New England Patriots: Biggest Draft Needs and Full 7-Round Mock
Rejoice, draftniks! Our favorite time of the year is upon us yet again.
The 2013 NFL draft is set to kick off on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, as a fresh new crop of faces gets set to embark upon their respective NFL careers.
This article will not feature an entire breakdown of the first round because, quite honestly, everybody and their grandmother has their own "fool-proof" mock draft at this time of year that will already let you know "exactly" where each of this year's top prospects will land. Sadly, though, even the most renowned experts are about as useful as a broken fan during their valiant attempt to do so, and even the most successful mocks have about a 10 percent accuracy rate.
Still, it is always fun to speculate. Yet, rather than focus on the entire 32-team landscape, I will instead focus on the New England Patriots, their biggest needs and, ultimately, who could be a likely selection for them in each of the respective rounds that they are slated to pick.
Shockingly, the team only has five selections in this year's draft, which goes completely against the team's typical philosophy of stockpiling picks in order to get the most value possible. I would not be surprised if one or more of these picks were traded in order to garner more quantity, but exactly which picks will be traded is virtually impossible to predict, so I have decided to focus on the five current selections that the team has at this point in time.
Am I any more qualified than any of the experts that you could find on ESPN, NFL.com or other prominent draft sites, like WalterFootball.com (one of my favorite draft websites by the way)?
No, probably not.
But I am a die-hard New England Patriots and NFL fan who spends hours of precious time each year scouring draft boards and sports sites trying to appease my insatiable hunger for more draft talk.
So, sit back, enjoy the show and please feel free to leave some comments below.
Before I begin my mock, I'd first like to assess the Pats' biggest positional needs in order to give a comprehensive overview of just where the team should focus its attention this coming weekend.
Of course, trying to predict what Bill Belichick will do with his draft picks is often a futile effort, and you may honestly have an easier time trying to get information from officials at Guantanamo Bay than you would from the Patriots brain trust.
Still, there is no doubt that the following positions are great areas of need for the team, and they are ones that must be addressed before the start of the 2013 season.
Yes, everybody knows that Wes Welker—a guy who has more catches than anyone else in the league over the last half-decade and a man who will forever live on in the hearts of Patriot Nation—is no longer with the team. Instead of catching passes from Tom Brady next season, he will instead be working with some other Hall of Fame quarterback named Peyton Manning in Denver.
The team did sign Danny Amendola this offseason in order to offset the loss of good ole' No. 83, and while he may be a viable replacement for Welker in the slot, the overall depth at the wide receiver position is still very poor.
As it stands right now, the seven other receivers besides Amendola that are listed on the team's current roster had a grand total of 104 catches last season—with 102 of them coming from three of those players (Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones). Also, gone from last season's roster is Brandon Lloyd, a receiver who, as troubled and emotionally-unstable as he may be, still totaled 74 receptions, 911 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 2012.
So, suffice it to say, the Pats need a little more help for Tommy Boy next season—particularly on the outside—if they have any hopes of keeping their perennially vaunted passing attack alive.
The team did a nice job of addressing this position in last year's draft when they selected Chandler Jones with the No. 21 overall pick. Jones had a nice rookie season with the team, during which he recorded 45 total tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles before being hampered by injuries at the end of the season, but he still has much more to prove before the team can feel completely comfortable with him.
Behind Jones and Rob Ninkovich, who led the team with eight sacks last season, the overall depth at the defensive end position is mediocre at best.
The Patriots do have arguably the best nose tackle in the league in Vince Wilfork, but he has been lacking a formidable partner on the interior of the defensive line for quite some time now. Plus, Big Vince will turn 32 next season, and although he is still performing at the highest level that he ever has, the wear and tear that he has accumulated at such a tough and grueling position will soon catch up to him.
The team has already made some nice additions to the defensive line this offseason in Armond Armstead and Tommy Kelly, but adding a young stud early in the draft who can be added to the rotation would behoove the team very well, whether it is on the inside or the outside of the line.
Long regarded as the team's Achilles' heel, the defensive secondary has been one of the Patriots' most glaring weaknesses over the last couple of seasons. Although this unit made great strides last season—especially after the midseason addition of Aqib Talib—they still ended the season as the league's 29th-ranked passing defense.
Fortunately, the team re-signed Talib this offseason, and they also brought in veteran safety and five-time Pro Bowl selection Adrian Wilson to help, but little else was done.
Overall, I am willing to give the makeup of this unit a little more credit than most, as I feel that Talib is truly one of the top cover-corners in the league, and I also believe that Devin McCourty could become a legitimate All-Pro candidate at the safety position.
Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington are also decent No. 2 and No. 3 cornerback options, and this unit looks markedly better overall than it did even just two seasons ago.
Still, adding another corner who could help push Dennard and Arrington would only help, especially with the dearth of talent at the position behind them.
Other areas that should be addressed: offensive line depth, linebacker depth, kick/punt return depth
Round 1, Pick No. 29
Robert Woods, WR, USC
6'1", 190 pounds
2012 stats: 76 receptions, 846 yards, 11 touchdowns
With the No. 29 overall selection in the first round, the Patriots should waste no time in getting Tom Brady the big weapon on the outside that he has been lacking.
