Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Final Patriots' Mock Draft - The Song Remains The Same

When seeking to compile a mock draft for your favorite team, there are three things that you absolutely need to know.

First, you need to know your team.  This encompasses more than just the names of the players or memorizing their jersey numbers or even knowing their stat lines.  It means knowing the team philosophies, the systems that they run on offense and on defense, their special teams philosophies and having a feel for the character and skill sets of the players already on the roster.

Secondly, as the old adage goes from the Art of War, know your enemy as you know yourself. Everything that is imperative to know about your team, you need to know about your division rivals, in addition to knowing their needs from draft perspective, because what the teams ahead of your team need is going to impact your team's big board...
Eastern Michigan's Darius Jackson

...and, lastly, you need to know something about the skill sets of the players coming out of college and how head ball coach Bill Belichick could integrate their individual skill set into building a better monster.

Because Belichick doesn't draft to fit a particular need, rather, he drafts based on his intuition and imagination, perhaps in a perpetually singular trance - or daydream, if you wish - fixated on how he would use a particular player's strengths while devising schemes to mask his weaknesses.

This offseason is loaded up a little different than most, in that the NFL stripped the Patriots of their first round draft pick for the on-going, never-ending, fraud-on-its-face "DeflateGate" saga and, as the result of deals made in free agency and in trades during the course of last season, they have no fourth or fifth round selections, either.

What they do have is two second rounder picks - the extra one courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals in the Chandler Jones deal - and two third rounders, the extra a compensatory selection for the Patriots losing cornerback Darrelle Revis in free agency last offseason...

...then the middle round void gives into a ghastly number of sixth round picks - five, to be exact - and a couple of seventh rounders, and if the Patriots were to keep things just the way they are, I have a feeling the draft would feel like my initial mock draft, with players like Oklahoma speedster Sterling Shepard and Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams gracing Foxborough with their presence.

Belichick essentially destroyed my initial mock by bringing in a bunch of veterans to fill need positions - so feeling slighted by the dark master, my second mock draft attempted to take advantage of the additional second rounder by standing pat on their selections and taking a cornerback with so many red flags on his character profile to make a matador's cape in LSU's Rashard Robinson, then went after Indiana's bell-cow runner Jordan Howard.

But then it occurred to me that there was no way in hell that Belichick was going to stand pat and be forced to take talent in the second round that he could just as well find in the third and fourth rounds, so in the third mock draft I presented a scenario where Belichick traded down out of the second round to pick up an additional third rounder and to get back into the fourth, then trading up with their insane number of sixth rounders to gain some fifth-round leverage.

Along the way, the only constants in these mocks have been Tulsa wide receiver Keyarris Garrett, bad boy Robinson and Western Michigan swing tackle Willie Beavers but I liked the idea of Belichick gaining draft capital by trading down so much that I have kept things the same for my fourth - and final - mock draft.

No longer will Belickick have to worry about wasting a second round selection on borderline talent and can genuinely pick for value in the middle rounds starting on Friday evening - so for those who missed it, here are the picks from my third mock, as I am standing pat on my latest selections:

3. Phillip Wright, ILB, Arizona
    6' 0", 239

Known by the nickname "Scooby", Wright missed all but three games last season with a meniscus tear, but the previous season he put up numbers never seen on a college gridiron before: 163 tackles - an insane 29 for loss - forced six fumbles and notched 14 sacks, and this from an inside linebacker.

Wright played in a defense that aligned 3-3-5 Big Nickle, which makes him farther ahead of the game as far as being prepared to step into New England's Big Nickle than any other pure linebacker in the draft class. He has elite instincts and always seems to know where the play is going. His one drawback is in man coverage, where he has the angles and toughness to hang with a running back in the pattern, but not the requisite speed.

Combine that with the fact that he is coming out after his injury-marred Junior season, and Wright is still available in the 3rd round, and what a steal he would be.

3. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
6' 1", 309

Elite quickness at the snap is Hargrave's calling card.  A one-gap penetrator with exceptionally quick feet, he dominated FCS interior offensive linemen, racking up an astounding 45 tackles for loss in the past two seasons, to go along with 30 sacks.

So, as with any Belichick selection, the question looms as to how someone who is a two-time All American and MEAC 2014 Defensive Player of the Year isn't among those in the discussion for tackles in the first-round - with the answer being that Hargrave is still very raw in technique, and won in college with sheer athleticism, but there is little doubt that his versatility is an intriguing fit in Foxborough.

He is a pocket disruptor, meaning that he has the bulk and strength to push his mirror back into the pocket, but also the lateral agility to handle the five-tech on a three man line if necessary, bullying guards and tackles alike.

3. Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
    6' 3", 220

A classic long-strider and immediate deep threat, Garrett is an imposing physical mismatch for most corners and, most importantly perhaps, tracks the ball well and has shown a knack for adjusting routes to settle in under wayward throws.

He is lightning off the line and understands the leverage he possesses with his tremendous length and deep speed, which corners will have to respect, giving Garrett opportunities to work back towards the quarterback in the role of a possession-type receiver.  He's a good route runner, but played in primarily spread offenses, and often as the trailer in bunch formations, perhaps inflating his stats a bit.

But as former basketball coach Frank Layden used to say, you can't teach height and you can't coach speed, and this kid has both. He will fall to the third round primarily because of his level of competition in college will make for a major jump in class to the NFL, but also he has proven to be a bit fragile.

4. Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU  
    6' 1", 171

Robinson's draft grade is all over the place, which is to be expected with as many red flags and character concerns he carries in his baggage - but there is no denying the kid's skill.

Multiple suspensions, including a permanent ban from the LSU football team and an arrest for illegal entry into a teammate's apartment overshadow Robinson's shut-down quality athleticism and intuition. Has not played organized ball since early in 2014 - and that, plus his spindly frame and aforementioned baggage lowered his 1st or 2nd round talent into the third day of the draft initially, but it's tough for evaluators to overlook his pure talent.

Had an impressive Freshman year where he locked onto the opposition's best receiver and pinned him against the sideline, taking some gambles though his makeup speed and explosion to the ball in the air are first class. In other words, he can put on an island and will likely survive anything an opposing quarterback can throw his way. Belichick has had some luck with troubled corners in the past, and they all seemed to fall in line with the Patriot Way. If this kid does the same, the sky over Gillette Stadium will become a no-fly zone.

4. Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan
    6' 0", 220

There are not many backs in the 2016 draft class that sport the size-speed-intangible trifecta like Jackson, and the only reasons he could still be available in the fourth round - for which the Patriots would have to trade up or down for - are that he is from a small school, and was a starter for just one season.

He wasn't invited to the combine, but he did attend Michigan's pro day, where the power back-sized runner posted a stupid-fast 4.35 in the 40 yard dash with a large contingent of Patriots' scout on hand. He has experience in a Pro-style offense, is fluid in the pattern and in the run after the catch - plus he is excellent in picking up the blitz and blocking.

Currently, Jackson is off the grid for the first two nights of the draft, but that should change as running backs start coming off the board in droves in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.  There is no physical or talent-related reasons why he's so lightly regarded, but the Patriots would be smart to trade back into the 4th round to snag this kid as their power back of the future, and maybe of the present.

4. Bronson Kaufusi, DE, Brigham Young University
    6' 6", 285

The son of BYU defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, this is no entitled kid.  Rather, having his father as his coach on the college level put Kaufusi on a different, more deliberate pedestal where he had to work twice as hard to get where he is.

Called the "Perfect BYU player" by former coach Bronco Mendenhall, Kaufusi is desirable to the Patriots because he displays a variety of pass rush moves when lined up as a traditional defensive end, and is broad enough to anchor in the running game and bull rush in the passing game as a five-tech end.

It is this positional versatility that elevates Kaufusi above other potential prospects in the same draft range, and is the only end with true versatility in the class besides Florida's Jonathan Bullard. But it is exactly this versatility that makes him perhaps undesirable to teams search for traditional ends or five-tech tackles.

Kaufusi has a non-stop motor and sports a power forward physique, with long arms and big hands.

5. Willie Beavers, OT, Western Michigan
    6' 5", 321

Carries a 5th to 6th round draft grade because of coming from a small school and because he is still raw in his technique - but there is no denying that Beavers has all the tools to become a solid left tackle in the NFL, with proper coaching and a little patience.

Mirrors speed rushers on the outside and physically manhandles them, pushing them around the pocket or simply stymieing them. His issue is moving to his right, where he will lose his balance against strong interior moves by the pass rushers. It is a technique issue, but one that will prevent him from coming in and becoming a force right away. He is excellent in the running game and could help a team as a swing tackle while perfecting his game.

5. Thomas Duarte, TE/WR, UCLA
    6' 2", 231

Is he a receiver or a tight end? On one hand, he has great size to be a receiver, but lacks the straight line speed expected over the top of the defense. On the other hand, his size is also appropriate for a move tight end, and frequently wins on crossing routes and up the seam, but is not as physical as you would want your tight end to be.

Reliable hands and being a touchdown maker are his calling card, but he is a bit soft on the takedown, as he will go down like a sack of potatoes with a solid hit from a corner or safety, and isn't much for dragging folks - generally, he catches the ball and looks for a place to sit down, but his separation ability and speed up the seam dictates that if he is in the clear, he will aim for the end zone.

6. Justin Simmons, FS, Boston College
    6' 2", 202

With Duron Harmon coming into a contract year, the Patriots would be wise to gain some leverage by bringing in a like-safety prospect.

Simmons is a tall, fast prospect in the mold of Harmon, though not quite as speedy, and displays the proper angle awareness to minimize holes for running backs on the second level and for cutting off throws to deep receivers, often turning incompletions out of sure scores.

Simmons frame wont hold much more weight, so he is maxed out at 202, but he is a playmaker who could make the team and provide the team leverage in negotiations with Harmon.

7. Antwione Williams, OLB, Georgia Southern
    6' 3", 247

Intimidating sideline to sideline hitter who lacks burst and straight line speed, but has learned to use attack angles to become a draftable linebacker. Stout and violent against the run with some edge-setting properties - may be a better interior gap-plugging linebacker at the pro level.

7. Devon Johnson, RB, Marshall
    6' 0", 238

Nicknamed "Rockhead" due to his no-nonsense, downhill running style, Johnson doesn't try to avoid contact with linebackers - rather, he takes pride in driving through their attempt to tackle him. Recruited to Marshall as a tight end, so he shows soft hands in the pattern, though he is not a threat to run away from defenders and has limited run-after-catch ability. Could be a convert to H-Back and would have some competition in camp to gain a roster spot.

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