Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Patriots' Top 3 Picks
The New England Patriots are always one of the most active and interesting teams to follow during the NFL draft. They are constantly active, trading up and down the draft board to maximize the value of each individual pick.
The Patriots also often go against the grain of common draftnik thinking, selecting players long before anyone thought those players would be taken, sometimes even stumping the television broadcast crews, who are left without highlight packages of their pick.
What the Patriots will do on draft weekend is anyone's guess, but they still have needs that must be filled that give us a good indication of which players they might be considering.
Here's what we see as the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Pats' first three picks.
First Round, Best Case: Make a Pick!
Regardless of who we think is the perfect fit for the Pats at No. 29 overall, the best-case scenario is if they simply pick someone. Anyone.
The fact is that when the Patriots see enough talent and value to make a first-round pick, they rarely miss. Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower are just two of the recent first-rounders to hit, along with Nate Solder, Devin McCourty and Jerod Mayo.
Bill Belichick's only arguable first-round misses were Laurence Maroney and Brandon Meriweather, but even they combined to give the team valuable contributions in the first few seasons of their contracts. Meriweather started at safety for three seasons, while Maroney almost single-handedly sealed the 2007 AFC Championship Game with 122 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Maybe the Patriots take a defensive linemen like Ra'Shede Hageman or Dominique Easley, or maybe a wide receiver like Marquis Lee or Allen Robinson falls into their lap. Regardless of who the pick might be, if they make a selection, there is a good chance that player will be a significant contributor for the next few seasons.
First Round, Worst Case: Trade Down
It's hard to argue with the success the Patriots have had trading down and acquiring more picks over the years. It's really the only draft strategy that truly makes sense.
However, when it comes to trading out of the first round and into the early second, the Pats would probably be better off making a selection on Day 1.
While the Patriots have never badly missed in the first round during Bill Belichick's tenure, their performance at the top of the second round leaves much to be desired. Ras-I Dowling (33rd overall), Patrick Chung (34th overall) and Ron Brace (40th overall) are just a few of the high-second-round picks the Pats have whiffed on.
Other second-rounders in recent years who haven't panned out include Tavon Wilson (48th overall), Jermaine Cunningham (53rd overall) and Terrence Wheatley (62nd overall).
While there is always solid value in the second round and there's an easy argument to be made for choosing quantity of picks over quality, the Pats would likely be best off keeping their first-round pick and taking a chance.
Second Round, Best Case: Tight Ends Falling
The Pats have missed quite a few times at the top of the second round, but they've had better success finding players near the bottom of the round, a place that always has great value with fallen prospects.
Aaron Dobson (59th overall), Shane Vereen (56th overall) and Sebastian Vollmer (58th overall) are just a few players the Pats have taken in the mid- to late-second round. This spot figures to once again be where they'll look to strike.
Perhaps tight ends like Jace Amaro or CJ Fiedorowicz could fall into the mid- to late-second due to a run on quarterbacks in the late-first or early second round. Both players would represent great value in that range.
The position that might make the most sense is one that is the team's biggest need: defensive end. It's unlikely the Pats will spend a first-round pick on a defensive end that cannot play all three downs, but in the second round, it starts to make sense. Stanford's Trent Murphy or Florida State's Christian Jones could be great fits in this range if either is still around.
Late in the second round is where the Pats can and will find the value that they love, but which player and position they take will depend on who falls through the cracks in the first 50 picks.
Second Round, Worst Case: Running Back Reach
With the departure of LeGarrette Blount and both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen entering the final years of their deals, the Patriots have both an immediate and long-term need at running back.
In 2011, the Pats took Vereen and Ridley with back-to-back picks in the second and third rounds, respectively. But trying to do the same thing that early in this year's draft would be a waste. The talent at running back this year is simply not that strong, and the potential and value of any running back available on Day 3 is almost as comparable to that on Day 2.
Perhaps the Pats like Ohio State's Carlos Hyde or Boston College's Andre Williams. Both have unique skill sets that the Pats need on their roster. But a later-round pick on someone like Mississippi State's Ladarius Perkins could make a lot more sense and be far less risky.
The Pats need help in their front seven and offensive line, and the early rounds of the draft is the best place to get it. Wasting a pick on a running back who might only last a few years is not the way to go here on day two.
Third Round, Best Case: Value Slips Through the Cracks
The Patriots' history in the third round has been extremely hit or miss. Last season brought the promising Logan Ryan, who led the team in interceptions, and in 2011 they found Stevan Ridley. But other recent third-rounders include Jake Bequette, Taylor Price and Tyrone McKenzie.
The Patriots should continue to target the best value in this round, and if they have the chance to acquire additional picks in the round, they should do so.
Potential good fits in Round 3 include linebacker Max Bullough, who has good speed and fire for the middle linebacker position. The Pats have to replace Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher in that spot.
This could also be a great spot for a potential center like Arkansas' Travis Swanson or Colorado State's Weston Richburg. Adding size and reinforcing the interior of the offensive line must be a priority in this draft, and this could be the perfect spot to do it.
Third Round, Worst Case: Where Have All the Offensive Linemen Gone?
The depth at interior offensive line in this draft is very strong, and it's an area where the Patriots need to draft multiple picks. That could be a big problem if all their favorite prospects are taken by this point.
Guards like Dakota Dozier from Furman and Miami's Brandon Linder or centers like Jonotthan Harrison from Florida or Russell Bodine from North Carolina all fit the mold of the kind of linemen the Pats like.
It's impossible to know just who their favorite prospects are, but an early run on offensive linemen will not be a good thing for New England. It could force the Patriots to address other areas, but there are few long-term needs bigger than guard and center.
If their favorite interior linemen prospects are gone, the Pats could be trading back.