The New England Patriots crashed-and-burned in the playoffs after a 14-2 regular season record this season, which was best in the NFL. The Pats one-and-doned for the second year in the row, and will watch the Super Bowl at home.
The attention now goes off the field as the team prepares for the offseason. The source of great interest for the Pats fans is the 2011 NFL Draft. The Patriots hold three picks within the first 33 selections (Nos. 17, 28 and 33) in the draft.
The draft has some good offensive linemen and is loaded with talent along the defensive line. Coincidentally enough, both will be positions the Patriots will look to upgrade this season.
Rushing the passer and helping Vince Wilfork along the defensive line is necessary. Also, the futures of Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal and Matt Light are questionable right now; whether any or all of them return to the team is up in the air. The team will need replacements immediately, and if they do return it can’t hurt to groom them because they are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.
Who will the team consider to grab with one of their three top picks?
Kerrigan had a monster senior year, leading the nation with 26 tackles for losses and recording 12.5 sacks. He also shows a tireless work ethic.
His stats prove that he can get to the quarterback. Kerrigan does that through a number of different styles of moves along the line and gets at the quarterback from many different angles, something the Patriots defense in the Super Bowl champion years did very well.
Some believe he won’t put up outstanding numbers at the combine, but that shouldn’t stop teams from realizing what Kerrigan has done on the field, and what he can still do.
When Leigh Bodden went down with an injury in the preseason, many youngsters were thrust into the position, possibly too soon. The position had some guys who did well, but overall the group wasn’t good or deep enough.
Bodden should be coming back, but that would give another youngster—hopefully—the proper time to develop.
Harris is rated as one of the top corners and could be available. In 39 games with the Hurricanes, he started 32 times. Two years ago as a sophomore, he was named First-Team ACC and Second-Team All-American.
It’s well known that the Patriots like guys with strong football bloodlines, and Heyward has that. His father is former Falcons fullback Craig “Ironhead” Heyward. But he’s more than just a nice pedigree.
He’s another big 3-4 end (6’5”, 255) who is an explosive playmaker. In his junior and senior seasons combined, he made 94 tackles and 10 sacks. He’s played in a BCS Bowl game each of his four seasons at Ohio State, including an extremely strong Sugar Bowl against Arkansas in 2011.
Solder is a mammoth tackle, standing at 6’9” and weighing in at 315 pounds. Many scouts say he could start immediately, which may be a necessity if the offensive line is as depleted as it has the potential to be. Solder had a good showing at the Senior Bowl.
He’s got solid athleticism for his size and scouts say he has a lot of potential.
For the past couple of years, the Pats have had difficulty rushing the passer. He would be a nice big end in the 3-4 defense that is powerful enough to create pressure.
The 6’4”, 288-pound end has increased his tackle totals each year and has sacked the quarterback seven times in each of the past two seasons.
Clayborn is known as a good pass and run-stopper. He’s very strong and is a good rusher from the edge.
He amassed 50 or more tackles in each of his final three seasons, and last year he was First-Team All-Big Ten and a consensus First-Team All-American by the NCAA, AFCA and Walter Camp. His junior year he was also named the Orange Bowl MVP, proving he shows up and performs in big games.
Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner, is another lineman with plenty of size. The tackle is 6’7” and weighs 327 pounds.
The Badgers had one of the best running games in the nation. Part of that success is thanks to the strong offensive line anchored by Carimi. The team also allowed only 11 sacks to starting QB Scott Tolzien.
Carimi dominated all defensive ends he faced, and would be a nice addition.
Beal led the Big 12 in tackles for losses and was second in sacks. He was named the 2010 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.
He’s got decent speed, but he really just knows how to get to the quarterback. He started every game as a sophomore in 2008 and registered 11 sacks last season.
He hustles all over the field and creates some turnovers. When he can’t get to the quarterback, he has good awareness and quick enough hands to deflect passes.
The son of former Vikings Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan, Cameron is athletic and has a high motor. He’s known for his speed rushing ability and drew a lot of double teams in college. If he were to go to the Patriots, teams would have to figure out how to defend Jordan (after some seasoning), Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
Jordan constantly improved at Cal, and he isn’t done yet. He had a great Senior-Bowl, which increased his value.
Scouts say he doesn’t have great size or upside, but that he does have good technique, a strong work ethic and a high football IQ. He also plays multiple positions, which is always a good thing for depth purposes.
Scouts say he would be a good fit for the Patriots at the position because of his intelligence and awareness and ability to compete against top competition.
Rumor has it that Pats scouts have visited Villanova a few times this season, and Ijalana could be the guy they were looking at.
He’s got good size at 6’4” and 320 pounds. Ijalana is known to have a mean streak and good footwork. He can play either tackle or guard and does each well.
He’s big (6’6”, 292 lbs) and explosive. Last season, Watt’s junior year, he made 62 tackles and 21 tackles for a loss. He does a good job of getting to the ball carrier and plays with a lot of energy.
The belief is that Watt gets better every year and should make a good transition to the pros. Part of that reasoning is because he is fairly new to the position, moving there once he transferred to Wisconsin after spending his freshman year as a tight end at Central Michigan.
He won the 2010 Ronnie Lott award Defense IMPACT Player of the Year, given to a player showing great off-field characteristics—such as maturity, integrity and community service—in addition to accomplishments on the field. His character won’t be an issue.
His twin brother Maurkice was drafted by the Steelers last year, stepping into the starting center role and helping Pittsburgh reach the Super Bowl. Many feel that Mike can also step in and start right away.
He’s got good size (6’4”, 310) but is also very athletic.
He’s versatile, something that a lot of these linemen, especially the interior linemen, have in common. Pouncey started at right guard for the Gators his sophomore and junior seasons before replacing his brother at center senior year.