The NFL draft is unpredictable, in large part, due to the nearly unlimited potential for trades. The New England Patriots are often among the teams moving up and down the board over the course of the weekend.
In particular, this year's draft is being regarded as one of the richest drafts in recent memory. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called it the deepest draft in the past 10 years, and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said it has the most depth in the past 30 years.
As such, it wouldn't be a surprise for the Patriots to move down the board to try to acquire more picks. That being said, the price of moving up could be lower than before due to the demand to move down. As a result, the Patriots could target a coveted player with an early pick and they wouldn't have to mortgage the draft to move up for him.
FanSpeak premium allows users to take complete control of a team in the draft, and allows the user to make trades with the 31 other computer-controlled teams. Here's one look at how the draft might break down if the Patriots make some trades.
Notes: In this week's mock draft, I'm using the big board provided by Walter Football. Throughout the column, I've embedded links to clips that show some of the traits I'm discussing.
Round 1, Pick 29 — trade
In this trade, the Patriots give up their first-round pick in exchange for the seventh pick of the second round (39th overall) and the sixth pick of the third round (70th overall), essentially moving down 10 spots to grab an extra third-round pick. This is considered one of the deeper draft classes in recent memory, so with plenty of talented players still available, adding another pick seems logical.
Round 2, Pick 39 — Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
Even after trading down, the Patriots are still able to grab a player that they targeted with the 29th overall pick. Louis Nix was a first-round pick in a previous mock draft, so to be able to get him and an extra third-round pick in addition is the very definition of "value" for Bill Belichick.
Nix has a frame similar to Vince Wilfork's, at 6-foot-2 and 331 pounds, and his skill set is similar as well. He's not going to explode through gaps and make big plays in the backfield, but he has the strength to hold his own at the point of attack. He needs to improve against double-teams, but he flashes the ability to get off them at times. His technique gets sloppy at times when he gets too high off the snap. With some time to hone his craft, Nix could be a crucial piece to the future of the Patriots' defense.
Round 2, Pick 62 — Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
This is the third time I have selected Niklas to the Patriots, The Patriots need to have a better "Plan B" behind Rob Gronkowski, and Niklas is the perfect choice in that respect. He has Gronkowski's size at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, and the ability to contribute as both a pass-catcher and an inline blocking tight end. He doesn't have the long speed to stretch a defense vertically, but he knows how to use his size to make contested catches over the middle and in the red zone.
Round 3, Pick 70 — Marcus Martin (C, Southern California)
Trading that first-round pick gives the Patriots some flexibility, and this is more a luxury pick than a necessity. The Patriots have Ryan Wendell under contract for the next two years, but they could still be thinking about their long-term future at center and Martin has the potential to be a starter in the NFL. He has the foot quickness and sound fundamentals to mirror defenders in pass protection, and the power to clear out the middle in the running game. He can sometimes get knocked off the ball, but he can recover in these situations at times. With a little time in an NFL training program, he could be able to recover in those situations all the time.
Round 3, Pick 93 — Bishop Sankey (RB, Washington)
This is the second mock draft with Bishop Sankey headed to the Patriots. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen both set to hit free agency next year, Sankey's versatility makes him a good target because he can step into a number of roles. His hard-nosed running style and ability to break arm tackles help him carry out the duties formerly held by LeGarrette Blount. He has the combination of patience and burst that have helped Ridley be an effective back in the Patriots' offense. He isn't known as a home-run hitter, but when he hits the hole at full speed, he can break off long runs. For now, Sankey would add much-needed depth to the Patriots' backfield, and in the future, he could have a much bigger role than that.
Round 4, Pick 130 — Chris Smith (DE, Arkansas)
The Patriots still haven't added that rotational presence at defensive end. The fourth round seems like the perfect place to grab one. Chris Smith is a little undersized at 6-foot-1 and 266 pounds, but he is explosive off the line (37-inch vertical) and his long arms (34 ⅛ inches) help him keep blockers at bay. One area he must improve is his arsenal of pass-rush moves; he pulled out the rare spin move, but he was largely a one-trick pony trying to bend the corner off the edge. He's not known for elite strength, but he can stack-and-shed when he has good technique. The Patriots have struggled developing defensive ends through the draft, but there are still long-term questions about the depth of the defensive end spot unless some previous draft picks begin developing more quickly.
