Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reloading The Musket - Mock Draft 2.0: Don't Question The Rings

The Wheelhouse.

Defined in the Urban Dictionary as "Anything that can be acted upon with confidence", it is often used in context with the sport of baseball as being "Part of an individuals swinging range in which as a hitter they can best make contact with the ball."

As a matter of fact, the hip dictionary goes so far as to define the "Wheelhouse" in several ways, raging from easy chicks to the image of hamsters providing energy to a persons brain, but when it comes to Bill Belichick and his prized draft capital, his "Wheelhouse" can be defined as the spot in each draft where he finds premium value for his investment...

There's no questioning the rings...
...and the players that he selects are rarely the ones that most fans and draft experts expect them to be - but his recent success in the draft can not be questioned.

From the 2010 draft forward to tonight's annual free-for-all, Belichick has selected 33 players in the first four rounds, 32 of who eventually made the team and 21 of who still reside on the Patriots' roster - and when you stop to consider that only three of those not still on the team are completely out of the NFL, his failure rate for his Wheelhouse draft selections are in the single digits.

Not bad for a guy who is looked at by many fans of the team as a failure as a defacto General Manager.

Why those people feel that way is due to the fact that Belichick has a track record of not doing well with wide receivers and defensive backs - and while it is true that the jury is still out on recently drafted receivers and a couple of defensive backs, it is equally true that the New England Patriots are the reigning World Champions, and that's something that no one can argue against.

So, why should anyone really care what player Bill Belichick selects with his solid gold first-round draft capital?  The Dark Master has a distinguished record of nailing his first pick in the draft, what with Jerod Mayo in 2008, Patrick Chung in 2009, Devin McCourty in 2010, Nate Solder in 2011, Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones in 2012, Jamie Collins in 2013 and Dominique Easley last year...

 ...which also shows a trend that's hard to ignore in that with the exception of Solder, every top pick for New England in nearly a decade has gone to the defensive side of the ball., and every single one of them are now starters and core players - though the jury is still out on second-year man Easley.

The second picks have been masterful as well, and the middle rounds have been a virtual trough of quality depth and eventual starters - and, of course, two of the most celebrated big game defensive heroes of the past few seasons have gone completely undrafted in priority free agent signees Sterling Moore and Malcolm Butler.

In other words, Bill Belichick's wheelhouse is the entire draft process, from scouting to workouts to interviews to selection to signing undrafted free agents, he has shown time and again that no one does the draft quite like Belichick.

That said, here is my final mock draft, all probably completely wrong:

1. #32 - Eddie Goldman, NT, Florida State

     In terms of sheer, brute value, Goldman is head and shoulders above anyone else projected to be available when the Patriots select at 32 - and the only players that come close in an area of need for the team are also Seminoles, Guard Cameron Erving and bad boy corner P. J. Williams, whose draft stock has purportedly fallen to the point where Belichick could make a play for the best pure cover corner in the draft.

Realistically, however, Williams should still go in the mid-teens at the very latest despite his DUI arrest last week. Goldman should be there, but if he is not, New England should consider Erving (if he's still around) or open up the last pick of the first day for bidding and move down into the second and third rounds, which is where Belichick is going to find the best value in a very deep draft for positions of need.

Goldman is the most dominant nose tackle coming out of college this side of Danny Shelton.  At 6' 4" and 340 pounds, Goldman is a bit tall for the position, but it doesn't appear to affect his leverage as his initial punch is as violent as you could want, and he regularly re-establishes the line of scrimmage two yards deep in the backfield, just like some guy named Wilfork used to...

2. #64 - Quentin Rollins, CB, Miami(Ohio)

     Yes, the pick I will defend until long after the draft is over.  There are not enough superlatives to describe Rollins' meteoric rise from point guard on the Redhawks' basketball team to becoming their football team's shut down cornerback as a fifth-year senior.

Up until that time, Rollins hadn't stepped foot on a gridiron since high school, and never before as a cornerback - but all he did was earn the MAC Conference Defensive Player of the Year and put his name squarely on the big board, though opinions as to where he belongs on the board is speculative as many question his desire for football, take exception to his lack of experience or just plain dismiss him due to concerns about his deep speed.

But here's the thing - A kid that talented at the cornerback position, being one of the top corners in the draft after just one season should be making defensive coordinators salivating to get their hands on, with a shot at developing him into something special.  His upside is such that with the right coaching, he could be a star, what with can only be described as "Video Game" suddeness in route and recovery and regularly blew up screens before they had a chance to get started.

