The New England Patriots are standing on solid ground heading into the April 25 NFL draft. And it's because there are no glaring holes on the depth chart. With the Patriots' roster significantly replenished via free agency, Bill Belichick and staff can focus on drafting prospects for value and fit.
That said, the team only has five draft picks to do so.
Yes, selections are in short supply, although that doesn't mean the Patriots can't make the most of them.
With one draft eye focused on value and the other focused on fit, New England can find a handful of assets—regardless of round. This is a patient technique, and a wise one as well. Taking leaps of faith on players due to dire necessity is no way to build a successful franchise.
This strategy also means the team's brass may draft a head-scratcher—like a running back or a tight end—when in fact there's no immediate need for either of those positions.
So which members of the 2013 draft class would provide the Patriots with both value and fit?
Here's one option for every position.
As Michael Holley divulged in the New York Times bestseller Patriot Reign, the Patriots designed a scouting portrait in the mid-2000s which covered all the traits a quarterback should have. Interestingly enough, the requirements sketched a spitting image of Tom Brady.
Washington State's Jeff Tuel is not Tom Brady. But he does fit the parameters for what the team's personnel are looking for.
Tuel proved to be mentally tough coming back from multiple injuries during his time with the Cougars. In the 2011 season opener, Tuel broke his left clavicle. He returned after missing four games. And a game later versus Oregon State, he re-injured the same bone.
To make matters worse, he was diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome after suffering a right calf injury. His junior season was over and his senior campaign brought more complications. This time, it was apparently a sprained MCL, which limited him to 10 games.
Tuel has been through a lot and his mind is still in the right place. That's very telling, considering Washington State has gone 10-38 since Tuel arrived on campus in 2009. The four-year starter has been a leader through coaching changes and tumult. Former Wazzu QB Marshall Lobbestael backed that sentiment up, calling Tuel a "great teammate, a great leader," via Howie Stalwick of Scout.com.
His ability to make the right reads despite the pass rush is indicative of his composure. He's extremely mobile for his 6'3", 218-pound frame, and running a 4.6 40 time at his pro day proves that, per Gil Brandt of NFL.com.
He is able to evade tacklers and make throws on the run. He can make plays with his feet, fend off hits and needle the ball through coverage.
A 33-25 touchdown-to-interception ratio doesn't tell the whole story about Tuel's performance in Pullman. He is a touch passer. He may not put a lot of zip on the ball, but he makes up for it with his accuracy. Despite playing in a pass-first spread offense, Tuel holds the school's highest completion percentage, over the likes of Ryan Leaf and Drew Bledsoe.
In all, the 22-year-old is a project who will likely hear his name called in Round 7. Nonetheless, Tuel is a focused and talented player who could thrive in a scheme tailored to his strengths.
According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, the gunslinger had a private workout with the Patriots. The jury is still out on Ryan Mallett, so taking a flier on a quarterback can't be dismissed.
Let it be known: Running back is not a scarce position for the Patriots.
There's 1,200-yard rusher Stevan Ridley who can bounce outside the tackles, Shane Vereen, who can change pace and line up as a receiver, Brandon Bolden who can pack a punch, and Leon Washington, who can return punts and kicks.
But if we have learned anything about Bill Belichick, it's that he's not afraid to throw players at a wall and see which ones stick. Which leads us to Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet.
A Football Championship Subdivision standout, Maysonet is only 5'9" and 209 pounds. Nevertheless, he has the burst outside and the compact strength to ricochet off defenders.
College production must be taken with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to small-school talents. But Maysonet's numbers are hard to ignore. The Hofstra transfer racked up 4,725 rushing yards and 48 rushing touchdowns over his three years at Stony Brook. He even posted strong performances versus Football Bowl Subdivision opponents such as Syracuse and Army.
Maysonet's impact in the receiving game was minimal, but he was a byproduct of a ground-and-pound offense. He never caught more than nine passes in a season, although he did average over 10 yards per catch, even tallying four career TD grabs.
The 2012 Walter Payton Award runner-up was invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, where he did not run the 40-yard dash but did bench 20 reps of 225 pounds—that's more than North Carolina's Giovanni Bernard and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin.
Maysonet solidified himself at his pro day, running a 4.47 40-yard dash, according to Rick Serritella of NFL Draft Bible. With his speed and sturdy frame, Maysonet would be an intriguing seventh-round option for the Patriots. That would be a low-risk time for the team to pile on another rusher when it's all about finding the best player available.
A running back doesn't average 7.4 yards per carry for no reason. So it's no wonder New England had a private workout with Maysonet, per the NEPatriotsDraft.com contacts page.
