Who Are Experts Predicting to Patriots in 1st Round of NFL Draft?
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has made a history out of hoodwinking everyone when it comes to who he will be adding to his team. Sure, at least one draft prognosticator got it right last year, but even he would admit it's much harder to get it right than it is to be way off.
It may be a futile exercise, but looking around the Internet at some of the more notable mock drafts can prove to be a good starting point when looking at who may be available to the Patriots at No. 32.
The Patriots have several needs this year, but one of the most glaring needs is at cornerback. As such, it should be no surprise that four of the six surveyed draft experts have projected the Patriots to take a defensive back. With draft season nearing its end, it should also be no surprise that groupthink has set in to the fullest, and three of the four who projected a cornerback also picked the same player.
Let's take a look at who the draft analysts believe the Patriots should take in the first round.
The Mock Drafts
Rob Rang, CBS Sports: Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner each signing elsewhere, the smart money is on New England taking its choice of the top cornerbacks still available. Jones' remarkable athleticism was demonstrated in workouts but he's also a savvy and physical in coverage and run support. Utah's Eric Rowe and LSU's Jalen Collins are other candidates to keep in mind for the Patriots.
The last time the Patriots took a defensive back from Connecticut was Darius Butler in 2009, and the experience proved to be less than fruitful for Bill Belichick. Byron Jones, however, is a much different cornerback from Butler.
At 6'1" and 199 pounds, Butler has the measurables to play on the boundary and match up with No. 1 receivers. Even with his size, there are concerns over whether he can consistently play man coverage at the NFL level. There are no concerns, however, about his instincts and football intelligence.
The Patriots may have nine cornerbacks on the roster right now, but there are still questions as to which ones are viable starters on a week-in, week-out basis. If Belichick thinks Jones can provide an answer to that question, a first-round pick is the price of admission.
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
After losing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner this offseason, the Super Bowl champs are expected to address the cornerback position in the 2015 NFL Draft. Darby lacks ideal size and ballskills, but he can cover like a blanket with impressive athleticism.
Patriots fans may be hoping that their team adds a big-bodied cornerback who excels in man coverage to help ease the wounds of losing Revis and Browner. Florida State's Ronald Darby doesn't have the massive frame of a Browner (5'11", 193 lbs), but he is every bit as tenacious, and his skills translate well from man to zone coverage.
That being said, CBS Sports' Rob Rang comments that Darby "remains a better athlete than football player," in that he may need to refine his technique if he's ever going to realize his full potential as a cornerback.
He could begin his career as part of a rotation that includes Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, but Darby will eventually have to develop into a starter in order to be worth the first-round selection.
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
"The combine star is more than a workout warrior. Jones exhibits solid cover skills and instincts in zone and has the athleticism to challenge receivers in man coverage."
That makes two experts who have predicted the Patriots to take UConn's Byron Jones.
The selection is not without reason. Jones was a team captain for the Huskies, exhibiting a leadership quality that has led the Patriots to selecting players in previous drafts (in 2012, they selected five former captains).
He's also exhibited the kind of off-the-charts athleticism that will leave scouts drooling. He posted top-five finishes in the vertical jump (44 ½"), broad jump (147"), three-cone drill (6.78 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (3.94 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (10.98 seconds) in the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Patriots will also love his versatility; Jones played safety, cornerback and special teams in college.
The only question mark with Jones is a season-ending shoulder injury, which could be a concern when it comes to his ability in press-man coverage, but all the other tools are in place.
Lance Zierlein, NFL.com: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
"Bill Belichick drafted Laurence Maroney in Round 1 in 2006, thinking Maroney could be a home run hitter. Don't be shocked to see him take another shot here."
Out with Shane Vereen, in with Indiana's Tevin Coleman.
If the Patriots want an explosive threat out of the backfield, Coleman may be their best bet. He's a bit tall for the running back position at 6'1", and his high pad level could be an issue for some teams, but he didn't just stumble into his production: 270 carries, 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2014. He exhibited some amazing endurance along the way; according to CBS Sports' Dane Brugler, Coleman averaged 8.4 yards per carry in the second half of games in 2014.
The Patriots will love his versatility to carry the ball, catch out of the backfield and block in the passing game.
The question, which Zierlein alluded to, is whether Belichick would really draft a running back in the first round once again after what happened with Maroney, who was only in the league for five years and only had a career-high 835 rushing yards in 2007. They also already have a backfield stocked with players for every situation. All that being said, Coleman and Maroney are far from the same player, and the Patriots still lack a "complete back" who can do everything.
Todd McShay, ESPN: Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
[Cornerback] is the team's biggest need right now after losing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in free agency, and Jones has elite tools for the position. He has very good size, range and athleticism (including a ridiculous broad jump of 12 feet, 3 inches and a nearly-as-impressive vertical of 44.5 inches), and while he needs to improve his patience and anticipation skills, he is a hard worker who should take well to coaching.
Take 3 on Byron Jones to New England. Roll 'em.
Maybe the Twitterverse is right. Maybe Byron Jones is the perfect Patriot.
Or maybe the fact that everyone thinks Jones will be joining the Patriots is only indication that he won't be.
The Patriots could use a big-bodied cornerback to join a group of smaller cover men in Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler. Jones has a lot of high-character traits that the Patriots tend to search for in their first-round picks, so it wouldn't be a shocker for them to draft him.
But when everyone thinks the Patriots will zig, that's usually when they zag.
Mel Kiper Jr.: Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
Davis won't collapse the pocket, but he can certainly hold the point against multiple blockers in the run game, which is something the Patriots are going to miss from Wilfork. No, Davis is not Wilfork, but he has a similar profile in terms of what he does best, and he can certainly deepen the rotation.
Mel Kiper's pick wasn't a Darrelle Revis replacement, so it makes sense that it was a Vince Wilfork replacement. That being said, the Patriots may already have their Wilfork replacement in Sealver Siliga.
If they are less convinced of Siliga's viability as the heir to the nose tackle spot in the Patriots defense, Iowa's Carl Davis would make a nice pick. He's not going to generate a lot of disruption in the passing game, and he won't shoot gaps between blockers or even push them back into the quarterback's lap. However, he will hold the point of attack and limit the space through which running backs can run or quarterbacks can escape.
He's considered fundamentally sound, playing with good leverage and using a number of moves (club, spin and bull rush) to help him get away from blockers. As long as he's keeping Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower's jerseys clean of any impact from those blockers, he'll be doing his job in the Patriots defense.
Unless otherwise noted, all scouting combine information and draft notes provided by NFL.com.