Patriots 2014 Draft: Final 7-Round Mock Draft
As Commissioner Goodell approaches the podium, whose name will be written on the draft card submitted by Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio? Will it be an offensive lineman or tight end to help Tom Brady and the offense, or will it be another young piece to the defensive puzzle?
Will they even make a pick in Round 1? Or will a trade postpone the reaction of Patriot fans to Friday?
Here is my final guess as to how the 2014 NFL draft plays out for New England.
Round 1: Dominique Easley (DL, Florida)
Disruption is what Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley brings to the table.
A player that lives in the opponent's backfield, Easley's tape looks like that of a player selected in the first 12-15 picks of the draft. Unfortunately, two ACL tears derailed his college career and brought up questions as to his durability.
Ultimately, Easley's knees could take him off many a team's board. However, if New England is comfortable with his prognosis, he might be the missing piece in what looks like—on paper anyway—a very talented defense.
Plug Easley inside next to Vince Wilfork and watch the offensive line try and decide whom to double. If you double Wilfork, Easley is going to create havoc with his lightning-quick first step.
Penetration up the middle and suffocating coverage by the newly signed cornerbacks? The fans of New England can hardly wait.
Round 2: Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
Why limit yourself to one Gronkowski when you can have two?
Troy Niklas might not be a carbon-copy of Rob Gronkowski, as the speed, route-running savvy and explosiveness aren't the same. However, he shares enough traits—monstrous size, impressive blocking skills, large catch-radius and a bit on the "bro" side—to be seen as a reasonable facsimile.
Niklas is far from a polished tight end—he just converted to the position from defensive end last season—but he can be used as a blocker and red-zone threat as he learns the intricacies of being an NFL tight end. At 6'6" and 270 pounds, he presents an imposing challenge for cornerbacks and safeties.
If Niklas isn't available late in Round 2, look for New England to target Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz in Round 3 or 4.
Round 3: Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa)
Christian Kirksey was hardly a household name in Iowa four months ago, but the versatile linebacker—part of my initial Top 100 back in January—has made a name for himself with solid performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.
Kirksey isn't a highlight-reel player. He does his job on every play, works hard and is willing to throw his 234-pound body around to make tackles and set the edge. He is adept in zone and man coverage and can be a core special teams player as a rookie.
If the New England Patriots want to replace Brandon Spikes with a lighter alternative, Kirksey is a perfect nickel linebacker who can complement what Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo already bring to the table.
Round 4: Jackson Jeffcoat (DE/OLB, Texas)
When you have to sign Andre Carter off the street halfway through the 2013 season, you need some help rushing the passer. 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette hasn't developed at all, while last year, rookie Michael Buchanan's play tailed off quickly after a hot start.
Jeffcoat has some flaws—he isn't as good turning the corner as his athleticism would imply—but the pass-rusher traits are there. At 6'3" and 247 pounds, his 4.63 40-yard dash and 6.97 three-cone times at the combine were very impressive.
As a designated pass-rusher—he isn't comfortable dropping into coverage at all—Jeffcoat offers some promise of immediate help with long-term potential on the edge.
Round 4 (Compensatory): Billy Turner (OL, North Dakota State)
Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly both performed below capabilities in 2013 and could be seen as possible upgrade spots this spring. North Dakota State lineman Billy Turner could make one of them expendable.
Turner played tackle in college, but the right guard position suits him better in the NFL. He is athletic enough to stick with stunting defensive linemen on the interior and can play in space on screens and draws.
With Turner or veteran Marcus Cannon at guard, Connolly could move to center or be cut outright. I'm not sure Turner is a first-day starter in New England, but he could be groomed to start the 2015 season.
Round 6 (Via Philadelphia): Marion Grice (RB, Arizona State)
With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the final year of their rookie contracts, adding depth and perhaps a future starter at running back should be a priority on Day 3 of the 2014 NFL draft for the New England Patriots.
Grice has two traits that are in demand in New England. He rarely fumbles—only once over the last two years—and is adept at running routes and getting open as a receiver.
Though he can shake tacklers in the open field, Grice is not the powerful or shifty inside runner that Ridley or Vereen is. His skill set pegs him as a third-down back only at this point and a capable backup to Vereen.
Round 6: Connor Shaw (QB, South Carolina)
The New England Patriots are never shy about adding quarterbacks. They've drafted six true quarterbacks after finding their franchise quarterback—some guy named Tom Brady—in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft.
Connor Shaw could be the latest quarterback to make a name for himself in New England. He doesn't have the arm talent of a Brady, but I see him as a poor man's Johnny Manziel. He runs well, can extend plays and overachieves. He is tough as nails and has multiple years of SEC competition under his belt.
Shaw is a player who can come in on short notice and make enough plays to win a game. What more can you want from a sixth-round pick?
Round 7: Gator Hoskins (TE/FB, Marshall)
Bill Belichick takes players few have heard of in the second round of the draft, so predicting a seventh-round pick is always entertaining. He could draft Rutgers' sousaphone player for all we know.
If Belichick does elect to select a football player in the seventh round, Gator Hoskins could fit in as a lighter James Develin. He doesn't block as well as Develin but does offer much more upside as a receiver. A hybrid "move" tight end and fullback could save the New England Patriots a valuable roster spot come Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season.
Belichick has shown an affinity for Gators before—mainly the Florida ones—so Hoskins and his former teammate Aaron Dobson could have a reunion in the making.