The New England Patriots came into the 2013 NFL Draft with some specific holes to fill in hopes of getting their team good enough to win the Super Bowl; wide receiver and cornerback. The Patriots under Bill Belichick have made a number of attempts to address these positions with less than stellar results. Currently, the Patriots projected starting corners have had trouble with the law, but came to the team for next to nothing; Aqib Talib was acquired for a fourth round pick (The Buccaneers just wanted rid of him) and a seventh round pick in Alfonzo Dennard, who had a productive career at Nebraska before poor workouts and more notably punching a cop all but destroyed his draft stock. The Patriots used a first round pick on Devin McCourty, now their starting free safety as well as the first pick of the second round on Ras-I Dowling, who could not stay healthy at Virginia and has followed the same pattern in New England. Wide receiver has been worse; much worse. From Chad Jackson to Taylor Price, the Patriots have had miss after miss at the wide receiver position and used free agency and trading to get receivers from other teams whenever possible and they did that this year as well. The Patriots signed Danny Amendola and Michael Jenkins to replace Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who could ultimately return to the Patriots at some point. Ultimately, the Patriots had an extremely typical Patriots style draft. They traded down, took a player most people were unfamiliar with, loaded up on players from one program, and ended up with a bunch of players that confuse most people but get the benefit of the doubt because the Patriots did it.
The Patriots traded out of the first round in typical Patriots fashion. The move made sense because they were short on picks this year and used the move to give them some more ammo and options. They traded down the majority of a round to get an extra third and fourth rounder from the Minnesota Vikings who used the pick from the Patriots to take Cordarrelle Patterson. As a result, the first pick the Patriots made in the draft was the 52nd pick overall, which they used on Jamie Collins, defensive end from Southern Miss. Collins is a pass rushing prospect that can contribute at defensive end or outside linebacker in the Patriots scheme and he brings borderline Olympic caliber measurables. At 250lbs, Collins ran a 4.64 40, but it was his 11’7″ broad jump and a 41.5″ vertical that really stood out. Those were the best and second best of any player at the combine respectively, regardless of position. From his speed to his explosion to his strength, he was off the charts. In addition, he was a player who was making big leaps in his development from year to year and especially from his junior to senior year. He racked up a good number of sacks his senior year and displayed incredible athletic ability on the field, but he is still developing. There are some concerns about his motor and how hard he goes every play. Perhaps a real issue, it is also possible that Collins virtually never came off the field and had to save energy to be able to go hard in key situations and the fourth quarterback.
The situation Collins comes into is fantastic as he is coming in as depth and someone they can take their time with to develop but use in specific roles to perform specific functions, many of which will likely involve rushing the quarterback. In the Patriots hybrid system, he could end up in a number of different spots and looks but the long term goal for Collins may be to take Rob Ninkovich’s spot across from Chandler Jones. Collins may have a similar path to becoming an impact player as the one Barkevious Mingo is taking in Cleveland. Have guys ahead of him who can start and take the majority of snaps but put Collins in situations that allow him to be great at what he does and limit his scope and focus so he can be great at that specific job and expand it as time goes forward. Collins, like Mingo, may not be the starter in name, but he will have the opportunity to have a big impact as a rookie and rack up sacks for the Patriots, who struggled in pass defense this past year. Helping the secondary is a great way to help that but making opposing quarterbacks having a harder time making passes is always a path to success in helping the pass defense.
Later in the second round, the Patriots used their actual pick to select Aaron Dobson, wide receiver from Marshall. A bit of a surprise, the Patriots went with their normal approach to taking wide receivers. Dobson is eerily similar as a prospect to former Patriots third round pick, Taylor Price, the former Ohio University Bobcat. Dobson brought a good a combination of size, strength and straight line speed to the position, which is a staple in how the Patriots have drafted receivers. And like Price, Dobson has had issues with dropping passes. Dobson has small hands and while he can be a guy who stretches the field deep and a good player for running after the catch, he dropped a lot of passes during his college career.
