Last year, we had our most success yet with Patriots mock drafts. The key came in worrying less about what New England would do with specific picks (their active trading makes that tough), and focusing on the types of players they tend to select in general areas of the draft. You can take a gander at our 2015 draft review that wrapped up the “That Guy” series here.
With last weekend’s Senior Bowl in mind (along with the previous weekend’s East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Bowl), we looked at some players of note and tried to figure out where they’d fit in the Patriots draft.
The Solid First-Rounder: The Patriots draft as well in the first round as any team, but they lost their top 2016 pick for using footballs that followed the Ideal Gas Law. Damnit. We’ll do better than the NFL here and just move on.
The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011. Javon Hargrave (6-2, 295) of South Carolina State could fit here. Hargrave had a late sack that helped keep the South atop the North. The stout defender was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the Mid-East Athletic Conference for the second year in a row after notching 59 total tackles (22 for loss, 13.5 sacks) and forcing two fumbles.
The defensive star of the East-West Shrine Game was pass-rusher Victor Ochi (6-1, 244) from Stonybrook. Though on the smaller side, Ochi succeeded no matter who lined up against him, with constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and one sack. Last season, Ochi tallied 13 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss.
Offensive Line Double-Dips: Just as they did with Bryan Stork/Cameron Fleming in 2014 and Tré Jackson/Shaq Mason in 2015, the Patriots could use a couple of mid-round picks to strengthen their offensive line. Looking at the tackle position, we’ll take prospects Le’Raven Clark (6-6, 312) from Texas Tech and Kyle Murphy (6-6, 300) from Stanford. Clark showed surprising power on run plays, while Murphy displayed good feet and technique on pass protection.
Clark started 50 games at Texas Tech, which this year ranked tops third down conversion rate (52 percent), and second in scoring offense (46.6 ppg), total offense (595 ypg), and passing offense (390 ypg). Big 12 coaches voted him to the conference’s First Team. At Stanford, Murphy helped the Cardinal average 222 yards per game rushing and allow a mere 18 sacks over the season. He was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team by conference coaches.
Pats could have some size and talent to work with, there.
The Alabama Guy: Even if Bill Belichick and ‘Bama coach Nick Saban didn’t go back to the first Bush administration when they coached in Cleveland together, the current national champs are always worth a look. Last year, New England drafted Xzavier Dickson, currently with the Falcons. In 2012, the Patriots took Dont’a Hightower in the first round.
Lots to choose from here, but – despite a pass interference penalty in the end zone – we liked most of what cornerback Cyrus Jones (5-10, 196) presented, as he knocked down two passes and returned punts for the South team. At Alabama, Jones had 37 tackles (four for loss), two interceptions, and seven pass break-ups. He also averaged 12.6 yards per punt return (42 for 530), and took four (yes, four) back for touchdowns.
The Rutgers Guy(s): Having drafted Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan and taken on Kevin Snyder and Jonathan Freeny as free agents, the Foxboro front office is contemplating renaming the team “The Scarlet Patriots, ” or maybe just “The New England Knights.”
In terms of picking a Senior Bowl favorite, this one should have been easy – receiver Leonte Carroo was the only Scarlet Knight in Mobile last week – but Carroo injured his leg during practice and could not play. Looking back at the Shrine Game, we saw left tackle Keith Lumpkin hold his own. Lumpkin’s got size (6-7, 327) and versatility (38 games at left tackle, 11 at right guard). He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year.
In the NFLPA Bowl, linebacker Quentin Gause (6-0, 243) led all tacklers with 6.5 stops (and frankly, the announcers should have talked about him more). By the banks of the Raritan, Gause served as a team captain and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, tallying 96 tackles including 12 for loss. A smartypants (4.0 fall GPA), Gause fits perfectly as the Rutgers/Special Teams Guy.
For all news of Rutgers football, please follow NJ Advance Media for NJ.com writer Dan Duggan on Twitter @DDuggan21.
The Ohio State Guy: Ol’ Belichick pal Urban Meyer added ol’ Belichick pal (and former Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so maybe some kind of connection here, you think? Some interesting guys to choose from, including receiver Braxton Miller (see below), tight end Nick Vannett (see below), safety Tyvis Powell, and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington. They all looked pretty good to us.
You know what? Of the two defenders, we’ll stick with Powell, who had the good sense to not solicit a prostitute before OSU’s bowl game. Powell (6-3, 208) demonstrated solid run support at the Senior Bowl. The graduate student (he completed his studies in 3.5 years) placed third on the team with 71 tackles, adding three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and a blocked kick.
The Injured Guy: New England tends to take chances with players who missed time due to injury. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley and offensive lineman Tré Jackson had knee problems in college; Rob Gronkowski had back issues at Arizona. Sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes not. (Ras-I Dowling, for one, never got over the injury bug.)
Penn State defensive lineman Carl Nassib didn’t play in the Senior Bowl (he hurt his shoulder in December and had some injuries during the week leading up to the game). Nassib, a walk-on for the Nittany Lions, had 15.5 sacks in 13 games this past season, with six forced fumbles and one interception. The 6-7, 275-pound pass-rusher was the 2015 Ted Hendricks Award winner, given to the nation’s top defensive end.
