New England Patriots Big Board: Final Pre-Draft Update
The game tape has been evaluated, the pro day measurements have been noted, the player meetings have ended and the scouting reports have been vetted. It's time for the New England Patriots' war room to kick off the 2013 NFL draft.
But there's one more question left to be answered: Who will the Patriots select?
For that, head coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and research director Ernie Adams will turn to their draft board.
Within the confines of Gillette Stadium, New England's brass prepare their front and back boards—with prospects above a 5.5 draft grade being placed in the front. This value chart helps keep the team's top targets organized and goes a long way toward establishing the draft's final results.
So with only five draft selections on tap, what might New England's big board look like?
Here's one last Patriots-centric ranking of this year's draft prospects.
All prospect measurements courtesy of CBSSports.com.
Overall Big Board
New England's overall big board is stocked with the premier talents of the 2013 draft class.
These sought-after prospects also fulfill a positional need for the New England Patriots. And based on the team's moves in free agency, wide receiver, cornerback, defensive tackle, defensive end and the interior of the offensive line are top priorities.
Yet in order to acquire some of the following high-ranked prospects, coach Bill Belichick would likely have to trade up. That's obviously easier said than done with draft picks at a premium.
1. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State—6'2", 210 pounds: Alabama's Dee Milliner may be the best cornerback in this draft, but Florida State's Xavier Rhodes isn't far behind. With a great mix of length, speed and cover skills, Rhodes shouldn't fall out of the top half of Round 1. He can play press-man coverage and hang with No. 1 receivers.
2. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia—5'9", 174 pounds: The odds of New England nabbing a lightning bolt like Tavon Austin are absolutely minimal. Austin shouldn't make it out of the teens. But if he falls for some unforeseeable reason, he'd be tough for the Patriots to refuse.
Austin can make an impact in several phases of the game and is simply electrifying. However, he is not—and never will be—an "X" receiver.
3. Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State—6'4", 276 pounds: "Tank" Carradine would easily be a top-10 pick if it wasn't for a torn ACL suffered in November. The junior college transfer may be a little raw, but he makes up for it with his brute strength, aggressiveness and burst.
While he could fall to Round 2, don't be surprised if Carradine gets his name called before New England is on the clock.
4. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA—6'4", 283 pounds: Regardless of whether New England is in a 3-4 or a 4-3 formation, UCLA's Datone Jones could be on the field. He's a forceful defensive lineman with good size and violent arms.
He ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash and a 4.32-second two-yard shuttle at the combine in Indianapolis, so he's got some wheels considering he's within shouting distance of 300 pounds. He could very well be taken in the 18 to 30 range.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson—6'1", 214 pounds: The man known as "Nuke" cannot be taken lightly. Hopkins has the crisp route-running, quick feet, good hands and physical presence that the Patriots are looking for at receiver.
Although he's not a prototypical deep threat, Hopkins has the makings of a No. 1 or No. 1 NFL wideout. He's a shifty possession receiver who may just be around for the Patriots at pick 29 of the first round.
6. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina—6'3", 313 pounds: Sylvester Williams plays like he was a four-year starter, but in reality, he was a junior college transfer who played just one season of high school football.
He's 24 years old with limited experience, but his pass-rushing moves are essentially where they need to be for him to make an impact as a rookie. He's a big man, yet has the agility to get in the backfield in a hurry. There may be less risky picks at the end of the first round, although Williams could bring a lot of reward.
7. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington—6'0", 190 pounds: The younger brother of NFL cornerbacks Marcus and Isaiah, Desmond Trufant is the next in a prestigious bloodline. Trufant is a speedy defensive back with the size, man coverage and attitude to jive with the Patriots secondary. The Washington product shouldn't get out of the first round.
8. Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State—5'11", 192 pounds: Jamar Taylor is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in this draft. Hailing from the "Smurf turf" of Boise State, level of competition concerns are the biggest thorn in Taylor's side.
A scheme-savvy corner, Taylor is a standout in man coverage and in zone. He has the speed, the toughness and the ball skills to be a future Patriot. Taylor should end up a late first-, early second-round pick.
9. Robert Woods, WR, Southern California—6'1", 201 pounds: Likely in the second tier of receiving prospects, Robert Woods is a smooth runner with pure hands. He can run the entire route tree and won't back down from a defender. Not flashy, but effective, Woods looks like a Patriot. The USC Trojan is probably a late first- or early second-rounder.
