“Perfect” is in the eye of the beholder.
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how the old saying goes, but it still applies. What’s perfect for one team is awful for another.
If the Bills take quarterback Geno Smith with their first pick, good for them. If the Patriots do the same, it would be the biggest waste of resources this side of the Big Dig.
So what is the Patriots’ perfect draft?
In short, one that fills their needs and brings in top-notch talent.
New England’s needs are few but urgent. Atop the list is wide receiver, where they currently have Danny Amendola and Donald Jones slotted as starters. Other legitimate weapons to accompany Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, will make the Patriots offense virtually unstoppable and give Tom Brady even more options in the passing game.
A young cornerback would be a welcome addition as well. Aqib Talib is back on a one-year deal, so while he, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard make for a solid unit, they aren’t elite by any means, and now is the time to land Talib’s eventual replacement.
The only other major need is along the defensive front seven, where the team still lacks a true pass-rushing force. Chandler Jones looks primed to take a step forward in his second season, but the Patriots need pressure from more than just one player. If they can land a disruptive rusher in the draft, one has to think they’ll seize that opportunity.
Beyond that, look for them to pad their depth and find insurance for players already under contract.
Without further adieu, here is the New England Patriots' perfect mock draft.
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
The consensus No. 2 cornerback in this year’s draft, Rhodes profiles as the type of true shutdown corner the Patriots haven’t had since Ty Law.
He may need a few seasons to reach that potential since he relied heavily on a physical, in-your-face style of play during his college career. He was extremely successful jamming receivers on the line and grinding into them throughout their routes. According to NFLDraftScout.com, he has a reputation for initiating contact downfield.
While those are all desirable traits at a position frequently required to stifle the opposition’s most explosive weapons with little to no help, Rhodes will need to refine his game or risk drawing a defensive pass interference or illegal contact penalty on virtually every play.
In the flag-happy NFL, he won’t be able to use his size (6’1”, 210 lbs) and aggressiveness to manhandle receivers like he did in college, at least not without catching the referees' attention.
Still, players with Rhodes’ ability to play press coverage on the outside don’t come along very often. He showed excellent measurables at the NFL combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash, 11’0” broad jump and 40.5” vertical leap, but his most impressive stat came on the playing field.
During a 12-game stretch last season, Rhodes surrendered one catch per game for an average of seven yards.
He did not allow a single touchdown during that span.
Rhodes may not be available when New England’s pick comes up (I’ve seen him mocked as high as 12th overall to Miami), but this is a “perfect” draft, and in that scenario, Rhodes falls into their lap.
He’d be a great fit for the Patriots as an impact rookie to rotate with Arrington, Dennard and Talib in the secondary while he learns the nuances of playing in the NFL.
Next offseason, when Talib presumably leaves via free agency, Rhodes, Dennard and Arrington will still leave the Patriots with a quality secondary to build around.
Otherwise, look for the Patriots to snag Washington’s Desmond Trufant as a versatile cornerback capable of playing both zone and man coverage. SMU’s defensive end Margus Hunt (who I’ve been touting as a good fit since early February) could also be a possibility here if the team doesn’t address its pass rush in free agency or if Rhodes and Trufant are both gone.
Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech
Rogers has more red flags than a Communist Party rally but the talent is undeniable.
As a sophomore at Tennessee in 2011, he led the SEC in receptions and finished second in yards and touchdowns. As a junior, well, let’s just say he played at a different level.
After a series of failed drug tests and attitude-related brushes with the Tennessee coaching staff, Rogers was suspended indefinitely by the team. Rather than face the possibility of a year on the bench, he transferred to Tennessee Tech where he immediately became the focal point of the offense.
Facing an inferior level of competition in the Ohio Valley Conference, Rogers posted 61 catches for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns.
His talent has never been questioned and NFLDraftScout.com projects him in Round 2 or 3 but points out his first-round talent. His off-field concerns are the only reason he may slip to New England at the end of Round 2.
The 6’3”, 217-pound Rogers is a gritty receiver who physically dominates opposing defenders both before and after the catch. NFLDraftScout also compares him to the Falcons’ Julio Jones and he's spent a good deal of this offseason putting his character concerns to rest.
During the combine he seemed to have gained perspective and called his experience humbling while accepting full responsibility for his actions.
