New England Patriots Mock Draft: Updated 7-Round Projections After Senior Bowl
The renowned Senior Bowl has been checked off the to-do list, the NFL combine is circled on the calendar, and the 2013 NFL draft is just three months away.
Needless to say the New England Patriots' brass have a lot on its plate.
While it's hard to get over the AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens, draft season is looming. And the Patriots have a chance to add onto the youth movement already under way in Foxborough.
Although New England has struck gold in recent drafts, head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio won't shy away from restocking the talent pool come April 25.
As far the Patriots' areas of need, defensive tackle, defensive back, edge rusher, wide receiver, offensive guard and offensive tackle are positions that warrant deepening. The problem, however, is the amount of room the Patriots have to budge.
New England is currently slated to make only five selections in this year's draft, and none in Rounds 4 through 6.
While the number of scheduled picks may seem scarce now, the organization is known for making swaps to accumulate picks once the draft clock starts ticking. That is largely how the Patriots have been able to draft 40 players since 2009, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Yet if New England goes quality over quantity and stands pat, here are five logical fits who could call Gillette Stadium home next season.
Round 1, Pick 29: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Despite the All-Pro efforts of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, interior pressure was not a strong suit for the Patriots this year.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has utilized both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick next to Wilfork in New England's base 4-3 defense. But Love is more of a bulky run-stuffer and Deaderick is a slimmer body who can permeate the backfield when not outmuscled by stronger offensive linemen.
Purdue's Kawann Short is the best of Love and Deaderick all in one. He should be around for the Patriots to select him at the end of Round 1.
Standing in at 6'3" and 308 pounds (per Bleacher Report NFL lead writer Michael Schottey), Short is a wide body who's also a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage. In 13 games for the Boilermakers this season, Short racked up 43 tackles, seven sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
But what stands out most is the four-year starter's brute strength. According to Brian Bennett of ESPN.com, Short can squat 600 pounds and bench over 400 pounds. With that in mind, it's no wonder Short got into the backfield to make 15.5 tackles for loss this year.
Gifted with massive wingspan to boot, Short batted down four passes and blocked an unbelievable four kicks during his redshirt senior campaign.
Even though Short is an athletic specimen, his conditioning and consistency are drawbacks. This past July during Big Ten media days, Short addressed the strides he's making to improve upon those deficiencies. Per Michael Osipoff of The Post-Tribune, Short said:
A lot of plays, I took off last year — I wasn’t really that dominant guy, then two seconds later, I’m that dominant guy again. That is really not acceptable; I’m really not that guy to be doing that. So it’s just being consistent, and doing what I need to do.
He may not be ready for a full workload initially. But if mentored by Wilfork, who played 81 percent of defensive snaps this year (via FootballOutsiders.com), Short could develop into an every-down anchor on New England's defensive line.
For now, it remains to be seen if Short is deserving of a first-round grade. Scouts Inc. ranks Short as the 27th-best prospect, but he's only No. 50 on the big board of Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller.
At the Senior Bowl, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks described Short's lateral quickness as "rare" for a man of his size. If the three-technique lineman can follow up with a strong performance at the NFL combine, a team like New England may just fall in love with him at the end of Round 1.
Round 2, Pick 59: Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
The third wideout on the depth chart is the 33-year-old Deion Branch, who's no longer targeted outside a 10-yard bubble. Then the fourth and fifth options are Matthew Slater and Kamar Aiken, who have one career catch combined.
Not only is the crop aging with three receivers over 30, but there's free-agency risk with the franchise-tagged Welker and the injured Julian Edelman.
The culmination of these factors make it all the more vital for the Patriots to nab a gifted pass-catcher through the draft.
Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton is one to watch out for in Round 2.
Patton has posted big numbers in the pass-first Bulldogs offense. As a junior college transfer, Patton amassed 183 receptions for 2,594 yards, and 24 touchdowns over just two seasons of Division I play.
According to OptimumScouting.com's Eric Galko, Patton measured out to be 6-foot, 202 pounds at the Senior Bowl. He's got the long arms to be a danger outside the numbers, as well as the athleticism to thrive in the slot. No. 4 is fluid in and out of breaks and possesses great body control when tracking down the football.
He can do things other than catch the ball, too. Unlike most receivers, Patton is a sturdy blocker who finishes plays strong. In addition to his capabilities as a receiver, Patton also has experience as a returner, where the Patriots have used both Edelman and Welker.
While Patton is quick, he's not a burner who will break away from coverage at the next level. Another knock on him is the fact he didn't play against top-tier NFL prospects in the Western Athletic Conference.
Yet Patton is what the Patriots offense has been longing for: a deep threat. This past season, Patton had seven games with a reception over 50 yards and four games with multiple touchdowns.
Patton's fantastic play at the Senior Bowl has given him an edge over other receivers, opines Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com. And even though that's a good sign for the wideout, it puts his availability at pick No. 59 in doubt.
Round 3, Pick 91: Leon McFadden, CB, San Diego State
The Patriots secondary is improved. But a lot of the responsibility relies on converted free safety Devin McCourty to keep the peace.
The rangy McCourty has been one of the positives after moving over from cornerback. Yet when injuries to cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard arose late in the regular season, the Rutgers product was back at corner to avert crisis.
If medical woes in the defensive backfield were all it took for McCourty to be back in his old stomping grounds, then the loss of Talib and nickelback Kyle Arrington as unrestricted free agents would certainly throw a wrench into the plans.
San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden could be just the answer in Round 3.