Following the breakdown of two late-round fits at quarterback and tailback, here's your reward: Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Likely a first-round pick, Hopkins uses his 6'1", 214-pound frame to his advantage and isn't afraid to get physical with defensive backs. He will push off at or beyond the line of scrimmage, but "Nuke" manages to draw a lot of penalty flags on the defense. That kind of savvy makes him a fascinating wideout to watch.
Arguably the best route-runner in this receiving class, the Tiger is clean in and out of brakes, often manipulating corners before breaking on the ball.
New England's issues with grooming pass-catchers has often come down to learning the nuances of the Patriots option routes and no-huddle attack. Hopkins has the wit and polish to come in and make an impact right away.
Although he's more of a possession receiver, Hopkins is very aware of his surroundings and can trace the football over his shoulder and into his hands. He can adjust and retreat in order to convert difficult grabs.
Hopkins is a factor down the sideline, in traffic and also in the screen game. He has excellent field presence and makes the tough catches falling out of bounds or between the safeties. That's the total package New England would like to have in an "X" receiver.
Having run the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at the combine, Hopkins is quicker than he is fast. But to call him speed-deficient would be inaccurate. His nimble feet make him a very challenging man to tackle in the open field.
Hopkins met with the Patriots at the combine, per CSNNE.com's Mary Paoletti. On top of that, NFL Draft Bible reported that No. 6 had a private workout with New England last month. If the Patriots were to draft one receiver in this class who has familiarity with a spread offense, good hands and more than just burner speed, it would be the Clemson junior.
As his numbers for 2012 suggest—82 receptions, 1,405 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns—he's ready.
There are six tight ends on New England's depth chart. If the Patriots drafted another, they'd have enough to form a rugby sevens team—and yes, that may be my attempt at a Nate Ebner joke.
In layman's terms, this is not an area where the Patriots are in need of much assistance. But if Belichick does become enamored with another pass-catching blocker, his name could very well be Joseph Fauria.
If that last name sounds familiar, it's because Joseph's uncle Christian spent four years as a tight end for New England. And much like his uncle, the young Fauria is also a red-zone target.
At 6'7" and 259 pounds with 33-inch arms and nearly 11-inch hands, it's hard to miss the UCLA Bruin down in the end zone. He essentially looks like a basketball player reaching up for a rebound. That size makes for a lot of scores. He totaled 12 touchdowns as a senior this past fall.
Fauria's skill set is receiver-centric. He's not exactly an in-line blocker. He's also a little on the light side for his height. Yet he is a viable option who can create mismatches, especially out of the slot.
Fauria has surprising speed for his height and is also a very good athlete. He will leap for the pylon and secure a jump ball. According to NFL.com's Gil Brandt, Fauria ran a 4.72 40 time and jumped for a vertical of 35.5".
His college career started at Notre Dame, where he did not record any receptions. He did, however, get suspended by the office of residential living, per Frank Vitovich of UHND.com. He ultimately decided to transfer before his sophomore year.
Could this be a match? Only time will tell. The Patriots did have an "informal meeting" with Fauria, according to Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald. The 23-year-old may be a late-round option if the Patriots do in fact want another tight end to groom behind Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells and Brad Herman.
With Sebastian Vollmer re-signed and Nate Solder coming into his own, the Patriots do not need a first-round caliber offensive tackle.
There's concern when it comes to depth, however.
Former fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon has seen limited work and may eventually kick inside to guard, where his 340-pound frame could help out the run game. Meanwhile, veteran swing tackle Will Svitek has been brought in after spending a year out of football. He has started 16 of 61 NFL games.
Enter Luke Marquardt.
At this point you may be asking, "Excuse me, who?"
Well, this is Luke Marquardt, a 6'9", 322-pound ex-basketball player and converted tight end from Azusa Pacific. And just because he attended a small Christian university just outside of Los Angeles does not mean he's off NFL radars.
The Patriots like height at the two bookend spots. Solder and Vollmer both stand in at 6'8". And like both Patriots starting tackles, Marquardt is extremely athletic for his size. He's got light feet for being over 300 pounds, and his strength is exemplified through the number of "pancake blocks" he registers each game.
Level of competition concerns and a lack of experience at the position are two variables Marquardt will have to battle on his way to the NFL. As a result, he'll probably end up a sixth- or seventh-round selection on April 27.
New England could be one of the teams interested in his services.
Although Marquardt suffered a broken foot during his senior season, he garnered enough attention to attend the NFL combine. There, he met with the Patriots, reports George Bremer of The Herald Bulletin.
And yes, combine interviews are mostly due diligence. But the Patriots may have been doing more than that. There's a connection with Marquardt: He was coached by Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater, father of Patriots Pro Bowl gunner Matthew Slater.