East-West Shrine Game running back Danny Lasco of Cal (6-0, 205) caught the eye with a 41-gard draw play on third and eight, and ended up with 62 yards on six carries (10.3 avg). In 2015 Lasco rushed for a 5.1-yard average for the Golden Bears, but only started three games as he battled an ankle injury in the latter part of the season.
The Backup Tight End: Starting with fifth-rounder Dave Stachelski in 2000, the Patriots have drafted plenty of tight ends under Belichick. They got their starters in the first (Daniel Graham, 2002; Benjamin Watson, 2004) and second rounds (Gronk, 2010), but the search for a second TE hasn’t been as productive. (We won’t discuss The Tight End Who Shan’t Be Named.)
While Ohio State’s Vannett (6-6, 260) looked the part of a sub-Gronk, and Greg Gronkowski (6-3, 234) looked the part of a lil’ Gronk, we went with South Carolina’s Jerrell Adams (6-5, 244) as a pass-catching tight end who showed decent on-line blocking skills. Adams looked smooth catching the ball in limited opportunities. We also appreciated his hustle as he prevented a TD by tracking down a South defender trying to return a blocked field goal. Last fall, Adams was second on the Gamecocks with 28 receptions for 421 yards (a noteworthy 15 yards per catch) and three TDs.
The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The trick of drafting? Predicting how a player can fit in one’s system. The receiver position has the most pitfalls, because they’re not just learning a system, they’re trying to mesh with a perfectionist QB who also happens to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Too bad Tom Brady can’t got along on scouting trips to play catch.
Yes, the dynamism of former Ohio State QB Miller reminded us of Julian Edelman and would be fun to watch in Foxboro. Still, we’ll go with Jay Lee (6-2, 214) out of Baylor. Lee made some solid catches, running fine routes and showing some elusiveness after the catch. At Baylor, Lee averaged almost 20 yards per reception (38 for 758, 19.9) and scored eight touchdowns.
Two Shrine Game receivers who stood out were Geronimo Allison of Illinois (6-3, 197) and Jared Dangerfied of Western Kentucky (6-1, 214). Allison led the West team with six receptions for 68 yards and two touchdowns. He got invited to the Senior Bowl, where he caught one pass. Last season, Allison had 65 catches for 882 yards, both tops for the Illini, with three touchdowns. In the Shrine Game, Dangerfield tallied five catches for 84 yards, a 16.8 average. At WKU, Dangerfield had 82 grabs for 844 yards and eight TDs.
The Special Teams Guy: It began with Matthew Slater in 2008’s fifth round. It continued with selections of long snapper Jake Ingram in 2009, punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. The Pats like to pick guys with a special teams focus.
Oh, man. So many choices in these bowls. We’ll stick with two undersized linebackers: Tyler Matakevich of Temple (6-0, 233) and the appropriately named Eric Striker of Oklahoma (5-11, 228). Matakevich filled in running gaps well, making many of the opening tackles of the Senior Bowl. Striker made a couple of hard-nosed stops, notable for their speed. At Temple, Matakevich compiled 126 tackles last fall, with 15 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks). He also grabbed five interceptions. At Oklahoma, Striker had 67 tackles, with 19 for loss (7.5 sacks), 11 QB hits, and one interception.
The Navy Guy: Just about everyone following last year’s draft figured Cardona would end up in Foxboro for some length of time; few of us figured he’d get chosen in the fifth and end up starting for the year. Belichick, due in large part to his father’s background as a long-term assistant coach at the Naval Academy, always keeps an eye out for Midshipmen.
Fullbacks Kyle Eckel (scored two TDs in 2007) and Eric Kettani (practice squad, 2009) were signed by the Patriots as free agents, a fact that we believe will pave the way for 2016 Senior Bowler Chris Swain (6-0, 247). At Annapolis, Swain rushed for 847 yards, averaged over five per carry, and notched 10 TDs. Not bad for a guy who sought contact more often than Velcro.
The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Thinking about players like Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) for this category, as well as a little-recognized former QB out of Kent State with a name that sounds like Hulian Jedelman (2009).
In limited snaps, we noticed Minnesota receiver K. J. Maye (5-8, 194), whose quickness helped him make yardage on two end-around plays and one bubble screen. Maye was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year with a team-leading 65 passes for 706 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed nine times for 46 yards and a TD.
At the Shrine Game, one guy – one small guy – stood out. Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens (5-10, 174) caught three passes for 49 yards and one touchdown. He looked like a tough guy to cover, and continued to show his elusiveness as a kick returner, bringing one back for 35 yards. At UW, Mickens led the team with 58 catches for 692 yards (11.9 avg), scoring two TDs. He also ran the ball seven times, averaging 6.3 per carry and getting in the end zone once.
Next month, keep an eye out for our Patriots That Guy 2.0: Post-Combine Edition.
Chris Warner tweets about the inanity of life @cwarn89