Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reloading the Musket - New England Patriots 2014 Mock Draft, Volume 2: Shazier still the pick

Always trust your gut.

When it's dinner time - or even when I'm just feeling snackish - my gut tells me that a double quarter-pounder with cheese is my main course, but not until I've visited Burger King for their fries and Wendy's for an order of their chicken nuggets and, of course, a chocolate frosty.

And Taco Bell for a six pack of tacos.
Potential Patriots S Marqueston Huff (2) and TE Crockett Gillmore (10)

If I'm feeling like something different, it's the KFC people for their famous bowl, an order of biscuits and extra mashed potatoes and gravy - and a six pack of tacos.  Never underestimate the versatility of a taco.

Some would feel like it would be a lot of unnecessary travel just to satisfy my overly sensitive palate, but all of these places are within a mile of each other on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, a filthy little burg of about 35,000 people in south-central Maine, the city's only claim to fame the 1965 Heavyweight Championship rematch between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston.

That was the "Phantom Punch" fight, where legend has it that Liston took a dive to satisfy some undisclosed debt to the mob, turning what was supposed to be "one of the great things to happen in Maine", as said by then Governor John Reed into an embarrassment that ruined the mill town.

But we still have fast food joints - except Wendy's, which has relocated the the good side of the Androscoggin River - and the arena that the fight took place in is still standing as a hockey arena, but that's about it.

Things would be a lot easier if there was such thing as a buffet joint in the center of town where one could go and get their different favorites in one convenient place - which is kind of like what the Patriots get when they go to the NFL Draft in New York, all of their favorite flavors together in one place...

...the line is very long and there is a chance that the select menu item will be out of stock by the time Bill Belichick bellies up to the buffet table and grabs the big nasty spoon, but that's where having diverse tastes in many different cuisines comes in handy - and the Hooded one is rarely disappointed with the leftovers.

Because to him, they are not leftovers.  They are players that Belichick has projected to be still on the menu when it becomes his turn - and the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, as every player drafted by the Patriots in 2013 made the 53 man roster.

As far as my gut is concerned, I have felt that Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier should be the Patriots' first round draft choice since the beginning of the evaluation process, given his versatility, speed and the ability to track running backs in the pattern like a safety...

...and that a feature back, some help along the defensive line and at safety, a multi-dimensional tight end and some interior offensive line help should be included in the draft mix - and lastly, a big, developmental quarterback with a cannon for an arm.

At least, that's what my gut tells me - and since it's speaking, I guess it's time to hit Mickey D's...

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 - and if anyone were to doubt his ability to play amongst the big boys, take a look at this goal line stand last season:

Shazier is lightning quick and has 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.

Nicknamed "The Eraser" by his college coaches for his ability to make bad decisions made by his teammates go away, 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. Marqueston Huff, FS/CB Wyoming 

Bill Belichick's annual pick of an unknown defensive back.  In 2012, it was Tavon Wilson out of Illinois and in 2013 he selected Duron Harmon from Rutgers - and while Wilson has developed into a core-four special teamer, Harmon is in line to start opposite Devin McCourty on the back end - and where depth is somewhat of an issue behind those two, we present to you:

Unbelievable closing speed in run support and as a centerfielder and terrific in blanket coverage, Huff arrives fast and with malicious intent.  Played corner for three years at Wyoming before giving safety a shot in his senior year - is very talkative and is a special contributor on special teams.

Granted, the cornerback depth chart for the Patriots is loaded for bear, not only with the best in the business on one side and a three-way dogfight for the right to operate opposite him, there may be no deeper group in the league - but if Revis ends up being a one year rental, the hit in the secondary would be catastrophic if there wasn't good blanket men ready to ascend.  Besides, isn't it Belichick who always says that you can never have enough defensive backs?

Perhaps Huff would remain at safety for the Patriots, as he packs a wallop and would certainly cause receivers going over the middle to develop a case of alligator arms, but his man coverage skill dictates a move to corner eventually.

3. Terrence West, RB, Towson 

There isn't a better place for West to end up than in Foxborough.  The small-school power back embodies what the Patriots should desire in a featured back, as he can do it any way you want to play it - because he is a one-cut, downhill bulldozer that has a nose for the end zone and likes to initiate him a little contact.

While he doesn't possess breakaway speed, he's got the wheels to slash and create in the open field, but his best attributes are running over folks and celebrating touchdowns.

