Draft Prospects Who Would Fit Perfectly with the New England Patriots

Oliver ThomasContributor IApril 3, 2013

Draft Prospects Who Would Fit Perfectly with the New England Patriots

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    Come April 25, the New England Patriots decision-makers will be hunkered down in a war room for the NFL draft.

    Behind the closed doors, head coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, football research director Ernie Adams and other minds will debate the importance of a prospect's value and fit.

    Yet contrary to popular belief, the best player on the board doesn't always make for the best player in any team's system. It comes down to how well a team can utilize a player.

    This leads us to the element of fit.

    A player's fit hinges on his ability to fulfill a role based on his strengths and weaknesses. Fit has less to do with freakish athleticism or college statistics than it has to do with what a prospect can contribute in a particular scheme.

    In other words, you don't draft a 250-pound defensive end to play the 5-technique in a 3-4 defense. And you certainly don't draft a sluggish 350-pound offensive guard to play in a zone-blocking scheme.

    With this importance of fit at the forefront, here is a non-inclusive look at five perfect matches for New England.

     

    All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

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    Arguably the most complete wide receiver in the 2013 draft class, Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins is unlikely to leave the first round without a team.

    The 6'1", 214-pound Tiger runs tight, crisp routes and knows how to work back to the ball for the catch. He is deceptive in and out of breaks but also gets tough with cornerbacks to fend off press coverage.

    While statistics don't weigh heavily on NFL draft decisions, Hopkins did total 14 grabs for 336 yards and four touchdowns versus Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Georgia Tech's Rod Sweeting and North Carolina State's David Amerson in 2012. That type of production against talented defensive backs cannot go unnoticed.

    He's not a Randy Moss-type, but Hopkins' 36-inch vertical at the NFL combine coincides with his success rate in leaping up to secure grabs. He's not exactly a jump-ball receiver, either, though Hopkins knows how to track the ball downfield and adjust to make spectacular catches. Those traits make him an absolute thrill to watch on tape.

    Hopkins is an option both near the sideline and in traffic. He can get his toes down in bounds but also hang onto the football under rigorous contact. That mixture of finesse and fearlessness is hard to come by.

    The man known as "Nuke" can also factor into the screen game—a critical component of the Patriots offense. Once the junior gets the ball in his hands, his aggressive running style and vision make him a near guarantee to move the chains. 

    Although Hopkins is not a speedster—he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds in Indianapolis—he is very dangerous in space. Despite not having that coveted "fifth gear" that evaluators talk about, his footwork makes up for it. In addition, the wideout's familiarity with the spread offense makes him a desirable talent for the Patriots.

    Adding the physical "X" receiver would be a huge accomplishment for New England's brass. When it comes to hands, change of direction, size and scheme fit, Hopkins meets all the requirements. 

    Player-team meetings must be taken with a grain of salt, but Hopkins did meet with the Patriots at the combine, according to CSNNE.com's Mary Paoletti. And more recently, NFL Draft Bible reported via Twitter that the team had a private workout with Hopkins in late March.

Justin Pugh, OG/OT, Syracuse

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    Justin Pugh told Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald that he "had some good battles" against Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones during their practices at Syracuse.

    Will the 6'4", 307-pound Orangeman ever face his old teammate in practice again?

    It's a possibility that cannot yet be ruled out. Pugh did meet with the Patriots at the combine, per Howe, and he fills a need on the inside of the offensive line.

    Pugh, who played primarily left tackle in college, is projected to play guard at the next level. He's a bit undersized as far as NFL tackles go. After all, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are both 6'8". 

    Although Pugh's tape shows him playing on the blind side of quarterback Ryan Nassib, it's easy to see how his game could translate to guard. He's very experienced, starting 33 of a possible 37 games over the last three seasons. On top of that, he's as well-rounded a blocker as you can find in the second round.

    A confident run-blocker, Pugh pushes ahead until the whistle is blown. And if he doesn't get all of his first block, he looks upfield and disrupts linebackers at the second level. As a pass-protector, Pugh sometimes loses the leverage battle and his feet leave the turf momentarily.

    Nonetheless, the senior knows how to frustrate pass-rushers with his hands and feet more so than sheer athleticism.

    Yes, he will occasionally get beat to the edge by bigger and faster defensive ends, yet that's not as much of a concern due to his impending move to the inside. On the interior, Pugh will be challenged by bulky run-stuffers. But by posting 23 bench reps of 225 pounds at the Syracuse pro day (according to Michael Cohen of Syracuse.com), Pugh showed he's strong enough.

    This draft has two surefire first-rounders at guard: Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper. Pugh is in the second tier, which means he could go anywhere from the end of Round 1 to early in Round 3.

    If the Patriots could grab No. 67 somewhere on Day 2, it would mean that Dan Connolly would have some competition for the starting right guard spot. In the worst-case scenario, Pugh fulfills a backup role at left and right guard during his rookie year, also offering depth as an emergency tackle.

Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State

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    Much like wide receiver, cornerback has been a real hit-or-miss position for the Patriots. However, Oregon State's Jordan Poyer has the intangibles to become a sure thing in the NFL.

    Poyer won't wow you with his measureables—he's 6'0", 191 pounds, with a 40-time of 4.54 seconds—but he will on film.

    The Beavers corner has the instincts and ball skills to look the part in both press man and zone schemes. He's also shown progression throughout his years in Corvallis. And that has been most evident through his ability to read the quarterback's eyes. He picked off two passes in 2010, four in 2011 and seven in 2012.

    Poyer doesn't shy away from larger receivers. Despite not being the fastest or the strongest defensive back, he still finds a way to get stops. He amassed 14 pass deflections during his senior season.

    He can do more than cover, too. The converted safety does a good job of disengaging from receivers' blocks and storming into the backfield, where he netted five tackles for loss and two sacks last year. He's adept in keeping the play in front of him and rarely gets out of position. Sometimes, however, he doesn't get low enough and gets plowed over as a result.

    Nevertheless, Poyer has stuck in the discussion as a possible first- or second-rounder ever since season's end. Not bad for a guy who doesn't exactly challenge the stopwatch.

    According to Nick Underhill of MassLive.com, Poyer met with the Patriots at the Senior Bowl. New England has shown interest in defensive backs that can play the ball before, and it may do so again this year.

    At the end of the day, Poyer is a multifaceted battler. He doesn't have the highest ceiling as far as early round corners are concerned, but his baseline is far higher than most. Poyer is tall enough to play outside, yet savvy enough in space to play in the nickel or dime as well. Oh, and he can return punts to boot.

Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia

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    John Sarmento of 2MugsFF.com once told me that West Virginia wide receiver Stedman Bailey is "Steve Smith after taxes."

    That comparison hits the nail on the head.

    At only 5'10", 193 pounds, Bailey isn't being touted as a first-round pick in this year's draft. But there's something to be said for being Geno Smith's go-to target in an offense that contains the electrifying Tavon Austin.

    Running a mediocre 40-yard dash time of 4.52 seconds and standing under 6'0" makes Bailey all the more of an overachiever. In 2012, the redshirt junior registered 114 catches for 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns for the Mountaineers.

    Aside from running a 6.81 three-cone time at the combine, Bailey didn't stand apart at the combine. But when it's time to actually play football, few stand apart more than Bailey. What makes him so effective is his physical route running, reliable hands and competitive nature. He will fight for first downs and make the necessary adjustments to track down the ball mid-route or in air.

    The 22-year-old won't be an imposing deep threat in the NFL. Yet somehow, Bailey still finds a way to get separation, sneaking behind his defenders on post and corner routes. He's got steady hands and isn't afraid of going over the middle to collect passes, either.

    If Bill Belichick and Co. drafted Bailey on Day 2, it would not be a decision they would regret. What makes Bailey a fit for New England's offense is his high football IQ, his strength, his pure fundamentals and his niche in the spread offense.

    Developing young ultra-athletic wide receivers has not been the Patriots' strong suit. But that's not Bailey. He won't be an outside-the-numbers target in the NFL. He'll be a flanker, and a really reliable one at that. 

Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida

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    It would be wise for the Patriots to add some linebacker depth in the middle rounds of this year's draft. While Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower are downhill runners, they are far less effective when dropping back into coverage.

    Jelani Jenkins is of a different mold.

    The six-foot, 243-pound Jenkins is compact but has the mobility and instincts to cover tight ends and halfbacks in sub-packages. Over 36 career games at Florida, he proved to be a weapon against the pass, deflecting seven passes while picking off three.

    Jenkins made the decision to enter the draft after a forgettable redshirt junior season. He was hampered by a broken thumb, broken foot and a hamstring issue in 2012. He finished the year with just 29 tackles.

    His stock may be hurting, but Jenkins is healed up and ready to make an impact. According to ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco, the aggressive outside backer ran a 4.78 unofficial 40-yard dash time under rainy conditions at his pro day on March 12.

    While Jenkins has the agility to move from sideline to sideline, he also showed some strength at the combine. By benching 27 reps of 225 pounds, Jenkins tied for fourth most among linebackers. That upper body strength is impressive, but his size still limits his ability to go into the teeth of an offensive line.

    Yet due to his skill set and versatility in a very Patriot-friendly Florida defense, Jenkins is one to watch out for early in Day 3. The Patriots don't have a lot of depth behind Mayo on the weak side of the defense, so it wouldn't be a shock to see the front office address this via the draft.

    By now it is clear that Coach Belichick is fond of the University of Florida football program. He has drafted a staggering six Gators since since 2004, cites NFLDraftHistory.com. With that kind of track record, it's only a matter of time before the Patriots grab another.