Sunday, March 19, 2017

New England Patriots' Big Board - First Peek...

The New England Patriots' Big Board for the 2017 NFL draft has an obvious mid-round tilt to it - and for good reason, as the Patriots first pick in the draft is not until the top of the third round.

Head ball coach and defacto general manager Bill Belichick used his first and second round draft capital to acquire a speedy wide receiver (Brandin Cooks from New Orleans) and a potentially impactful edge rusher (Kony Ealy from Carolina) - and then in free agency kept his Big Nickel defense together by re-signing Dont'a Hightower, Duron Harmon and Alan Branch while bringing in cornerback Stephon Gilmore and edge setter Lawrence Guy.
Michigan's Jourdan Lewis is ready to contribute right away

Those moves more than offset any losses incurred by New England in free agency, leaving the team with fewest draft picks they've had in the Belichick era wanting for very little.

So the focal point of the draft for the Patriots should be with an eye to the future, as they have just as many expiring contracts at the end of the 2017 season as they did after winning their fifth trophy in February, though the impact of the players whose contracts are up is not as wide-spread as the 2016 class.

Still, Patriots' fans probably shudder every time they look at the list.  For example, all three of their primary running backs - Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead - are in the final years of their respective contracts.  Defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Ealy are as well.  Nate Solder and Cam Fleming are in line for new contracts after the season, as are wide receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

The luxury that the Patriots enjoy is that they can draft with their eye to the future while still enjoying a championship caliber team ready to defend their title.

Naturally, the Patriots are not in line for any of the talent at the top of the standard big board unless they make deals between now and late-April to gain some more capital on the second day, or even in the first round - but until that happens, this Big Board will contain only players whom I expect could slide into the third round and beyond, and consist mostly of players who are depth candidates or are developmental projects...

...which is not to say that none of them could contribute immediately, but that's not the mindset going into the selection process, as the Patriots should be looking at defensive ends, running backs, offensive tackles and - as always - safeties (as Jordan Richards and Pat Chung took back-steps last season) as well as coverage linebackers and developmental corners:

Second Day

DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State 6' 4" 280
    Powerful edge setter with versatility to rush QB from three-technique as part of rotation
Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech 6' 7" 255
    Athletic and fast receiver who is more of a tall wideout than bulky tight end
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan, 5' 10" 190
    Tough and physical press-man slot corner that could start immediately
Josh Harvey-Clemons, FS/OLB, Louisville 6' 4" 220
    Huge box safety with range and speed, elite tight end coverage
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma 5' 11" 235
    Creative power runner with violent finish, will not be denied in short yardage
Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy 6' 6" 300
    Scrappy, athletic former hoops star who could handle blind side with a little coaching
Obi Melifonwu, FS, Connecticut 6' 4" 225
    Coverage "linebacker" who handles tight ends and contributes in run support
Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State, 6' 7" 300
    Athletic, long-limbed blindsider that is already tough run blocker and adequate pass blocker
Quincey Wilson, CB/S, Florida 6' 1" 215
    Press-man corner with plus-skill in run support - may be better safety or slot man
Chidobe Awusie, CB, Colorado, 6' 0" 200
    Versatile with deep speed, could hold off veteran for nickel back or even challenge for outside starter
Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State 5' 9" 214
    Committee power back that can contribute on all three downs
Marcus Williams, FS, Utah 6' 1" 200
    Intriguing centerfielder who could become a Big Nickel man
Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio 6' 4" 270 (Rush end)
    4-3 base end who sets a mean edge and can collapse pocket with pass rush
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State, 6' 4" 250 (Rush end)
    Cat-quick rush end who could find a spot as a rotational rusher
Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson 6' 1" 200
    Tall corner at his best blanketing tight ends and taller receivers
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo 5' 11" 215
    Big, decisive but plodding back with outstanding vision 
Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia 6' 2" 209
    Zone corner who plays like a safety in coverage
Avery Gennesy, OT, Texas A&M 6' 3" 318
    Project tackle with exceptional feet to both mirror and pull
Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova 6' 7" 290
    Edge defender with potential in pass rush - excellent on special teams blocking kicks
Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson 6' 0" 215
    Intriguing potential as lead back, has nose for chains and end zone
Bryan Cox Jr, DE, Florida 6' 3" 265
    Strong fighter as an edge defender with potential as interior pass rusher
Howard Wilson, CB, Houston 6' 1" 190
    Project ball hawk that could surprise with immediate contribution
James Connor, RB, Pitt 6' 1" 233
    Short yardage specialist that could double as hback
Shaquill Griffin, CB, Central Florida 6' 0" 195
    Speedy press corner who is a bit of a project but with great upside

Third Day:

Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell 6' 7" 320
    Draft-and-stash athletic tackle who could challenge for starting position in 2018
Aviante Collins, OT/OG, TCU 6' 4" 295
    Another draft-and-stash players who needs coaching up on technique, but is very athletic
Nate Hairston, CB, Temple 6' 0" 200
    Project corner that could play in zone fit now, but needs coaching in press-man
Christopher Carson, RB, Oklahoma State 6' 0" 220
    One-speed hammer back who never fumbles but does find end zone
Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State 6' 8" 295
    Lengthy project that may have more upside than most projects, and may be ready to contribute
Dare Ogunbowale, RB, Wisconsin 5' 11" 215
    Passing back with upside, good, willing pass protector
Channing Stribling, CB, Michigan 6' 0" 200
    Project corner who contributes in run support and has upside at deep cover
Brian Allen, CB, Utah 6' 3" 220
    Draft-and-stash corner who looks like Brandon Browner, but with speed
Weston Steelhammer, S, Air Force 6' 2" 200
    Great football name and a ballhawk as a cover safety, needs a couple of years but worth the wait

This list is subject to change, and will be updated frequently...

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