Saturday, April 4, 2015

Reloading The Musket - Erving, Goldman top Patriots' 2015 Big Board

Goldman could be a late-first round steal for the Patriots to replace Vince Wilfork
The New England Patriots don't have many holes to fill from their Super Bowl winning roster, as they return 17 of 22 starters from 2014 - but the holes that they need to fill are going to require a measure of intrepidity and patience, as there are sure-fire prospects that will be available when the Patriots select at number 32 and beyond.

In fact, with the team gaining an early-round compensation pick, the end of the third round looks to be a point from which the Patriots could run their entire draft, giving them leverage to move up and down the board, always keeping in mind their list of targeted players.

The defense took the biggest hits, what with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and long-tenured nose tackle Vince Wilfork being shown the door - the three of them combined forming a mask of sorts for what really ails the unit, and has ailed it for years: the lack of a pass rush and poor coverage on tight ends and running backs.

Head ball coach Bill Belichick has addressed these areas in what amounts to depth, so top-tiered talent should be the focus of the team in the draft.

The offense has holes to fill as well, particularly along the interior of the line and at passing back, but those players may very well already be on the roster - which leaves the Patriots a very defined and logical direction in which to proceed in the draft.

At nose tackle, Sealver Siliga proved a capable backup to Wilfork for the past two seasons, but works best in tandem as a rotational late-down run stopper and pass rusher, as he is more a penetrator than a space-eater, and the Patriots have several of those kinds of interior players on the roster already, so it will be interesting to see how Belichick approaches the nose.

The edges in the pass rush and in run support was addressed with the team's only major splash in free agency, signing defensive end Jaball Sheard from the Cleveland Browns, and together with tenured ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, the Patriots are in good shape on the edges, where we will probably see a rotation of those three players and perhaps one of the young depth ends.

That leaves the cornerback positions, which are in a state of extreme flux with the release of the aforementioned Revis and Browner.

It remains to be seen if the players that served as depth behind those two last season are ready to ascend, but if Malcolm Butler can build upon his impressive Super Bowl performance and if one of the myriad of reserve corners can step up to their potential, the Patriots may opt to go into 2105 with what they already have, save positional versatility.

Butler seems destined to enter camp as one starting corner, but behind him is a crap shoot.  In addition to free agent additions Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain, there is talent left over from the championship roster in third-year player Logan Ryan and the enigmatic Alfonzo Dennard.

Ryan is better suited for the slot and may have the opportunity to supplant Kyle Arrington in that role, but if Dennard can get past his dreadful offseason from a year ago and equally disappointing 2014 season and return to what made him a potential fixture in the secondary as a rookie, a Butler / Dennard duo wouldn't be the worst thing in the world...

...and there is always to possibility that the newly rich free safety Devin McCourty could be used at corner, though his true calling seems to be at free safety.  But there is no shortage of back end talent on the roster as third-year ball hawk Duron Harmon has shown the range and instincts to be a difference maker at free, and reclaimed retread Patrick Chung boasted a career year at the strong safety position.

All of this said, the needs are what they are.

It appears that guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell may have seen their best days pass them by and, serviceable and reliable as they have been, the need for upgrade is evident - and there is no sure-fire locks as passing backs on the team as James White is untested and restricted free agent pick up Tavaris Cadet played second-fiddle to Pierre Thomas in New Orleans' pass happy offense the past three seasons...

...while on defense the lack of proven talent among the cornerbacks is glaring, and will continue to be so until players like Malcolm Butler and Alfonzo Dennard step up and claim starting spots that they are capable of handling - and even if Siliga turns out to be everything the Patriots hope he can be at the nose, the team's tried and true rotation at the position requires another legitimate nose tackle in the fold.

The linebacking corps could use another stud on the interior as well to free up hell raisers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins to do just that, and perhaps it's time to start thinking about a legitimate replacement for Jerod Mayo on the weak side as well.

1. Cameron Erving - C/G/T - Florida State
Erving can play all five offensive line positions

     College defensive tackle who made the switch to offensive tackle, then assumed the starting center role when current Patriots' center Brain Stork left for the NFL.  Rare athlete who can either start at center or right guard and can backup every position on the line.  Immediate starter on the interior if New England chooses him.

2. Eddie Goldman - NT - Florida State
     Elite run defender with two-gap capability and a mean streak a mile wide.  Violent bull rusher that can re-establish the line of scrimmage and never takes a play off.  Has all the makings of an elite play maker in the run game as well as occupying double teams to allow his team mates to penetrate and make plays.

 3. P.J. Williams - CB - Florida State 
     His arrest over the weekend may drop him down some draft boards, but there may not be a more NFL ready cornerback.  A polished bump and run defender, he lacks only desire to play every down.  Will be an island defender if his attitude ever matches his athletic gifts.

4.  Jordan Philips - NT - Oklahoma
     Huge two-gap space eater who has the athleticism to dominate the interior of the Patriots' run defense.  Flashes dominance most of the time, but has no pass rush moves at all which is leading to him falling toward the end of the 1st round.  New England's comfort factor with current nose tackle Sealver Siliga will likely determine direction with this pick.