10. Keenan Allen, WR, California—6'2", 206 pounds: What makes Keenan Allen so impressive is that he is still dangerous without having breakaway speed. He can beat coverage with his moves more so than pure quickness and has the length to go up and win jump balls.
While he does have a couple concerns, there's no denying he's a first-round talent. The Patriots don't usually go after speed-deficient wide receivers, but Allen's set of skills may be an exception to the rule.
The New England Patriots do not need to draft a starting-caliber quarterback this April. Tom Brady is under contract until he is 40 years old, and 2011 third-round pick Ryan Mallett is still waiting in the wings.
Nonetheless, Mallett has drawn interest from other teams and may be a potential trade chip. Although, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport said that it would likely take a first- or second-round pick for that plan to come to fruition.
But even if Mallett remains in Foxboro, there are far crazier things the Patriots could do than draft a QB. Former Philadelphia Eagles fourth-rounder Mike Kafka was signed to a "futures" deal, but it remains to be seen what he has to offer New England.
So with all those variables at the forefront, which quarterbacks fit the Patriots' plans?
1. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas—6'2", 215 pounds: Wilson was Mallett's predecessor for the Arkansas Razorbacks and showed off the abilities to be successful at the next level.
Although he's not the tallest QB, he has a strong arm, some mobile footwork, toughness and accuracy. If the Patriots turn some heads again this year, it may be because of an early quarterback selection. Wilson should come off the board before Day 2 is over.
2. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee—6'6", 232 pounds: Leaving the Tennessee Volunteers in the rear-view mirror with one year of eligibility, Bray is in the thick of the mid-round discussion.
Questions about his work ethic have risen from time to time, according to Mike Mayock of NFL Network (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk), but Bray has all the physical tools to be a potential starting quarterback in the NFL.
He has the height and can rifle the football out of his hand with good accuracy. If Bray drops, some team will take a chance on him. He may end up an early Day 3 choice.
3. Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane—6'4", 221 pounds: Often overlooked, the Green Wave's Ryan Griffin will make one general manager very happy late on Day 3. Griffin has four years of starting experience as a redshirt senior and can make all the right reads in the offense. While he's not blessed with the strongest arm, Griffin can make the necessary throws just fine.
4. Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State—6'3", 218 pounds: Jeff Tuel has battled through injuries, but he still was a bright spot on a sub-par Washington State team. A very mobile quarterback with tremendous accuracy, Tuel can step up in the pocket or branch out to deliver the ball.
Tuel's college numbers won't wow anyone, but he's a leader with athleticism and experience. He should end up a sixth- or seventh-round pick due to his potential as a developmental QB.
5. Sean Renfree, QB, Duke—6'3", 219 pounds: Sean Renfree is one of the sleepers in this draft. Playing at a basketball school like Duke kept Renfree off radars, but he could very well end up a steal in Round 7.
Renfree operated in a pro-style offense with the Blue Devils, which should help him acclimate to the NFL. He negotiates the pocket well, even when he's under heat, and can dart the ball into small windows. Pectoral surgery is why he's not higher up on boards.
New England's running back depth chart is filled to the brim. There's 1,200-yard rusher Stevan Ridley, the multidimensional Shane Vereen, the physical Brandon Bolden and third-down returner Leon Washington.
Jeff Demps may no longer be in the picture, but the New England Patriots are not weak in the backfield by any means. However, New England has shown interest in a lot of tailback prospects, as cited on NEPatriotsDraft.com. Is this trend more than just due diligence?
If so, here are five names to keep an eye on in the middle or late rounds.
1. Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson—5'9", 199 pounds: Andre Ellington is a spark plug out of the backfield. The Clemson Tiger is a speed back with excellent change of direction.
He is on the light side and may never be a starter in the NFL, but Ellington is a tremendous athlete whose dynamic play will be effective in the pros. He could end up a late Day 2 draft choice.
2. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina—5'11", 221 pounds: Arguably the best running back in all of college football before suffering a horrific knee injury last October, Marcus Lattimore is on the quick road to recovery.
He was able to work out at the Gamecocks' pro day and is rising back up draft boards. Lattimore could very well end up a Day 2 selection. He's a motivated, hard-running playmaker who will be a success in the NFL. This is the kind of value pick a team like New England could cash in on later.
3. Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida—5'11", 208 pounds: Gillislee finally got his chance to start after spending years behind the likes of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.
