I really like what the Patriots have done in this draft. Overall, their picks were solid and filled needs. If I had to give their draft a grade I'd give it a solid B, or B+. They got their TE's, OLB, MLB, P, and some prospects on the DL and OL.
Obviously their 1st round pick Devin McCourty was a surprise. I, too, expected an DE/OLB or even a WR. This guy, however, can play, as Belichick said, "all 4 downs". We, as fans, sometimes overlook the special teams aspect of football. This guy is one of the BEST special teams players in the draft this year.
He is going to make an immediate impact in that regard. Our special teams unit last year was decent. This guy should greatly improve our coverage unit as well as help in returning punts and kicks. He will contribute greatly in that aspect. BleacherReport.com describes McCourty as "excellent in run support". They say he "may be the most effective tackler among the top 10 corners" in this draft.
McCourty also "shines" in zone coverage, the type of coverage that the Patriots mainly use. His man coverage abilities could be better but based on our scheme, McCourty should develop into a potential starter, I believe. This guy will be solid for our team. He may not put up huge numbers his first year but give this guy time to develop and I believe he coud be a good one for years to come.
McCourty gives us a very solid and improved secondary. He'll bring great competition to Leigh Bodden, Darius Butler, Shawn Springs, Wilhite, and Wheatley. This competition can only make this unit better.
Many may question this pick, as I did at first, but BB did say that he was their "highest graded prospect" that was still available. The Patriots use a lot of Nickel packages, and Dime packages so having an abundance of CB's is necessary, when observed in that regard.
The safety position has pretty good depth. Brandon Meriweather was a Pro-Bowler last year. He probably didn't deserve the nod but he did have 4 INT's and provided the secondary with some playmaking ability. He needs to improve his reads and improve his in-the-box-tackling. James Sanders is probably the smartest safety they have. He made the reads, made adjustments, and called coverages. He just doesn't have that playmaking ability that Meriweather has, but Meriweather doesn't have his smarts.. for now at least. I expect those two to start the season but I wouldn't be surprised if Pat Chung starts at SS and they play Meriweather at FS. Then they have Brandon McGowan. He feel off last year but when he in the beginning of the year, he did do a pretty good job covering TE's.
They now have great depth at the LB position as well. Their OLB's include the drafted Jermaine Cunningham, Tully Banta-Cain, Adalius Thomas, Rob Ninkovich, Pierre Woods, and Shawn Crable. This isn't the greatest unit, but I do believe with the addition of the rookie Cunningham, that the unit should produce a better pass rush next season.
I believe the rotation next year will have TBC, AT, Cunningham, and Crable (given he's healthy) getting most of the reps. Gary Guyton might even see some time at OLB.
Their ILB corps is greatly improved for next season with the addition of Brandon Spikes. They now have Jerod Mayo, Spikes, Tyrone McKenzie, and Gary Guyton. I do believe Spikes will become a starter for them. He should improve their run defense and be a vocal presence for that defense, something that's lacked since the departures of Rodney Harrison, and Tedy Bruschi. Some may question Spikes because of poor draft numbers, but remember this guy was a 2-time AP 1st Team All-American, as well as 1st Team All-SEC, arguably the fastest, toughest, and most competitive conference.
Jerod Mayo should return to form next year after having somewhat of a down season due to injury. Tyrone McKenzie should also contribute. The guy is 6'1", 6'2", and 245 lbs. I picture him having a Ted Johnson - like role next year. Guyton is probably the fastest of their ILB corps and should continue to produce in different packages like Nickel, Dime, 3rd-down and long, etc.
I love our unit this year. They now have Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski is the most balanced out of the group i believe. He's 6'5", 6'6", he's a natural pass-catcher, and he's a solid blocker as well. He gives Brady a HUGE target in the endzone. Hopefully he'll stay healthy. I've noticed that draft picks that Patriots have traded up for in the past few years have not worked out well (Chad Jackson, & Bethel Johnson).
