I don't envy the Patriots' scouting crew's job—not at all.
If I learned just one thing writing this mock draft, it's that evaluating talent for the NFL draft is as tough a job as I've ever been faced with.
Even though it's been inappropriately labeled by many as a crapshoot, every team looks forward to the NFL draft.
Teams don't look forward to having the most amount of time to evaluate talent for the draft, though—every team wants to be the last to get started. The Patriots have had a bit more time than they'd like, but they have a lot of draft picks to look forward to in 2010, including three in the second round.
Likewise, they have a lot of holes to fill.
With a practically inept pass rush in 2009, everyone in New England is clamoring for the Pats to go with an outside linebacker or a defensive end. Here's my take on what Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft could and should do with their picks.
Best case scenario: Sergio Kindle, DE/OLB, Texas
Kindle is the strongest pass-rusher in the draft class. His burst off the line of scrimmage will make him a challenge for most offensive linemen. The Patriots can only hope that nagging injuries in his first two seasons combined with a blemished off-field record will help the Texas product to drop to them at 22.
Comparisons to Demarcus Ware must have Bill Belichick salivating at the thought.
Kindle could stand to build more muscle to help him beat much heavier pro offensive tackles, but his motor and desire at outside linebacker are unmatched in this year's draft class.
Worst case scenario: Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
Although he's great in one-on-one match-ups against interior linemen, he simply can't soak up the blockers like a 3-4 defensive linemen should. He could learn to play a three- or five-point technique, but his skill set won't translate into immediate success in the Patriots' scheme. If New England thinks they can coach him into the system in a way that works with his skill set, this would be a good pick; otherwise, I don't like his fit, but his value at this spot is good.
Most likely scenario: Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
I know, real original pick, right? Well, his Co-Big Ten MVP status is no joke. Neither is his Senior Bowl MVP.
His nation-leading 26 tackles for loss are indicative of his football instincts. He's a bit undersized at 6'1", but his combination of strength and quickness on the edge make him a great prospect as a 3-4 outside linebacker, especially in pass rushing situations.
Patriots fans will love the comparisons that have been drawn between Graham and former Wolverine LaMarr Woodley. It's not just about how he fits into the system, though; the Patriots will simply be taking the best player available in the draft, just as they always do.
Best case scenario: Perrish Cox, CB, Oklahoma State
Cox has all the measureables NFL teams look for in a starting-caliber cornerback. He's a physical corner with amazing acceleration, which helps him make up for mistakes in coverage—which are inevitable as corners transition from college to pro.
He's also an established kick and punt returner, which further increases his stock; his two interceptions in the Senior Bowl certainly don't hurt, either. He could be snatched up as early as the first round, but he'd be a great pick here if he falls to New England.
Worst case scenario: Thaddeus Gibson, OLB, Ohio State
Gibson was a productive 'backer in college, but he wasn't a pass rush monster. Though he has the potential to develop into one in the NFL, it's hard to tell whether he can beat pro-level offensive tackles on blitzes. With his closing speed, though, if he can learn to improve his angle of approach and maybe develop another move or two, he could severely increase his potency in that area.
He had 13 tackles for loss this season, though, and his ability to sniff out the screens and make sure tackles at the line of scrimmage should be of intrigue to the New England Patriots, who severely lacked athleticism on the edge of their defense this past season. The question marks surrounding his capabilities as a pass rusher, as well as his lack of overall strength, are the only knocks against him. He's very much a boom-or-bust pick depending on his development.
Most likely scenario: Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State
The Patriots had trouble defending the pass this past season. Despite having used two second-round draft picks on cornerbacks in the last two seasons, they shouldn't shy away from taking one of the many talented CBs this year.
Although he failed to tally an interception in 2010, Robinson finished fifth in the ACC with 11 passes defended (the low INT number can be attributed to teams shying from his side of the field). He has top-end recovery speed as he showed with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash time.
His only weaknesses are his lack of size in terms of run support, and his penchant for gambling on a big play. His physical abilities alone could lead to big plays down the stretch, and he would be a viable second option at cornerback fresh out of the box.
Best case scenario: Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech
If Dwyer falls to them here, they have no reason to pass him up. He flashes Corey Dillon-like style, with a straight-ahead downhill running style. He excels between the tackles, a trait which complements Tom Brady and the rest of the offense nicely. He'll command more defenders into the box with his ability to shed the first tackler.
Best of all, the play action will be a weapon for Tom Brady as a result.
Dwyer has remained injury-free, a trait not possessed by any of New England's backs (less Kevin Faulk). His only weakness is a lack of experience in the receiving game, but with Tom Brady throwing the ball, he'll certainly gain that experience quickly.
Worst case scenario: Navorro Bowman, OLB, Penn State
I'm not knocking on Penn State, I swear.
In fact, I think Bowman will make an exceptional outside linebacker in the NFL. Just not in a 3-4 scheme. He's not an elite pass-rusher, and he's way too lean at a meager 231 lbs.
He's relentless in pursuit of the running back, and overall he has great range vs. the run game, but the Pats really need to focus on defensemen who can get to the quarterback. If any other team were willing to pick Bowman at No. 37, I might expect the Patriots to trade down.