The Florida Gator made the most of the opportunity and could end up a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Gillislee is quick and elusive, but not the strongest back. Still, he has the ability to come in and break a big run outside.
4. Kerwynn Williams, RB, Utah State—5'8", 195 pounds: Stepping out of Robert Turbin's shadow, Kerwynn Williams is of a different breed. He's lean, but he's a rocket. Williams has the lateral flex, the quick feet and the hands to be a nice third-down back in the NFL. He should be a mid Day 3 slection.
5. Miguel Maysonet, RB, Stony Brook—5'9", 209 pounds: Miguel Maysonet was an ultra-productive runner in the FCS. Playing against a lower level of competition may be a knock, but Maysonet has the speed and bulk to be a feisty NFL rusher. He may end up a seventh-rounder or undrafted, but he will quickly find a home.
Wide receiver is one of New England's biggest needs heading into the draft. Danny Amendola, Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins have been brought in, but the departure of Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker will leave many asking for more.
This is where the 2013 receiving class comes into the picture. There are not a lot of No. 1 receivers in this draft, but there sure are a lot of No. 2 guys.
With the assumption that a guy like Tavon Austin is well out of reach, who might New England target on Day 1 or Day 2?
Keep in mind, the likes of Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers, Oregon State's Markus Wheaton and West Virginia's Stedman Bailey are also possible fits later in Round 2 or Round 3.
1. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson—6'1", 214 pounds: A sound route-runner who can manipulate defensive backs with his feet, DeAndre Hopkins shouldn't leave Round 1 without a team. He's not the fastest receiver, but his ability to make people miss in open space cannot be taught. Hopkins would be a very nice fit at split end for the Patriots.
2. Robert Woods, WR, Southern California—6'1", 201 pounds: Robert Woods has the hands and can run all the routes. He could be an instant weapon in the New England offense. He's smooth, polished and ready to contribute. Woods should be a late Round 1 or early Round 2 draft pick.
3. Keenan Allen, WR, California—6'2", 206 pounds: Keenan Allen's stock has dropped a bit lately due to slow recovery from a knee injury as well as a positive drug test (according to Adam Schefter of ESPN) at the combine.
But Allen's size, soft hands and footwork keep him in the discussion as a first- or early second-round draft pick. He's not fast, but he can make a difference when the ball is in his hands.
4. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee—6'4", 196 pounds: Justin Hunter has the height and the speed to be a deep threat in the NFL. He's not the most fundamentally sound receiver in this draft, and he's a little on the light side, but his natural ability and upside make him a likely first- or second-round choice.
Hunter has the ability to make the spectacular catches, but he needs to work on making the more rudimentary ones. Regardless, he's an imposing weapon with loads of talent.
5. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech—6'0", 204 pounds: A junior college transfer who posted exceptional numbers during his time at Louisiana Tech, Quinton Patton is no draft secret.
He's got the footwork down, he can catch the tough pass and he is an option in the screen game; there's really a lot to like about this Bulldog. He's not the fastest receiver, although he's quick in space. Patton could go anywhere from late Round 1 to early Round 3.
The New England Patriots currently have six tight ends on the roster. There's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui, Jake Ballard and Brad Herman.
That's a lot of depth.
Because of this, don't expect the Patriots to draft a tight end early—maybe not at all. But with Gronkowski and Hernandez battling through some injuries, coach Bill Belichick may want some insurance.
Here are five Day 3 tight ends to watch out for.
1. Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas—6'3", 244 pounds: A converted wide receiver, Chris Gragg is part of the "move" tight end generation. He could provide a team like New England with an Aaron Hernandez-esque target.
Gragg can line up wide or in the slot and create some mismatches due to his quickness and height. He isn't a great blocker, and he has experienced some injury woes, but he's a very intriguing prospect nevertheless. He could be an early to mid Day 3 pick.
2. Mychal Rivera, TE, Tennessee—6'3", 242 pounds: Mychal Rivera fits the same physical mold as Gragg. He's not an imposing tight end, but he's an athlete with good speed and versatility. He's not the best blocker, but he can catch the football well. He could be a late-round flier.
3. Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA—6'8", 259 pounds: Joseph Fauria is the nephew of former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria. He also was originally coached by Charlie Weis at Notre Dame before transferring following a non-athletic suspension (per the Chicago Tribune).
Fauria has great length and decent speed. He's a threat in the seam and can create a lot of mismatches. More of a receiver than a blocker, Fauria is a Round 6-to-undrafted kind of prospect.
4. Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State—6'4", 252 pounds: Jake Stoneburner is a rangy receiving tight end who could be good value on Day 3. For his build, he has the speed of a wide receiver. The Ohio State connection may come in handy here, as Urban Meyer and ex-Patriot Mike Vrabel are two minds whom Belichick has a great deal of respect for.
5. Michael Williams, TE, Alabama—6'6", 278 pounds: Michael Williams is not your typical tight end. He's bulky and closer to 300 pounds than most. But Williams' size has also helped him be utilized in a multitude of facets.
A former defensive end who looks like an offensive tackle, Williams has a lot of potential. He's not necessarily a pass-catcher, yet his grit as a blocker goes a long way. He's probably a seventh-round-to-undrafted prospect. Perhaps, Belichick's close friend Nick Saban has put in the good word for him.
With right tackle Sebastian Vollmer re-signing and left tackle Nate Solder entering his prime, offensive tackle is not atop the list of priorities for the New England Patriots.
However, there can always be more depth.
Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek and Markus Zusevics are the reserve options on the depth chart. It wouldn't be a shock to see the Patriots add another name to that list. So here are five mid- to late-round bookends to make note of.
1. Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina—6'6", 318 pounds: North Carolina's Brennan Williams is an athletic offensive tackle, and that's the way offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia likes them.
Williams is a strong pass-blocker with quick footwork. He's not the most polished offensive tackle in this draft, but Williams has a lot of upside as an early Day 3 option. His father Brent played defensive end for the Patriots from 1986 to 1993.
2. Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State—6'8", 308 pounds: The Ohio State pipeline to New England is still being constructed. Yet Reid Fragel may be the next in line to solidify it.
Fragel has the ideal height for a Patriots offensive tackle. He's also largely under the radar. A former tight end, Fragel is a very good athlete for his size. He's not the most fundamental blocker, however, and that's partly why he is an early Day 3 guy.
3. Chris Faulk, OT, Louisiana State—6'6", 331 pounds: LSU's Chris Faulk is a heavier offensive tackle with surprising short-area quickness. He suffered a torn ACL last season, though, and then decided to leave school early. Limited starting experience as well as his injury make Faulk a probable Day 3 pick.
4. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin—6'6", 308 pounds: The Big Ten Conference has produced a laundry list of successful NFL offensive linemen, and Wisconsin is a big reason why.
Ricky Wagner should be next. He has three years of starting experience on both ends of the line. Wagner is a big, burly blocker who's built to power a rushing attack. He should be a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
5. Luke Marquardt, OT, Azusa Pacific—6'9", 315 pounds: Get used to hearing the name Luke Marquardt. The Azusa Pacific standout is a mauling offensive tackle prospect who overwhelmed his small-school competition.
With great height and a basketball background, Marquardt is a very intriguing late-round prospect. He was coached by Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater—the father of Patriots Pro Bowler Matthew Slater—which only adds to the speculation.
Interior Offensive Line
The inside of New England's offensive line is a little less certain than the outside.
Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins has endured multiple injuries over the last couple seasons, and right guard Dan Connolly has been through the same. But if there's any consolation, it's that former undrafted Fresno State product Ryan Wendell has been a workhorse at center.
Moving forward, the New England Patriots will have to address the backup guard spot. The position-savvy Nick McDonald has been rock solid, but fellow backup Donald Thomas is now sporting an Indianapolis Colts jersey.
This depth concern may lead to the Patriots drafting a guard. But it remains to be seen whether or not the team will do so early or late.
Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper are early first-rounders, so they should be well off the board by the time New England is picking. In light of this, here is an assortment of prospects ranging from Day 2 to Day 3 potential.
1. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky—6'3", 332 pounds: Larry Warford is the epitome of a phone-booth mauler. He's big and wide with strong arms to fend off defensive linemen. He's also relatively quick, considering he carries some extra weight.
A lane-clearing run-blocker with second-round potential, Warford may be gone by the time New England is on the clock. But if he falls, his value would be too good to pass up.
2. Justin Pugh, OT/OG, Syracuse—6'5", 307 pounds: Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh has started every game he was healthy to play in over the last three years. Needless to say, he's experienced.
He's quick and athletic for a 300-pounder, but he may be a little undersized to play offensive tackle in the NFL. If moved to guard, Pugh's solid footwork and lateral burst would be amplified. He probably has to get stronger to avoid getting overmatched by bigger D-linemen. Still, Pugh could be a late Day 1 or early Day 2 pick.
