10 Players New England Patriots Should Avoid in 2017 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2017

10 Players New England Patriots Should Avoid in 2017 NFL Draft

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots have done a pretty good job of drafting the right players for their system over the past few years, but it's not like the team has been perfect. In fact, the team has had quite a few borderline busts in the early rounds.

    Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, for example, never panned out in New England—he recently signed a reserve/future contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Another second-rounder, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, hasn't played in an NFL game since 2014.

    Let's not forget about some of the quarterbacks the team has spent quality draft picks to acquire. While the team hasn't needed them because of the continued presence of Tom Brady, guys like Ryan Mallett and Kevin O'Connell have failed to become successful in the NFL.

    The Patriots might not have to worry too much about picking the wrong players early in the draft because they don't own a pick higher than the third round. However, this doesn't mean there aren't still players the team should avoid. We're going to examine those players here and explain why each one simply isn't right for New England.

    Given the fact the Patriots may still be able to trade back into the first or second round—possibly by moving cornerback Malcolm Butler or quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo—we will include a couple of players projected in the late-first and early-second range. We won't however, include players expected to be high first-round picks—if New England trades into that range, they'll likely do so with a specific target in mind.

Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma

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    Dede Westbrook may help improve an offense in 2017, but it shouldn't be New England's.
    Dede Westbrook may help improve an offense in 2017, but it shouldn't be New England's.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Patriots don't have an obvious need at the wide receiver position, but this doesn't mean the team will exclude the position from consideration. Part of the team's building process has always involved planning for the future and drafting the best players available.

    However, New England should remove former Oklahoma wideout Dede Westbrook from consideration. While he has a terrific speed—he clocked a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, he doesn't possess prototypical size. At just 6'0" and 178 pounds, Westbrook doesn't project as a big, physical No. 1 receiver.

    In addition, Westbrook brings character concerns that the Patriots won't likely want to deal with. According to Cody Stavenhagen of TulsaWorld.com, Westbrook was twice arrested for family violence complaints, though never convicted.

    Westbrook has naturally downplayed the events.

    "There were some disagreements in the past that were cleared up years ago," Westbrook said, per Stavenhagen. "We have resolved our issues and are focused on the future."

    Taken alone, these possible character concerns might not prevent the Patriots from drafting Westbrook. Given the fact the team just spent a first-round pick to acquire a similar deep threat in Brandin Cooks, drafting Westbrook simply wouldn't make sense.

Tanner Vallejo, LB, Boise State

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    The Patriots like productive players, but Vallejo is probably one to avoid.
    The Patriots like productive players, but Vallejo is probably one to avoid.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Another linebacker that the Patriots might be interested in acquiring in the mid-to-late rounds is Boise State product Tanner Vallejo.

    Any interest in Vallejo, though, would probably be based on collegiate production—and you have to go back a couple of years in order to find quality production. Back in 2014, Vallejo was a defensive beast, amassing 99 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 3.0 sacks and an interception.

    Unfortunately, Vallejo missed two games due to injury the following year and was suspended for the team's bowl game for violating team rules. In 2016, he was forced to play with a brace on each arm. He eventually underwent wrist surgery.

    In addition to possible injury concerns, there is the fact that Vallejo is an undersized linebacker prospect with a lack of elite physical attributes. At just 6'1" and 228 pounds, Vallejo would almost certainly be an off-ball linebacker in New England's defense. However, his 4.67 speed might also make him a bit of a liability in coverage.

    I see a lot of parallels between Vallejo and Arizona product Scooby Wright III. He slipped to the seventh round of last year's draft—where he was taken by the Cleveland Browns—and finished the 2016 season with two tackles for the Arizona Cardinals.

    There's nothing wrong with a team drafting and developing Vallejo, but that team shouldn't be the Patriots.

Keith Kelsey, ILB, Louisville

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    Louisville's Keith Kelsey doesn't appear athletic or versatile enough for the Patriots defense.
    Louisville's Keith Kelsey doesn't appear athletic or versatile enough for the Patriots defense.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Louisville has cranked out some quality NFL defenders in recent years, 2016 first-round pick Sheldon Rankins being a prime example. From a production standpoint, linebacker Keith Kelsey looks like he could be another productive pro and a late-round steal.

    Over the past two years, Kelsey has produced 199 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks.

