As seen in our first “That Guy” draft preview from two months ago, New England tends to bring in certain types of players during draft weekend. With nine picks, the Super Bowl champs could fill some holes in a roster that – despite some big losses in free agency – remains solid overall.
Here’s our outlook on what types of players the Patriots will seek out this weekend, and some potential names who could fill those roles.
DAY ONE – Round One (One pick): 32nd Overall
First-Round, Solid-Bet Guy: Under Bill Belichick, New England has done well drafting in Round One (you can see our Round-by-Round column for a review of the past 15 drafts). From Richard Seymour (2001) to Nate Solder (2011), the Patriots tend to find players who not only contribute on a consistent level, but excel and end up starting.
Possible Pick: Carl Davis, Iowa Defensive Lineman (6-5, 320). We originally had Duke guard Lakinen Tomlinson here – and we find nothing wrong with that – but it seems that the Patriots could look to the defensive side of the line early. We’ll go back to where we were about three months ago: high on Davis after his Senior Bowl appearance. He only had 34 tackles and two sacks in 2014, but his position fails to rack up the stats. Davis’ size, speed (5.12-second 40-yard dash) and strength (28 bench reps, 33-inch vertical) could help him become part of the rotation this season.
DAY TWO – Rounds Two And Three (Three Picks): 64th, 96th, 97th (Compensatory)
The Who’s-That-Guy? Guy: You know this category. The type of player whose name sends pundits scrambling to the Internet for info. The ones who put an arch in draft experts’ eyebrows as they try to figure out the Foxboro front office’s way of thinking. Tavon Wilson, Sebastian Vollmer, and Duron Harmon come to mind in this area of the draft. (Ring-holders, all, for what it’s worth.)
Possible PIck: Michael Liedtke, Illinois State Offensive Lineman (6-4, 305). We liked LSU safety Ronald Martin here, but we’ve been on the Liedtke bandwagon for a while (as you can see in our previous Pats mock draft column). Liedtke tested very well at his pro day, running a 4.94-second 40 that would have placed him first for linemen at the NFL combine. He also had 28 bench reps and a 33-inch vertical. Plus, before starting at left tackle as a senior, Liedtke had two years of experience at left guard.
The Injured Guy: On Day Two, the Patriots tend to take some chances on players who fought injuries in college. This can end up working, big-time (Rob Gronkowski), or not so much (Ras-I Dowling). Again, considering that fielding most of a championship roster gives them some flexibility, look for New England to make a move on a player with a questionable injury history and high potential on Day Two.
Possible Pick: Anthony Harris, Virginia Free Safety (6-1, 183). In February we listed Texas defensive end Cedric Reed here (and he still qualifies as a solid pick), but – despite the fact that Harris comes from the same school as the infamous Dowling – we’re taking the free safety in this spot. Harris battled a shoulder injury since his junior year, playing through it as a senior. Getting necessary surgery this off-season has kept him out of combine and pro day testing, hurting his draft day stock. Last season, Harris tallied 108 tackles, two interceptions, and 10 pass breakups.
The Freakishly Athletic Guy: A new category, in honor of Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. At the 2013 NFL Combine, Collins, who had just completed a winless senior season for Southern Mississippi, leapt 41.5 inches and had an 11-foot-7 broad jump. This year’s über-athlete, cornerback Byron Jones out of Connecticut (44.5-inch vertical, 12-foot-5 broad jump) could contend for this title, but he might get picked before New England has a shot.
Possible Pick: Davis Tull, Tennessee-Chattanooga Outside Linebacker (6-2, 246). Tull, who underwent shoulder surgery in March and was an outside contender as an Injured Guy, leapt an impressive 42.5-inch vertical (tied for third-best overall) and 11-foot broad jump (fourth best overall) at the combine, then ran a 4.57-second 40 at his pro day. At defensive end (the same position Collins played his senior year) for the Mocs, the three-time Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, All-American, and Academic All-American had 58 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks in 2014.
The Alabama Guy: Alabama’s Nick Saban coached under Bill Belichick in Cleveland over 20 years ago. (If you get a chance to watch NFL Films’ “Cleveland ’95,” please do so.) Because they run similar types of defenses, former Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower was able to adapt to the Patriots’ game plans faster than most. We found a similar player to consider in this part of the draft, and we’re sticking with him from our first preview.
Possible Pick: Xzavier Dickson, Outside Linebacker (6-3, 260). Last season, Dickson had 42 tackles, nine sacks, and 10 QB hits. At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.74 40-yard dash, comparable to the 6-2, 265 Hightower (4.68). Seeing how shallow the linebacker pool is in Foxboro after the impressive starting combo of Hightower, Collins and Jerod Mayo, the Patriots could use someone with system familiarity (and having a fellow alumnus on the roster to mentor him can’t hurt).