While Dobson could be a great player for the Patriots and be everything that Price was not, taking an almost identical player but higher is one that opens itself up to scrutiny, especially with the talent at receiver that was on the board. The player they passed on that stands out in terms of fit within the Patriots scheme is Markus Wheaton from Oregon State. Wheaton had great speed on the outside and shown to be a viable deep threat but he was a better player based on his college career and also looked better than Dobson at the Senior Bowl. And if the Patriots went against type and wanted to opt for pure talent for the position, Keenan Allen could have been a nice pick up and option for the Patriots as he was the best player on tape from the past year. The Patriots could ultimately prove to be correct here but the pick was a reach and going the exact same route that has failed them so many times in the past seems questionable. It would not be the only time they went this route.
In the third round, the Patriots used the first of a pair of picks on Logan Ryan, cornerback from Rutgers. Ryan is a tough, gritty, well-rounded corner who has shown the ability to play the pass and the run. In many ways, he is a similar player as current Patriot and former Scarlet Knigth Devin McCourty. Ryan has shown the ability to play on the outside as well as in the slot. He has a solid combination of size, speed and strength to the position. Ryan is a jack-of-all-trades type corner that does everything well but nothing truly stands out. He may never be a superstar but he should be a player that contributes for the Patriots now and in the future. And like with manyRutgers players, he can contribute on special teams as well.
As long as Dennard and Talib can stay healthy and on the field, they should be the starters for the Patriots as both bring a physical, pressing style of play that had success for the Patriots last year. Ryan could be a player who is a threat to beat out Kyle Arrington or Ras-I Dowling for the nickel or dime spot in their secondary. Belichick likes the system and style of defenseRutgers plays, so he has a good feel in what he is getting with Ryan and probably has a good idea of where he wants to see him play.
When Urban Meyer was at Florida, Belichick would go down to Gainesville with a bus and just start rounding up Gators and take them back to Foxboro. After Meyer left Florida, Belichick went closer to home and turned his attention to Rutgers. He seemed to like the system Greg Schiano started running there and the players it produced and seems pretty content with the job Kyle Flood is doing now since Schiano has gone to the NFL.
So, eight picks later after taking Ryan from Rutgers, Belichick figured he would just go ahead and start grabbing a few more Scarlet Knights, next grabbing Duron Harmon, safety from Rutgers. Like with Tavon Wilson in the second round last year from Illinois last year, the Patriots went with a third round pick that few people were familiar. While he may not have been on a lot of draft radars, he was a first team All-Big East selection each of the last two years.
Harmon is projected to compete for a spot as a strong safety with Wilson working to be a free safety, so the long term goal may be to have those two ultimately take over the back end of the defense. Currently, the Patriots have McCourty over from corner and free agent Adrian Wilson as their starting safety combo. It is unclear if the Patriots are looking to move McCourty back to corner or if they are content with him as a free safety where he played pretty well last year but they have options if these two can develop.
In the fourth round, the Patriots grabbed another receiver in Josh Boyce from TCU. Much like Dobson, Boyce is another receiver with impressive straight line speed that can stretch the field. Boyce made people take notice when he put up a blazing 40 time at the Scouting Combine which made people go back and take a second look at the tape. Boyce has a nice combination of size and speed that is extremely similar to the receiver they took two rounds earlier.
As a result, Boyce and Dobson could be in direct competition with each other as well as Michael Jenkins to grab a starting job. With the approach the Patriots have taken, they need one, perhaps both of these receivers to make an impact in their rookie year with one likely needing to start. With the tight ends and slot receivers the Patriots have to work the middle of the field, they clearly are looking for receivers that can stretch the field on the outside to open up more opportunities in the middle of the field for their players. And if someone focuses too much on Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski (whenever he is finally able to get back on the field), Julian Edelman and Amendola underneath, Tom Brady can go to Dobson and Boyce deep to punish them for it. The concept makes a great deal of sense but obviously the Patriots have struggled to find the receivers that can make it work on the outside since Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth. The good news for the Patriots is that they should be able to make the playoffs if Dobson and Boyce do not play a down the entire regular season, allowing them to be eased in to make contributions when they really need them to be good; in January when the Patriots are in the playoffs and need a reliable receiving option to help them get over the hump and win the Super Bowl again.