A feisty defensive back who relishes in zone coverage, McFadden registered 61 tackles, three interceptions, a forced fumble and two touchdowns for the Aztecs this year. Due to his field awareness and scrappy play, McFadden was voted All-Mountain West Conference for the third time in his collegiate career.
Rotoworld.com's Josh Norris noted that McFadden only measured up to be 5'9" and 193 pounds at the Senior Bowl. A tad small, McFadden isn't going to bruise up NFL receivers. But he will be a thorn in their side.
Per Tom Melton of TheFootballStandard.com, McFadden got the most out of his frame during workouts in Mobile, Ala.:
Leon McFadden CB San Diego State is getting plenty of notice. 3 INTs in 2 practices, immaculate coverage. Turning a lot of heads.
Regardless of his diminutive size, McFadden is a tremendous athlete who's got the ball skills, aggressiveness and footwork needed to make a difference in the pros. He's savvy either outside or in the slot, and he merits no worse than a third-round selection.
Round 7, Pick 205: Cooper Taylor, SS, Richmond
Yet while McCourty and Gregory have been effective in coverage, neither starter is over 5'11" or 200 pounds. Relatively undersized, receivers don't think twice about crossing the middle to make grabs.
Lower down the safety depth chart, the Patriots also have some questions left to be answered. Will 2009 second-round pick Patrick Chung even be offered a contract this offseason? Will 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson build upon his role in the dime package? And lastly, will 2012 sixth-round choice Nate Ebner ever be more than a special teams stalwart?
By selecting a safety late in this year's draft, the Patriots could minimize the uncertainty. And Richmond's Cooper Taylor could still be available.
Taylor is a 6'4", 230-pound safety with polished fundamentals and a knack for the big hit. Despite playing in the Football Championship Subdivision of Division I, Taylor's playing style should translate to the NFL game due to his innate physicality.
The FCS All-American totaled 78 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.0 interceptions and 9.0 pass deflections this year. Five of Taylor's takedowns netted a loss of yards and he was second on the team with four quarterback hits.
Decisive at the point of attack, Taylor can cheat up to contain the ground game. Yet on the same token, he's also athletic dropping back in coverage and flocking to the football.
Taylor's cerebral play keeps the defense at an equilibrium. Taylor put forth a good week of practice leading up to the East-West Shrine Game, reported NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler. Brugler noted that Taylor "routinely drew praise from the coaching staff during drills and often made the calls to get his teammates in proper position."
However, there are two prominent flaws when it comes to Taylor. His imposing size is not conducive to speed, which leaves him exploitable against faster skill players. And he's got a medical history that could push him to Day 3.
According to RamblinWreck.com, Taylor—a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket—was granted a medical redshirt in 2010 after being diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. His heart rate spiked early in the 2009 season and he underwent surgery to repair the abnormality soon after, per Doug Roberson of The Atlanta Journal Constitution.
If Taylor checks out with a clean bill of health, an NFL team will take a flier on him. And if the Patriots are still in the market for a safety come Round 7, the FCS standout would be a high-reward option at a low-risk price.
Round 7, Pick 221: Brandon Sharpe, DE/OLB, Syracuse
With Jerod Mayo in the middle, Brandon Spikes on the weak side and rookie first-round pick Dont'a Hightower on the strong side, New England's linebacker unit is a frightening bunch.
This year, the former high-draft selections combined for 299 total tackles, eight sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 13 pass deflections and nine forced fumbles. With output like that, don't expect this group to be broken up anytime soon.
Although, the depth behind the starting three is another story. The Patriots' most adept reserve linebacker is Dane Fletcher, who has been on injured reserve since August. After him, the roster includes a collection of special teams contributors like Tracy White, Niko Koutouvides and former practice squad journeyman Mike Rivera.
One injury to Mayo, Spikes or Hightower and it's a huge setback for New England's 4-3 hybrid front. That's why the Patriots should look to bolster the position in the final hours of April's draft.
Syracuse's Brandon Sharpe could still be waiting.
Sharpe is a bit of an enigma because he was moved from linebacker to defensive end during his freshman year with the Orangemen, per SUAthletics.com. The move will likely be reverted in the pros, but he's proven to be a high-motor guy nevertheless.
This past season, the 6'1", 253-pound pass-rusher was credited with 39 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and even a safety.
Having played in 48 games since 2009, Sharpe knows how to get on the field and should do so in the NFL. He will need to work on his coverage, as he spent most of his collegiate career with a hand in the turf. While that may make him vulnerable dropping back to defend the pass, it also makes him a intriguing option coming off the edge.
The Patriots could always use another versatile "thumper" and that's exactly what Sharpe is. An All-Big East Second Team selection, Sharpe was a big reason why Syracuse ranked sixth nationally in tackles for loss, per NCAA.com.
Sharpe is a little thicker than you'd like for an outside linebacker, but he runs hard to make up for it. He may not have the highest ceiling and fastest 40-yard dash time, but Sharpe would be a complementary No. 4 linebacker to have outside behind Hightower and Spikes. At the very least, he will find a niche in the NFL as a situational pass-rusher.
For what it's worth, Sharpe played alongside Patriots' 2012 first-rounder Chandler Jones for three seasons. And after Jones's solid rookie season, the Patriots might go back to the Syracuse pipeline once again this year.
CBSSports.com ranks Sharpe as the 20th-best outside linebacker available in the draft and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller slots him as the 199th overall prospect. While it's still early in the draft process, Sharpe hasn't attended a senior all-star game and is flying under the radar. It's possible that the Virginia Beach native could fall to Round 7.