Sunday, April 17, 2016

Patriots' Mock Draft 3.0 - Belichick Trades Down Into His "Wheelhouse" In Deep Draft

The 2016 offseason started out with New England Patriots' head ball coach and defacto General Manager continuing his annual manifestation of the Billy Ray Valentine character in the film Trading Places, waiting for the free agent market to weed out all of the suckers and setting a median wage for free agents before making any moves of his own.

And why not?  Any need that he was perceived to have was all depth related anyway, with the exception of running back, as he had no proven options at lead back,but even then had LeGarrette Blount on speed dial, knowing that if things went south with the free agent depth, he could always call LG and offer him a million a year to run for around 800 yards.
BYU' Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi

Besides, Bill would probably take a back anyway - in the middle rounds, as he's a tendency to do - along with a receiver or two, a tight end maybe and a weak side linebacker to make up for the loss of Jerod Mayo to retirement.  But the defensive line was not a priority at all, as it was as well stocked as any in the league.

Even when Belichick pulled the trigger on the deal that sent defensive end Chandler Jones to Arizona, most folks were cool with it because there was plenty of depth in place, starting with the surging Jabaal Sheard - but things took a turn for the surreal when it was revealed that three-tech tackle Dominique Easley was such a rotten person that even the cap-savvy Belichick would rather see another million or so lopped off of his free cap space than to deal with him any longer.

Belichick parted ways with Easley in a shocking move - shocking to you and me because none of us had any idea what went on behind closed doors, which also speaks to how tight the locker room really is and how everyone buys into Belichick's policy regarding information leaked to the press - and in the process sliced the under-tackle depth chart by a third...

...then cut it down to just veteran tackle Alan Branch by handing the injured Chris Jones his pink slip just this past Friday.  The nose tackle spot is well cared for with Malcom Brown and Terrence Knighton on the rotation, so Belichick's priority has become to seek an athletic under tackle with five-tech versatility and a solid anchor in his pants.

In addition, it should be noted that many close to the team feel that Belichick is "phasing out" the three-tech element to the line - which would mean a philosophical switch to a more 3-4 look - which is limiting in such a way that it omits the talent that New England has on the edges in Sheard, Ninkovich...

...not to mention that the players that the Patriots have picked up this offseason, defensive tackles Frank Kearse, formerly of the Redskins, and Markus Kuhn from the Giants, are both at their best as pocket collapsing interior rushers, but with five-tech versatility which speaks to the Big Nickle alignment that the team was in 80% of the time in 2015.

So, it's a little bit early to be burying the thought of a four-man line, as both have their charms in the Big Nickle, and Belichick would never limit himself like that, particularly considering the plethora of young depth he carries on the roster as defensive ends.

That said, of all of the tackles likely to still be on the board when the Patriots select at the end of the second round, South Carolina State's Javon Hargrave, Notre Dame's Sheldon Day and Ohio State's Willie Henry appear to be what the Patriots value in an under tackle, with Hargrave the clear choice due to his elite penetration and pocket collapsing skill,

Perhaps the steal of the draft could be in the offing with running back Darius Jackson out of Eastern Michigan available in the fourth round, a versatile edge defender in BYU's Bronson Kaufusi will also be in the mix in the fourth - and in between all of that the Patriots take a bad boy corner and a receiver who is compared to the Great Randy Moss.

Which is bullshit, of course, but just the thought that experts see a little of Moss's game in Tulsa's Keyarris Garrett is quite a positive indictment of the kid's skill.  The bad boy is, of course, LSU's gifted corner Rashard Robinson, who hated school but loves football.

All of this leads up to a brewing quandary.  The fact that New England doesn't have a pick until very late in the second round puts them out of the running for players deemed top shelf for their positions, but it also places them in a spot where the players that fit their system well don't necessarily grade out to the second round.

So the thought here is for Belichick to trade out of the second round to stockpile picks in what has traditionally his "wheelhouse" in the 3rd and 4th rounds, where an immense amount of talent resides in a draft where the need positions for New England are deep and plentiful - gaining an additional third rounder, a couple of fourth rounders and a fifth rounder, then turning a few of their five sixth-round selections into a fifth.

Besides, picking at 60 and 61 is almost into the third round as it is, and there are still plenty of talent available for teams to warrant moving up into the second round, positioning themselves to get a player of value for their teams, while giving up Belichick's most prized draft capital.

How much does Belichick value those middle round selections?  Well, in the past three drafts alone, nine players selected in the 3rd and 4th rounds are on the active 53 man roster, including six starters...

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 to 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.
Eastern Michigan Running Back Jackson

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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