So why is Foxborough the best place for West to be?  He rumbles and explodes like Ridley and has soft hands to contribute in the passing game - and with all three backs on the Patriots' roster seeing free agency after this season, West has the opportunity to make the position his for a long time to come.

It's a worn-out axiom that reigns false for most backs, but West truly does get stronger as the game goes on, and he's dynamic to the point that he can handle being a three down back.

4. Will Clarke, DE West Virginia

Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin went into the Senior Bowl a few months back as one of the best tactical pass protectors in the country and a sure-fire first round draft pick - and got absolutely used by the long and strong Clarke.

That doesn't mean as much now as it will in November and December when the 6' 6", 275 pound defensive end is beating offensive tackles with a combination of good initial quickness and excellent hands to keep them from locking onto him - and just about any "expert" you talk to about Clarke will tell you that he's a poor man's Chandler Jones...

...hence the 4th round grade, which could turn into a second day steal according to some, but a potential bust to others, so it shouldn't be surprising that the projections on Clarke are all over the place, some experts having him as high as a second rounder, some as low as priority free agent.

Excellent size and length 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 - and being compared to Jones can't hurt.

4. John Urschel, G/C, Penn State

A trend that I've noticed in the evaluation process is that the athletes that make the list have at least a functional understanding of the pro style offenses, and players coming out of Penn State are particularly adept at the Patriots' Way of doing things, having worked under former Pats' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien for a couple of years.

One gets the feeling that Urschel's pursuit of his PhD in Mathematics will ultimately mean more to him than being a professional football player, but there is something in the game that intrigues him, pushes him.  If there was an answer to the question that the game poses for him, perhaps the drive wouldn't be there...

Durable and requisite tough, Urschel started every game in his last two seasons at right guard, but possesses the quickness and intangibles to overtake the center position - and at 6' 3" and 315 pounds, a more perfect size for the pivot does not exist - and his versatility will prove attractive in a draft capital sort of way.

And if he can't intimidate the opponent with his guile and tenacity, he can whip out that Masters' Degree and the scientific journals that he's been published in.  That should scare the hell out of them.

6. 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.

Gillmore is another player all over the board, but gets a 4th round grade here due to having the attitude and ability to do it both ways.  We saw in this video that he takes pride in blocking, frequently pancaking the defensive end, plus the receiving skill is evident and appears to be a good stretch in the seam.

Of course, the defensive ends that he's shoving around are in college and not the pros, but just the fact that he finds the leverage to be effective despite being a bit lean shows an eye for technique and an aptitude to be mentored and coached up.

Fresno State's Marcel Jensen is a nice alternate choice, but a bit of a wildcard in that he was underused and his body of work is not conclusive to the layman's eye.

6.Ryan Carrethers, NT, Arkansas State

The Patriots are in need of a nose tackle - not a defensive tackle.  DT is well-manned in the Patriots' scheme, where NT is a bit shallow in the depth pool.  Vince Wilfork was extended by the team, but the contract guarantees him nothing after this season, which is a good business decision by the suits because no one really knows how Wilfork's power and athleticism have been affected by his Achilles tear.

Late-season pick up Sealver Siliga proved to be a stout run plugger who will be perfect in a rotation with Wilfork in the base defense, that's really what the team should be looking for is someone to develop in the role - and the stronger, the better...

Ryan Carrethers is a house.  The video confirms that he's a gargoyle that is difficult to move off his spot even when double-teamed.  He's not the most athletic guy in the world and isn't going to chase anyone down from behind, but the nose tackle in the Patriots' system occupies a center and a guard, redirects running backs and re-establishes the line of scrimmage in the passing game by forcing his mirror back into the pocket.

Take notice of the difficult time that linebacker Dont'a Hightower had last season when all of the injuries occured.  He was consistently late in picking up tight ends coming into the pattern because he had to react to even the hint of a running play without a true nose tackle to funnel the plays to a particular gap, and that all changed when Siliga was signed, and Carrethers can be molded in the same manner.

7. Jeff Mathews, QB, Cornell

The one thing that separates Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews from the pack - in the wrong direction -  is the perception that he doesn't move well enough either inside or outside the pocket to be an affective NFL passer, something that prompted him to spend all of his Junior and Senior years to try and improve - which should be evident from the video below:

Though the producers of the video are obviously big-time homers, the product on the field is impressive.  While not the first rounder that the narrative would have you believe, there is certainly more than enough upside to Mathews' game to warrant a third-day pick - and given that he's a four-year starter and generally considered to have the best arm in the class, he is well worth a shot to develop for a year and see where some professional coaching takes him.

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