After three days, the Patriots spread out their seven picks to help round out their roster, mostly on the defensive side.
It doesn’t appear the group will make as big an impact as last year’s class, but circumstances will dictate that. Last year, the Patriots had two first-round picks and both defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower emerged as starters by the season opener. Later, because of injuries, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard ascended to a starting role.
This year, the Patriots traded out of the first round. While it may be hard for the draftees to crack the starting lineup, a few might, and some will definitely contribute.
After watching some film on each prospect, here is how I see them as a player, their initial fit into the Patriots’ depth chart, and a longer-term projection.
■ End/linebacker Jamie Collins, Southern Miss (second round, 52d overall): Very interesting prospect in the sense that he has the potential to do a lot of things, from being a hybrid type of end like Rob Ninkovich, to playing any of the linebacker positions. Based on film, Collins initially would slide in to be the backup/competition to Ninkovich at left end, basically taking Jermaine Cunningham’s spot. In college, Collins played almost the exact same position that Ninkovich has the past two years for the Patriots — on the edge, either standing up or with a hand on the ground. Collins could struggle holding the edge against the run (a must in the Patriots’ system). Collins’s most immediate impact will probably be as a pass rusher. He can definitely flash a great burst, but it comes and goes. On one play Collins looked as if he was shot out of a cannon; on others he barely does anything. That goes both for his senior (bad team and coaching staff) and junior seasons. Where Collins is going to need the most improvement is with pass rush moves — he has none. Collins is extremely stiff in the hips, which usually doesn’t translate well to rushing the passer. Right now he rushes by speed or strength. Contrast that to Ninkovich, who has tremendous flexibility and athletic ability. Now, it could be that the Patriots see Collins more as a linebacker, but that would be a projection made from private workouts. On film, he can drop into a zone but is average carrying a tight end down the field. If he’s a linebacker, he could play any of the spots, including in the middle, where Brandon Spikes is in a contract year. PROJECTION: As an end, Collins becomes either a more athletic Ninkovich or he’s another Cunningham — great athletic ability but lacks natural feel for the game. It could go either way for him. As a linebacker, if Spikes leaves, Collins could fill any of the spots. One guess: Hightower to the middle, Mayo stays on the weak side, and Collins moves to the strong side. Will be interesting to see where the Patriots play him initially.
■ Receiver Aaron Dobson, Marshall (second round, 59th overall): The more film I watched of Dobson, the more I liked him. If he’s as smart as the Patriots think he is — and a solid 19 on the Wonderlic test plus his feel for the game indicate he is — then I think the Patriots have ended their draft drought at wide receiver. Physically and in attitude, he’s everything the Patriots want in an “X” boundary receiver. He’s tall, long, and has good quickness, long speed and is tough. He’s a quick-twitch muscle receiver, so he can go long and make plays short. Dobson will make a boneheaded mistake from time to time — landing out of bounds, concentration drop — but most of the time, he’s with it. I’m immediately putting him at the top of the depth chart at X as the boundary/vertical receiver, with fourth-round pick Josh Boyce and Donald Jones fighting it out for No. 2 X and/or No. 3 Z behind Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. Dobson should become a starter very quickly as a rookie. If he doesn’t, that’s a disappointment. He appears to have all the tools. PROJECTION: Should quickly ascend into the starting lineup and finally give the Patriots a legit outside threat.
■ Cornerback Logan Ryan, Rutgers (third round, 83d overall): Tough as nails, do it all cornerback that has been well schooled by the Scarlet Knights. He has enough speed and a very good feel for the game. Can play inside or outside. Like most Rutgers corners, including Devin McCourty, he’s better playing off the receiver than in press man. Very good when he can look through the receiver to the quarterback and anticipate passes. Has a very good burst. Terrific tackler on the outside. With Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Alfonso Dennard, and Logan Ryan — we’ll count Ras-I Dowling when he stays on the field — the Patriots have their deepest cornerback group, arguably, since the 2007 Super Bowl. Certainly a long ways from Edelman, Sterling Moore, and Phillip Adams playing big roles in championship games. Ryan gives the Patriots much better depth should the oft-injured Talib and Dowling (spot is in danger) go down for any stretch. It also should allow Arrington to stay inside in case there is an injury on the outside. In the near term, I think Ryan could push Dennard a little bit for a starting spot. I think Dennard is more talented, but it’s very wise the Patriots got someone to push him so he doesn’t get complacent. PROJECTION: Will be thrown into a mix with Dennard, Arrington, and Dowling and the best will stick. Ryan could very well push for a starting spot, but he’s likely a backup with Arrington behind Talib and Dennard the starters. Gives the team much more comfort after this season, when Talib’s contract runs out. And Marquice Cole isn’t the fourth corner in the AFC Championship again.Continued...