NFL Draft 2016: New England Patriots 7-Round Mock Draft

William Brabrook@@WillBrabrookFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2016

NFL Draft 2016: New England Patriots 7-Round Mock Draft

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    Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, a standout at Oklahoma, has drawn favorable NFL comparisons.
    Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, a standout at Oklahoma, has drawn favorable NFL comparisons.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Even with the loss of their first-round pick, the New England Patriots are set to bring in another impressive draft class.

    The Patriots currently hold 11 selections, even after dealing away their Round 4 selection to Chicago for Martellus Bennett and their Round 5 selection to Houston for Keshawn Martin. With only a few holes to fill and plenty of selections available to fill them, it will be interesting to see which positions Bill Belichick prioritizes.

    NFL.com's Lance Zierlein notes that New England's top draft need is at offensive tackle and is accompanied by additional needs at cornerback, wide receiver and running back. Each position has plenty of talented players available throughout the draft.

    But as we all know, Belichick scoffs at conventional wisdom, frequently selecting players above their projected draft grade. Given the excellent job he's done through the draft, who's going to tell him otherwise?

    The Patriots' first two selections (Nos. 60 and 61 overall) are the most intriguing—provided they don't trade back. Not only will the selected players be considered the most promising of the draft class, but it'll also indicate what positions the team is most trying to improve.

    Wide receiver is a big need, and this year's crop is as deep as any other in recent years. Even while players like Josh Doctson, Will Fuller and Tyler Boyd will likely be off the board by the Patriots' first selection, talented receivers like Sterling Shepard and Braxton Miller will likely remain available.

    Without further ado, let's delve into this full Patriots mock draft.

Round 2, Pick No. 60: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma

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    At 5'10" and 194 pounds, Shepard is far from a physical threat at wide receiver. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for with quick feet, reliable hands and the ability to beat a cornerback one-on-one. 

    In other words, he's a great fit for the Patriots offense.

    Some have compared the former Oklahoma star to Julian Edelman, which is about as great of a comparison as you can get as a Patriots wide receiver target. When looking at the above video, it's easy to see some of those tendencies.

    The video details Shepard's highlight reel from the Sooners' road victory over Baylor, in what was arguably Shepard's finest performance of the season. He finished the game with 14 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns. 

    One of his best plays of the video comes at the 45-second mark, where Shepard gets open over the middle for a first down, right in between three defenders sitting in zone defense.

    In fairness, Baker Mayfield deserves credit for a great throw. But Shepard ran a nice route over the middle, which is exactly where a large chunk of his Patriots routes would end up—and we all know Tom Brady can make that throw too.

    Where Shepard separates himself from a typical slot receiver is his ability to get separation on vertical routes. Obviously, burning a college cornerback is far easier than burning an NFL cornerback, but it shows potential.

    The best example of that comes at the 1:46 mark, where Shepard hauls in a 39-yard touchdown reception on a great vertical route. 

    Again, Mayfield makes a great throw off his back foot, but Shepard has a step on the defender the whole way—even though he's sitting in zone coverage. Even after making the off-balance catch, he's able to quickly extend the ball to the pylon for a touchdown.

    There's a chance that Shepard could be off the board by No. 60, but if he isn't, giving Brady a talented young receiver to work with benefits the team all around.

    Second option: Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina

    Much like Shepard, Cooper is a small but talented wide receiver (5'11", 203 lbs) who will slip in the draft as a result of the deep wide receiver class. He would be another talented young target for Brady.

Round 2, Pick No. 61: Le'Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech

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    The Patriots are in an interesting position regarding their offensive line. Though the line's performance in the AFC Championship Game ultimately sunk the team's Super Bowl chances, many believe (myself included) that injuries played a larger role in its performance than mere lack of talent.

    Still, if the Patriots wish to replace the aging Sebastian Vollmer soon, Le'Raven Clark is a great option here.

    At 6'5", 316 pounds, Clark is known for his excellent lower-body flexibility and long arms. He also has some experience at guard, so offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can mold him into several different positions along the line.

    In the above video, two plays in particular stand out in grading Clark's ability as a pass blocker. He is the left tackle, No. 62. 

    At the 5:15 mark, he gets a great jump on the snap and quickly drops back in pass protection. Quarterback Davis Webb is able to get the ball out quickly, so Clark doesn't have to block his man for too long. Still, he's engaged well with the defensive end and could hold the block for a few more seconds if need be. 

    But the next play, he gets a poor jump off the ball. Still, he's able to use his long arms effectively and drive his defender outside the pocket, although not as well as the previous play. 

    Even though the play ended up being a draw (and a good one, going for a first down), Clark dropped into his pass protection stance and recovered well after a late jump off the line.