5. Benardrick McKinney - ILB - Mississippi State
     Tall, powerfully built inside linebacker with the requisite athleticism to take the tight end up the seam, and with the strength to take on offensive linemen at the point of attack and throw them aside to make the play.  May never be a star in the league, but will be a solid Belichick-type playmaker in the middle, freeing up Hightower and Collins to do what they do.

6. Quentin Rollins - CB - Miami (Ohio)
     A video game quality press corner who rarely gives a receiver room to breathe, though he will experience a vastly superior talent level going to the NFL from the MAC - has only one year of college football experience and has been a corner only for that one season, so his learning curve is steep and receivers in the NFL will be able to take him outside in until he gains some playing experience -  but once that happens with good coaching, he has every trait desired for a shutdown corner.

7. Jay Ajayi -RB - Boise State
     Beast Mode 2.0? Ajayi's soccer background marries well with his powerful running style and he is difficult to knock off balance.  Rarely goes down on initial contact, which is both good and bad, as ball security becomes lax once he breaks the initial tackle.  The prize-winning attribute as far as the Patriots are concerned is the fact that he is an every down back with the best hands and best route running in the draft class.  If they are indeed looking for a replacement for Ridley and Vereen, they can get it in one fell swoop with Ajayi.

8. La'el Collins - OT/G - LSU
     Limited tackle prospect because of suspect handwork on the edge, instead projects as a nasty, mauling right guard in the NFL.  Mean and intimidating and will get you on the next play if he happens to get beaten.  Will excel in a more power-driven running scheme.

9. Ronald Darby - CB - Florida State
     Speed, speed and more speed.  Darby has world-class sprinter's speed and uses it to keep the top on the receiver.  In his desire to keep the top on, however, he can be beaten underneath if the receiver breaks off the route.  Susceptible to the outside-in move but plays press and off-man with equal success.  Must keep his hands to himself.

10. Phillip Dorsett - WR - Miami
     Video game speed, winning matchups with pure speed on the outside.  Can and will take the top off of the defense, but still very raw in route running, which would not endear him to Brady, and his hands are suspect at times, particularly when going into the tall pines over the middle.  But still, that speed....

11. Eric Kendricks - OLB - UCLA
     An interior tackling demon for the Bruins, he projects as a weakside linebacker in the pros and may be the best coverage linebacker in the draft class.  Classic edge-setter in the running game and has man coverage ability underneath.  An excellent choice if the Patriots are concerned about Jerod Mayo's long-term health.

12. Marcus Peters - CB - Washington
     A tantrum waiting to happen, Peters has everything a coach could want in a press corner and can outright stuff and intimidate the opposing receiver, but is emotionally immature and was constantly in the doghouse in college.  Would be a perfect bookend for Malcolm Butler on the wings if he takes to coaching.

 13. Shaq Thompson - OLB/RB - Washington
     His college coach sees his best fit as a running back, while many draft experts see him as either a 4-3 outside linebacker or as a strong safety.  He's a classic tweener with excellent hands and a dogged pursuit artist who can cover running backs wheeling out into the pattern - in effect, the perfect Big Nickle safety/linebacker  hybrid who could double up as an emergency third running back or even as a Vereen-like passing back.  That type of versatility could land him on the team, and give Belichick more options on his game-day roster.

14. Denzel Perryman - ILB -  Miami
     Short, stocky and mean two-down linebacker who will knock the chocolate out of the ball carrier.  Liability in pass coverage but an absolute load in the running game, particularly in taking on the offensive linemen on the second level.

15. A. J. Cann - G - South Carolina
     Left guard prospect that will fit into a power scheme more effectively than a zone scheme.  Handles defensive tackles well and is rarely bull rushed in pass protection.  Is still growing into his body and needs to add another 15 pounds of muscle but can be expected to be a Day 1 starter on the left.

16. Stephone Anthony - ILB - Clemson
     A shade below McKinney in athleticism and not as instinctive, though he has better ball skills as a coverage linebacker and has a better chance of sticking with a tight end or running back.  More of a finesse player, comparatively, but a good downhill player.

17. Tre Jackson - G - Florida State
      A more fleshy than muscular mauler who relies on size more than strength or technique.  However, one of the better leveraged guards in the class and the excess weight doesn't seem to affect his movement, but could probably stand to convert some of the flab into muscle.  Stays anchored in pass protection and grades out as one of the better guards in that respect.

18. Laken Thomlinson - G - Duke
     A nasty left guard who didn't allow a sack in the past two seasons despite playing against elite-level defensive tackles in the ACC.  Has zero athleticism, but anchors against bull rushers and even made Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton look average in senior bowl reps.  Best in a phone booth where he can overpower defenders.

19. Byron Jones - CB/FS - Connecticut
     Highly intelligent and instinctive defensive back who has a bit of a combination of Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington in his DNA.  Dowling for his fragility and lack of physicality and Arrington for his ability to lose his man in vertical coverage.  That said, Free safety seems to be his natural position and if the Patriots were to draft him, it might signal a move for Devin McCourty back to corner, where he started his career - but that seems unlikely.

20. Darius Philon - DT - Arkansas
     Darkhorse interior rusher with a knack for beating his mirror by a large margin.  he is light but has a variety of powerful penetration moves.  Will only succeed on a defense that primarily runs a 4-3 as he is too light to be anything other than a 3-5 tech situational pass rusher, but the sky is the limit for this kid in that capacity.

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