The Patriots make decisions in the draft that make us scratch our heads. That's because their definition of value is different than the public perception of value — and also because they have access to a lot of information that the public doesn't, such as medical records and private interviews.
Regardless, the Patriots always stay true to their board. They draft without letting their current pressing needs dictate their selections. That line of thinking inspired this next mock draft.
You may disagree with where FanSpeak has these players rated, but let's face it: you may also disagree with where Bill Belichick has them rated when all is said and done. So, with that, let's take a look at one possible outcome of a draft where we stick to the philosophy of "best player available."
Note: throughout the column, I've embedded links to clips that show some of the traits I'm discussing.
Ealy turned heads with a 6.83-second finish in the the three-cone drill, the fastest among all defensive linemen at the combine. Bill Belichick has a history of drafting players that excel in the three-cone drill, but the Patriots do need to get deeper at defensive end. The snap count has grown too big for Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich to handle on their own. The Patriots could deploy Ealy as either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker in the Patriots' hybrid defense.
Although Ealy's 4.92-second finish in the 40-yard dash isn't impressive, his 1.66-second 10-yard split is a better measure of his explosiveness off the snap. His three-cone time translates on the field when you watch him bend the corner. He has a deadly inside counter move, and he is relentless in pursuit when he doesn't make the play immediately. He can get washed out against the run at times, but he is capable of setting the edge, too. He gets moved around a bit, though, and used his quickness to make mince meat out of his share of guards.
He may not be a starter in the Patriots' defense immediately, with Jones and Ninkovich holding the fort on the edges, but if he projects as a starter, he could be worth a look with the 29th pick.
Round 2, Pick 61 — Stephon Tuitt (DT, Notre Dame)
In this scenario, the Patriots could get a lot deeper and more versatile in the front seven with back-to-back picks. Most websites project that a team will select Tuitt much higher than this spot, but as a starter or future starter in the Patriots' defense, he is too valuable to pass up if he's still available.
At 6-foot-5 and 304 pounds, Notre Dame defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt has the size to play defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4 or defensive tackle in a 4-3. He shows the ability to take on double-teams while stuffing the run, but he's not always explosive off the snap. He plays his assignment rather than focusing on getting into the backfield.
This wouldn't be the first time the Patriots have done the double-dip at a position of need in an attempt to find an answer. The more darts you throw at the board, the more chances you have of hitting a bulls-eye.
Quarles is a big guy at 6-foot-4 and 297 pounds, but he could even add a few pounds to his frame. Even still, he is hard to move off the ball in the running game.
The 2013 season was Quarles' most productive by far, but some of his plays came as a result of opponents focusing their resources on stopping his teammate, Jadeveon Clowney. The two even teamed up for a share of plays. Still, Quarles made enough plays on his own to justify a third-round selection or even higher.
Round 4, Pick 126 — A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama)
This makes two straight mock drafts with McCarron.
McCarron has questions about his arm strength and is not a mobile quarterback, but his playing style is similar to Tom Brady as a pocket passer with a great play action fake. His experience in a pro system would help him pick things up quickly if called upon to start as a rookie. He has worked with Belichick's close buddy, Nick Saban, so he knows McCarron has been groomed by someone who knows his stuff.
Round 6, Pick 182 — Ryan Grant (WR, Tulane)
This is the one time I "cheated" on my best player available mantra. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was the real top prospect, but the Patriots probably won't go back-to-back on quarterbacks.
Ryan Grant is not a burner, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds. Where he excels is short-area quickness; he came in at 6.68 seconds in the three-cone drill, the fourth-fastest time among wide receivers at the combine. Grant is a smooth and precise route-runner, and knows how to quickly adjust out of his break to make a catch. Physicality is not in his repertoir, so he may be limited to a slot receiver in the NFL.
Round 6, Pick 190 — Ty Zimmerman (S, Kansas State)
Zimmerman is not athletic, but he is a heady player that knows his assignment and carries it out. He is quick to react in run defense, and comes downhill hard to bring the runner to the ground. At 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, his size helps him make big hits in the open field. He can hold his own in coverage, but he's best suited underneath due to his physical limitations.
A lot will depend on his medical records; he suffered a knee injury toward the end of his time at Kansas State, but was able to come back for the team's bowl game. His ability to contribute on special teams may mean the difference between him being graded as a backup or a camp body.
Round 7, Pick 221 — Nevin Lawson (CB, Utah State)
Lawson is small at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, but he's a persistent, nagging presence. He does good job of staying in a receiver's hip pocket all the way through his route, and is not afraid to fight for the ball in flight. He can also makes plays on the ball when he drops into zone. If his coverage skills don't translate immediately, he could put his 4.48 40 speed to use as a gunner on special teams; he earned some experience in that role at Utah State.
With small-school prospects, the concern is always the lack of experience against top-notch competition, and he struggled mightily against USC wide receiver Marqise Lee. Players have overcome that "flaw" in the past, and Lawson could provide another layer of depth in the secondary if the Patriots lose Aqib Talib to free agency.
This is the second mock draft in which the focus has been rebuilding the defensive line. This time, the focus was aimed even more closely in that direction.
Ealy is one of the top edge defenders available in this year's draft, and may not be available when the Patriots pick at 29. The need is not dire for a defensive end, but Ealy could open the door for the Patriots to get more creative with their fronts. Ealy lined up all over the defensive line, and we saw Chandler Jones move around a bit in 2013 as well.
The Patriots could take two defensive tackles if there are doubts about Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga et al. as the top backups, and/or the long-term future of Tommy Kelly and Isaac Sopoaga. Vince Wilfork won't be around forever, and the back-to-back picks give the Patriots two shots at finding his heir.
As always, anyone who wants to get involved and make your own mock draft, go to the link here and post your results in the comments.
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