New England Patriots Day 3 2014 NFL Draft Primer
The New England Patriots, as they are wont to do, have shocked predraft expectations over the first two days of the draft. The selection of Jimmy Garoppolo does nothing to improve the Pats' 2014 championship aspirations, instead giving a long-term lens to a fanbase desperate for short-term glory.
The Pats then traded out of the third round to acquire two more Day 3 picks. New England will be picking three times in the fourth round and three times in the sixth, possessing plenty of flexibility to move around and potentially acquire 2015 picks.
Garoppolo and first-round pick Dominique Easley have elicited divisive opinions. What should Patriots fans expect from a likely busy Day 3? Here's a look at the prospects to watch and the buzz surrounding the Patriots headed into the final day.
*All combine stats and measurables via NFL.com.
Day 2 Recap and Analysis
Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will draw out conflicting responses from Patriots fans and understandably so. In the best-case scenario, Garoppolo will not provide much on-field value for up to three years—that is, until Tom Brady's contract eventually expires.
That does not necessarily qualify Garoppolo as a poor pick, however. Garoppolo has a solid base to build off of, as his arm strength and mechanics are qualities the Patriots look for in a pocket passer. However, he has also had problems handling pressure and needs to adjust from a shotgun-oriented college offense to the Patriots' complicated option-based passing game.
Garoppolo needs time, and he will initially be in a low-pressure environment where he can simply absorb lessons from Brady and Bill Belichick. As ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss notes, Garoppolo has a fairly clear path ahead until Brady's contract expires after the 2017 season:
The New England Patriots are planning for the future with this pick. Top backup Ryan Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season, and Garoppolo can possibly develop behind the scenes this year before elevating to the No. 2 role next year...Is it too early to be thinking quarterback in the draft? Tom Brady is signed through 2017 and still playing at a high level, so unless there is a sudden decline from Brady, Garoppolo most likely wouldn't get on the field until 2018 at the earliest (when he'd be on his second contract).
At that point, the Patriots will almost certainly know whether or not Garoppolo is ready to take the keys of the franchise. Given that Brady will be 40 by that time, the Patriots could very well be staring down a situation similar to the one Green Bay faced several years ago with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
Updated Needs for Patriots
The Patriots obviously did not address a pressing 2014 need by selecting Garoppolo. However, their order of needs is still shuffled a bit after seeing how the Day 2 board played out.
1. Offensive Line
The run on quarterbacks and running backs sent numerous interior linemen down the board, though New England did not jump on potential value picks like Marcus Martin and Trai Turner. Nevertheless, while the Patriots no longer figure to get a 2014 starter out of the draft, there are still prospects with enough skills that they could potentially develop into starters.
Assuming the Patriots are still focusing on the interior line, the likes of David Yankey, Gabe Ikard and Cyril Richardson could be fourth-round possibilities.
2. Coverage Linebacker
The Patriots still need to supplement their starting linebacking corps, and it would help if they focused on their sub-package defense. Especially considering the offensive philosophies of AFC rivals Denver and Indianapolis, the Patriots' stiffest competition figures to require linebackers with fluid movement skills.
I've been a big Jordan Tripp advocate, and the Montana linebacker should go off the board fairly early in Round 4. The Patriots could take the leap with the early fourth-rounder they acquired from Jacksonville or wait for someone else, like LSU's Lamin Barrow or Arizona State's Carl Bradford.
This would likely address the defensive end depth, where the Patriots need to provide more rest for overworked starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Will Smith is a short-term stopgap and Michael Buchanan showed some promise, but there is little reliable depth beyond the three-down workhorses.
The Patriots do not necessarily need a pure one-gapping pass-rusher, and discipline in edge support would be nearly as important. Look for someone like Texas' Jackson Jeffcoat or perhaps a high-risk, high-upside pick like South Florida's Aaron Lynch.
4. Running Back
Running back looked to provide good Day 3 value, and despite a run following Bishop Sankey's selection in the second round, there remain plenty of viable starters available headed into the late rounds.
The Patriots could use any skill set at the position, considering that every running back currently under contract is due for free agency next year. Whether it's a power back like Boston College's Andre Williams or a scat back like Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, the Pats could go in any direction here.
The Patriots appear content to roll with second-year safety Duron Harmon as a starter alongside Devin McCourty. However, an injury to either starter would force a special teams contributor like Tavon Wilson or Patrick Chung to step into the defensive lineup, a suboptimal backup solution.
This year's safety crop was thin beyond the top three, so plenty of potential third safeties remain. Minnesota's Brock Vereen could be a fourth-round consideration, or they could wait for a late-round prospect like Alabama's Vinnie Sunseri.
