Patriots' Mock Draft: Instant Contributors the Patriots Can Find in Every Round
The New England Patriots' roster has a young core of talented players, sprinkled with veteran leadership and experience. When putting together a mock draft for New England, you don't need to build for the future, you need to find players who can come in as rookies and perform in roles carved out for them by the coaching staff.
There may be many talented players in the 2014 NFL draft that the Patriots' coaches just can't envision a role for or would perform a task already taken by a member of the current roster. If they can't provide an upgrade on a current roster position, it is doubtful they'll hear their name called by New England.
Here are seven players who could instantly contribute as rookies in New England.
1st Round: Stephon Tuitt (DL, Notre Dame)
With Vince Wilfork back in New England for at least one more year, adding a stout defensive lineman with some upside rushing the passer takes precedence over adding depth at defensive tackle.
With his ability to play inside in even fronts and outside in odd fronts, Notre Dame end Stephon Tuitt—6'5" and 304 pounds—would give the New England Patriots some versatility along their front seven.
In an odd front, imagine Wilfork on the nose, with Tuitt and Chandler Jones as 5-technique defensive ends. Rob Ninkovich and Jamie Collins could play outside linebacker, with Donta' Hightower and Jerod Mayo inside. Transitioning to an even front would put Ninkovich's hand in the dirt and move Hightower outside.
Tuitt isn't going to be a double-digit sack guy in the NFL, but his ability to attract multiple blockers and collapse the pocket will open things up for the rest of the defense.
2nd Round (via Projected Trade): Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
Adding a talented tight end is of paramount importance for the New England Patriots. Giving up picks in Round 4 and Round 6 in the process—and receiving one in Round 7 in return—Bill Belichick moves up near the top of Round 2 and secures his prize.
Troy Niklas immediately becomes the No. 2 tight end option next to Rob Gronkowski and adds his physical blocking presence to run plays. He is a bear to bring down with the ball in his hands and has enough size—6'6" and 270 pounds—to be an effective threat in the red zone.
New England could try and wait for Niklas to fall to their pick late in Round 2, but they'd have to be comfortable with a backup option like Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz—a polished, but unspectacular, player.
3rd Round: Dri Archer (OW, Kent State)
With LeGarrette Blount now in Pittsburgh, the unproven Josh Boyce looks to be the best option as a kickoff returner coming into 2014. That could change if Kent State speedster Dri Archer is available late in the third round.
It is hard to do justice to Archer's talent in word form, you just have to see some of his 2012 film. You'll see blazing 4.26 speed, excellent vision, elusiveness and fear in the hearts of opposing special teams and defensive coaches.
Unfortunately, you'll also see a raw route-runner who is 5'8" and 173 pounds. If the New England Patriots think he can stay healthy, Archer would be an immediate upgrade in the kickoff return game who could find a niche in the offense.
If he falls to this point—or close enough for another trade—look for Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State) to get some looks here as well.
4th Round (Compensatory): Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa)
With the Patriots' second pick in Round 4—the first being traded when moving up for Niklas—their nickel defensive package comes into focus. Dane Fletcher played a big role as a coverage linebacker in 2013—and on special teams—and needs to be replaced.
If the Patriots aren't sold on 2013 seventh-round pick Steve Beauharnais, adding Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey is an obvious fit.
Kirksey excels in coverage and has enough speed to pick his way through trash and track down the ball on running plays. He also proved quite adept on special teams coverage units while at Iowa, allowing him to take over Fletcher's role completely.
Round 6: Colt Lyerla (TE, Oregon)
The New England Patriots played without a true "Move" tight end in 2013 after Aaron Hernandez's incarceration led New England to release him.
Newly signed receiver Brandon LaFell could play the hybrid WR/TE position, but adding a natural at the position would be preferential. If the Patriots are willing to take a risk, a perfect replacement for Hernandez is ready to go.
Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla has the hands, speed, agility and elusiveness to fit in right away, but his ability is overshadowed by his exploits off the field. Between drug issues and insensitive comments about Newtown, Lyerla's issues have really run the gamut.
Lyerla is a long shot to be picked here—or any time during the draft—but his talent is tough to ignore.
Round 7: Matt Patchan (OL, Boston College)
Ryan Wendell was re-signed, and Dan Connolly survived the first wave of free-agent craziness, so adding an interior offensive lineman has been relegated to a luxury rather than a priority.
If the New England Patriots want to add a lineman who can play right away and still has some upside, they need only look in their backyard. Boston College tackle Matt Patchan can play outside and inside and has the speed and athleticism to fit in Josh McDaniels' system.
Patchan would likely be a higher pick if it weren't for his injury history. Gunshot wound—he was a bystander—torn ACL, torn pectoral and a broken wrist are just the start of his issues. As an eighth lineman, the Patriots could do a lot worse than Patchan.
Round 7: Vinnie Sunseri (SS, Alabama)
Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri—son of Florida State position coach Sal Sunseri—is like a second coach on the field. He makes up for average athleticism with his uncanny diagnostic and recognition abilities.
Sunseri should be able to be a competent backup safety—much cheaper than Adrian Wilson and Tavon Wilson—and excel on special teams. As good as Nate Ebner has been on special teams, Sunseri could offer an upgrade to that position if he is healed from a torn ACL suffered in October 2013.
For more NFL draft and Patriots analysis, follow James Christensen on Twitter.