Thursday, April 9, 2015

Reloading the Musket - Patriots' Mock Draft 1.0: Size Matters

The Patriots brought in Bryan Stork last season to anchor the pivot, could his FSU teammate Matias (70) be joining him?
We're idiots.  All of us.

And even fools if we actually believe that, as writers, we can guess which players New England Patriots' head ball coach and defacto General Manager Bill Belichick will select when it comes his turn.

Experts can predict whatever they want, but the simple fact of the matter is that Belichick has his players targeted and will make his selections count with the best available athlete at a position of need and in a spot where they represent maximum value for his draft capital.

That said, no one really knows where Belichick has his targets projected at, nor do we know what the 31 other teams' mindsets are at, which makes mock drafts and inexact science at best, and a fool's paradise at worst.

Hell, we don't even know what Belichick considers a priority, or if he even goes into a draft thinking along those lines.  Lord knows he has befuddled the masses time and again with his seemingly quirky picks of little-known or outright unknown prospects, starting with one Tom Brady, a part-time starter behind Drew Henson at Michigan whom the Dark Master took as an afterthought in the sixth round in 2000.  Perhaps you've heard of him.

Of course, for every Brady there's two or three Dowlings or Bequettes - and so it goes with inexact science.

But nothing gets fans juiced in the offseason like some idiot posting his big board or mock draft on social media sites, which is nothing short of throwing meat to wolves - because fans are fans no matter the time of year, and when draft day approaches, particularly if money is tight and their team hasn't done much in free agency, things like these whet their appetite and cause the salivary glands to work overtime.

But it's fun, except for those who take themselves too seriously.  For them, this time of year is crucial for their future success, and every negative comment of their opinion is met with snarling and gnashing of teeth - such as it goes with narcissistic nightmares...

...because what Mock Drafts really are is a personal wish list of sorts - players whom we would like to see Belichick draft.  we will defend our opinions right up until Belichick makes his selection, then fall back on the "Inexact Science" thing or the "In Bill We Trust" adage.  There's nothing binding about trying to guess what the Dark Master is going to do in the draft, so all is forgiven and forgotten before the 7th round is completed.

That is, until next offseason, when everyone will remember exactly who you picked and don't hesitate to remind you - and there's no sense in denying it.  After all, what goes on the internet, stays on the internet...

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 - Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Miss. State

     If the Patriots' defensive front seven is to grow into the force that it seems Belichick is trying to trend towards, he's going to need linebackers - one who can double up as a pure coverage linebacker from the weak side, and one who can free up Jamie Collins to return to his natural strong side position after spending the majority of last season flip-fopping from the outside-in.

That is going to take a tough point-of-contact linebacker who can take on the guards at the second level and clear out all of the trash - and this player doesn't have to be ready to take over anytime soon, just prepared for when his name is called.  McKinney could develop into such a player.

A force against the run, McKinney would continue a team trend toward tall, well proportioned linebackers who can play both inside and out and perhaps even more importantly, is a student of the game plan and pays particular attention to his assignments, plus has an instinctual knack for cutting off cutback lanes and limiting the effectiveness of the zone blocking schemes that the Patriots have traditionally had a difficult time handling.

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.
Tomlinson is a mauler at right guard

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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