Most likely scenario: Lamarr Houston, DT, Texas
I know what you're thinking—why do the Patriots need a DT? They just franchise tagged Vince Wilfork, after all.
Well, Houston's listed as a DT, but with his size and skill set he could play anywhere along the line in a 3-4 defense. If the Patriots can pick up a talented outside linebacker to go at an offensive tackle, Houston could still rush against interior linemen—just as he did at Texas.
This from Scouts Inc.: "Plays with a wide base...can anchor against double teams when plays with sound technique...strong bull rusher who drives legs after contact and can collapse the pocket on occasion." These are all traits that have been credited to one Richard Seymour throughout his career. This isn't to say that he's the second coming of the former All-Pro, but his talent could translate into big success if he's coached well.
Best case scenario: Tyson Alualu, DT, California
I feel Alualu is one of the most underrated at his position in the draft, simply because he wasn't in one of the big-name conferences.
He lined up at DT in Cal, but could easily play 3-4 defensive end with his size and build. He's not an elite pass rusher at end, but he possesses the ability to collapse the pocket and to force linemen off the ball in both the passing and running game.
He also has the intangibles; with his non-stop motor and support for his teammates, he becomes of great value to a New England defense that was questioned for its heart toward the end of the season.
Worst case scenario: Charles Brown, OT, USC
With Matt Light aging and Nick Kaczur's contract status uncertain, tackle may be a position of need for New England. Brown's size isn't ideal for an NFL-level offensive tackle, but his finesse blocking style could finally mean that the Patriots will be able to protect against speed edge rushers. He has good awareness in picking up on blitzes and line stunts, but takes a lot of chances against double-moves. That won't bode well for the Patriots against their most competitive division rival, the Jets, but he could develop into a top-notch right tackle with time.
Most likely scenario: Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
At this point, with the issues on defense (hopefully) resolved, the Patriots can turn to one other glaring hole—a third receiving option.
LaFell was one of the most dynamic players in college football over the past two years, both in the receiving and return game. His 6'3" frame is perfect for the perimeter of the field, and he poses a difficult match-up for most NFL cornerbacks with his size and speed.
He can develop into a sharp route-runner with time, but for now, he can make a dangerous threat in the screen game. We all know how much the Patriots love the screen game, and every fan of SEC football knows how dangerous Lafell could be in that facet.
Best case scenario: Ciron Black, OT, LSU
Black has everything an NFL team would want in a mid-round offensive linemen. He has experience starting against top-flight talent in the SEC, and he's very durable. He could use to lose a few pounds from his hefty 331-pound frame, but his physical skills and high football IQ could translate into starting talent down the line.
He's only average in pass protection, but his sheer strength could help make up for that. He had 70 knockdowns in 2009, to go with 68 in 2008.
He could play guard until he's able to get acclimated to the speed of the NFL game, but he has displayed the type of leadership that is often associated with future full-time starters in the NFL. To get a player of his value on the offensive line in the fourth round would be a huge victory on all counts for New England.
Worst case scenario: Kyle Calloway, OT, Iowa State
Versatility is the name of New England's game. Offensive line is no different. With a lot of question marks in terms of age, contracts, and free agency, the Patriots could use a player like Calloway, who moved all over the line throughout his collegiate career.
There is his OUI last summer, which raises a red flag, but the Patriots have never been shy from players with potential character flaws. His zone-blocking skills won't be called upon in New England, but he can bring his youth as well as superior talent and athleticism to an offensive line that severely lacks all three.
Best case scenario: Phillip Dillard, ILB, Nebraska
One of the unspoken gems of Nebraska in 2009 was its run defense. Ndamukong Suh is a massive (pun intended) reason for that, but Dillard cleaned up very well behind him with 83 tackles last season. He is more than that, though; he proved his diversity by registering three sacks on the quarterback and an interception.
This is the type of talent Bill Belichick loves to groom. He's a late-round prospect, for sure. Dillard would be a great pick-up, though, in case the Pats don't have confidence in Gary Guyton to be the second interior linebacker in their 3-4 system.
Worst case scenario: Chris McGaha, WR, Arizona State
The Patriots certainly need to add talented depth at wide receiver somehow. Key word—"talented". He doesn't really have any of the tools that the Patriots need for their offense.
Even at over six feet tall, he lacks the speed to make an adequate perimeter receiver. He lacks the second gear necessary to beat NFL cornerbacks. Considering that lack of speed, he also doesn't make a good option on screen plays, which the Patriots love to run.
Likewise, he's not a great route-runner, meaning he won't be useful to New England in the slot.
His size will be enough to draw some eyes, but the Patriots should look away. He's not very useful in their offensive system, which calls for quick receivers with sharp instincts.
Best case scenario: Andre Dixon, RB, Connecticut
Though he still has some character issues, he hasn't been in any trouble since hie DUI. In fact, he took the charge in stride and boosted his production in the process. Dixon rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2009 in his most productive season yet.
He even took that success all the way into the Papajohns.com Bowl game, where he won game MVP honors with his 126-yard performance and one touchdown. He's a strong runner as seen on film, but has shown flashes of quickness to elude defenders.
Although he wasn't much more than a time-share back-up in his time with UConn, he wouldn't be asked to do much more than that in New England.