    As is the case with any offensive tackle in the draft, Clark will need to make improvements on his technique and speed. Still, with the Patriots thin at tackle and arguably the best offensive line coach in the game back in Foxboro, Clark will get the chance to learn from the best.

    Second option: Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama

    Jones at No. 61 would be a reach, but he's been ranked more highly in recent mock drafts—and he fills a big need for the Patriots at corner. He has decent size (5'10", 197 lbs) and learned from some of the best defensive minds in college football between Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker.

Round 3, Pick No. 91: Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia

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    As a student at the University of Georgia, Jordan Jenkins is a personal favorite of mine. But many recent mock drafts echo the sentiment that Jenkins to the Patriots in Round 3 is a great fit regardless.

    Walter Cherepinsky of WalterFootball.com has Jenkins going to the Patriots in his latest mock draft, albeit at No. 96 rather than here at No. 91.

    The Patriots have shown strong interest in Jenkins, who has already worked out for them, according to Jason Butt of the Telegraph. Belichick was also at Georgia's pro day back on March 16, presumably to focus on Jenkins.

    At 6'3" and 259 pounds, Jenkins has great size for an outside linebacker. He comes battle-tested from the SEC, serving as one of the Bulldogs captains in 2015.

    He has also played around 270 pounds in college, so he can bulk up if needed.

    Jenkins is quite versatile, although there will be some questions about his ability to cover at outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He projects better as a defensive end in that scheme, but he should fit in well next to Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

    Jenkins is also strong and plays the run considerably well. Take a look at the above video from Georgia's road victory over Auburn this season.

    Right away at the 0:15 mark, Jenkins patiently stays home on the snap, not biting on the read-option keep. Once Auburn has committed to the running back dive, Jenkins sheds off the cut block and hits the tailback in the backfield for no gain.

    Later, at the 4:33 mark, Jenkins shows off some of his pass-rushing abilities. After coming off the line well, he goes down momentarily on a chop block.

    But as quarterback Jeremy Johnson climbs the pocket, Jenkins quickly gets to his feet and delivers a big hit on Johnson, forcing a fumble and setting up great field position for the Dawgs.

    Belichick has shown a long-standing, deep tendency to favor SEC linebackers. Jenkins could very well be the next one.

    Second option: Tyler Matakevich, ILB, Temple

    At 6'0" and 238 pounds, Matakevich is a little small for an NFL inside linebacker. Still, he's a team leader, and he brings physical play and a superior ability to read plays quickly.

Round 3, Pick No. 96: Harlan Miller, CB, Southeastern Louisiana

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    Like death and taxes, Belichick drafting a defensive back way earlier than he's projected to go is one of life's guarantees.

    Much like Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon before him, Harlan Miller would be a big reach at No. 96. CBSSports.com lists Miller at No. 132 on its draft board, and Drafttek.com has him at No. 172.

    Part of the doubt surrounding Miller rests in the fact that he comes from a small FCS school—one that went a dismal 4-7 last season. But having not taken a cornerback to this point, Belichick gets the chance to prove the scouts wrong by drafting him.

    The 6'0", 182-pound Miller has a tall, lanky frame for a cornerback. But what intrigues me about him is his CBSSports.com scouting report, conducted by Dane Brugler:

    Aggressive run defender with a physical demeanor to get his man on the ground. Excellent ball awareness and never seems surprised due to his locating technique. Plays with terrific ball-skills and timing to disrupt the catch point.

    Understands play indicators. Physically and mentally resilient, playing with a chip on his shoulder. 

    That sounds a lot like Malcolm Butler, doesn't it?

    Of course, saying that Miller will become a Super Bowl legend, No. 1 cornerback and Pro Bowler like Butler is beyond a stretch at this point. But Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would be able to squeeze every ounce of talent out of him, and there's no telling how high his limit is.

    When breaking down the video, it's easy to see the physicality that Brugler is referring to.

    At the 0:45 mark, Miller is sitting in zone at the top of the screen. He immediately diagnoses the screen play, and comes up to make a big tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

    At various points, we also see his special teams abilities as a punt returner and even returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown. 

    All in all, taking Miller at the bottom of Round 3 is certainly risky. But his upside is huge, and pairing Butler up with another talented yet overlooked cornerback would give the Patriots secondary a nice boost.

    Second option: Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State

    The 6'5", 245-pound Fackrell would be a steal here and would only be considered if the team doesn't draft an outside linebacker earlier on. He's disruptive in the backfield and can cover well.

Round 6, Pick No. 196: Cre'von LeBlanc, CB, Florida Atlantic

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    Cre'von LeBlanc is an interesting selection here at No. 196, because he's exactly the kind of prospect a team could fall in love with and take way earlier than expected.

    Pro Football Focus, for one, is high on LeBlanc. In its mock draft, LeBlanc lands with the Carolina Panthers in Round 3 (No. 93 overall), due to the fact that he "excels in zone coverage."