The Ohio State Guy: Coach Urban Meyer won the college football national championship this past year. He also has a longstanding relationship with Belichick. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a Buckeye in a different silver helmet this fall.
Possible Pick: Doran Grant, Cornerback (5-10, 200). Though offensive tackle Darryl Baldwin tempted us after a remarkable pro day, Grant’s five interceptions and nine pass break-ups in 2014 kept us in his corner. The senior took on a leadership role this past season as the only returning starter for OSU’s secondary and won the Iron Buckeye Award, given out by the team’s strength coach for dedication to the weight room. After a 4.44 40, Grant had 21 bench reps at the combine and showed off solid quickness times of 4.19 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.09 seconds in the 3-cone.
DAY THREE – Rounds Four Through Seven (Five Picks): Two Fourths, 101, 131; One Sixth, 177; Two Sevenths, 219, 257 (Compensatory)
The Other Offensive Line Guy: Kudos to the Patriots for hitting their targets on last year’s Round Four offensive line picks, nabbing starting center Bryan Stork and contributing backup Cameron Fleming early on Day Three. New England will probably take a long look at more offensive linemen here.
Possible Pick: Nick Easton, Harvard Center (6-3, 303). We’re switching from Louisville’s Jamon Brown to Easton, who helped lead the Crimson to an undefeated season in 2014. Easton, an Economics major, was named to the FCS North All-American First team and the Academic All-Ivy Team, so finding his way around a huddle shouldn’t pose too great a challenge. Just as importantly, he ran a 5.12 40-yard dash and benched 29 reps at his pro day, showing the type of athleticism and strength the middle of the O-line could use moving forward.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: Is 2013 draftee Aaron Dobson going to figure out this offense? What about draft classmate Josh Boyce? We don’t know, and because of that, the Pats probably should look for some depth during Day Three. We’re considering a smaller, quicker, slot type, much like seventh-rounder Jeremy Gallon last year.
Possible Pick: Rannell Hall, Central Florida (6-0, 198). Had to let go of Matt Miller of Boise State after his rough 4.78-second 40-yard dash, which brought us back to Hall. We first noticed him during the Senior Bowl, where he made an impression with just a couple of catches. Though he lacks great speed (4.60 40), he has commendable quickness (6.86-second 3-cone) and hops (41-inch vertical, 11-foot broad jump). Hall did a little of everything for the Knights, with 49 catches for 500 yards, 25 rushes for 129 yards, and 12 kick returns for 330 yards (27.5 avg).
The Special Teams Guy: It’s worth going over the list again. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski (Fourth Round, 2006). Matthew Slater (Fifth Round, 2008). Punter Zoltan Mesko (Fifth Round, 2010). Longsnapper Jake Ingram (Sixth Round, 2009). Malcolm Williams (Seventh Round, 2011). Nate Ebner (Sixth Round, 2012). The Patriots started a trend with Slater that we think will continue this year: drafting a player for special teams first, offense or defense second.
Possible Pick: Akeem King, San Jose State Strong Safety (6-1, 215). We went with Wyoming’s Mark Nzeocha back in February, a former safety who rang up 101 tackles for the Cowboys. Now we look to King, whom we mentioned in our Combine Snubs series. King caught our attention with a 4.43 40 and a 7.08 3-cone drill. He has good size for his position but he also has experience at free safety and on special teams. King rung up 71 tackles last year for the Spartans.
The Sixth-Round Small School Guy: We could call this the Zach Moore pick, after New England selected the defensive end from Concordia-St. Paul last year. Or the Markell Carter pick, after the defensive end from Central Arkansas in 2011. While most small school players make it to Foxboro via rookie free agency (such as, oh, Malcolm Butler), the team has mined the sixth to potentially deepen their roster.
Possible Pick: Tray Walker, Texas Southern Cornerback (6-2, 191). We liked (and still like) Newberry linebacker Edmond Robinson, but Walker gets the mention here due to his size and quickness. Walker’s 4.53 40 makes the cut, and his 6.80 3-cone could turn some heads at Gillette, especially for a taller DB. At Texas Southern, an FCS school, Walker had 41 tackles, three interceptions, and four pass breakups. You can see a brief highlight package of Walker here.
The Rutgers Guy: Do we even need to comment? No? Okay, then…
Possible Pick: Kevin Snyder, Inside Linebacker (6-2, 238). We had Tyler Kroft lined up here, but the signing of Scott Chandler puts two big, pass-catching tight ends already on the roster for 2015. That brings us to Snyder, whom we mentioned in our mid-April mock draft. Snyder wowed scouts with a 4.54-second 40, and displayed some quickness with a 7.07-second 3-cone drill. Bonus: he was a longsnapper in high school. The Loyal Knight Award winner notched 63 tackles, five pass breakups, and 1.5 sacks last season.