3. Brian Winters, OT/OG, Kent State—6'4", 320 pounds: Brian Winters is a tough and durable blocker with a wrestling background, reminiscent of former Patriots guard Stephen Neal.
Winters has started at both left and right tackle, but his height should make him an NFL guard. Not the best athlete or the quickest in short space, but Winters is a rugged football player with a mean streak when it comes to run-blocking. He could be drafted anywhere from Round 2 to Round 4.
4. Hugh Thornton, OG, Illinois—6'3", 320 pounds: Hugh Thornton has been starting for Illinois since 2009. Initially a tackle, Thornton moved to guard in 2010 and has stayed there ever since.
He's tough to move, very flexible in his anchor and has good mobility for 320 pounds. Illinois is another school with a good history of producing NFL linemen, so Thornton has that in his favor. He should be selected early on Day 3.
5. Jeff Baca, OG, UCLA—6'4", 302 pounds: UCLA's Jeff Baca has the experience, versatility and quickness teams look for. A former offensive tackle, Baca merged inside for the Bruins, where he was able to showcase his quick feet as a pulling guard.
He runs through blocks with great pace, always looking to put the finishing touches on his opponent. Baca is not the strongest blocker, but he plays with heart. He should make one team very happy late on Day 3.
If the transactions are any indication, the New England Patriots are looking to bolster in defensive tackle position. Vince Wilfork has done all he can do to absorb blocks and disrupt quarterbacks, but the spot next to him has been in flux.
New England has signed Armond Armstead from the Canadian Football League and Tommy Kelly from the Oakland Raiders. Meanwhile, platooning starters Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick are still in the mix. One of these men will likely clinch a starting spot in the 4-3 front next year, but it wouldn't hurt to add more reinforcements.
While a knifing defensive tackle is important to have, the Patriots may wait until the middle or late rounds of the draft to address it. Maybe the Patriots will jump on it early. Either way, Utah's Star Lotulelei, Florida's Sharrif Floyd and Missouri's Sheldon Richardson are expected to be gone by the time New England is on the clock.
Here are five pocket-pushers the Patriots could target, ranging from Day 1 to Day 3.
1. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina—6'3", 313 pounds: Sly Williams is a first-round talent with all the moves you want out of a defensive tackle.
He gets off the line quickly and uses his strength to bully blockers. He is what a 4-3 defense is looking for: a 3-technique with versatility. He's the Patriots' most realistic Day 1 defensive tackle option.
2. Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama—6'4", 323 pounds: A Brisbane, Australia, native, Jesse Williams took the long way to college football. A junior college transfer, Williams really stood out during his time with Nick Saban's Crimson Tide.
Williams can play all across the line, but he's particularly gifted as a three-down nose tackle. Another guy in the Wilfork mold, Williams is not exactly a pass-rusher, but his run-stuffing nature could certainly change the makeup of New England's line. He's a tweener between Round 1 and Round 2.
3. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State—6'3", 320 pounds: Another Ohio State product, Johnathan Hankins has the girth and force to two-gap, which makes him more of a Vince Wilfork-type defensive tackle.
Still, his ability to rush the passer can't go without recognition. It's not pretty watching Hankins fight off blocks on his way to chasing the QB. He's not a sack artist; he's a wrecking ball. One of the drawbacks with Hankins is his conditioning. That's partially why he could be drafted anywhere from late Round 1 to late Round 2.
4. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue—6'3", 299 pounds: Concerns about his motor (per Brad Biggs of Chicago Sports) may put teams off, but Kawann Short's mixture of strength and speed are big positives. The Boilermaker has long arms and driving legs.
His skills must catch up with his natural ability, and he needs to become more consistent. But if Short falls to the end of Round 2, or even early in Round 3, his value could be worth the risk. Is he a Bill Belichick guy? We shall see.
5. Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State—6'1", 303 pounds: Jordan Hill is the type of player who quickly becomes a coach's best friend. He's an overachiever with limited physical and athletic ability, but Hill is a hard worker with a tenacious motor.
When he gets in the backfield, he is determined to leave his mark. With former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien now in charge at Penn State, it's likely that Belichick knows all he needs to know about Hill. He could be taken anywhere from Round 4 to Round 6.
2012 first-rounder Chandler Jones and seasoned vet Rob Ninkovich are New England's starting defensive ends. Although, New England may look to the draft to spice things up.
