven: The Big Defensive Lineman With Potential
Zack Kerr, Delaware (6-2, 334). (Actually 6-1, 326.) Yes, Vince Wilfork is back, but we figured the Pats would look for backup at the end of the draft. Kerr was voted All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team. As much as we liked him, we remembered that the Patriots tend to stick with FBS schools when drafting. So, we’re going with…
Beau Allen, Wisconsin (6-3, 330). Allen makes our list for so many reasons, from size to experience. He played in 54 games for the Badgers, switching to nose guard in a three-man front his senior year after playing tackle in a 4-3 defense most of his career. The change in position accounts for his decreased stats, totaling 20 tackles (1.5 for loss) as a senior after tallying 37 tackles (7.5 for loss) as a junior. In the East-West Shrine Game, Allen played in a 4-3 for former Pats defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Final Word: This position becomes one of quantity over, well, quantity, in the sense that 300-pound youngsters Chris Jones and Joe Vellano could have some more gravity-enhanced mates. We like Allen a lot, considering his size and consistency. Also, though not a ton (right?!?) of heavy D-linemen will remain available this late, Arkansas State’s Ryan Carrethers qualifies. At 6-1, 337 pounds, he may or may not be related to the Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder, but he rolled over opponents on his way to making the All Sun-Belt Conference First Team.
ROOKIE FREE AGENTS
Under Coach Belichick, the Patriots have signed at least one undrafted free agent almost every fall (receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and punter Ryan Allen are two recent examples). Below, we feature several athletes who may get bypassed during the draft but could easily find their way to Foxboro the following week.
one three of these players got invited to the NFL combine (receiver Corey Brown out of Ohio State, Lorenzo Taliaferro out of Coastal Carolina* and Maurice Alexander from Utah State*). We’ve kept our original stats-based comments about each and added combine results or pro day dates.
The Productive Small-School Running Back (Big Version)
Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina (6-0, 229). We’ve added Lorenzo in light of Blount heading over to Pittsburgh, as well as the fact the Pats have done well finding bigger backs after the draft (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Bolden). Taliaferro rushed for 1,729 yards (6.3 avg.) with 27 touchdowns for the Chanticleers while catching 23 passes for 153 yards and two TDs. The Big South Offensive Player of the Year had a solid combine, running a 4.58 40 with a 6.88 3-cone drill. As mentioned in our Senior Bowl review, Taliaferro complemented tough running with solid pass-blocking skills.
Final Word: Taliaferro has done well in his post-season campaign and could get picked up late on Day Three. For your consideration, Stephen Houston out of Indiana (5-11, 225) wowed pro day scouts with a 40-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump. Both measurements would have made top three for running backs at the NFL combine. Houston averaged 6.7 yards per carry for the Hoosiers (112 for 753).
The Productive Small-School Running Back (Pocket Version)
Branden Oliver, Buffalo (
5-7, 208). (Actually 5-6.) After Vereen went on the temporary disabled list thingy (or whatever the hell it’s called) for over half of last season, the Patriots found themselves without a prototypical third-down back. Oliver fits that bill, making the All-MAC First Team with 1,535 yards rushing with (5.0-yard avg.) and a head-shaking 15 touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 173 yards and one TD. The bullish Bull ran a 4.62 40, which will keep him undrafted but won’t affect his overall effectiveness: he also ran a 7.04 3-cone and benched 225 pounds 26 times.
Final Word: We love Oliver but came across a Bill Belichick connection at this position worth mentioning. Kansas’ James Sims (5-10, 207) rushed for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons under Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis (former Patriots offensive coordinator – but you probably knew that already). Sims made the AP All Big-12 First Team in 2013.
The Underrated Middle Linebacker
Greg Blair, Cincinnati (6-1,
252). (Actually 244.) Even after the hypothetical Bullough pick, Blair could contribute in New England. He led the Bearcats with 106 tackles with seven for loss (one sack). He also broke up three passes and forced one fumble.
The Patriots made a productive Cincinnati selection by picking up undrafted rookie Thompkins at receiver last year. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them return to that source in some capacity.
Final Word: Blair showing up at his pro day under 250 pounds makes us turn our attention to a local product with an idyllic football name. Steele Divitto led Boston College with 107 tackles. The 6-2, 241-pounder from Ridgefield, Connecticut made the switch from strong side to middle ‘backer this season. He ran a respectable 4.72 40 and a noteworthy 6.91 3-cone at his pro day.
The Pass-catching Fullback/Tight End Hybrid
Gator Hoskins, Marshall
(6-1, 244). (Actually 6-2, 253.) Hoskins made our Senior Bowl review, and he stays on this list as a potential “move” tight end with the ability to line up anywhere on the field. He should go undrafted after a pro day that included a disappointing 4.73-second 40 and a so-so 7.22-second 3-cone. Hoskins led all tight ends in the country with 13 touchdown passes. In 2013, he had 44 catches and averaged almost 17 yards per grab.
Final Word: Though not a pass-catcher (in fact, he’s not really a fullback), Wake Forest defensive lineman Nikita Whitlock could get some consideration. Playing nose guard in the ACC at 5-10, 250 pounds was a tall task (Ha! Tall. Get it?) and Whitlock nailed it, finishing the season with 82 tackles, including 19 for loss (nine sacks). Whitlock got some notice in our Combine Snubs series by benching 225 pounds 43 times, which bested the top combine number this year. He could join former Foxboro denizen Dan Klecko and current Patriot James Develin as another D-lineman converted to fullback.