    But here, LeBlanc falls to his expected range. CBSSports.com considers him the No. 233 overall prospect, and the No. 28 overall cornerback in the class.

    LeBlanc's 5'10", 192-pound frame isn't ideal, especially given his lack of physicality. But on the right team, he could become an excellent slot corner.

    The above video showcases his run-stuffing ability more than his pass coverage. At several points throughout the video, LeBlanc is forced to shed his block (which he is not able to do on some plays) to make a tackle.

    He's certainly a project and would probably need some time in an NFL weight room and on the practice squad to develop into an NFL corner. But this late in the draft, and with the Patriots holding seven picks in Rounds 6 and 7, he's worth the risk here.

    Second option: Justin Simmons, S, Boston College

    Simmons could benefit from a thin safety class, but the Patriots are a good fit for him here as well. At 6'2" and 202 pounds, his size and versatility could make him a nice pickup for New England in the late rounds. 

Round 6, Pick No. 204: Tre Madden, RB, USC

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    Some have speculated about New England taking a running back much earlier in the draft, including Derrick Henry and Kenneth Dixon.

    However, since the team already has Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, Donald Brown, James White and possibly even LeGarrette Blount returning, it would be surprising to see the Patriots draft another tailback early on.

    Here in Round 6, they can start taking chances on overlooked talent, even at stacked positions. Tre Madden is one of those players—and he's exactly the type of back the Patriots need.

    CBSSports.com's Spencer Hall breaks down Madden's scouting report: "He has good quickness, agility, acceleration, top speed and very good balance. Very good vision with good patience when reading plays and determining the correct holes on runs, hitting them with good explosiveness."

    Of course, this is just the nucleus of the report. Hall also notes that the 6'0", 223-pound Madden has good top-end speed and is rarely caught from behind. He even goes so far as to compare Madden to T.J. Yeldon, whom was Jacksonville Jaguars selected No. 36 overall last year.

    But Madden has been held back by injuries, which took away his entire 2012 and 2014 seasons as well as most of 2015. Therefore, there is little tape on him in college.

    The above video is basically the only available film on him, but it is impressive. Madden breaks two tackles and uses breakaway speed to elude any further defenders en route to the end zone. 

    Much like LeBlanc, a team could be convinced to draft Madden earlier than projected. But if he makes it this far, Belichick would land a running back with a big upside.

    Second option: Nick Kwiatkoski, ILB, West Virginia

    At 6'2" and 243 pounds, Kwiatkoski has good size for a middle linebacker. He's also a good tackler and has a knack for making interceptions (six in three seasons).

Round 6, Pick No. 208: Dan Vitale, FB, Northwestern

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    Dan Vitale is one of the top fullbacks in a weak—but recognizable—class. He is considered the No. 2 fullback in the class, right behind Glenn Gronkowski ("Baby Gronk") and in front of Derek Watt (J.J. Watt's younger brother). 

    The 6'1", 243-pounder is definitely more of a pass-catching threat than a ball-carrying threat, making him basically the opposite of Patriots fullback James Develin. His aggressive blocking and formation versatility also make him an attractive option for the Patriots.

    In his latest mock draft, CSNNE.com's Phil Perry also mocks Vitale to New England, but 13 picks later at No. 221. Perry notes the basic condition of any late-round selection who wishes to crack the Patriots roster: Vitale has to be able to contribute on special teams.

    In the above video, Vitale shows off his pass-catching abilities, clearly a mismatch for most Big Ten defenders. Though it would be hard for him to get that same separation in the NFL, it's nice to see that he can make plays when need be.

    The first play is exactly what Vitale needs to be able to show the Patriots consistently. He catches the screen and gets some nice blocks from his receivers. He makes a nice shoulder fake on the first defender and gets to the outside, proceeding to break another tackle before getting forced out of bounds after a 27-yard gain.

    Vitale has some unique skills and versatility for a fullback. Belichick could benefit from taking a chance on him here.

    Second option: Michael Thomas, WR, Southern Miss

    Collins turned out to be a major success, so why not select another Golden Eagles prospect? Thomas has nice size (6'1", 193 lbs) and acceleration.

Round 6, Pick No. 214: Parker Ehinger, OG, Cincinnati

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    Belichick values versatility perhaps more than any other trait in an offensive lineman, especially for a late-round selection. Parker Ehinger fits that bill perfectly.

    A four-year starter at Cincinnati, the 6'6", 310-pound Ehinger played both tackle and guard for the Bearcats. He is a mauler at the point of attack and has excellent footwork—both of which still fall short to his value as a team leader.

    In their joint scouting report of Ehinger, CBSSports.com's Jamie Newberg and Dane Brugler note that his versatility and size could help him be a fixture in the NFL for years to come. His highlights show why this could be the case. 

