10 Names Every Patriots Fan Should Know Ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft
If the past few drafts are any indication, we can expect the Pats to get significant contributions from a number of rookies—and not just the ones they spend draft picks on. Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard are just a few rookies who immediately stepped onto the game field in their first seasons, while Joe Vellano, Dane Fletcher and Kenbrell Thompkins are three undrafted players who made impacts in their first seasons.
This year's draft class is full of players at positions the Patriots need most—interior offensive line, defensive tackle and tight end. But how the Pats attack their draft board will depend on where the best value is. That's a core tenet of the Bill Belichick draft philosophy.
Here are 10 prospects every Patriots fan needs to know, because there's a good chance at least one of them ends up having his name called by New England at Radio City Music Hall in early May.
Ra'Shede Hageman might be inconsistent at times, but his size and ability are unequalled in this draft class. There's a very good chance that he'll be long gone by the time the Patriots make their first selection, but his fit in New England is clear.
With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly coming off major injuries and the depth behind them largely unproven or specialized, Hageman could be a front-seven cornerstone for years to come. Bill Belichick is just the kind of coach who could maximize Hageman's potential.
The Pats won Super Bowls with a dominant and versatile defensive lineman in Richard Seymour, and while it might be too much to expect that kind of dominance from Hageman, he certainly fits the mold of that kind of player the Patriots need more of.
If Ra'Shede Hageman is gone, the Patriots' next best option for the defensive line might be Stephon Tuitt, a classic 3-4 defensive end who can also slide inside on passing downs to generate some push up the middle.
He's not going to be a primary pass-rusher, but he would give Bill Belichick a versatile option up front. At 6'6", 312 pounds, he has ideal size to fill a number of spots. Like Hageman, he would serve as insurance if Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly can't return to their pre-injury dominance.
He would immediately enter a rotation along the defensive line that needs the kind of young talent Tuitt possesses for the future. His presence would also open the option of more 3-4 fronts, something the Patriots have gotten away from in recent seasons.
With Rob Gronkowski rehabbing another injury and no lock to stick with the Patriots past this season, the need for another "Y" tight end is glaring. The depth behind Gronkowski consists of just Michael Hoomanawanui and DJ Williams, and neither one is an impact player.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be the best fit for the Pats of all the tight ends in this draft class. He has the size (6'6", 276 lbs) to be every bit the blocker Gronkowski is, and he has the hands and route-running ability to make an impact down the seam—something the Pats lacked without Gronkowski for the majority of 2013.
If Gronkowski can make a full recovery, he and Seferian-Jenkins would make for a frightening tight end duo and once again make the Patriots offense a matchup nightmare.
One of the most underrated needs for the Patriots is along the interior of their offensive line. Logan Mankins is entering his 11th season, and Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly have both had their struggles.
Xavier Su'a-Filo is just the kind of ill-tempered guard the Pats like. With ideal size (6'4", 307 lbs) and good movement skills, he could immediately challenge Connolly for the starting spot at right guard. He'd give the interior offensive line the boost of youth and size it desperately needs.
With Tom Brady entering his twilight years, the time to reinforce the middle of his protection is now. Continued pressure and sacks will only shorten Brady's career and effectiveness.
With the release of Steve Gregory, it appears that second-year player Duron Harmon is pencilled in as the starter next to Devin McCourty at safety, but the depth behind those two is thin, and the lack of an aggressive presence is notable.
Enter Deone Bucannon, the kind of hard-hitting safety Patriots fans have been clamoring for since Rodney Harrison departed.
Bucannon also has good coverage skills to drop into the slot, another element the Pats are short of on defense. He would immediately add value on special teams and as a third rotational safety.
After blowing up his pro day, Allen Robinson might not last past the first round, but his fit on the Patriots after playing in Bill O'Brien's version of the New England offense is certain.
Robinson's run-after-catch ability stands out on tape, especially on the quick slip screens the Patriots love to use. But the difference between Robinson and usual targets Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola is that Robinson is 6'3", 210 pounds.
Despite having multiple receivers on the roster already, the Pats could find a spot for a player like Robinson, whose learning curve adapting to Josh McDaniels' offense would be smaller and his potential for impact immediate.
The Patriots re-signed center Ryan Wendell this offseason, but if the low-money deal is any indication, Wendell is far from a lock as the Pats' long-term center.
Wendell has a good playing temperament, but he's undersized and must rely on perfect technique. Travis Swanson has the kind of size the Pats have never had at center (6'5", 315 lbs) and coming from a similar offensive system in Arkansas, he could step in and immediately compete with Wendell to start.
In their most recent playoff exits, including Super Bowl 46 and last year's AFC Championship, the Pats were dominated along the interior of their line. Upgrading Wendell and Connolly should be very much on the table in this draft, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see New England take both a center and a guard.
Swanson could be a great fit and just the kind of intimidating presence they desperately need.
Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL tear in 2013, and that should drop his draft status, but prior to the injury, Easley was arguably the most explosive defensive tackle in this draft class.
His injury should drop him in the draft, and the Patriots are known to pounce on players like that, for better or worse.
While smaller than the traditional Patriots defensive tackle (6'2", 286 lbs), Easley would instantly upgrade their interior pass rush, an element the Pats have been lacking since the days of Mike Wright and Jarvis Green in the late-2000s.
You can never have enough pass rush in today's NFL, and Easley should bring plenty of it once fully recovered from his injury. That might make him too good to pass up.
With little depth behind starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, an edge player like Trent Murphy, who can stand up or play with his hand in the dirt, could be just the kind of addition the Pats need.
Murphy has superior size at 6'6", 261 pounds, and his 15 sacks show the kind of pass-rush potential he has. Even without an elite burst, his versatility is sure to tempt Bill Belichick.
Although Michael Buchanan showed some promise in his rookie season, the Patriots cannot afford to over-rely on Ninkovich and Jones again as their only base-down edge-rushers. Murphy has the playing temperament and toolbox that the Pats crave on defense and could be a perfect addition.
With the departure of Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher, the Patriots' linebacker depth is thin. A versatile player like Christian Jones, who could make an impact on passing downs, might be a great addition behind Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
The Patriots have always liked a diverse set of linebackers who specialize in different things, and Jones fits that mold. At 6'4" and 235 pounds, he has unique size and speed and could contribute immediately as a pass-rusher.
Jones is a good technician and athletic in space. When Mayo went down in 2013, the Pats' lack of speed and athleticism was glaring. Jones would be great insurance against that happening again.