The undrafted Justin Francis and 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham are the rotational guys, while last year's third-rounder Jake Bequette hasn't done much quite yet. Could a situational pass-rusher come to town via the draft?
There's a market for them. Here are five prospects who fit the bill at different times in the draft if New England chooses to acquire one.
1. Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State—6'4", 276 pounds: Cornellius Carradine is probably the best value New England could get at the end of Round 1. The odds of him being there, however, is in serious doubt. Coming off an ACL tear, Carradine is one of the wild cards in this draft. But one thing is for sure: He can play.
2. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA—6'4", 283 pounds: Datone Jones can play defensive end and defensive tackle, which makes him a Patriots fit. He's big, powerful and has decent speed. Jones's size leaves him in between two positions, but that may work well with New England's hybrid front. He should be drafted in in the final third of Round 1.
3. Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois—6'6", 255 pounds: Michael Buchanan could fill the "Elephant" role in New England's defense. He can play outside linebacker or defensive end and has an excellent mixture of strength, length and speed.
He performed well in the three-cone drill at the NFL combine, which is often part of the requirements for Patriots pass-rushers. Buchanan could be taken anywhere from the end of Round 3 to early in Round 5.
4. Cornelius Washington, DE, Georgia—6'4", 265 pounds: Cornelius Washington's numbers at Georgia do not reflect his talent level. A physical, fast and long edge-rusher, Washington has yet to realize his potential.
He was very close to finishing plays for the Bulldogs, but often just missed sealing the deal. Like Buchanan, Washington fits the measurables the Patriots often look for. Once considered a seventh-rounder, Washington may end up being taken at the end of Round 3 or Round 4.
5. Quanterus Smith, DE, Western Kentucky—6'5", 250 pounds: Quanterus Smith is a pure pass-rusher. He knows how to rack up the sacks. Unfortunately, Smith suffered a torn ACL late in 2012, and his stock has dropped because of it.
Although the competition he competed against at Western Kentucky wasn't top shelf, Smith has the build and abilities to be effective regardless. If Smith falls past Round 5, he'd be an absolute steal.
Obviously, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower are difference-makers at linebacker. But New England has also been longing for a cover linebacker to defend tight ends in the seam and running backs in the flat.
The team's depth at linebacker consists of Dane Fletcher, Mike Rivera, Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian. That list may have another member by the time the draft is over.
Who could be available to fill the New England Patrick's need for a cover linebacker?
1. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia—6'3", 242 pounds: Alec Ogletree has been in trouble (per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com) before, but what he can do on the football field will likely make him a Round 1 selection. A former track guy and safety, Ogletree has great size and acceleration for a linebacker.
He's best against the pass, since he's not always physical enough to break through the blocks versus the run. Still, he's a violent tackler and a world class athlete. If he fell to pick 29, the Patriots would be getting a great deal.
2. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers—6'1", 241 pounds: Coach Bill Belichick loves his Scarlet Knights, so Khaseem Greene is likely on New England's radar. Greene is more than just a former teammate and classmate of Belichick's son Stephen, though.
He's a terrific linebacker. Another converted safety, Green has bulked up, but still maintains that get-up-and-go quickness. Between his ball skills and his sure tackling, some team will be getting a very good backer in Round 2 or Round 3.
3. Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida—6'1", 243 pounds: Coming off a couple injuries, Jenkins opted to enter the draft as a redshirt junior. He should end up an early Day 3 choice. Jenkins has great cover skills and speed; it's just a concern over his run support.
Jenkins often gets hung up when approaching the line of scrimmage, which makes him more of a fit for passing downs in the NFL. He's a very good athlete, and he's a Florida guy—two big check marks.
4. Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State—6'2", 243 pounds: Michael Mauti would be a mid-round pick if it weren't for injury concerns. Mauti re-tore his left ACL, which has set him back significantly through the draft process.
He's a better football player than he is an athlete. But he's got great instincts to help out versus both the run and pass. If he falls to Round 7, one team will be getting a high-value, high-character cover linebacker who will give it his all. Again, the Bill O'Brien connection could be a factor here.
5. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State—6'2", 245 pounds: Jake Knott may not be a pass-rushing outside linebacker, but he is a high-effort player who can energize a defense. With lots of experience at weak-side linebacker, Knott knows his responsibilities and works hard to close off the offense.