    Wearing jersey No. 78, Ehinger shows off his physical style of play at various points, particularly at the 1:31 mark (playing right guard). The defenders beat every other lineman as Gunner Kiel releases his throw, except for Ehinger, who is going toe-to-toe with his man, stopping him dead in his tracks.

    The Patriots have shown a clear youth movement at guard, given the likes of Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason among the few guards on the roster. Adding Ehinger to that mix could pay great dividends down the road.

    Second option: Darion Griswold, TE, Arkansas State

    The 6'3", 253-pound Griswold appears to be yet another overlooked small-school prospect. He is a converted quarterback but has excellent size and catches the ball well.

Round 6, Pick No. 221: Jake Coker, QB, Alabama

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    Coker isn't projected to do much as an NFL quarterback, but it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see Belichick draft him and try to accumulate some trade value for him over the years.

    At 6'5" and 244 pounds, Coker has prototypical size for an NFL quarterback. He also has good velocity on his throws (as does any big quarterback) and was a winner at the college level after being overlooked at both Florida State and for the beginning of his Alabama career. 

    Of course, there are plenty of negatives. Among them is the fact that his accuracy is suspect at best, and he was little more than a game manager with the Crimson Tide. He would need plenty of time and patience to develop, as would any late-round quarterback.

    His performance against Georgia this past season was one of his best, and it came when the Tide needed a big win. He went 11-of-16 passing for 190 yards and a touchdown, while adding 28 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown on six carries.

    His best play of the game came at the 1:16 mark of the video, throwing a beautiful 45-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley while Jenkins crushed him. The touchdown put the dagger in the Bulldogs' hopes that game.

    As someone who was at that game, I can tell you the throw was even better in person.

    The odds are certainly against Coker to stick on an NFL roster, much less become an NFL starter. But some time with the Patriots would give him the invaluable opportunity to learn from Brady.

    Second option: Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana

    Does that name sound familiar to you? The younger brother of former Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld, his 6'6", 234-pound frame and powerful arm would make for an intriguing Patriots draft choice.

Round 7, Pick No. 243: Keenan Reynolds, RB, Navy

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    If any player in the draft class could be considered a "jack of all trades," it would be Keenan Reynolds.

    A legendary college quarterback, the Navy prospect has been considered to play running back and wide receiver in the NFL—not to mention his upside on special teams. 

    Belichick loves smart, disciplined players perhaps more than any other coach in the league, and he has experience drafting Navy players (Joe Cardona last season, another player selected much higher than projected).

    Perry also believes the Patriots will select Reynolds, but with the No. 91 overall pick as another surprise selection. That's quite possible, but here, the Patriots get their man four rounds later.

    At 5'10" and 191 pounds, Reynolds has decent size and speed, though nothing special for a running back. It would be more likely for the Patriots to use him as a "gadget player" on jet sweeps or screens more than a simple tailback.

    Reynolds' film is deceptive; after all, he was a quarterback. Still, it shows his big-play abilities, which hopefully will translate to the NFL.

    At the 2:08 mark, he takes off on one of his many big runs, eluding several defenders on a 35-yard scamper. That's the type of elusiveness he'll need to bring in open space, especially as a kick returner (if he gets the opportunity).

    Reynolds could very well be gone by this point, possibly as one of the Patriots' Round 6 selections. Regardless, he would certainly create some excitement in a Patriots uniform.

    Second option: Trae Elston, SS, Ole Miss

    Elston has decent size at 5'11" and 195 pounds, but he's best known for being a hard-hitting, physical safety who brings an edge to his team. 

Round 7, Pick No. 250: Aziz Shittu, DT, Stanford

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    Even with a deep, talented defensive tackle group in place, the Patriots could benefit from Aziz Shittu's presence.

    The 6'2", 288-pounder is undersized for a pure nose tackle, but is quite explosive on the interior and would play well in a 4-3 set. He also has a great football IQ and has improved steadily over the course of his Stanford career.

    Though he has improved, he didn't receive playing time until 2014, when his season was cut short due to injury. In fact, the only available video of his time at Stanford is the above one, in which he discusses different techniques.

    CBSSports.com's Rob Rang compares him to Vinny Curry, whom the Philadelphia Eagles picked in Round 2 back in 2012 and has played well enough to earn a contract extension.  

    Shittu is clearly a project and would be a practice squad player early on. But in Round 7, there's no better time to take a chance on an overlooked player—and Shittu could very well be just that.

    Second option: Connor Wujciak, DT, Boston College

    At 6'2", 291 pounds, Wujciak is an excellent run-stuffer. It will be interesting to see if Belichick even considers him, since the last time he drafted a Boston College defensive tackle (Ron Brace), it didn't go too well. 

    All statistics and player measurables are courtesy of CBSSports.com unless otherwise noted.