Top Day 3 Targets
1. Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
Tripp possesses ideal movement skills and adds versatility to the Patriots' linebacking corps. Having not addressed the position through the first three rounds, New England could select Tripp in the fourth and reinforce the position behind the starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
2. Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
Freeman (5'8", 206 pounds) is a small but sturdily built running back who plays with much more power than his size would suggest. As a capable receiver and pass-blocker, Freeman is a multifaceted weapon who would be an excellent fit in New England's backfield committee.
3. DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
Jones offers talents much closer to the two-gapping 0- and 1-technique skill sets that Vince Wilfork provides. Perhaps doubling down at defensive tackle is a bit of an overkill, but with Wilfork and Tommy Kelly on the downside of their respective careers, the Patriots could create a thunder-and-lightning type of duo with Jones and first-rounder Dominique Easley.
4. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Yankey is a bit stiffer in his movement than the Patriots typically desire from their linemen, but at some point, the value is simply too great to pass up. The Stanford product looked like a borderline second-round pick, and with terrific size and short pulling ability, the Patriots could certainly still use Yankey.
5. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
Williams (5'11", 230 lbs) is the closest approximation in this draft class to the bruising running style the Patriots employed through LeGarrette Blount in 2013. With Blount now in Pittsburgh, Williams could establish himself as an early-down fixture in the backfield committee.
6. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama
Stinson is a well-rounded 5-technique who could eventually turn into a three-down player. He's not explosive enough to ever compile significant sack numbers, but as a physical high-motor edge-setter, Stinson figures to turn into a regular-rotation player.
7. Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota
The younger brother of current Pats running back Shane Vereen, Brock is an excellent athlete whose ranginess makes him an ideal free safety. The Patriots already have such a safety in Devin McCourty, but Vereen's skill set is in demand in today's NFL, so selecting him would not represent an incompatible redundancy.
8. Lamin Barrow, OLB, LSU
If the Patriots miss out on Tripp, Barrow would represent a nice consolation prize. Barrow (6'1", 237 lbs) possesses prototypical dimensions for a Will linebacker; with high football IQ and zone awareness, Barrow will almost certainly be a sub-package fixture wherever he lands.
9. Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee
Fulton (6'5", 316 lbs) is a massive man who must impose his size more frequently than he does. He struggles to engage with his hands more than a player of his size should, but with his immense physical tools, the Patriots could mold him into a starter, much like they did with Marcus Cannon.
10. A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
Leonard (6'2", 252 lbs) is a prototypical "F" move tight end who possesses good hands and after-the-catch ability. Though he provides no value as a blocker, Leonard's top-flight combine numbers depict a highly athletic prospect who could contribute immediately.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Peter Schrager, Fox Sports: Devonta Freeman (130) and Ricardo Allen (140)
Freeman's well-rounded skill set figures to place him at the top of the Patriots' running back board. Though not as sturdily built as some of the class's top running backs, his balance not only adds more diversity to the offense, but also allows the Pats to be a bit more selective in re-signing either Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen following the season.
Allen, meanwhile, would be a bit of a surprise. The cornerback position looks like one of the deepest on the roster, especially if Logan Ryan does not move to safety. Allen (5'9", 187 lbs) is also much smaller than the big physical press-coverage corners the Pats have sought out in recent years. Despite solid ball skills, don't expect Allen to make his way to Foxboro.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Cyril Richardson (130) and Andre Williams (140)
Richardson was once one of the top guards in the class, but questions about his motivation and movement skills have sent his stock plummeting. Richardson does possess excellent size, and considering the up-tempo college system he played in at Baylor, he could likely handle the conditioning requirements necessary to play in the Patriots' fast-paced offense.
Williams is arguably the best pure power runner in the draft, and keeping him in-state would represent a safe investment in a durable contributor. There are some long-term questions about Williams' sustainability, given his heavy collegiate workload, but he figures to be a bruising back who would endear himself to Pats fans.
Walter Cherepinsky, Walter Football: C.J. Fiedorowicz (130) and Jordan Tripp (140)
I've already touted Tripp many times, and he would provide terrific value in the latter stages of the fourth round. Other seven-round mocks have Tripp off the board a bit earlier, however, so there is no guarantee the Montana product will be around.
Fiedorowicz is no longer available, but the Patriots could very well address the tight end position. There are no more immediate game-changers, but someone like Florida's Trey Burton could be a Day 3 possibility.
4 Predictions for Day 3
Day 3 is heavy on defense
The Patriots appear content to roll with their current offensive corps, as the Jimmy Garoppolo pick indicates a focus on reinforcing future depth rather than adding current playmakers for Tom Brady. Not all Pats fans will be content with that philosophy, but it appears the Patriots are placing their faith in the development of young contributors like Aaron Dobson and Josh Kline.