He reads the quarterback's eyes and is often able to make a play on the ball. He should come off the board in one of the final rounds.
Cornerback is on solid ground, which Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington manning the top three spots. But there are still uncertainties like 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling.
The draft is the venue for the depth chart to be solidified. And there are some very viable candidates to do so. Here are five corners who could be answers on Day 1 or Day 2, depending on when Bill Belichick and Co. decide to draft one.
For the sake of realism, let's assume Alabama's Dee Milliner is untouchable.
1. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State—6'2", 210 pounds: Now it may sound like a bit of a pipe dream, but Xavier Rhodes could be within shouting distance of the New England Patriots' pick 29.
And for that alone, he belongs on this positional board. Rhodes is a big corner, and he is perfect for what New England's press coverage. Extremely physical with playmaking ability, Rhodes would be a complete steal at the end of Round 1.
2. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington—6'0", 190 pounds: Trufant is likely the third-best cornerback in this year's draft. He has the speed and length to challenge wide receivers and the technique to consistently shade them.
He's a confrontational corner and likes press coverage. Two things that Trufant needs to improve upon are his ability to turn deflections into interceptions and his ability to tackle in open space. But for right now, Trufant is a late first-round pick.
3. Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State—5'11", 192 pounds: Jamar Taylor is the cornerback nobody is talking about but should be. He's a tough press corner and a very good fit for the New England secondary.
Taylor has the instincts and recovery speed to adjust on the ball and come down with picks. He also isn't afraid to get his hands dirty and help out versus the run. He should be a late Day 1 early Day 2.
4. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut—6'1", 195 pounds: Blidi Wreh-Wilson has one of the best names and is one of the best cornerbacks in this year's draft. You couldn't ask for a better build in a defensive back.
Wreh-Wilson has the length, range and quickness to harass receivers. He has been up and down in the interception category, but doesn't get turned around a lot—a very underrated trait. Wreh-Wilson should be drafted on Day 2.
5. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State—6'0", 191 pounds: A converted safety, Jordan Poyer plays bigger than his thin frame. He's adept in both man and zone schemes and knows how to turn bad throws into interceptions.
Poyer is aggressive against the run and is fun to watch blitzing the backfield. He is probably the best fit for New England's secondary out of all this year's cornerbacks. He should be a Day 2 selection.
Safety is not a glaring need for the New England Patriots.
There's 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson, former Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson, as well as Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory and 2012 sixth-rounder Nate Ebner.
Will Bill Belichick throw another name into the mix in the later rounds? Here are five safeties who could be targeted on Day 2 or on Day 3, presumably when New England would use a choice on a well-stocked position.
1. Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State—6'1", 208 pounds: Phillip Thomas is the Day 2 safety nobody is talking about. Thomas is the total package; great ball skills aren't even the half of it.
This Fresno State defensive back can fit in any scheme. Aside from the fact he can chase down the edge in blitzing situations, Thomas can play in the box, single-high or two-deep zone, which makes him ideal for New England. That is true, though, only if the Patriots want to spend a likely second-round pick on a relatively secure position.
2. D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina—5'11", 208 pounds: Belichick loves versatility. And oddly enough, that's D.J. Swearinger's middle name. Swearinger played every position in the Gamecocks' secondary.
He knows how to pack a punch, but his experience playing corner indicates that he knows how to cover as well. He should be taken in Round 2 or early Round 3..
3. Josh Evans, S, Florida—6'1", 207 pounds: A long safety with adequate speed and range, Josh Evans was often overlooked next to Matt Elam. As a result, he is likely a fourth- or fifth-round pick. This Gator is a hard hitter with coverage skills. He has good height for the position and should be flexible enough to play both free and strong safety.
4. Duke Williams, S, Nevada—5'11", 203 pounds: Duke Williams is a former track athlete, so you know he's well fitted for the defensive backfield. Although he's a safety, Williams is not limited to the center of the field.
He has been known to line up in the nickel and cover slot receivers. He may be a better cornerback in the NFL due to his smaller stature, yet that only makes him more enticing for a team like New England. Williams should be a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
5. Earl Wolff, S, North Carolina State—5'11", 209 pounds: Earl Wolff isn't a big name, but his play suggests otherwise. Wolff knows how to close in on the ball and run through ball-carriers.
That said, he's also quite a factor defending the pass. An experienced starter, Wolff plays with his head on a swivel and should contribute immediately on special teams. Don't sleep on this late-rounder.