Even if he doesn't start right away, the team that drafts him will eventually be getting a gem in return for their investment.

3. #96 - 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.

3.#97 - Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke

     When it comes to run blocking, you want maulers who can get to the second level and destroy linebackers - in pass protection, someone who is an immovable object and will trade punches with anyone - in other words, an interior offensive lineman should be nasty and intimidating.

While not an elite athlete, Tomlinson is all of those things.  But most importantly to the Patriots is how a lineman will keep interior pass rushers out of quarterback Tom Brady's face.  Tomlinson's proof of worthiness in that capacity was evident all throughout his college career, but the jewel in his draft crown was at this year's Senior Bowl, when he absolutely shut down Washington's massive nose tackle Danny Shelton during practice.

His game is recognition and power.  He adjusts well to stunts along the defensive line, and despite not being the best athlete, seems to rely on intelligence and instinctual anticipation to get himself in position to anchor, then on his fighter's mentality to punish the opposition.

4.#101- Josue Matias, G, Florida State

      In direct contrast to the bulk and physicality of Tomlinson, the taller and lighter Matias is at his best in pass protection, using his tackle-like length (6' 5") and powerful hands to keep pass rushers at bay.  The one question that scouts have about him is whether he will be able to grade out as a run blocker from the left guard spot.

Matias certainly has the frame to add more muscle, which will help with his hip drive and explosiveness in run blocking, but at this point he is a technician with the potential to get better with coaching.  That said, he is one of the better pass blocking guards in the class and deserving of a 3rd-4th round grade...or better.

4.#131 - Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State

     A broken thumb suffered at the Senior Bowl aside, this is an excellent spot to select what could amount to an opportunity to add a true playmaker to the fold as a fourth receiver - Mayle is just that at the moment with some inconsistent route running and a thick, heavy stride, but his physical stature and athletic traits present an interesting set of intangibles.

At 6' 2" and nearly 230 pounds, Mayle has the size, speed and physical traits of a move tight end, but with a knack of winning almost every jump ball and excels in the vertical routes as he is one of the best in the class at tracking the deep ball over his shoulder and into his hands, making him a natural for both seam routes and sideline go routes.

Mayle is raw in terms of overall route running - which could be attributed to him taking a few years off from College, returning last season - but he is fluid and graceful and plays much faster than his listed combine speed

6.#177 - Alani Fua, OLB, Brigham Young

     Tall, rangy outside linebacker who is fluid and quick-footed enough to handle slot receivers under certain circumstances if need be.  Solid and feisty tackler who can set the edge, but needs to pack on some weight before he's ready to take on the big boys underneath.

Excels at underneath coverages and closes on the ball quickly, which at times makes him more like a vastly oversized strong safety, but also has a mean rip moves as a straight-angle pass rusher off the edge.  There's a lot to like about Fua, but any team that takes him is going to have a tweener that must either pack on some pounds to be more effective on inside pass moves and against the run or use him as a nickle linebacker in the stead of a traditional box safety.

Either way, Fua represents excellent value at this stage of the draft process.

7.#219 - Darius Philon - DT - Arkansas

     If the Patriots do indeed end up selecting Goldman with their top pick and with Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, Dominique Easley and Chris Jones already on board, defensive tackle isn't such a need, but Philon could be a wild card as a developmental project with next season in mind - though he could surprise and contribute in a rotational role immediately. 

Philon is light for a defensive tackle, almost mirroring Easley's size, but is a powerful inside penetrator with an impressive jump off the snap that makes offensive guards recoil at the initial punch.  A former defensive end, Philon has plenty of speed for the position and can be disruptive - but the feeling is he needed another year at Arkansas to add bulk instead of declaring for the draft - which makes him a long-range prospect with a lot of upside.

7.#253- Mario Alford, WR, West Virginia

   Not your typical speed merchant, but the diminutive Alford has deep speed that can take the top off a defense and on-the-fly change of direction skills that enables him to pull a string and leave defensive backs grasping at air...

...but Alford is, unfortunately, smallish - at 5' 8" and a slight 180 pounds which wouldn't be an issue were he suitable for the slot, but his short-area quickness is lacking and he needs to have a bit of a build up to top speed, unlike an Edelman who is full speed right from the get-go.

One-dimensional burner may turn into a deep threat, but could be coached up to present problems for corners in the intermediate zones as a crosser, provided he gets up to full speed before making his cut.

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