New England Patriots Ultimate 2014 Draft Primer
How is a team that continually competes for the AFC Championship and/or Super Bowl supposed to improve year after year? That's a question that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots' front office has been asking for over a decade.
The best way to do so is the NFL draft, which is just a day away.
We're all two weeks older than we should be at this point, with the NFL pushing the draft back by two weeks and basically admitting that it was simply so people could continue talking about the draft. The extra time has allowed NFL teams, writers and fans to get more familiar with the prospects entering the league, though, so perhaps it's not completely useless.
So, in an effort to get everyone up to speed on the players to watch and the team's selections, let's take you through all the information you need to know before the draft, including a look at some names to watch in each round.
List of 2014 Draft Picks
Round 1, pick 29
Round 2, pick 62
Round 3, pick 93
Round 4, pick 130
Round 4, pick 140 (compensatory selection)
Round 6, pick 198 (from Philadelphia Eagles, acquired by trading 2014 fifth-round pick for Isaac Sopoaga)
Round 6, pick 206
Round 7, pick 244
Position-by-Position Big Board
- Tom Savage (Pittsburgh)
- Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois)
- A.J. McCarron (Alabama)
- Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech)
- Bishop Sankey (Washington)
- Tre Mason (Auburn)
- Carlos Hyde (Ohio State)
- Andre Williams (Boston College)
- Charles Sims (West Virginia)
- Marqise Lee (Southern California)
- Brandin Cooks (Oregon State)
- Allen Robinson (Penn State)
- Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin)
- T.J. Jones (Notre Dame)
- Troy Niklas (Notre Dame)
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington)
- Jace Amaro (Texas Tech)
- C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa)
- Colt Lyerla (Oregon)
- JaWuan James (Tennessee)
- Jack Mewhort (Ohio State)
- Michael Schofield (Michigan)
- Matt Patchan (Boston College)
- Xavier Su'a-Filo (UCLA)
- David Yankey (Stanford)
- Joel Bitonio (Nevada)
- Dakota Dozier (Furman)
- Russell Bodine (North Carolina)
- Marcus Martin (Southern California)
- Travis Swanson (Arkansas)
- Weston Richburg (Colorado State)
- Bryan Stork (Florida State)
- Gabe Ikard (Oklahoma)
- Dee Ford (Auburn)
- Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State)
- Trent Murphy (Stanford)
- Kareem Martin (North Carolina)
- Marcus Smith (Louisville)
- Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh)
- Dominique Easley (Florida)
- Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota)
- Louis Nix (Notre Dame)
- Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame)
- C.J. Mosley (Alabama)
- Shayne Skov (Stanford)
- Preston Brown (Louisville)
- Max Bullough (Michigan State)
- Brock Coyle (Montana)
- Ryan Shazier (Ohio State)
- Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech)
- Christian Jones (Florida State)
- Trevor Reilly (Utah)
- Jordan Tripp (Montana)
- Jason Verrett (TCU)
- Phillip Gaines (Rice)
- Dontae Johnson (N.C. State)
- Travis Carrie (Ohio)
- Antone Exum (Virginia Tech)
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama)
- Calvin Pryor (Louisville)
- Tre Boston (North Carolina)
- Marqueston Huff (Wyoming)
- Deone Bucannon (Washington State)
- Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois)
- Craig Loston (LSU)
- Brock Vereen (Minnesota)
- Vinnie Sunseri (Alabama)
Disclaimer: The big boards are based on players that fit the Patriots from a need and value perspective (i.e., offensive tackle and quarterback are not big needs, so the top prospects at those positions are left off).
Round 1, Pick 29
Team needs: DT, OL, TE
If we've learned anything about Bill Belichick and the Patriots, it's to never expect them to stay put in the first round of the draft. They traded up twice in 2012, they traded back twice in 2010 and they traded out of the first round completely in 2009 and 2013.
If they stay put, Dominique Easley (Florida) could be staring them in the face. The 6'2", 288-pound defensive tackle has all the tools the Patriots are missing in their defensive tackles, with elite first-step quickness to get into the backfield and the strength to hold his own at the point of attack against the run. There are durability concerns after suffering two torn ACLs at Florida, but if the Patriots are sold on his health, he'd make a great addition to their defense.
Other options include Louis Nix (Notre Dame), Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota) and Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame), with all three boasting the ability to play all over the line in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. The Patriots don't have to go with a defensive tackle, although there are plenty of talented ones to be had in the first round.
Although the Patriots welcome back center Ryan Wendell and guard Dan Connolly, they may need to begin making long-term considerations for their offensive line. Xavier Su'a-Filo (UCLA) fits the profile for a Patriots offensive lineman, with the power to hold up when blocking man-to-man and the athleticism to move around in zone-blocking situations. He has also started all over the offensive line, meaning he has the versatility to be the "sixth man" as a rookie, filling in as injuries dictate.