    The issue with Kelsey is his limited physical traits. He has decent size for an inside linebacker (6'0", 233 lbs) but like Vallejo, he might not have the quickness to be an asset in the coverage game. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Kelsey ran the 40 in a painfully slow 4.92 seconds.

    Kelsey could be a real liability in coverage. His size makes it unlikely he would even be able to rotate in as an outside linebacker in New England's 4-3 base look. There just doesn't seem to be a realistic natural position for Kelsey in New England's scheme, and he doesn't appear to possess enough versatility to provide value as a role player.

Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

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    Elijah Hood has intriguing size but too many questions to be worth New England's time.
    Elijah Hood has intriguing size but too many questions to be worth New England's time.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    As of now, the Patriots are still without a bruising power back to spearhead their running game. However, they do have some talented backs—like Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead—which is why even a late-round big back might be enough to fill out the backfield.

    North Carolina's Elijah Hood, who comes in at 5'11" and 232 pounds, certainly looks the part. He is definitely a big back who has racked up some impressive yardage between the tackles. Two seasons ago, Hood amassed 1,463 yards on the ground.

    However, Hood was plagued by injuries in 2016 and was forced to miss the Sun Bowl because of undisclosed medical reasons.

    Hood didn't participate in anything other than the bench press at the combine, and his pro day wasn't particularly impressive either. He ran the 40 in 4.58 seconds and produced a vertical jump of just 31.5 inches.

    If Hood didn't come with injury concerns, he might be worth a late-round look from New England—and some team might get a lot of future production out of him. With Brady's window closing, however, the Patriots need to look at backs they know can contribute to the team this season.

Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech

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    Isaiah Ford has intriguing roduction but not an elite skill set.
    Isaiah Ford has intriguing roduction but not an elite skill set.Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

    Former Virginia Tech wideout Isaiah Ford should draw quite a bit of interest heading into the draft because of his recent production—he racked up 2,258 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons. However, I don't believe he is a strong fit for the Patriots.

    I'll admit that I had Ford listed on my projected Patriots draft board last back in March. However, the more I study Ford, the most I see an average pass-catcher who wouldn't appear to benefit the Patriots offense.

    Ford isn't extremely big or physical (6'1", 194 lbs), and he seems to struggle with more physical defenders. He also doesn't possess the type of game-changing speed (he ran a 4.61 40 at the combine) that would make him an upgrade over, say, second-year man Malcolm Mitchell.

    Let's not forget that Ford wasn't responsible for knowing the most advanced route tree while at Virginia Tech. New England's complex offense could provide him with an extremely challenging learning curve.

    Ford is widely regarded a Day 2 prospect, and the Patriots shouldn't even bother considering him there.

Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

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    The Patriots say they won't draft Mixon. They need to stick by that decision.
    The Patriots say they won't draft Mixon. They need to stick by that decision.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    As of now, it seems that the Patriots have already taken former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon off their draft board (he's another player I had on New England's projected big board last month).

    "While I believe in second chances and giving players an opportunity for redemption, I also believe that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said, per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. "For me, personally, I believe that privilege is lost for men who have a history of abusing women."

    Kraft wasn't addressing Mixon specifically but instead addressing his team's stance on domestic violence. Even if the Patriots considered making an exception, New England needs to stick by its policy here.

    You probably have heard plenty about Mixon's arrest after punched a female OU student in 2014. His violent attack sent the woman to the hospital and the surgery room. However, this wasn't Mixon's last off-field incident. 

    Last year, Mixon allegedly tore up a parking ticket and threatened the parking attendant who issued it, though no formal charges were filed. According to Mike Coppinger of USA Today, Mixon was also "accused by the attendant of driving his car toward the attendant in an attempt to intimidate."

    If this parking lot story is even partially true, it suggests a pattern of behavior that the Patriots should want to avoid. Mixon has mostly said the right things about his 2014 incident during the pre-draft process, but New England shouldn't be the team to take a flier on him.

Chad Kelly, QB, Mississippi

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    Kelly might deserve a look in the NFL, but it shouldn't come from New England.
    Kelly might deserve a look in the NFL, but it shouldn't come from New England.Butch Dill/Getty Images

    New England seems to have no qualms about adding developmental quarterbacks to their roster even when there is depth at the position. If the team ends up moving Garoppolo before the draft, they're likely to do so again this year.

    However, that quarterback shouldn't be Mississippi product Chad Kelly.