Robert Woods has been one the very best wide receivers in the nation over the past three seasons at USC, and he was once thought of as a top-5 pick after his incredible All-American sophomore season in which he totaled 111 catches, 1,292 receiving yards and 15 scores.
Unfortunately, his draft stock slipped a bit last season, but he still put up very respectable numbers in the Pac-12, and nobody should doubt this kid's incredible talent.
Names like Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins may be ranked higher at the wide receiver position on most team's draft boards, but there is no doubt that Woods is the perfect fit for the Pats, as he fits the exact profile of what they are looking for at the position with his great combination of intelligence and size.
Though he is not the most fleet of foot, Woods still brings a lot more to the table at the position than many others have to offer.
Furthermore, the team has already shown interest in Woods this offseason, only furthering the notion that he would be the perfect fit in New England.
Round 2, Pick No. 29
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, UConn
6'1", 195 pounds
2012 stats: 46 total tackles, one interception
Much like Woods, although he may not be one of the top-rated players at his position in the draft, UConn's Blidi Wreh-Wilson (pronounced blee-dee ray-wilson) is a perfect fit for the Patriots.
With his big frame and long arms, Wreh-Wilson is a defensive backs coach's dream. While he does not possess great speed, he is an extremely smart player who rarely gets out of position. He is also widely regarded as an extremely likeable and coachable kid, and he should fall directly in line with the "Patriot Way" as soon as he steps foot in Foxborough.
He also has a penchant for big plays, as two of the four picks that he had in 2010 were returned for scores, and his interception against Louisville last season set his team up for the game-winning field goal.
Some feel as though he may struggle in the NFL due to his lack of recovery speed after receivers get behind him, but he could be the tall, slot-type corner that the Patriots were hoping Ras-I Dowling could become when they drafted him with the No. 33 overall pick in 2011.
Round 3, Pick No. 29
David Quessenberry, OL, San Jose State
6'5", 302 pounds
Quessenberry is perhaps one of the most versatile players in this entire draft due to his ability to play anywhere along the offensive line, and everyone knows that Belichick loves his players to be versatile.
Although the team appears to be set with starters at each of the five offensive line positions next season, there is a lack of depth within the unit, especially on the interior. Also, a few of those starters—Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly and especially Sebastian Vollmer—have had some issues with injuries throughout the last few seasons, so adding a bit more security behind them is essential.
Quessenberry did not play in one of college football's premier conferences, but he was one of the most dominant players in the WAC. The scary thing to think about is that many believe that he can still add even more weight in order to fill out his massive frame. Though he mostly played tackle at SJSU, many scouts project him to be a guard at the next level.
After losing Donald Thomas—a guard who played extremely well for the Patriots last season as an injury fill-in—this offseason in free agency, Quessenberry could help fill the same role and then some if the Pats decide to take a chance on him.
Round 7, Pick No. 20 (via Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Denard Robinson, ATH, Michigan
6'0", 196 pounds
2012 stats: 1,139 passing yards, nine touchdowns, nine interceptions as a quarterback; three receptions, 21 receiving yards as a receiver; 1, 266 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns
Denard "Shoelace" Robinson is one of the most intriguing prospects that you will find in the entire 2013 draft class.
Once thought of as one of the most exciting dual-threat quarterbacks in recent college football history, Robinson actually lost his starting job last season due to his many inconsistencies and nagging injuries. The problem is, while Robinson is capable of making some great throws and leading an offense at times, he too often relies on his feet and is incapable of making the types of decisions that are expected of a starting collegiate quarterback, let alone a professional one.
Still, there is no doubt that "Shoelace" is an incredible athlete and a special talent on the football field, and that is why Michigan still tried to use Robinson in a few different roles after he lost his starting job last season.
Obviously, the Patriots would not be looking to rekindle the fire that he once had as a signal-caller, but his versatility and pure athleticism could be used in a multitude of ways.
For instance, although the team signed Leon Washington—one of the NFL's all-time great kick returners—this offseason, he will be 31 next season, and I'm sure the team would love to bring in some competition to help ignite a return game that has been non-existent in New England for years.
Not only that, but the genius of Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels may even be able to find other ways to use the versatile athlete—whether it be in the receiving game, running game or both. And even if the team finds that Robinson simply won't be a fit in New England, he certainly wouldn't be the first seventh-round pick to fail to make his team's season-opening roster.
Hey, it's the seventh round, so why not take a chance on him here?
Round 7, Pick No. 29
Quinton Dial, DL, Alabama
6'5", 318 pounds
2012 stats: 21 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five tackles for a loss
Dial doesn't have numbers that jump off the page, and he certainly wasn't one of the most talented players on Alabama's incredible defense from last season, but he was one of the Crimson Tide's most versatile and reliable rotation players for the past few years in Mobile.
As previously mentioned, Belichick loves versatility, and for a defensive line that could use help on the both the inside and outside, Dial could help immediately in this area.
Though he will have to battle the likes of Justin Francis, Armond Armstead, Kyle Love and others for playing time, his great size and his ability to play the nose, three-technique and five-technique at least gives him a shot to crack the rotation.
The fact is, guys like Dial don't come around too often, and any team would be happy to have this jack-of-all-trades defensive lineman on their roster. Plus, the whole Bill Belichick-Nick Saban connection may help Dial's chances of getting selected here.