The Small-School ‘Tweener Defender
Jerry “BooBoo” Gates, Bowling Green (5-10, 227). (Actually 5-11, 203.) BooBoo had a noteworthy pro day, but perhaps most noteworthy was the discrepancy between his previously listed weight and what the scale read. Bye-bye, BooBoo old pal.
Maurice Alexander, Utah State (6-1, 220). We made the switch to Alexander here, who had a 38-inch vertical at the combine, along with a 7.05-second 3-cone drill and a respectable 4.54 40. An All-Mountain West Honorable Mention, Alexander had 80 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and nine tackles for loss.
Final Word: Lots to like about Alexander, but we have another submission in this category (even though Georgia Tech fails to qualify as a small school). Outside linebacker Brandon Watts (6-2, 225) ran a 4.41 40 and a 6.89 3-cone at the Yellowjackets’ pro day. Watts’ performance, along with his 66 tackles and one interception in 2013, should ease any skepticism about a potential switch to NFL strong safety.
The Raw Receiver
Corey “Philly” Brown, Ohio State (5-11, 190). (Actually 178 pounds.) We liked Brown because he led all Buckeyes with 63 catches, as well as because of Belichick’s connection to OSU coach Urban Meyer, but really: what the hell are the Pats going to do with another slot guy?
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (6-0, 210). Not unlike Julian Edelman, this college QB should make a switch to pass-catcher in the pros; he displayed the potential to do so at his pro day, running a 4.44 40, a 3.83-second 20-yard shuttle, a 39-inch vertical and a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump. All of those scores would have been top six for combine receivers. As the Husker head honcho, Martinez rushed for 117 yards in four games before missing the rest of the season with an injury. As a junior, he compiled 1,019 yards rushing (10 TDs) and 2,871 yards passing (62 percent completion rate).
Final Word: Sure, Martinez seems raw, but the guy we have in mind has the perfect surname for this category. USC’s Kevin Greene caught zero passes in his college career, working mainly as a special-teamer and backup defensive end. He finished his four years as a Trojan with eight career tackles. Now, after an impressive pro day that included a 4.40 40 and a 6.94 3-cone, Greene has shown his willingness to take on any position available, working out as both pass-rusher and tight end. So why not big, raw receiver? New England does have some history with taking a chance on an untested Trojan product (um… let’s just move on). They took QB Matt Cassel – he of the 19-of-33 college passing career – in the seventh round.
The Backup QB For Grooming
Tommy Rees, Notre Dame (6-2, 214). Seemed like a good idea at the time. However … Garrett Gilbert, SMU (6-3, 225). Oof. We move away from Gilbert after discovering he had a great pro day on March 28, good enough to get this productive signal-caller (3,528 yards and 21 touchdowns) into the thick of the draft’s Day Three. Seriously: if he ends up as a rookie free agent, New England needs to get this guy.
Brendon Kay, Cincinnati (6-3, 226). Kay completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,302 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also had a great pro day, running a 4.63-second 40, traveling 10 feet, one inch in the broad jump, and completing the 3-cone drill in 6.99 seconds.
Two Belichickian connections: Kay was recruited by current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who was at Cincinnati until 2009. Also, aforementioned Bearcat and current Pats receiver Thompkins played with Kay in 2012.
Final Word: Lots to like here, as either Gilbert (if undrafted) or Kay could come into camp and provide solid summer back-up with potential to stick. One other name to watch? Casey Pachall out of TCU, who has had a shall-we-say-interesting couple of years. Pachall left campus in the fall of 2012 to enter rehab after a DUI arrest; he came back to school and fought for the starting job in 2013, only to break his left arm last September and miss over five games. As a sophomore (his final full season), he completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,921 yards (25 TDs, 7 INTs). If New England can provide him with the right support, he has potential to produce at the NFL level.
The Rutgers Guy
Antwan Lowery, Offensive Guard (6-3,
310). (Actually 329 at his March pro day.) Rutgers rookies to Foxboro = swallows to Capistrano. Lowery had an injury-riddled senior year but was honored as a First Team All-Big East offensive lineman as a junior. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game. Went from a defensive lineman as a redshirt freshman to the offensive line. Has battled weight issues but plans on getting down to about 320 before the draft.
Final Word: Of all the Rutgers players picked up by Coach Belichick over the past few years, it’s rare to find offensive linemen. That’s why we’ll offer outside linebacker Jamal Merrell (not to be confused with twin brother Jamil, a defensive end). Jamal had 38 tackles, two interceptions, and two blocked kicks in 2014. At 6-4, 230 pounds, he projects to special teams and an occasional sub defender.
The Other Rutgers Guy/Utility Player/Special Teamer
Jeremy Deering, Free Safety (6-1, 200). We felt we had to add this category after the Scarlet Knight ran a reported 4.33-second 40 at his pro day. Deering did a little of everything at Piscataway, including run the Wildcat as a QB his freshman year (averaging 4.6 yards per carry). After switching to safety full-time as a senior, he tallied 39 tackles and one interception. Over his career, he averaged 26.8 yards per kick return, including a 99-yard take-back his sophomore year. Also caught 16 passes for 338 yards as a freshman (21.1 avg).
Final Word: We feel tempted to put Jamil Merrell here, but, seriously, we would find it difficult to construct a more perfect potential Patriot than Deering. Looking forward to seeing him and a half-dozen of his classmates in July.
Any college players we didn’t mention whom you think the Gillette jefes will bring in, please give us your thoughts below.
Chris Warner can be reached via email at chris. firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter at @cwarn89