Round 2, Pick 62
Team needs: TE, OL, RB, SS
The depth at tight end figures to run out quickly in the second round, so the Patriots may have to take this opportunity to snatch up whatever is left. That could be someone like Troy Niklas (Notre Dame), whose 6'5", 270-pound frame likens him to Rob Gronkowski. Niklas could be a perfect backup to Gronkowski to start, with an increasing role as he becomes more acclimated to the NFL and to the Patriots offense.
If Niklas is off the board, other options include Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) and C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa), both of whom have the size to give the Patriots another threat over the middle and in the red zone and both can also develop into solid in-line blockers.
The Patriots could also look to address the offensive line with this pick. One potential guard on the board in this spot is David Yankey (Stanford), who was projected to be a first-round pick before a poor performance at the scouting combine. He has the ability to block on the move and while he may not be the most powerful interior lineman in the draft, he exhibits sound technique and knows how to win leverage against his opponent.
One other, perhaps even better option is Marcus Martin (Southern California), who has versatility to play center or guard. Not only does he have the versatility to contribute all over the line as a rookie, but he also called the shots in protection in a pro-style offense and could carry that burden in the NFL, as well.
Round 3, Pick 93
Team needs: OL, SS, DE, RB
This could be the spot where the Patriots finally address the lack of depth on the offensive line. One option at center could be Travis Swanson (Arkansas), who has experience in a pro-style offense and started all 50 games of his Razorback career. He is not as versatile as the Patriots would typically prefer their linemen to be, and he could also stand to get a bit stronger, but he has the sound technique and high football IQ the Patriots love in their centers.
If the Patriots want to add another player to the mix for the starting spot at strong safety, though, they may look to the brother of a player currently on the roster: Brock Vereen (Minnesota), Shane's younger brother. Brock has some versatility to play either free safety or strong safety, having played both spots in college. He also contributes as a gunner on special teams, giving him even more value to the Patriots.
Don't sleep on the defensive end spot as a need, either. The Patriots signed Will Smith on Monday, but they have failed to develop depth at the position for years. If a player like Marcus Smith (Louisville) or Kareem Martin (North Carolina) is still on the board, the Patriots could instantly boost their sub-package pass rush, an area where they have struggled for years. In particular, Marcus Smith is regarded as a stand-out pass-rusher, with 14.5 sacks in his senior season.
The Patriots could also begin looking at running backs in this spot. There will be plenty worth a third-round pick, including Bishop Sankey (Washington), who is a lot like Stevan Ridley in that he has great first-step quickness, good vision, a lack of long speed and some trouble holding onto the ball. With over 700 career touches in college, though, it's understandable that he would put the ball on the ground a few times. He enters the NFL with plenty of experience, as a result of all those carries, but also some questions about how much tread is left on the tires.
Round 4, Pick 130
Team needs: ILB, DE, RB, SS
According to Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, the beauty of this draft is its depth and the number of underclassmen. That's a good thing for the Patriots, who are more desperate for depth this year than in years past. One position they need to keep in mind is linebacker, where they are one injury away from Steve Beauharnais getting some serious playing time.
Preston Brown (Louisville) may be a bit smaller than a prototype middle linebacker at 6'1" and 251 pounds, but he is a physical tackler and comes downhill against the run, a lot like Brandon Spikes. He has the football intelligence the Patriots love in their linebackers. He may still have some of the problems in coverage that Spikes had, but as a fourth-round pick, he would still have enough value to warrant the selection.
They also lack depth at the outside linebacker spot. Grabbing someone like Trevor Reilly (Utah) might be a good move to give them a versatile presence for both the defensive end and outside linebacker spots. Reilly isn't regarded as a standout pass-rusher, but he has the ability to drop into coverage and could be effective on the blitz.
If the Patriots still haven't taken a back and Tre Mason (Auburn) is still on the board, he would be a good fit in this spot. He is not a dynamic runner, but he has the versatility to contribute in both the running and passing game as a blocker (he has room to grow as a receiver but has flashed potential in that role).
He averaged 5.8 yards per carry in his three years in the SEC and was a key in Auburn winning every game on its way to the national championship before finally losing to Florida State in the big game—and Mason carried the ball 34 times for 195 yards and a touchdown in that game.
Round 4, Pick 140 (Compensatory Selection)
Team needs: DE, SS
If the Patriots just want a potent pass-rushing edge defender for sub packages, one name they could target is Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas), whose 6'3", 247-pound frame projects to a rotational role in the Patriots defense. With some time in the weight room, he could expand that role, but the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year could immediately boost their pass rush with his first-step quickness and top-notch motor.
Other options at defensive end include James Gayle (Virginia Tech), who has the frame at 6'4" and 259 pounds and the burst off the snap to create pressure but lacks the overall fluid athleticism to make plays in space. If given time to hone his craft (he's only played 53 games), he could develop into a stud.