Obviously with so many red flags, the Patriots will tread carefully when it comes to taking a risk on the mercurial receiver, but he is a perfect fit for the Patriots from a talent standpoint. His physical style and game-breaking ability will fit very well alongside Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Aaron Hernandez.
Hernandez and Amendola are, for the most part, finesse players who rely on quickness and precision to get open and create mismatches. Gronk is a wrecking ball with limbs but when he’s been injured, the Patriots haven’t had another pass-catcher capable of breaking down a defense and making plays against a physical secondary.
Rogers would be that guy.
Not that long ago, another wide receiver slipped in the draft due to character concerns despite his obvious talent. His name was Randy Moss.
While Rogers may not be Moss or even Julio Jones, he’s worth a pick even if he turns out to be “just” another Anquan Boldin.
Trevado Williams, DE/OLB, Connecticut
With respect to my colleague James Ermilio, who highlights the “Honey Badger” and raises valid concerns in his recent article detailing “Picks the Pats Should Avoid in the Draft”, I think Mathieu is exactly the type of player the Patriots should explicitly target.
His playmaking ability and ferocious approach to playing defense are exactly the type of uncoachable traits the Patriots have lacked in recent seasons. The coaching staff can educate him on the finer points of defending the pass in the NFL as he earns his stripes as the Patriots’ third or fourth corner. Besides, Deion Sanders loves the kid, and if you haven't seen Deion's comments from the combine, do yourself a favor and watch the video here.
That’s assuming they don’t land a cornerback in the first two rounds. If they do, which seems likely given the sheer number of quality CBs available, then Mathieu doesn’t make much sense with a high pick.
Operating under those parameters, Trevardo Williams is the ideal pick here.
Granted, I’m a UConn alum (UCONN! HUSKIES! Feel free to join in, those of you who know the chant) and I’d love to see my fellow Husky suiting up for the Patriots this fall, but this isn’t exactly a homer pick.
The 6’1”, 241-pound Williams notched 24 sacks during his two years as a full-time starter at Connecticut. He was named First-Team All Big East in 2012 and his 30 career sacks are the most of any player in the conference since 2005.
Williams exclusively played defensive end in college, but could be better suited as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the pros. His small stature and explosive speed (he ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the combine) bodes well for future success coming of the edge behind the bigger bodies up front.
The Patriots recently brought Dwight Freeney and John Abraham in for visits, so adding to the pass rush is obviously an area of concern. Williams will fill that need admirably as he complements and eventually overtakes Rob Ninkovich.
Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan
No I didn't forget about Rounds 4-6, as the Patriots don't pick there. They traded those picks away to acquire Albert Haynesworth, Chad Johnson and Aqib Talib, and they acquired this pick with Talib as well.
When the draft dwindles down to this point, you might as well swing for the fences and the former quarterback represents the ultimate late-round gamble.
The Patriots have had great success with another former Michigan QB (you may have heard of Tom Brady); why not go back to the well?
Of course, Robinson is an entirely different beast since he won’t be playing quarterback in the NFL. He’s currently in the midst of transitioning to wide receiver and the reviews are mixed at best.
What he lacks in fundamentals, route-running and hands, he makes up for in agility, explosiveness and game-changing speed. After all, he was once among the most dynamic offensive players in all of college football.
The early book on Robinson is that he simply doesn’t have good hands, so why not experiment with him as a cornerback? As a former QB, he understands passing windows and where to expect the football. His natural athletic ability should also serve him well.
In either case, as a wideout or cornerback, Robinson is a project.
The only area in which he already excels is with the ball in his hands. He at least would give the Patriots another deadly option in the return game to pair with Leon Washington.
Kicker isn’t usually a priority heading into draft day, unless of course you’re the Oakland Raiders and Sebastian Janikowski is staring you in the face in Round 1.
While the Patriots aren’t quite that desperate, they could certainly use a young kicker to compete with incumbent Stephen Gostkowski.
Not only did Gostkowski miss six field goals in 2012, but he’s a mediocre 84.2 percent kicker over his career. That in and of itself isn’t worth condemnation; after all, he’s been mostly reliable during his tenure in New England.
However, according to Spotrac.com, he’s due $7.2 million over the next two seasons.
Why on earth would the Patriots pay that much for a slightly above-average kicker when they can draft one in the last round and pay him peanuts by comparison?
Answer: They wouldn’t.
This is exactly why they will likely consider whichever of the draft’s best kickers are available with their last pick.