The Pats should go big with Short.
Let's get one thing straight about the New England Patriots' 2013 draft—there's almost no chance they make selections at all of their current picks.
Despite the Pats' reputation as a team that trades down in the draft to maximize value, they've actually cashed in on their picks quite a bit recently. They moved up twice in the first round of last year's draft to acquire DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower.
As for this year? They're already pick-less in three rounds, thanks to trades for veterans WR Chad Johnson, DT Albert Haynesworth and CB Aqib Talib.
But New England likely needs a full deck of picks in the next year or two—they don't want to go the way of the New York Jets, who selected just seven players combined in 2009 and 2010 and have missed the playoffs two years in a row.
Still, let's assume the Pats surprise me (it wouldn't be the first time) and keep to the status quo with the five picks currently in their possession. In that situation, what would their ideal draft look like?
With the Pats' needs in mind, let's take a look at who New England should take.
The Pats' biggest need is a big man to anchor their defense.
Yes, they've already got Vince Wilfork, one of the game's best DTs, but it's a little tough to expect a 32-year old, probably-350-pound man to play 82 percent of his team's snaps every year.
The Pats need to find a DT, as depth next year and as an eventual successor to Wilfork—a Terry McGinnis to Wilfork's Bruce Wayne, if you're a Batman nerd.
That successor should be Kawann Short of Purdue.
Short has the size (he's 6'2", 320 pounds) and quickness to be an impact lineman. He's got a powerful array of interior rush moves and holds his gap well against the run. Heading into the draft, Short looks like a good fit for the Pats' scheme. Per scouting site WalterFootball.com (emphasis added):
[Short] has one big thing going for him, and that is his interior pass-rushing skills. It is hard for NFL teams to find good pass-rushers from the defensive tackle position. Constantly, 4-3 defenses are in dire need of a interior pass rushers. Short would be a good fit as a three-technique pass-rusher in a 4-3 scheme...He is capable of beating guards with his quickness and commands extra blocking attention on the interior of the line.
Imagine a Pats line with Chandler Jones, Short and Wilfork. That would make three players that have the skill to command double-teams.
Offensive coordinators would have night terrors trying to solve a defense with a line like that. And they wouldn't be about cobras.
Williams is a risk worth taking.
I'm well aware that this is likely the most controversial pick on this list, so hear me out.
I know that investing a high pick on a wide receiver is often a bad idea. I'm familiar with Terrance Williams' reputation as a player who takes plays off on occasion. And yes, I get that he often has bad pass-catching technique. Instead of extending his arms to catch the ball, Williams is instinctively a body-snatcher—and I'm not referring to the 1945 Boris Karloff movie.
But the Pats desperately need youth and athleticism at the WR position, and Williams provides it.
Williams has Brandon Lloyd-like body control along the sidelines, good measurables (he's 6'2", 201 pounds and clocks a 4.48 40-time) and excellent separation instincts on broken and extended plays. He also put up huge numbers in his first season since RGIII's graduation to the NFL (97 receptions, 1832 yards, 12 TDs).
He's the kind of player who has demonstrated both the talent and production to warrant the risk, in the hopes that Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can coach him up.
Back in April, Grantland's Bill Barnwell wrote an article analyzing relative draft value. One of the main takeaways was that while drafting WRs isn't a high-yield proposition in general, drafting them in the second round is the best bet.
That's because there isn't a large difference in performance between first and second rounders, while there's a huge drop-off in expected performance from the third round and below.
To that end, the Patriots should take a chance on Williams in order to inject some youth into a thin and aging WR corps.
It's a deep DB class—a third-round S fits just right.
The way things have gone with disappointing Patriot safety and free-agent-to-be Patrick Chung, New England may well be looking for a new safety next year.
There's little reason to justify a top pick on the defensive backfield (elite secondary players come from all rounds—just ask the Seattle Seahawks) but since this is the last Pats pick before the 7th round, it's probably time to lay some chips on the safety position.
Lester, the starting safety for Alabama's National Championship team, is the guy to cash in on at this point in the draft.
He's a wood-layer and a solid wrap-up tackler (don't worry, Pats fans, he's not a graduate of the Brandon Meriweather School of Headhunting) who can replace Chung with some added big-play capabilities.
His measurables (6'2" 210 pounds, 4.59 40 time) are only decent but his instincts—particularly the intelligence with which he chooses his angles to the ball against both the pass and run—will have Pats fans laughing about the days of Steve Gregory.
Lester would pair well with CB-turned-S Devin McCourty in a traditional SS/FS scheme. Lester isn't elite in the box but has enough range and playmaking ability (14 career INTs) to play high and use his instincts to come down for run support.
A Pats secondary with two press corners in Aqib Talib (if he re-signs) and Alfonzo Dennard will look even better with two ballhawking safeties manning the back end.
A seventh-rounder on Mathieu? Low-risk, potentially high reward.
Though the Pats have exactly zero picks between the fourth and sixth rounds, they do have two seventh rounders as a result of the Aqib Talib trade.
With the first of these picks, expect a repeat of last year—when the Pats opted for a high-upside but troubled CB in Alfonzo Dennard.
With the impending free agency of slot corners Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole, the Pats will likely dip back into the draft to find some CB depth. There's another potential steal available in Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu.
Mathieu, whose draft stock will likely plummet as a result of his drug abuse, doesn't have the size or footwork to cut it as an outside corner in the NFL. Still, he has the instincts and ballhawking awareness to be valuable in nickel packages.
The Pats have led the NFL in turnover differential each of the last three years. They can continue that promising trend by adding another ball-hawker in Mathieu, who generated 11 forced fumbles and four INT in 2010 and 2011 before missing all of 2012 to try to recover from his substance abuse issues.
Mathieu's playmaking and special teams potential make him a sleeper in the late rounds. Though he's not the next Dennard, the Honey Badger could be a valuable piece of the Pats defense.
Nady is a monster who might adequately replace Vollmer.
The Pats may well end up losing impending free agent RT Sebastian Vollmer to another team that is willing to pay him as a potential franchise LT.
While they've got viable internal options (including 2011 fifth-rounder Marcus Cannon), it's always a good idea to have depth and talent along your offensive line.
Like Vollmer, Nady is a massive (6'7", 305 pounds) tackle with good length and leverage. He's essentially a lottery ticket, but with a great offensive line coach like Dante Scarnecchia, it's not a bad idea to take on a few projects.
Like most seventh-rounders, Nady isn't perfect. He occasionally over-sets in pass protection (affecting his ability to keep his balance against interior moves) and keeps his pad level too high (yielding leverage to bullrushers). But those are coachable technique issues, and Scarnecchia is the kind of coach who is capable of maximizing Nady's potential.
Nady has the length to leverage NFL rushers past the pocket, and the strength to anchor against the pass or get upfield push against the run. He'd be a very smart pick for the Pats in the final round, and a potential steal to add depth and upside along the offensive line.