    Kelly does have some interesting characteristics. He has decent size at 6'2" and 224 pounds and he appears to have an NFL arm. However, Kelly also comes with both on- and off-field concerns.

    "He's OK. I think he could be a low-end NFL starter. I just wouldn't want to put my name behind him because I think it will come back and bite you with on-field and off-field mistakes. We value leadership at quarterback and I don't trust his," one AFC East scout told NFL Media's Lance Zierlein.

    Was that unnamed scout from the Patriots? Leadership certainly sounds like a trait New England would place a lot of stock in. Kelly's decision-making certainly seems questionable. He was arrested back in 2014 after an altercation with Buffalo police.

    Additionally, Kelly hasn't been able to show scouts his physical assets during the pre-draft process. His arrest made him ineligible for the combine and he was forced to cut his pro day short because of a wrist injury.

    If the Patriots do move Garoppolo, they're going to want a quarterback who can be a potential heir to Brady. Kelly simply doesn't look like that guy.

Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

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    The Patriots sholdn't consider reaching on Alabama's Cam Robinson.
    The Patriots sholdn't consider reaching on Alabama's Cam Robinson.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    New England may also be looking for an heir to starting left tackle Nate Solder, whose contract is up after the season. However, the team shouldn't consider Alabama's Cam Robinson, even if the team ends up in position to draft him.

    Robinson played tackle at a big college program, but I just don't see him being a big-time pro. I think his status as an Alabama lineman—in addition to a weak tackle class—is pushing his draft stock above where it should be.

    Consider the fact that while he likely played alongside a fair amount of future NFL talent, Robinson was rated just 108th overall among college tackles by Pro Football Focus last season.

    From a physical standpoint, Robinson doesn't appear to be anything special either. He has good size at 6'6" and 322 pounds, but he isn't particularly athletic or quick—he clocked a 5.15-second 40 at the combine. All told, Robinson simply doesn't look like the type of elite tackle prospect the Patriots should bother with early in the draft.

Jamal Carter, S, Miami

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    Should the Patriots take a flier on Miami's Jamal Carter? Not when he has subpar speed and coverage issues.
    Should the Patriots take a flier on Miami's Jamal Carter? Not when he has subpar speed and coverage issues.Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The Patriots should be interested in at least bringing in competition at the strong safety position. While 2016 starter Patrick Chung still has his moments of brilliance, he appears to be a declining player. Pro Football Focus rated him the league's third-worst safety last season.

    Miami's Jamal Carter Sr. might draw some interest at the tail end of the draft because he has a prototypical safety build (6'1", 218 lbs) and had some solid production for the Hurricanes. Last season, he racked up 85 total tackles.

    The problem with Carter is that he doesn't possess top-flight speed and doesn't seem to have a knack for finding the football. He ran the 40 in just 4.64 seconds at the combine. He has just five passes defended and one interception over the past two years.

    At best, Carter is probably a special-teams contributor on the Patriots roster. While New England does value productive special-teams players, they don't need to be handing out a draft pick for players with this role as his ceiling.

    If New England is going to take a late-round flier on a safety, they should instead target a player with intriguing ball skills. Air Force's Weston Steelhammer (maybe the coolest name in the draft) is a good example. He picked off seven passes last season alone.

Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina

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    Ryan Switzer might look like the Patriots' type of receiver, but he shouldn't be one.
    Ryan Switzer might look like the Patriots' type of receiver, but he shouldn't be one.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Former North Carolina wide receiver Ryan Switzer might look like the type of receiver the Patriots would target in the later rounds of the draft, but he isn't.

    "Wes Welker and Julian Edelman have become go-to comparisons for undersized slot receivers who utilize option routes to torment defenders underneath, but Switzer isn't quite on that level," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein explained.

    We mentioned earlier that the Patriots don't have a need for an undersized wideout. They definitely don't have a need for a guy that is 5'8", 181 pounds and who ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds. That size/speed combination isn't going to provide an upgrade at the receiver position in New England's offense.

    Switzer had proven production for the Tar Heels—he amassed 1,112 yards and six touchdowns last season—but he would probably have a very difficult time even making New England's roster as a developmental prospect.

    The Patriots would be better off spending even a late-round pick on a player with a legitimate shot of making the team. Let another team draft and develop Switzer. If he develops into a solid pro, maybe New England will trade for him in a couple years.

    All prospect measurements via NFL.com.


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