Patriots Draft Stock Watch: 8 Players Rising and Falling Down Patriots' Board
NFL draft prospects rise and fall on the New England Patriots' board throughout the draft process. Injuries, performance, incidents off of the field and even changing positional needs all affect the "stock" of a prospect.
While the game tape hasn't changed since the BCS Championship Game, postseason games, the NFL combine, pro days and free agency have certainly changed the lens that the film is viewed through.
Here are eight prospects from the Patriots' draft board that are on the move. Four are moving up, while another four are pointing the wrong direction.
Rising: Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
The need for another "Y" tight end is obvious. Rob Gronkowski hasn't been able to finish either of the last two seasons, and Michael Hoomanawanui isn't a dynamic threat in the passing game.
Notre Dame's Troy Niklas might not have had an incredible performance at the NFL combine or his pro day—he was limited with injuries—but he will still be rising up boards of all NFL teams this spring. Niklas was a surprise entrant into the 2014 NFL draft, and many teams probably hadn't started much of a profile on the former defensive end.
What scouts are likely now seeing is a tight end that could develop into a dominating blocker and an above-average pass-catcher. He is raw as a receiver, but nobody is too keen to tackle him once he has the ball in his hands.
With only two years under his belt as a tight end, Niklas' upside is unlimited.
Falling: Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
At first glance, Jace Amaro looks the part. He has good size (6'5" and 265 pounds), plenty of strength and posted obscene numbers in the Texas Tech offense. However, the more teams study Amaro, the more warts they'll see.
Amaro doesn't have the quickness and agility to be a "Move" tight end—his 7.42 three-cone time placed him three-tenths of a second behind Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz—and lacks the blocking prowess to match up with NFL defenders as an in-line "Y" tight end.
You could overlook the fact that he is a bit of a "tweener" if he didn't have some other flaws. He has had some off-the-field issues (a credit-card related arrest), has only average hands and doesn't gain separation on a consistent basis.
Adding a player like Troy Niklas on Day 1 or C.J. Fiedorowicz late on Day 2 seems like a better bet.
Rising: Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa)
Christian Kirksey wasn't a household name in Iowa this year, but NFL teams are certainly getting to know him. If he wasn't on their radar already, Kirksey's peformance at his pro day got their attention.
Kirksey reportedly ran in the high-4.4 to low-4.5 range in the 40-yard dash after eschewing running at the combine. Combine that with the explosiveness he showed at the combine, and teams are getting intrigued.
One of the 30 teams at the Iowa pro day was the New England Patriots, who sent their offensive line and special team coaches, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com. The latter is especially intriguing, as Kirksey would figure to be a special teams standout at the next level after performing well on coverage teams in Iowa City.
Falling: Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)
Jordan Matthews hasn't done anything to knock him down draft boards this spring, but the New England Patriots have probably de-emphasized the position going into the draft. With Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell manning the bigger receiver positions, investing a Day 2 pick in another receiver doesn't seem prudent.
Matthews doesn't separate easily down the field—New England doesn't need another receiver that has to be schemed open—which would be one trait that the Patriots might covet enough to add another young receiver to the logjam.
Rising: Dom Easley (DL, Florida)
The story of Easley initially doesn't start out as a good one. Injuries derailed his season for the second time during his college career. Rob Rang of CBSSports.com has a good take on Easley's saga this year, culminating in him missing his pro day at Florida:
Unfortunately, defensive tackle Dominique Easley did not work out. Muschamp later told the media that it is possible that Easley will work out April 18. Easley is recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee, injuries which occurred during practice in late September.
When healthy, the 6-2, 288 pounder shows great burst to penetrate gaps and entered the 2013 season rated higher by many than either Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald or Arizona State's Will Sutton, two similarly undersized interior defensive linemen. Unfortunately, Easley has struggled to remain healthy. Easley also tore the ACL in his left knee in November, 2011.
For the opposite reason of why Jordan Matthews might be falling, Easley may be rising. The New England Patriots look good at receiver, but their defensive line depth is shaky at best. If Vince Wilfork ends up elsewhere in 2014—far from a done deal—a defensive shift could take place.
Instead of looking to add a nose tackle in the draft—think Notre Dame's Louis Nix III—the Patriots may choose to add the explosive first step and penetrating surge of Easley. He is incredibly explosive and lives in the backfield.
Using more of a one-gap scheme—the Patriots have no set scheme, as it changes week to week—would enable Easley and other lighter players like Chris Jones to flourish, hiding their deficiencies in holding up bigger blockers.
Falling: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix (FS, Alabama)
With the cornerback position thought to be set after the Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner acquisitions, many New England Patriots fans started looking toward the strong safeties in the draft. That may change with the news that the Patriots are looking at moving Logan Ryan from corner to safety.
Karen Guregian from the Boston Herald broke the news from the league meetings in Orlando, Fla.:
The Patriots defensive secondary is going to have a new look. That goes without saying with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, eventually, manning the corner flanks.
But there’s more in store. Currently, the Pats are strongly considering a plan that would have cornerback Logan Ryan, who had five interceptions as a backup during his rookie season, play safety.
According to a source, Ryan would take on the free safety role, while Devin McCourty would move to strong safety.
If that move comes to fruition, the safeties in this draft—Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix (FS, Alabama), Jimmie Ward (FS, Northern Illinois) and Calvin Pryor (SS, Louisville)—will likely be downgraded a bit on the Patriots' list of needs.
Should Ryan stay at cornerback, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Patriots stick with Duron Harmon. If they do want to add a safety, Clinton-Dix and Ward have the best mix of coverage and tackling ability.
Rising: Jordan Tripp (LB, Montana)
The New England Patriots hit with Montana State defensive end-turned-linebacker Dane Fletcher—now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer—and they may very well go back to the Treasure State well to pick up their next coverage and special teams linebacker.
Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp could very well step into Fletcher's shoes. Doug Kyed from NESN.com envisions Tripp in just such a role:
The Patriots showed their hand in their need for another coverage linebacker when they brought in free agent Wesley Woodyard for a visit. They held a private workout with Tripp, who could be the perfect situational linebacker for the Patriots. Using Tripp in coverage would allow Jamie Collins to rush the passer.
Kyed is willing to pick Tripp in the third round—his ceiling in my opinion—which is a testament to just how far his stock has risen this offseason as teams search for linebackers that can perform in nickel and dime situations.
Falling: Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
If Logan Ryan does in fact make a move to safety, there is some room for a cornerback to make the roster. Jason Verrett's injury and subsequent surgery won't help his case to be that guy at the end of the first round. Mike Huguenin from NFL.com has more on the injury:
TCU cornerback Jason Verrett played much of the 2013 season with a torn labrum, and he will have surgery on the injury soon after the Horned Frogs' pro day on Thursday.
NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday, citing a source who has spoken to Verrett, that Verrett's shoulder has healed significantly since he injured it in September, but won't be 100 percent without surgery -- opting for surgery now will allow him to be ready for training camp.
Verrett is tiny—he is just 5'9"—but he might have the best technique of all the cornerbacks in the 2014 NFL draft. If he is cleared medically, look for him to shoot right back into first-round contention.
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