If they want to add depth to the strong safety spot, one possible option is Vinnie Sunseri (Alabama). Not only does he come from the program of good buddy Nick Saban, but he also has the ability to contribute on special teams. His reaction time is superb, but he does not have the top-end speed to cover sideline to sideline. He is the kind of heady player that the Patriots love in their defense, for his ability to diagnose and react to plays.
Round 6, Pick 198 (from Philadelphia Eagles)
Team needs: SS, OL, DT
The Patriots could still add some depth at strong safety here, if someone like Sunseri is still on the board. Someone like Daniel Sorensen (BYU) might be worth a look here. Not only was he a three-cone drill superstar (6.47-second finish was among the 10 fastest finishes at the combine), but he also has the ability to contribute on special teams. He is not a dominant athlete, but he has the mental acumen and football intelligence to make an impact early in his career.
This could also be the point in the draft where the Patriots begin looking to add to their depth by double-dipping at positions where they are in particular need. One of those spots could be guard, where the Patriots depth chart is thin. Russell Bodine (North Carolina) is one name to keep on the radar, although he could be a target for the Patriots in the fourth round as well. He has the versatility to play either center or guard and the athleticism to be an effective blocker on the move.
One name to watch for a Patriots connection could be Ed Stinson (Alabama), whose 6'3", 287-pound frame leaves him with question marks around his NFL positional projection. That could work for the Patriots, though, who like their defensive linemen to be able to play multiple schemes. Stinson's ability to win in a phone booth will be welcomed on a Patriots defensive line that lacks such players.
On the off-chance that Jeremy Hill (LSU) is still on the board, the Patriots could pick him up. He is similar to LeGarrette Blount in that he has the big body (6'1", 233 pounds) and the toughness between the tackles but lacks the long speed to make big plays. He is good at holding onto the ball, though, and only fumbled once in his collegiate career.
Round 6, Pick 206
Team needs: OL, DT, QB
At 6'6" and 302 pounds with 33" arms, Matt Patchan has the frame of an NFL tackle (although shorter-than-ideal arms) and knows how to use his feet for both kick-slide and getting to the second level as a lead blocker. He'll need some time in the weight room, but his fundamentals are in place. Even if he has to make a switch to guard, he can still serve a purpose in the Patriots system.
Other late-round offensive guard options include Jon Halapio (Florida), Spencer Long (Nebraska) and Zach Fulton (Tennessee).
One option at defensive tackle could be George Uko (Southern California), who has the burst to collapse the pocket and a long frame (6'3", 284 pounds, 33.25" arms) to keep blockers at bay. He is still a raw prospect, and will need to spend some time in the weight room so he can have an impact against the run, but he has the potential to warrant late-round consideration.
Round 7, Pick 244
Team needs: DT, QB
The Patriots could be in need of a new backup quarterback in the next calendar year, with Ryan Mallett set to hit free agency next offseason. There are plenty of late-round quarterbacks who fit the mold for the Patriots offense, but Keith Wenning (Ball State) should be on the list somewhere. At 6'3" and 218 pounds, he has a build very similar to Tom Brady's, and he is also considered a purebred pocket passer. His lack of arm strength will pigeon-hole him as a career backup, but he could be of value to an NFL roster.
The defensive tackle spot could also use some reinforcements if the Patriots haven't double-dipped here by now. Kerry Hyder (Texas Tech) has the size at 6'2" and 290 pounds to play all over the defensive line, and that may be just the problem. He doesn't project to a true position, but could play at either the 3- or 5-technique in a rotational role.
Latest Draft Buzz
Here's some of the latest draft buzz around the Patriots:
- According to Doug Kyed of NESN.com, the Patriots are "in the mix" to draft Dominique Easley (Florida). The SEC defensive tackle has been projected to the Patriots in mock drafts for months.
- Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio regarded this year's draft as particularly deep at wide receiver, running back and on the defensive line.
Here's a list of all the players the Patriots have hosted at their facility for pre-draft visits, courtesy NEPatriotsDraft.com:
- Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
- Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, Eastern Illinois)
- Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
- A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama)
- Bruce Ellington (WR, South Carolina)
- Quron Pratt (WR, Rutgers)
- C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa)
- Crockett Gillmore (TE, Colorado State)
- Jordan Najvar (TE, Baylor)
- Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
- Donald Hawkins (OT, Texas)
- Kevin Pamphile (OT, Purdue)
- Demarcus Lawrence (DE, Boise State)
- Cassius Marsh (DE, UCLA)
- Jimmy Staten (DT, Middle Tennessee State)
- Stephon Tuitt (DL, Notre Dame)
- Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB, Georgia Tech)
- Shayne Skov (ILB, Stanford)
- Tyler Starr (OLB, South Dakota)
- Deone Bucannon (S, Washington State)
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
- Dezmond Southward (S, Wisconsin)
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases. Combine measurements and workout numbers provided by NFL.com.