Who Are the Experts Predicting to the Patriots in the 2014 NFL Draft?
The New England Patriots are notoriously difficult to pick for in mock drafts. The 2014 NFL draft has proven to be no different, as Bill Belichick has played his cards close to his chest, and there are myriad options that fit their needs on offense and defense.
Offensive line, defensive line, defensive back, linebacker, tight end, receiver... even quarterback has been mentioned as a possible target for New England in the first round.
Here are five experts' takes on who New England should draft on Day 1 of the 2014 NFL draft.
Brandon Thomas (OL, Clemson)
Matt Miller (Bleacher Report)
Clemson lineman Brandon Thomas is far from a household name, which seems to fit with Bill Belichick's recent draft strategy. Thomas had an excellent career for the Tigers and would be an immediate upgrade over Dan Connolly at right guard. Here is Miller's rationale for picking Thomas:
Brandon Thomas played left tackle at Clemson but projects best as a guard at the next level—and a very good guard at that. Thomas would instantly be an upgrade for the team at right guard and could give them a plan for the end of Logan Mankins' career. That, and his ability to help in the running game and in protecting the aging Brady, makes him well worth the No. 29 pick.
However, Miller will likely be changing the pick. Adam Caplan of ESPN reported that Thomas suffered an ACL tear last week.
G Brandon Thomas (Clemson), who is rated as one of the top interior OLs for this year's draft, suffered a torn ACL last week, per source.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) April 7, 2014
This should end any discussion of Thomas on Day 1 of the 2014 NFL draft. If Thomas is still available late on Day 3 of the draft, look for New England to swoop in and give him a year on the injured reserve list to learn the offense.
Calvin Pryor (SS, Louisville)
Rob Rang (CBS Sports)
The New England Patriots have been looking for a physical strong safety to pair with Devin McCourty. Adrian Wilson didn't pan out, but Louisville safety Calvin Pryor fits the bill. Rang mentioned Pryor's physicality in rationalizing the pick:
While perhaps not as fluid in coverage as Alabama's Clinton-Dix, Pryor ranks as the top safety in the 2014 draft for many scouts, including myself. Instinctive, physical and possessing good hands for the interception, Pryor would be an intriguing fit for a Patriots' squad needing help at strong safety after releasing two-year starter Steve Gregory
Pryor would give New England the flexibility to keep McCourty at free safety and Logan Ryan at cornerback. His presence in the box would give crossing receivers some second thoughts about catching the ball, and he has enough awareness to get his hands on a lot of footballs over the middle.
If he makes it to pick No. 29, Pryor is a likely selection for New England.
Stephon Tuitt (DL, Notre Dame)
Doug Kyed (NESN.com)
Adding another young versatile defensive lineman alongside Chandler Jones is right in Bill Belichick's wheelhouse. Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt would be a great fit in the Patriots' hybrid defensive scheme. Kyed mentioned his versatility in his rationale:
I keep coming back to Tuitt, who’ll visit the Patriots on Thursday, because he can rush the passer and play multiple positions. The Patriots would use him at three-technique defensive tackle in the 4-3 and five-technique defensive end in the 3-4. Tuitt was inconsistent at Notre Dame, but he was playing out of position, and he was dealing with an injury during his junior season. Tuitt is athletic, and he has elite size at 6-foot-5. There are some question marks with Tuitt, but he had enough upside to be worth a first-round pick.
In last year's thin draft, Tuitt may have been picked in the first half of Day 1. In the loaded 2014 version, Tuitt should be available for New England at the end of the first round. If he continues to develop, he could be this decade's version of Richard Seymour.
Dominique Easley (DL, Florida)
Mike Loyko (NEPatriotsDraft.com)
Dominique Easley is the player who New England has been lacking for years. An inside presence that disrupts the backfield on run plays and gets to the quarterback with regularity on passing downs. Easley's disruptive ability sold Loyko:
When healthy, Easley is one of the most disruptive interior defenders in the draft. He can line up just about anywhere on the defensive line and is extremely explosive off the ball. His best asset is his ability to penetrate and beat blocks with explosive hands.
Easley’s best football is clearly ahead of him. Chalk this pick up as typical Patriots. Easley’s stock would be much higher if not for a second ACL tear suffered in the fall.
The biggest question with Easley is his health. If New England clears him medically, I doubt they pass him up with their first-round pick. A trade into the first couple picks of the second round—which Loyko predicted in his mock—could also land the talented 3-tech lineman.
Xavier Su'a-Filo (OL, UCLA)
Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com)
Like the aforementioned Brandon Thomas, adding a player like UCLA lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo is far from sexy. However, if New England isn't sold on veteran linemen Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly, adding a versatile blocker is a must. Jeremiah compared Su'a-Filo to a Patriots legend:
Su'a-Filo would provide a nice upgrade to the interior of the Patriots' offensive line. He is very smart, athletic and nasty. Those are three traits shared by current Patriots guard Logan Mankins.
Su'a-Filo moves well on screen plays and has enough ability in space to be effective on some of New England's plays that get linemen on the edge. As Jeremiah stated, Su'a-Filo has a high football IQ. If he impressed New England coaches on the whiteboard in the pre-draft process, he could hear his name at the end of the first round.