The 6'4", 307-pound Justin Pugh was a solid offensive tackle for Syracuse. Setting up mainly at left tackle, Pugh started 33 of 37 games for the Orangemen since 2010. The only four contests he missed were due to a shoulder injury.
One knock on Pugh is that his height could become a problem as he transitions to facing the tall defensive ends of the NFL. Because of that, he could very well become an offensive guard at the next level.
Would the Patriots take him into consideration despite the position switch? Well, seeing how New England's roster is scattered with versatile chess pieces, the odds are in Pugh's favor.
Pugh would be a nice fit for the Patriots in Round 2. His knowledge and success in a pro-style offense at Syracuse should translate well to the pros.
On tape, Pugh's quick feet and balance stick out on passing downs. And still, he may be a better run-blocker than a pass-blocker. Pugh jumps off the line of scrimmage and finds his assignment, often bullying through to the second level of the defense. He was a big reason why Syracuse had multiple 1,000-yard rushers over the last few seasons.
While Pugh gets by with shorter arms and average O-line speed, he does occasionally get over-matched by quick pass-rushers who beat him to the edge. But that deficiency would be lessened if Pugh does in fact move inside to battle defensive tackles.
If New England calls Pugh's name on Day 2 of the draft, it would do wonders for improving the squad's interior offensive line. Pugh could offer some competition for veteran right guard Dan Connolly, who has been in and out of the lineup due to injury. He could also provide some flexibility if Logan Mankins misses any more time at left guard.
According to Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald, Pugh met with the Patriots in Indianapolis. Chances are it was to talk about more than just dueling Chandler Jones in practice every day.
The Patriots have filled out the defensive tackle spot next to Vince Wilfork by adding Armond Armstead from the Canadian Football League and Tommy Kelly from the Oakland Raiders.
Between those additions and incumbents Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, someone should rise to the occasion and take the No. 1 gig in the 4-3.
Still, it wouldn't be a shock to see New England grab a interior D-lineman through the draft.
Assuming the touted names are off the board after the first three rounds, the Patriots could definitely find a high-effort man in the midst of things. That man could be Penn State's Jordan Hill.
The 6'1", 303-pound pass-rusher isn't big, nor is he very athletic.
But Hill has heart. He's got a high motor and knifes through the line with vigor. When he brings down quarterbacks, he does so like it's the last sack he'll ever notch.
Hill has overachieved despite not having the fastest legs or longest arms. He was forced to give up his redshirt as a freshman due to scarce depth and probably could have used that extra year of development. However, Hill still is growing into his own and a very experienced pass-rusher, having earned starts since his sophomore year.
Without the likes of Devon Still and Jared Odrick, Hill made 64 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one pass deflection and even one pick during his final year with the Nittany Lions. He can do a little bit of everything, despite being out-muscled by some stronger guards and centers.
His combine numbers don't jump out at you. He ran a 5.23 40-yard dash, leaped 22.5 inches in the vertical and benched 28 reps of 225 pounds. The moral of the story is some guys look a lot better on the field than in a physical testing venue. That's Hill.
If the Patriots were to acquire Hill, it'd probably be with a mid-to-late Day 3 draft choice. He wouldn't be a starter right away and perhaps never will be, but he's a nice situational pocket-pusher who plays with an inspiring level of intensity. Those types of players are few and far between.
With former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien coaching at Penn State, there's reason to believe Belichick's staff has learned the inside scoop on No. 47.
There's not many complaints to go around when it comes to Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. But there always can be more of a pass rush. For that, New England may look to the draft to spice things up.
The undrafted Justin Francis and 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham have shown flashes, while last year's third-rounder Jake Bequette has been quiet. Could another pickup be in the cards?
Illinois' Michael Buchanan could be what the Patriots are looking for.
From a physical standpoint, the defensive end/outside linebacker's 6'5", 255-pound build is the prototype for New England. The Patriots place a lot of importance in a player's initial steps off the snap, and that's where Buchanan excels.
At the combine, Buchanan ran a 4.78 40-time and was a top performer in the three-cone drill with a 6.91-second time. He is a little lean but still benched 22 reps in Indianapolis.
Buchanan is seasoned, playing in 46 games with the Illini. His best year came as a junior in 2011 when he totaled 64 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass deflection. His sack totals went down to 4.5 this past season, but that may have been due to a system change under new coach Tim Beckman.
If the Patriots were to find Buchanan in the draft, it'd probably be in a middle round. He could be of interest, as Christopher Price of WEEI.com reported that Belichick was on the Illinois campus, working out prospects and speaking with coaches.