Round 4, Pick 140 — Kelcy Quarles (DT, South Carolina)
In a previous mock draft, Kelcy Quarles was the target in the third round. To get him in the fourth round could be called a steal. Yes, the Patriots have already added a defensive tackle in Louis Nix, but remember: It's not about addressing needs, it's about adding players that can make the team and contribute.
Quarles has the prototypical size for a defensive tackle at the 1- or 3-technique, at 6-foot-4 and 297 pounds. His burst off the snap and stack-and-shed ability allow him to get into the backfield in multiple ways. He also has a great feel for how to attack gaps, and soft spots in the offensive line. Where Nix would be a great run-stuffing presence on the defensive line, Quarles could provide some pressure up the middle.
Round 6, Pick 198 — Russell Bodine (C/G, North Carolina)
Doubling up on interior offensive linemen? Why not? Dan Connolly is a free agent next year, and the Patriots would be wise to grab someone that could potentially develop into a starter at right guard. Russell Bodine primarily played center at UNC, but also played guard, and could move there with some practice. He has the size at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, and the strength with a combine-high 42 reps on a 225-pound bench press.
He puts his power to good use when he gets his hands on a defensive linemen, and he often finishes blocks with authority. He also has the foot quickness to get out in front of a stretch run. His mix of skills and high ceiling would make him a great developmental prospect with a late-round pick.
Round 6, Pick 206 — Brock Vereen (S, Minnesota)
Brock Vereen is a strong safety, but he has the versatility to play free safety and even cornerback. Brock has a lot of athleticism, much like his brother Shane; he finished in the top five at his position in the 40-yard dash (4.47 seconds), the bench press (25 reps), the three-cone drill (6.9 seconds), and the 20-yard shuttle (4.07 seconds). His football intelligence, work ethic, toughness and special teams ability would make him a great target for the Patriots in a late round, and could add yet another layer to the brewing battle at strong safety this offseason.
Round 7, Pick 244 — Keith Wenning (QB, Ball State)
Ryan Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season, so the Patriots need to have an eye to the future with regards to their backup quarterback situation. Keith Wenning is not a "future of the franchise" type of quarterback, but he has potential to be a serviceable No. 2. He took a majority of his snaps from the shotgun, but he has taken snaps from under center, and can carry out a nice play-action fake. He even has the keen ability to run the quarterback sneak for a first down in short-yardage situations. He doesn't have elite arm strength, but he can zip the ball into tight spots and he has nice touch to put the ball out in front of his receivers. One area he'll need to polish is his footwork in the pocket; he should be moving his feet more and has a tendency to not follow through with his back leg on throws downfield. His poise and his ability to change the trajectory on the ball make him a nice developmental prospect, even if his arm strength is suspect.
The draft will ultimately be determined by how the Patriots trade, whether they move up or down, and where their philosophy leads them. There are plenty of talented players in this year's class that the Patriots could be looking to trade back, but it's also possible that trading up has better value if teams are trying desperately to move back.
In this scenario, the extra pick ends up being a "luxury" pick that allows the Patriots to build toward the future with a player that has a high ceiling while still grabbing a potential first-round target. In all, the Patriots were able to address every major need on the roster, except for an inside linebacker.
Previous mock drafts:
- Patriots mock draft 1.0: Ra'Shede Hageman part of defensive line rebuild
- Patriots mock draft 2.0: Best player available in all 7 rounds
- Patriots mock draft 3.0: First post-free agency mock draft
- Patriots mock draft 4.0: Eric Ebron would be a best case scenario for Patriots
- Patriots mock draft 5.0: Finding a new pass-catching tight end for Tom Brady
- Patriots mock draft 6.0: David Yankey's versatility could make him a first-round target