Updating New England Patriots' 1st-Round Big Board Post-Combine

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IFebruary 25, 2015

Updating New England Patriots' 1st-Round Big Board Post-Combine

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Predicting what the New England Patriots will do on draft day is like predicting the weather in New England. Just when you think it's going to snow, it rains. Just when you think it's going to rain, it's sunny. Just when you think it's going to be sunny, it snows.

    Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has already voiced his opinion on weathermen, so you know what he probably thinks of NFL draft analysis and predictions.

    That being said, it's never too early to begin getting a feel for which players might be on their radar. And now, with the 2015 scouting combine in the books, the Patriots are probably beginning to put some real shape to their draft board. 

    There are hundreds of prospects available to the Patriots, but only a small portion of those will make sense for the Patriots with the 32nd overall pick. And if we had the time to comb through hundreds of NFL draft prospects, we'd probably do something besides comb through hundreds of NFL draft prospects, so here's a look at just a handful of the first-round prospects who could be on the Patriots' big board.

5. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Patriots have not drafted a running back in the first round since Laurence Maroney in 2006. That experience alone may be enough to make Bill Belichick shy away from doing it again for a very long time, but if there was ever a prospect worth making an exception for, Melvin Gordon may be it.

    The 6'1", 215-pound running back logged 4,915 rushing yards, 7.8 yards per carry and 49 total touchdowns in his illustrious Wisconsin career. His stock may have risen a bit at the scouting combine after finishing among the top running backs in four categories (4.52-second 40-yard dash, 126" broad jump, 4.07-second 20-yard shuttle and 11-second 60-yard shuttle). 

    He has enough explosive playmaking potential, acceleration, quickness and the right overall skill set to draw comparisons to Jamaal Charles and Reggie Bush from CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler and Brandon Thorn. Gordon will, however, have to improve in the passing game as a receiver and as a blocker. 

4. Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is due a lot of money on the salary cap this season ($8.9 million, according to Spotrac). Hopefully, for their sake, the Patriots will be able to reach an agreement to keep him in the fold for at least another year. Either way, they need to begin thinking about the future beyond their 33-year-old nose tackle.

    Enter Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, a 6'5", 329-pound monster who plugs gaps like a cork in a wine bottle—and will hopefully age like wine, too. Phillips didn't have a particularly stellar showing of athleticism at the 2015 scouting combine, but he did put up 28 bench-press reps at the scouting combine (11th among defensive tackles). 

    It's not his explosiveness, but his long arms (34.75") and ability to eat up multiple blockers at a time that distinguish him as a potential first-round pick. Pure nose tackles are a rare breed, and Phillips could help fill a future need for the Patriots.

3. A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    When the Patriots traded Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they created a hole at left guard. It took them about a month into the regular season before they finally found a combination of interior linemen that could stabilize their protection and run blocking. But with left guard Dan Connolly set to hit the open market this offseason, it may be time to find a long-term fix on the offensive line.

    The Patriots love their first-round picks to have one characteristic: leadership. In the past, they have targeted team captains. South Carolina guard A.J. Cann was not just voted a team captain, but a permanent one beginning in the 2013 season, according to Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of CBSSports.com

    Brugler and Rang also state that Cann would be best suited in a power scheme, and that he doesn't have the necessary movement ability to fit into a zone-blocking scheme. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein quotes an SEC East offensive coach as saying, "I see him as a left guard only prospect who overcomes lack of height with athleticism."

    The Patriots may not like his lack of versatility, but they will certainly love the toughness he could infuse into their offensive line at the left guard spot.

2. Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    With question marks around the health of Dont'a Hightower and around the health and contract situation of Jerod Mayo, the Patriots may need to find some answers in the NFL draft. They have not been shy about drafting linebackers in the first round in recent years, and there are a few strong prospects available this year. 

    Either way, with Mayo approaching 30, the Patriots will have to address the position sooner than later one way or the other. One way to sort things out would be to groom Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson to start on one side, with Jamie Collins on the other and Hightower in the middle. 

    Thompson measures in a bit smaller than the average linebacker at 6'0" and 228 pounds, so he will need to add mass, but he won't be able to add much more than he already has. According to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, scouts question his natural NFL fit, but he could be "a unique chess piece in the hands of the right defensive coordinator," and the Patriots have been known to take a chance on those kinds of prospects in the past.

1. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Patriots already have one uber-athletic tight end in Rob Gronkowski, but they do need more depth at the position. After all, 2014 was Gronkowski's first fully healthy season since 2010. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams might be a carbon copy of Gronkowski sent from another dimension, with a 6'4", 249-pound frame, 33.5-inch arms, giant 10.4-inch hands and a heap of athleticism. 

    How much athleticism? He finished among the top tight ends in the 40-yard dash (4.78 seconds), vertical jump (34.5"), broad jump (117") and 20-yard shuttle (4.49 seconds).

    With his combination of size and athleticism, it's no surprise that NFL.com's Lance Zierlein says Williams was "primarily used as [a] move tight end." He may not be the most refined blocker at tight end, but he gives the effort and has the frame to improve in that area.

    The Patriots could do a lot worse than drafting Williams, even if their needs may be a little greater at other positions.

    Unless otherwise noted, all scouting combine information and draft notes provided by NFL.com and CBSSports.com.

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