The “Now We Draft A Defensive Lineman?” Guy: While reviewing this category, we’re reminded of Brandon Deaderick from Alabama in the seventh in 2011, Kade Weston from Georgia in the seventh in 2010, and Myron Pryor from Kentucky in the sixth in 2009. Someone who could step in and contribute a few reps, maybe providing some pleasant surprises along the way.
Possible Pick: Deon Simon, Northwestern State (Lousiiana) (6-4, 321). Bypassing San Jose State’s Travis Raciti for now (despite his flexibility along the defensive line), we’ll go to Simon. The small-school product ran a 5.12 40 and benched 225 pounds 35 times. Combined with his size, he could become a pest in the middle of opposing offenses. A huge, immovable pest. Playing in only seven games this year due to a knee injury, Simon had 26 tackles (nine for loss), one sack, and two forced fumbles.
Patriots Trivia Bonus: Simon wrote in his combine blog about meeting with one Coach Belichick, calling it “an amazing experience.”
The 3-Cone Guy: Formerly the “Seventh-Round Slot Guy” category, we decided – with some coaxing from a previous column’s commenter – to include the all-important 3-cone enthusiast. New England’s attention to quickness has been well-detailed (just ask WEEI.com’s Chris Price). It has resulted in such important jitterbugs as Julian Edelman, the original Seventh-Round Slot Guy.
Possible Pick: Damiere Byrd, South Carolina Wide Receiver (5-9, 179). Bye-bye, Christion Jones of Alabama, hello, little Byrd. At his pro day, Byrd completed a 6.59-second 3-cone, the fastest time we could find by any NFL hopeful this spring (for comparison, Edelman ran a 6.62). Add to that a cartoonish 4.27-second 40, plus a 42-inch vertical, and the Pats could get themselves one dynamic player for the offense. Byrd hauled in 20 passes for 308 yards and rushed seven times for 57 yards. For a fun highlight reel from Byrd’s junior year, click here.
The Third-Down Back Guy: New England seemed ready to audition pass-catching running backs last summer after taking James White in the fourth round and Roy Finch in rookie free agency. With Shane Vereen leaving for New York (Blue, not Green), that trend should continue this summer – if not during the draft, then right after it. Among smaller Patriots backs, White has zero career receptions; Dion Lewis has three. Only recent signee Travaris Cadet, with 45 career grabs (38 last season) has much experience.
Possible Pick/Rookie Free Agent: Raheem Mostert, Purdue (5-10, 195). Mostert displayed impressive athleticism at his pro day, with a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, a 40-inch vertical, 11-foot broad jump, and 6.90-second 3-cone drill (all of those numbers would have made top five for running backs at the combine). Not surprising for the school record-holder in the 60-meter dash (6.63 seconds). The former wide receiver joined a crowded Boilermaker backfield to average 5.7 yards per carry (93 attempts for 529) and 6.4 yards per reception (18 for 116). He also served as Purdue’s main kick returner throughout his career, leading the nation as a freshman with a 33.5-yard return average.
The Navy Guy: We don’t think the Patriots will draft a Navy guy due to each one’s pending two-year commitment (every service academy grad must serve two years. After that, he can apply for permission to opt out of the remaining three-year, full-time commitment by serving six years in the Reserve). Still, we’d be surprised if Belichick’s history with the Naval Academy doesn’t influence his thinking regarding rookie free agency.
Possible Pick/Rookie Free Agent: Joe Cardona, Long Snapper (6-2, 242). Cardona keeps this spot, also qualifying for the Special Teams Guy category. Cardona was tabbed the best longsnapper in the country this year and received the only invitation to the NFL Combine of anyone at the position. He put up an impressive, un-snapper-like 30 reps on the bench press. He can’t play until 2017 at the earliest, but, as confirmed by Scott Strasemeier, Senior Associate AD at the U. S. Naval Academy, players can take leave to spend time at camps.
Back in 2009, both running back Shun White and receiver Tyree Barnes signed contracts with the Patriots and were kept on the reserve/military list until 2013 and 2011, respectively. Fullback Eric Kettani, another 2009 signee, ended up on New England’s practice squad briefly in 2011 before shipping out for active duty. We won’t bet against New England calling for Cardona’s services – at least for a practice stint this spring.
Well, draftniks, whom did we miss? Let us know in the comments below.
Chris Warner tweets (probably a bit too often, in hindsight): @cwarn89