I envision Crumpler having the Kyle Brady/Daniel Graham role. He's going to motion and trap in between tackles as well as set the edge on off-tackle runs. He blocked for Chris Johnson, as well as that Atlanta Falcons running game which included Warrick Dunn, Mike Vick, and T.J. Duckett, that was #1 in the league a few years back.
I see Hernandez being used more as a pass-catching TE. I see him lining up in the slot positions, similiar to how the Chargers use Antonio Gates, shotgun packages, and in goal-line as well.
The Pats have great depth on the DL now. They drafted a couple guys in the last couple of rounds, that project to play all positions of the DL, whether it be the 5-technique (lining up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle) or the nose. Brandon Deaderick is 6'3" 315 lbs, and projects to end in their 3-4 scheme. Kade Weston is similar to Richard Seymour in build at 6'5" 317 lbs. He too projects as an end but both these guys could also play some nose as well.
Add these two draft picks to Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Damione Lewis, the recently signed Gerard Warren & Amon Gordon, and Ron Brace, and you've got a really deep defensive line, something that was lacking last year. The big question is who takes over Seymour's spot at RE. I think it's going to be between Pryor, Wright, or Gerard Warren. Pryor had a pretty good season last year. Wright has been solid. Warren started for 3 years at Oakland, and he's 6'4" 330lbs, so he should contribute to this team.
The Patriots added a C/G and a T to their offensive line with Thomas Welch and Ted Larson. Welch played RT and LT for Purdue. Ted Larson can play Center and Guard. They join Sebastion Vollmer, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Nick Kazcur, Dan Connolly, Mark LeVoir, Matt Light, and George Bussey. This should be a competitive unit this year. I believe Vollmer will become a Pro-Bowler soon and even an All-Pro. Matt Light is on the downside of his career. He's still a solid LT but I would really consider moving him to the RT spot this year for Kazcur and have SeaBass protect Brady's blindside. Logan Mankins is a proven Pro-Bowler. Some may argue he's a little overrated but he's been the Patriots most consistent lineman. He's a good pass-protector and is a nasty run-blocker. I read reports that Stephen Neal was one of the BEST guards in the NFL last season, even grading higher than Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca. I believe he was graded just below Jahri Evans, the Saints All-Pro guard. Dan Koppen is still solid. His Pro-Bowl selection was a result of Brady's success. I don't think he's physical enough to handle the 3-4 nose tackles in the NFL. Kazcur is OK at best. Hopefully we'll find an upgrade over the next few seasons.
Overall this group has great depth.
This unit has many questions. Randy Moss is still one of the best in the game and still cannot be left one-on-one without safety help. But I did get tired of him just running fades and his commitment was questioned last year. Wes Welker is the best slot WR in the game but is obviously going to be hurt for the start of the season. Julian Edelman is probably going to take over Welker's spot for now in the slot. They signed Torry Holt, a high character guy, who runs PRECISE routes. I expect him to start opposite Moss. Also you've got guys like Brandon Tate. He's obviously a question mark. But it's still too early to call him a bust. They signed David Patten. I don't expect much from him. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets cut. They also drafted Taylor Price from Ohio. He's 6'1" and is a burner. He is probably going to see some playing time, but I don't expect huge things this year. Maybe in a couple years he'll be a solid NFL WR.
But when Wes Welker does become healthy I expect the passing game to be unstoppable. They'll have Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, and Brandon Tate. You'll also need to factor in the TEs used in shotgun packages. Gronkowski and Hernandez, I expect, will be used in that aspect.
This is probably their weakest unit. I would have like them to draft another RB, but as of now they'll have Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, BenJarvis Green-Ellis, and Fred Taylor. I expect them to have the same rotation as they did last year. Hopefully Maroney will have a solid year and NOT fumble in the endzone. Of course, we say that EVERY year, but he was their leading rusher last year and started running better towards the end of the season. Morris and Taylor will hopefully stay healthy and Faulk will continue to do what he does.
No analysis here. Tom Brady will hopefully stay healthy. They added a QB in the draft but I don't expect anything different here.
All in all I liked what they did in the draft. They added depth in the secondary, their linebacking core, and drafted two really good TEs. Hopefully it'll be a good year this year.