Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Call To Arms - Projected 2014 New England Patriots' Draft Selections

In an era where instant gratification is key and virtually everything is disposable, it just goes to figure that professional football follows the social pattern.
Will Clarke is a virtual Chandler Jones clone

The current rookie salary structure in the National Football League emphasizes and dictates that it is far more economical for a franchise to draft and develop rather than go carte blanche in free agency. As a result, the most successful of teams in the long-term will turn over the majority of their roster in a five year cycle, which the Patriots have through the draft and with minimal, inexpensive free agent signings rather than go for the huge splash with top shelf veterans.

Why?  Well, the Patriots are projected to need only slightly less than $5 million against the cap in 2014 to sign their eight draft picks, and spent two and a half times that on one cornerback - granted, the best corner in the NFL, but it illustrates the point.

That said, the Patriots moves in free agency this offseason have been significant but, despite what the national press and Ravens' coach John Harbaugh are lamenting as an "Arms Race" between the Patriots and Denver, they have been minimal in number.

New England's free agency shopping spree consists of three signings, and while the Revis contract is out of character for the Patriots in their philosophy, the fact remains that it can be absorbed due to the incremental shift in the salary cap over the next three years.

The contracts for Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell come in easily within the standard free agency money for their position, so the Patriots' spending is not so over the top as many wrongly assume.  These signings have altered the way that we need to look at the Big Board as it pertains to the team's needs, however.

With Revis and Browner, cornerback has gone from an area of potential need to a position of incredible strength and depth - and though it's possible that Darrelle Revis is essentially a one-year rental, the depth behind he and Browner are starting quality in Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard, both young enough to be able to afford the mentoring of one of the greatest corner to ever play the game for a year or even two.

Receiver was pretty much set to begin with, but a huge question mark lies at the tight end position, where man/child/beast Rob Gronkowski is coming off more injuries and surgeries this offseason and something needs to be done to limit him being targeted for the big shot by defenders down the field - and the only true tight end signing has been for more of a blocking type in re-signing Michael Hoomanawanui... many believe that New England will go for a tight end early in this draft - but in bringing in LaFell, the Patriots have a bigger body that works well both inside and outside, and played some tight end at Carolina and is noted for both his downfield and in line blocking.  The same goes for Mark Harrison, a big (6' 3", 235 pound) receiver who spent the entire 2013 season on the Patriots' non-football injury list, he could be the answer to fill the "move" tight end void created by Aaron Hernadez' transgressions - so we look for a tight end a bit later in the draft.

New England let LeGarrette Blount escape in free agency, and with the contracts of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden all coming up for renewal after the 2014 season, prudence dictates that the Patriots need to get a running back to bring along behind those three, as it may be doubtful that New England is able to keep all three after this season.

Along the defensive line, the starting positions are fully stocked, and if there are needs among them it is for a developmental-type nose tackle and a designated nickle pass rusher.  Vince Wilfork is essentially on a one year contract and with only Sealver Siliga behind him on the depth chart, one could not blame the Patriots for looking to shore the position up before it becomes an issue...

...while the need for a nickle rusher on the defensive end has been ever present for many seasons now, and should be addressed with this deep draft class.

And one can not look to the future without accounting for Tom Brady's pending retirement, and the fact that current backup Ryan Mallett probably wouldn't want to hold a clipboard for another three years or so, the Patriots would do well to lock up their quarterback of the future in this draft - and while there is no clear-cut immediate franchise-type signal caller in the offing, there are a few that could be with time and professional coaching.

The offensive line needs work as well, but the re-signing of Ryan Wendell at center and the fact that the team hasn't approached guard Dan Connolly about restructuring his contract probably means that the Patriots enter camp with the same cast of characters that dominated in 2012, but seemed to take a step back in 2013.  There is great depth if all are healthy, however, but finding a mauler at guard to possibly replace left guard Logan Mankins in a year or two would make sense.

What does all of this mean?  Well, judge for yourself:

1. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State - Identified before the combine as the best fit of all potential first rounders within reach of the Patriots at number 29, Shazier is what an evil scientist might piece together in a lab as the prototypical Big Nickle.

Shazier is lightning quick and his violent intent in the pass rush and run support, and has the kind of instincts and big hitting ability that makes receivers account for his whereabouts on the field before they go venturing over the middle.  He is projected as either a weak-side linebacker or a strong safety in the pros, but is it too much to ask for both?

2.  DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State - The signing of Vince Wilfork to a contract that carries team options for the next two seasons virtually assures that he won't be back in 2015 unless he absolutely kills it in 2014 due to the large roster bonus and cap hit the team will take, so it makes a ton of sense to bring in a player with a similar skill set - and similar bad rap - coming out of college.

Jones is a classic one-technique nose tackle with the bulk to collapse the pocket in the passing game and the girth to clog gaps and take on double teams in the running game.  The rap is that he takes plays off and loafs when the play doesn't come his way, which was exactly the report on Wilfork coming out of Miami 10 years ago. (6' 4", 322lbs)

3. Will Clarke, DE West Virginia - Every team would love to have a Chandler Jones, and if the Patriots select Clarke, they would have their own little Jones clone shop happening.

Excellent size and length (6' 6", 275 pounds) for the position, Clarke has a variety of pass rush moves that can take him both out into the flat to set the edge or to stunt inside where he can use his quickness to beat guards.

4. Ahmad Dixon,  SS, Baylor - the top true strong safety in the draft, Dixon is as physical as you could want, is an excellent blitzer, tremendous in run support and capable in covering running backs and tight ends underneath.  So versatile that he lined up in Baylor's "Bear" position, the hybrid Big Nickle SS/OLB position for his first two years in the program before concentrating mostly on the nuances of the safety position in 2013.

4. Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State - A nasty inline and down field blocker who also has soft hands and catches everything thrown his way.  Excellent size (6' 6", 260 pounds) for the position and has the aptitude and experience to be a hidden gem as a "move" tight end.

6. Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh  - Played only one year at Pitt after transferring twice, Savage has a limited body of work but appears to have everything that the Patriots desire in a signal caller.  Tremendous football IQ, a sixth sense of where the rush is coming from and makes every NFL throw with ease.

Why is he so poorly rated and why does he drop to the sixth round?  He's not the flashiest of quarterbacks and isn't elite in anything except arm strength - and the knock on him is his limited experience and is raw in technique - a perfect candidate to be mentored by Tom Brady.

6. Spencer Long, G, Nebraska - tore his MCL and missed the second half of the 2013 season, but when healthy is a mauling road grader in the running game and a solid pass protector.  It remains to be seen how the injury affects his athleticism, but this is the kind of find that the Patriots develop and do well with.

7. James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State - The son of former Tampa Bay running back James Wilder, Junior has the talent to become a better professional than he was a collegian, but he is a kid that could use some mentoring and some professional coaching.

He is very tall for a running back so it is viewed that he runs too high, but lowers his pad level and initiates contact with the defender instead of the other way around.  Violent striker and a one cut sledgehammer, he had some off field issues that are holding him back from a higher grade - that and he's not a home run hitter despite the highlight video.  With all three Patriots backs on the roster due a significant pay day after the season, it makes sense for New England to draft a project with tremendous upside.

No comments:

Post a Comment