Capable of playing the "Elephant" role in the Pats' 4-3 defense, Buchanan meets the requirements. He could be a complementary situational edge-rusher right out of the gate.
Being a friend of the coach's son has its benefits.
That is the case for Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. According to Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com, the Scarlet Knight was on the same team and in some of the same classrooms as Belichick's son Steven, who's now on the team's staff.
While it's a bit of a cop out to say his friendship with a Belichick puts him on New England's radar, Greene's play on the field makes the Patriots connection stronger.
Obviously the older Belichick is a fan of the Rutgers football program. He has collected several alums in year's past. But Greene makes sense beyond the college-to-pro pipeline.
The 6'1", 241-pound outside linebacker is a coverage nightmare for offenses. Greene accumulated six interceptions and 15 pass breakups during his college years.
Greene plays fast, and that's because he is fast. While at the NFL combine, Greene scorched a 4.71-second 40-yard dash and showed good sideline-to-sideline footwork in drills.
While his ability to play the pass makes him unique, Greene's ability to play the ball-carrier is quite impressive as well. Greene totaled 136 tackles, six sacks, 12 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles in 2012. Not a bad season for the senior.
Greene's an all-around linebacker. He can make plays behind and beyond the line of scrimmage. He can hit hard and run hard, too. But where would he fit in the Patriots defense with high-round draft picks Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower all in their primes?
Initially, Greene could be a nickel linebacker who could keep offenses in check. He'd be insurance, and very promising insurance at that.
His potential wouldn't limit him to sub packages, though. Before long, the former safety will be a full-timer on the weak side. If that were to transpire in Foxborough, it'd take a second-round draft selection.
Jordan Poyer is a thin cornerback at 6'0" and 191 pounds. But after watching him play, it's clear that he gets the most out of his body.
The Oregon State defensive back is a field general in the secondary. He knows his assignments and tracks the ball like a hawk. A very instinctual player, Poyer rarely makes misreads and often gets an arm up to knock down the pass, breaking up 14 passes as a senior in 2012.
Poyer is on the rise. He intercepted seven passes last season, which is more than his total from the previous two years. Those ball skills override his so-so physical limitations and speed. Despite running what was a 4.54 official 40-time at the combine, the Beaver hardly got burned during his years in Corvallis.
A converted safety, Poyer gets a good release in blitzing situations. He amassed five tackles for loss and two sacks in 2012. He launches at the ball-carrier and has a good success rate in doing so.
Poyer is adept in the zone defense, staying low and moving out of the quarterback's line of sight. He also likes to get his hands extended and fluster wide receivers, which makes him a stout press-man corner when the coverage calls for it.
Poyer to the Patriots is in the realm of possibility. But it would take a late second- or early third-round choice to do so.
Firstly, New England likes corners that can dabble at safety. Secondly, Poyer has ball skills and will get his fair share of picks. Thirdly, he is scheme-friendly. And fourthly, Poyer's short-area quickness has been on display through his role as return man.
With that checklist in order, the senior visited with the New England at the Senior Bowl, per Nick Underhill of MassLive.com.
In New England's secondary, Poyer could be a boundary corner for the long term. But in the short term, he could aid the nickel or dime packages and light a fire under the likes of Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling.
New England's need for another safety is minimal.
Beyond last year's starters Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory, there's 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson and sixth-round pick Nate Ebner. And let's not forget about newly acquired veteran Adrian Wilson, who should be an enforcer and mentor in the young secondary.
If the Patriots stockpiled the position even more—which would be a surprise with picks dwindling—what type of player would be on the radar?
A safety who could convert to cornerback makes sense.
That's Nevada's Michael "Duke" Williams.
Having seen significant playing time since his freshman year in 2009, it's a big plus that Williams knows how to get on the field. A second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection, Williams totaled 106 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries during his senior year.
After that standout campaign, he was selected for the East-West Shrine All-Star game.
A former sprinter, Williams performed well at the combine. The 6'0", 190-pound defensive back ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and a 4.00 20-yard shuttle. Straight-line speed and change of direction is key for any center fielder, and Williams has it. He also reads the offense well and can burst up to make stops.
He sometimes overbites his coverage and gets fooled, but that's part of his aggressive makeup. He's also not exactly the ideal size to play safety, but he is a hard hitter, which isn't typical of a track athlete.
It's possible that Williams sees a position change to corner, where he has been an asset against slot receivers. He plays fearlessly and can disrupt the open field out of the nickel. That flexibility really doubles his value.
According to Aaron Wilson of Scout.com, Williams has a scheduled meeting with the Patriots after working out privately for members of the New England coaching staff. If the interest is more than due diligence, Williams may end up in New England.