Therefore, look for the Patriots to address their various depth issues on defense. New England does not currently have any pressing needs but could afford to look to the future on the defensive line, linebacking corps and safety.
The Patriots do not double-dip anywhere
New England has double downed at positions of need in recent years, like wide receiver in 2013, running back in 2011 and tight end in 2010. However, the Patriots do not seem likely to reinvest in quarterback or defensive tackle, the positions they have already selected.
New England could conceivably select a pair of offensive linemen, and if we broaden Dominique Easley's categorization to defensive lineman, there is actually an excellent chance the Pats will end up doubling down. But in terms of drafting two players fulfilling similar roles, the Patriots seem unlikely to tread down that route.
The Patriots package two sixth-rounders for a fifth-round pick
New England currently owns three sixth-rounders, part of a seven-pick Day 3 haul. Every team needs to fill out the bottom of their roster with cheap labor, but for a deep team like the Pats, having so many late-rounders appears unnecessary.
Thus, look for the Patriots to package two of their sixth-round picks for a fifth-rounder, either this year or in 2015. It helps that none of those picks are compensatory, so all can be moved if an offer pops up.
Ryan Mallett remains a Patriot
The trade rumors surrounding Ryan Mallett will continue to swirl for the remainder of his Foxboro tenure, especially following Garoppolo's selection. Conflicting reports continue to arise: Ian Rapoport reported that the Texans and Patriots were discussing a potential trade that would include a one-year extension for Mallet, while Adam Schefter rebuked that notion and reported that Mallett was "expected back in Foxboro."
The Patriots have carried three quarterbacks in the past when one of them is a clear long-term developmental project. Garoppolo falls under that umbrella, so while the second-rounder is unlikely to see the field in 2014, Mallett could easily remain as Brady's insurance policy until his contract expires.
Updated Patriots Mock Draft
The Patriots have a new bundle of picks and revised needs headed into Day 3. While New England figures to be active on the trade market again, here's a look at where they may head with their current package.
Round 4, Pick 105: Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
Sticking with Tripp here until the Patriots turn elsewhere. Tripp is an ideal sub-package substitute, and with good downhill instincts, he could fill in as a base-package starter in the event of an injury to one of the starters. Despite his FCS background, Tripp has excellent athleticism and smarts that should transfer to a role as a nice rotational player.
Round 4, Pick 130: Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
The Patriots typically opt for players who possess a variety of skill sets rather than players who perform a single skill extremely well. Thus, while Andre Williams or De'Anthony Thomas may be tempting, Freeman provides more all-around value because of his versatility. New England could use insurance at the position, and Freeman could contribute immediately in both early and passing downs.
Round 4, Pick 140: Jackson Jeffcoat DE, Texas
If the Patriots are looking for a high-upside pass-rusher, Jeffcoat is their best bet in the middle rounds. The ex-Longhorn is an agile flexible edge-rusher who may be more ideally suited to a role as a 3-4 outside linebacker. In the Patriots' multiple scheme, however, Jeffcoat is versatile enough to fulfill an immediate sub-package role.
Round 6, Pick 179: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
If the Patriots do use all seven picks, they will likely seek a prospect whose stock has fallen due to injuries. Colvin certainly fits that profile, as the talented Oklahoma corner may require a redshirt year due to his torn ACL in January. However, with solid size (5'11", 177 lbs) and instincts, Colvin's potential as an outside corner is worth developing.
Round 6, Pick 198: Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
Stork (6'4", 315 lbs) is a mammoth center who would certainly remedy the problems the Patriots have faced against big defensive tackles in recent seasons. Stork possesses above-average intelligence, using his understanding of angles to compensate for short arms and stiff hips. As a blue-collar worker, Stork is the type of strong, hard-working prospect the Patriots would be eager to stash away.
Round 6, Pick 206: Trey Burton, TE, Florida
Burton was covered in this space yesterday, and the same sentiment remains headed into Saturday. The Patriots figure to add some form of help for Tom Brady, and while Burton does not move the needle much, his open-field elusiveness makes him a wild card who could infuse some explosiveness in the screen game.
Round 7, Pick 244: Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama
The Patriots usually take a special teams ace at some point in the draft, and Sunseri fits this year's prototype in that regard. New England did not splurge on one of the top safeties in the early rounds, seemingly indicating their faith in Duron Harmon to start in 2014. Sunseri will not contribute much defensively right away, but his contributions in the third phase should please special teams coach Scott O'Brien.