New England Patriots Pre-Free Agency 2014 7-Round Mock Draft
Seven-round mock drafts at this time of the year are tricky, especially since the New England Patriots draft strategy will change based on how they fare next week at the onset of free agency.
Failing to re-sign Julian Edelman or Aqib Talib would shuffle draft priorities, as would landing coveted free agents like T.J. Ward, Red Bryant or Michael Johnson.
Here is one path the Patriots could take to add some depth and talent to their 2014 squad.
For the purposes of this exercise, I assume the Patriots have signed Talib, let Edelman and Ryan Wendell walk and failed to sign any game-changing free agents.
1st Round: Jimmie Ward (SS, Northern Illinois)
Who? If you just asked yourself that question, you need to get acquainted with one of the top safeties in the 2014 NFL draft.
Jimmie Ward measures in at 5'11" and 193 pounds, but his play is colossal. He flies around the field and throws his undersized body around in a manner that creates some impressive collisions. Don't call him a Brandon Meriweather clone though. Ward covers well downfield and has a knack for getting his hands on the football.
With Steve Gregory already gone and Adrian Wilson a potential cut, Ward could be asked to come in as a rookie and split time with Duron Harmon.
2nd Round (Trade): Xavier Su'a-Filo (OL, UCLA)
The Houston Texans want a quarterback. If they don't want to spend their first-round pick on a signal-caller, they could send their second-round choice to New England for Ryan Mallett and a seventh-round pick.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien is familiar with Mallett, and the learning curve wouldn't be as steep as it may be with a rookie.
With the extra pick, the Patriots could add a versatile offensive lineman in Xavier Su'a-Filo who—while he could play any position—fits in best at guard.
Right guard Dan Connolly might be on the chopping block due to his large salary, and Su'a-Filo is a perfect replacement. The right side of the line typically has more one-on-one pass-blocking situations, and that is the bailiwick of the former UCLA Bruin.
2nd Round: Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
Whether Rob Gronkowski is healthy or not, adding dynamic "Y" tight ends who can block never hurts. Fellow draft prospects C.J. Fiedorowicz and Austin Seferian-Jenkins might have more polish, but neither can match the upside of Notre Dame's Troy Niklas.
Whether the New England Patriots are able to acquire a "Move" tight end or not—more on this later—a combination of Niklas and Gronkowski would allow the offense to run "12" personnel and keep the defense guessing on the play call.
The two tight ends are good enough blockers to be considered third and fourth tackles, while their prowess in the passing game would prevent defenses from going to a heavy formation.
Pick Niklas and watch both Tom Brady and the Patriots running backs smile.
3rd Round: Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU)
With Ryan Mallett going to Houston—to make this mock draft work anyway—the New England Patriots need to start grooming the eventual replacement of Tom Brady.
Zach Mettenberger fits the mold of what Bill Belichick has been looking for lately at the quarterback position. He has a big arm and will likely fall down the board due to an ACL injury suffered as a senior.
Although he improved last year, Mettenberger needs a lot of polish. He can improve his base, footwork and ability to move between reads. With Tom Brady expected to play at least a couple of more years, Patriots coaches would have enough time to iron out any wrinkles in Mettenberger's game.
4th Round: Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa)
With Brandon Spikes a free agent, the New England Patriots would be wise to replace him with a lighter, faster linebacker more adept at coverage.
Christian Kirksey fits that profile and is a violent hitter to boot. He can blitz as well as drop into coverage. His range against the run is immense, and he is a sure tackler in the open field.
Kirksey also has excelled on special teams during his time at Iowa. A potential pairing with Jamie Collins in the nickel package would give New England two strong coverage linebackers.
6th Round: Colt Lyerla (TE, Oregon)
The New England Patriots are no strangers to character concerns. Other than Aaron Hernandez, they have made out well with their investments. Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and Alfonzo Dennard—to name a few—have all rewarded New England's willingness to give second and third chances.
Colt Lyerla is a top-50 talent who made an absolute mess of his college career. His versatility, elusiveness and vision are some of the best you'll see from tight ends in the 2014 draft.
If the Patriots are willing to take another small risk and spend a sixth-round pick on him, Lyerla could provide them with some huge rewards at the "Move" tight end position.
6th Round: Ricardo Allen (CB, Purdue)
NFL teams should be looking to develop cornerback talent in each and every NFL draft, regardless of the talent on their roster.
Purdue's Ricardo Allen isn't a shutdown corner by any means, but he will have value if used correctly.
Allen isn't strong enough to compete with top-flight NFL receivers, but he is a ballhawk who will get his hands on the football in zone coverage. Allen also has the attitude to compete on special teams and has shown good elusiveness with the ball in his hands.
Sticking Allen behind Talib, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington can hide his deficiencies until he still finds a spot to contribute.