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.
■ Safety Duron Harmon, Rutgers, (third round, 91st overall): This one still remains a bit of a headscratcher because Harmon does appear a bit limited on film. He’ll be compared to the safeties taken in the fourth round — Duke Williams (105, Bills), Shamarko Thomas (111, Steelers), Phillip Thomas (119, Redskins) — for years to come. Thomas will be the most interesting case because the Steelers traded up to get him and needed a play-making safety. Harmon is a tough, smart, and physical safety. He shows best close to the line of scrimmage against the run and in coverage. With the Patriots hoping Tavon Wilson becomes a full-time starter at strong safety, Harmon fits the bill as a possible replacement for Wilson as the “money” position in the dime — the third safety who plays a hybrid role against tight ends and the run. PROJECTION: As a third-round pick, Harmon is going to make the team, which will make roster cutdowns interesting. McCourty, Tavon Wilson, and Harmon are locks. Adrian Wilson has the inside track on the other spot, but that’s not definite. So Adrian Wilson, Steve Gregory, and Nate Ebner will be fighting for one, maybe two, spots.
■ Receiver Josh Boyce, TCU (fifth round, 102d overall): Tested unbelievably well at the combine but it doesn’t match up with his game film. Boyce reminds a lot of Packers receiver James Jones. Both are strong, thick receivers who can bounce off tacklers and make plays down the field. Jones ran a 4.54 coming out of San Jose State, and Boyce plays closer to that than the 4.38 he ran at the combine. Boyce also doesn’t show his terrific three-cone drill speed on film. But he’s a good solid, all-around receiver. Has some Anquan Boldin-like qualities as a physical receiver. Extremely smart. His Wonderlic score of 23 tied with many for second-highest for receivers this year. That’s the highest known score for a drafted Patriots receiver since Deion Branch (26 in ’02), and a promising indicator that he’ll be able to process the Patriots’ passing game. Boyce has inside/outside versatility, but the strength of his play indicates that he’s an X boundary player. That being said, Boyce has done so many things that it wouldn’t shock if he learns some of Aaron Hernandez’s roles as the flex tight end. Boyce has that kind of versatility. PROJECTION: Depending on how quickly he comes on, Boyce should end up as the backup to Dobson at X with Mike Jenkins, Andre Holmes, and Kamar Aiken in the mix. Boyce’s arrival should push Donald Jones, who can play inside and outside, over to Z behind Amendola to compete with Edelman.
■ End/linebacker Michael Buchanan, Illinois (seventh round, 226d): Has a frame that’s reminiscent of Willie McGinest, and he has the potential to be that kind of hybrid player, but at 252 pounds, he’s nowhere near heavy or strong enough to play that role on the field. Has a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see what the Patriots do with him. PROJECTION: If Collins is an end for the Patriots, then the Patriots go from being very thin at the position to having too many guys. They currently have nine edge players: Ninkovich, Jones, Collins, Cunningham, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette, Jason Vega, Marcus Bernard, and Buchanan. Roll the ball out and see who sticks. Cunningham and Bequette will be on the spot.
■ Linebacker Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers (seventh round, 235): At just under 6-1 and 240 pounds, the former Scarlet Knight will have a tough time ascending to a starting position. PROJECTION: He’s almost the same size as former special teams standout Tracy White, who hasn’t been re-signed. Beauharnais is likely White’s replacement and is a similar heady player that is a very good tackler.