Could the Patriots trade up in the 1st Round to draft another impact defender?
New England traded up twice in 2012's first round, while 2013 saw New England trade out of the draft's first day and stockpile picks.
Expect the Patriots to trade up in 2014. They have shown this year that they have the depth to withstand injuries to key players such as Vince Wilfork and Sebastian Vollmer. It is now time to add a couple talented players to put them over the top.
Over three months from the 2014 NFL draft, things are hardly set in stone, but here is one way that things might play out in New England's draft-day war room.
Note: Players were selected based on overall talent, scheme fit, positional need and projected availability.
It isn't difficult to see the 6'6" frame of Ra'Shede Hageman—who easily carries his 315 pounds—and immediately think of former New England Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
Like Seymour, Hageman can play defensive tackle and end. In a defensive scheme that values versatility, Hageman's ability to play 1-tech, 3-tech and 5-tech would be invaluable.
Unfortunately for New England, Hageman is expected by many, including Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, to have already been selected by the time that the Patriots are on the clock. In this mock draft, they've sent their first-, third- and sixth-round picks in 2014, and a third-round selection in 2015, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for the 14th pick and a fifth-round in the 2014 draft.
With that sort of investment, the Patriots would be looking for an immediate contribution from Hageman. Plugging him in on the defensive line with Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork gives him a nice head start.
The New England Patriots' lack of production from tight ends not named Rob Gronkowski in 2013 was tough to stomach for fans of the team after watching No. 87 and Aaron Hernandez shred NFL defenses over the last two years.
C.J. Fiedorowicz is no Aaron Hernandez—he is primarily an inline tight end—but he offers a 6'7" frame that is tough to defend inside the 20-yard line and the blocking skills of an offensive tackle.
With Fiedorowicz and a healthy Gronkowski on the field, New England's offense can seamlessly switch between power runs and spread formations without changing the personnel on the field.
The NFL isn't getting any slower, so the linebacker corps for the New England Patriots needs to keep up. Brandon Spikes is a free agent—I doubt he'll be re-signed—and the Patriots will be looking to the 2014 draft for a possible replacement.
Christian Kirksey has some of the football instincts, hitting ability and rush ability of Spikes while providing a significant upgrade in range and coverage.
Adding Kirksey—who was a top performer at the 2014 Senior Bowl—to the existing group of Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo would give New England the right blend of speed and power.
The New England Patriots traded away their original fifth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Isaac Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick, but they picked up a fifth-rounder from the Pittsburgh Steelers in this mock draft.
New England never shies away from defensive backs in the draft—they've failed to draft a cornerback or safety in the first three rounds only once since 2003 according to DraftHistory.com—and it would be shocking to see them completely neglect the position even if Aqib Talib is re-signed.
Keith McGill—who measures in at 6'3" and 205 pounds—has the size needed to cover the bigger receivers and tight ends in the NFL. He has some technical flaws and will probably run in the 4.5 range at the combine, but on the third day of the draft he would be a great value.
Michael Hoomanawanui will be a free agent this offseason, and D.J. Williams didn't show anything during his cup of coffee after Rob Gronkowski's injury.
That leaves the "Move" tight end position sorely lacking depth and talent. Often-overlooked Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen is an affordable position that should be available on Day 3 of the draft.
Pedersen certainly wouldn't be the only Wisconsin tight end on an NFL roster. The Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunne spoke to Pedersen at the 2014 Senior Bowl about a few of his predecessors:
At tight end, former Badgers Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks and Owen Daniels have all found success at the next level.
Pedersen says his game is similar to this trio.
'I've watched a lot of film of them and had the same coaches who taught the same techniques,' Pedersen said. 'I'm just trying to emulate them. Those guys have been successful in the NFL and that's what I'm hoping to do.'
If the Patriots can't land an Eric Ebron or Jace Amaro in the first round, Pedersen is a decent consolation prize.
With the loss of Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Patrick Chung and Donald Thomas, the New England Patriots may be in line for a compensatory pick or two. Playing it safe, I anticipate at least one sixth-round pick coming to Foxborough.
Adding a safety with special teams experience is a hallmark of Belichick on the third day of the draft. Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson have played well on special teams but haven't been able to earn much playing time on defense.
Vinnie Sunseri has been schooled by Nick Saban—a former Belichick associate—and has the upside to crack the defensive lineup after being a whiz on special teams.
Sunseri tore a knee ligament in October, so he should be ready by training camp if his rehab goes well.
Selecting quarterbacks in the seventh round has turned out well for the New England Patriots, but it often takes some patience for the investment to pay off.
Matt Cassel spent three seasons as backup until he won 11 games in Tom Brady's stead and earned a second-round pick in trade compensation. Julian Edelman had only 69 receptions through his first four seasons before exploding onto the national scene with 105 catches and 1,056 yards in 2013.
Like Edelman—who was a quarterback at Kent State—Jordan Lynch was a phenomenal running quarterback at a MAC school. He won't be a quarterback in the NFL—he just doesn't have the accuracy—but that doesn't mean he won't have a place.
According to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, Lynch is being looked at as a running back or even a safety:
As far as Lynch, it appears the Huskies' star is destined to make a position change at the next level. He simply lacks the passing skills to excel in a pro-style offense, making him a long shot to earn more than a free agent look as a quarterback. When I asked several scouts about a position change for Lynch, most suggested running back, but I came across a few evaluators who envisioned him as a possible safety.
If there is a team that can ferret an NFL career out of Lynch, it will be New England.