Note: With Bruce down and out with the flu, as well as buried under 6 feet of snow, Chris Warner is stepping in today.
By Chris Warner
This week, I’ve resolved to start restricting my views of Super Bowl highlights, though I reserve the right to occasionally blurt out, “Intercepted!” in my best Al Michaels voice.
After watching (and re-watching) New England’s final defensive play, the involvement of certain players sticks out to me.
Cornerback Malcolm Butler picks off the pass, jumps forward, and falls to the ground. Cornerback Brandon Browner, whose aggressive jam of Jermaine Kearse freed up Butler, raises his hand in the air and sprints toward the Patriots’ bench. Dont’a Hightower, who tackled Lynch the play before, rushes to Butler as defensive lineman Sealver Siliga envelops the cornerback in a protective, appreciative bear hug.
As we approach the 2015 draft, remember that each of these players came to New England in a different way. Butler answered the call as an undrafted rookie. Browner arrived as a free agent in March. Hightower came to Foxboro after getting selected in the first round of 2012. Siliga was signed to New England’s practice squad after getting released by Seattle in 2013.
So, as much emphasis as we place on the draft every year, we need to remember that teams get built in myriad ways.
For now, though, a look at this year’s picks. (Plenty of solid sources online, with NEPatriotsDraft.com as one of our current go-to’s):
Round One (32nd overall)
Round Two (64)
Round Three (96)
Round Three (Projected compensatory pick)
Round Four (from Tampa Bay via Logan Mankins trade)
Round Four (128)
Round Six (From Tampa Bay w/ Jonathan Casillas trade)
Round Seven (From Tennessee, w/ Akeem Ayers trade)
Round Seven (From Houston via Ryan Mallett trade)
That makes nine picks, which seems like an awful lot of rookies to add to a championship roster. For now, though, we’ll take a round-by-round look at the types of players the Patriots need and players they’ve selected for that position in previous drafts.
Round One: Lineman (Either Side Of The Line)
With depth issues nibbling at their heels (and knees, and ankles) on the offensive line this year, the Pats will want to add some talent on the interior OL. Securing depth on the DL should help, too.
Past First-Round Picks: Richard Seymour, 2001; Ty Warren, 2003; Vince Wilfork, 2004; Logan Mankins, 2005; Nate Solder, 2011; Chandler Jones, 2012; Dominique Easley, 2014.
Easley has battled injuries, but the Pats’ overall record with first-round linemen shows that they’ll get a contributor at least or a potential starter here.
Round Two: Backup Quarterback (Ha! Just kidding.)
Round Two: Lineman (The Other Side Of The Line)
If they get offense in the first, they get defense in the second, and vice-versa.
Past Second-Round Picks: Adrian Klemm, 2000; Matt Light, 2001; Marquise Hill, 2004; Ron Brace, Sebastian Vollmer, 2009; Jermaine Cunningham, 2010.
Remember that Vollmer pick? I recall having seen his name in some draft magazine ranked as a late-rounder/undrafted free agent who might be worth a look. New England tends to take chances here, and doing so on a lineman seems worth it.
Round Three: Pass Rusher
Yes, it was part of the game plan, and – save for The Juggle Catch and Some Guy Named Chris Matthews – the plan worked, but rushing four defenders made it seem as though Russell Wilson had enough time in the pocket to scan the field, make a chicken salad sandwich, eat it, and complete a pass.
As for the current roster, Rob Ninkovich celebrated his 31st birthday on Super Bowl Sunday (and what a way to celebrate). Chandler Jones wore down a bit and could use a young, dynamic bookend.
Past Third-Round Picks: Shawn Crable, 2008; Jake Bequette, 2012.
Not a perfect record here, but 2015 promises a great deal of rookie depth at this position, making it the right spot to find a solid pick.
Round Three: Defensive Back
Every team would have a drop off after Darrelle Revis, but Logan Ryan and, at times, Kyle Arrington helped raise the region’s consumption of booze and/or Lipitor on opponents’ long passes. Malcolm Butler paid off, big time, and the team should be able to find more talent on Day Two.
Past Third-Round Picks: Brock Williams, 2001; Guss Scott, 2004; Ellis Hobbs, 2005; Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, 2013.
Ryan showed up in spurts this season, while Harmon got the interception that sealed the divisional win vs. Baltimore. He has shown solid range and awareness.
Round Four: Linebacker
As athletic as Jamie Collins is, watching Marshawn Lynch haul in the same wheel route pass that helped doom Green Bay was a difficult way to go into the two-minute warning. New England could look for another speedy, quick linebacker here.
Past Fourth-Round Picks: None.
If Jerod Mayo comes back, and if Casillas continues to contribute on defense, the Pats might look at other positions; however, this seems like a sweet spot to seek out linebacker help.
Round Four: Offensive Lineman
So many injuries at this position. Soo many.
Past Fourth-Round Picks: Greg Robinson-Randall, 2000; Kenyatta Jones, 2001; Rich Ohrnberger, 2009; Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, 2014.
New England’s riding a bit of a hot streak with last year’s selections. Stork starting at center settled down the offense and Fleming filling in as an extra lineman haunted the Colts rushing defense. The club will look to repeat this type of feat on Day Two.
Round Six: Special Teamer
In recent years, the Patriots have picked players in this area of the draft specifically as special teamers. In 2014, New England’s special teams made a serious impact (just ask the Jets’ field goal unit).
Past Sixth-Round Picks: Jake Ingram, 2009; Nate Ebner, 2012.
Ingram couldn’t stick around as a long snapper, but it shows the seriousness with which Belichick takes the position. The team could consider another receiver/returner type like Matthew Slater (a Round Five selection). Or they could wait until Round Seven…
Round Seven: Wide Receiver
Remember back in October when Tom Brady lacked weapons? Four touchdown passes to four different receivers? Sure. I guess we’ll take it.
Past Seventh-Round Picks: David Givens, 2002; Julian Edelman, 2009, Jeremy Ebert, 2012, Jeremy Gallon, 2014.
Not too shabby, considering the contributions of Givens and Edelman to New England’s Super Bowl runs. While the Pats look set at the position, it seems like a good idea to bring in competition for younger receivers like Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. The latter’s greatest contribution to New England’s cause may have been catching a slant pass in front of Malcolm Butler during practice.
Round Seven: Running Back
Pats look loaded here. It remains to be seen if they hang on to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. They’ll have trouble trying to duplicate the latter.
Past Seventh-Round Picks: Patrick Pass, 2000; Antwoine Womack, 2002.
Pass, much like Brandon Bolden now, played a little bit of everything during his time in Foxboro, from special teamer to pass-catcher to blocking fullback for Corey Dillon (no mean feat at 215 pounds). If New England can find a versatile back here – say, a Bolden with better receiving ability – they should jump on him.
Any thoughts on what position the Pats should look to draft where, let us know below.
You can follow Chris Warner on Twitter at @cwarn89