Sunday, March 19, 2017

New England Patriots Mock Draft 1.0 - The "Make The Third-Rounder Count" Edition

The New England Patriots are absolutely loaded - and there is no lack of folks feeling some kind of way about that.

For Patriots' haters, they sit slack-jawed on bar stools, slobbering in mugs and complaining bitterly about the world champions constantly reloading, year after year, for title runs while every other team in the NFL is just hoping to be the ones who can beat the Patriots on any given Sunday.  They go so far as to accuse Belichick of somehow cheating the system to keep bringing in impact players, when in reality he is just very patient, knows what he wants and jumps when the time is right.
Ohio's Tarell Basham (93)

Patriots' fans know this all too well, but usually would be bitching and whining about having just six draft picks, and none in the first two rounds - not this time however, as even the most casual of Patriots' fans now recognize Belichick's style, and know that he gets his best value in the middle rounds.

And that's where we start.

In reality, Belichick could somehow finagle some earlier draft picks by the time the selection process starts in late April, but at this point, he has what he has, and with all things being equal - as in spotting the other 31 NFL teams two rounds worth of draft picks - the Dark Master will make his mid-round picks count.

His needs are few, though some would argue that a lead running back would be nice, and others will say that depth along the defensive line - especially at defensive end - is lacking, and they would be right, so those things are sure to be addressed in the draft.  But in my mind, there is a need for a hybrid strong safety / coverage linebacker who can stick with tight ends...

...and also for a developmental left tackle who can plug-and-play in the event Nate Solder gets hurt or leaves in free agency after next season - and a team can never have enough cover corners.

Those things being said and ultimately true, here is our initial mock draft of the 2017 season:

3rd Round (72nd Overall ) - Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming

For the Patriots' purposes, one would be hard-pressed to find a better fit as a lead runner than Hill, especially considering their draft position.

At 6' 1" and 220 pounds, Hill is a slashing downhill runner who possesses tremendous balance and a powerful lower body to keep piles moving, yet is lithe and deft in the pass patterns and a willing blocker in pass protection.  If there is a downside, it would be that he has a tendency to bounce outside if the running lanes are clogged instead of taking what's there, but his lateral movement and explosion through the hole - not to mention a dose of subtle elusiveness - makes Hill a great fit for New England's running game.

3rd Round (96th Overall) - Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech

Belichick traded to the Indianapolis Colts for Dwayne Allen to bridge the gap left by the departure of Martellus Bennett, but his contact is guaranteed for 2017 only, though the Patriots own his rights through 2019 - and while Allen has the athleticism to contribute in the offense, Hodges could break it wide open.

4th Round (131st Overall)  - Josh Harvey-Clemons, SS, Louisville

It was no secret that both Jordan Richards and starting strong safety Patrick Chung declined in production last season, so the Patriots should be prioritizing box safeties.  But Harvey-Clemons is no ordinary box safety.

Of course, he checks all the boxes as a strong safety, but he is also a natural at diagnosing plays from the box, taking on tight ends and using his huge wingspan to shield them from the ball, and plays downhill with violent intent in run support.

5th Round (163rd Overall) - Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio

A three-down defensive end that is a better edge-setter than pass rusher, but his high-motor and relentlessness as a pass rusher will do exactly what Belichick likes from his rush ends, and that is to collapse the pocket and get the quarterback off his mark.

In the running game, he is a stack-and-shed edge-setter with the lateral agility to get to the sidelines, if need be - and seems to genuinely dislike tackles and tight ends, and makes sure they know it on the field.

5th Round (183rd Overall) - Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

A project corner who could contribute immediately and really surprise despite having only one season as a full-time college starter.  Checks the boxes on height, versatility in different techniques and in violent run support, but not in weight or experience.

At 6' 1" and only 185 pounds, Wilson plays without fear but is liable to incur injury with his reckless playing style.  A year in the system and with a strength and conditioning staff, and Wilson could force his way into a starting role.

6th Round (200th Overall) - Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State

Huge, powerful hands and excellent placement define Ware.  Has a decent slide step to mirror speedy defensive ends but will struggle with elite ends that can convert speed to power - but then again, who doesn't?

Possesses the height that the Patriots prefer in their bookends at 6' 8", but played in college at less than 300 pounds and needs some time in the weight room under the tutelage of a professional strength coach - that said, Ware is a natural left tackle and could work his way into being a major contributor as a draft-and-stash project for Dante Scharnecchia.

7th - 239th -  Weston Steelhammer, FS, Air Force

Belichick is a sucker for military academy guys and for safeties over all, so he should love Steelhammer.

Known as a route-breaker, Steelhammer's game is cutting off receivers routes by reading the quarterback's eyes and getting to the point of the reception before the receiver.  Not particularly fast, and relatively skinny (6' 2", 200), he nevertheless is worth a seventh-round flyer, particularly because he has a four-year commitment to the Air Force, and with proper weight room instruction could become a stashed force.

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