The Patriots did not select again until the seventh round where they took another hybrid pass rusher in Michael Buchanan fromIllinois. A great fit for the Patriots, Buchanan has been relatively productive for the Illini the past two seasons but what makes him intriguing for a team like New England is the wayIllinois has prepared their defensive players. Buchanan has played outside linebacker on both sides as well as defensive end on both sides in different looks and varying roles. Buchanan also still possesses upside to improve at the next level. It was certainly a surprise to see Buchanan last until the seventh round and the Patriots get him at a great value. Not only that but the Patriots have so many of these hybrid type pass rushers that combined with the fact they have so little on the line with Buchanan, if he does not come out and impress immediately, he can be cut and possibly snuck onto the practice squad but he could be a player that surprises in camp. Buchanan is a little undersized and lean but has shown ability to get after the quarterback, mostly as a pass rusher bending around the edge with speed.
With the last pick of their draft in the seventh round, the Patriots went back to East Piscataway, New Jersey and picked Steve Beauharnais, a linebacker. While much of the focus at the linebacker position went to their weak side linebacker, Khaseem Greene, who had a tremendous career for the Scarlet Knights and went in the fourth round to the Chicago Bears, Beauharnais was a solid yet unspectacular player in the middle. Beauharnais almost felt like a throw-in at the Senior Bowl but he did what he did with his entire college career. He did his job, did not get much attention for it, and did not ask for it. Beauharnais brings good size to the position but his speed is all that impressive, which has not been a big issue for the Patriots when it comes to bringing in linebackers. Neither Brandon Spikes or Dont’a Hightower had good timed speed but both have been effective players for the Patriots. Beauharnais will need to compete to take a spot from Jeff Tarpanian or Dane Fletcher as a back up option in the middle or strong side linebacker positions and will need to demonstrate the ability to contribute on special teams.
My Thoughts: On paper, the Patriots addressed all their major needs, but it is unclear if they actually fixed any of them. They picked two receivers that fit the exact profile that has failed them miserably over the years. Maybe these two will be the ones that finally work out for them or at least one of them, but the definition of insanity seems to apply here. For as bad as they have been with drafting wide receivers, they have had that much success with tight ends. At what point do they apply the same logic to the receiver position as the tight end. Speed and a 40 time are great but they need guys who can play. The pick of Dobson in the second round is baffling. Sure, he could develop into a stud and everything Brady has been looking for, but he is almost identical to Taylor Price as a player, who never got over his issues catching the football. This is multiplied when better, more proven players were available and one of them, Markus Wheaton, fit the exactly profile they were trying to find. Wheaton would have been a great pick and a good fit for this team. Instead, he falls right into the Steelers lap in round three. Keenan Allen was a far better player on tape but with questions about a drug test and bad workouts coming off of a knee injury, he fell to the Chargers in round three. If Dobson is a flop, fans and analysts will have seen this coming from a mile away. The move to add Boyce made sense to give them another shot at making this work and he fits the same profile. I would not be surprised if Boyce ends up the better player between the two, but the Patriots have their profile and they are beyond due to have it work out for them.
I like the Jamie Collins pick. He is still a developing player but he made strides this past year especially when it came to leverage, so he is working on his craft and with those measurables, he could be incredible if he can reach his potential. They could potentially end up with a Jason Pierre-Paul/Aldon Smith type player at a second round price to complement what they got last year in Chandler Jones. I think this is a good pick, a reasonable gamble, and could pay huge dividends now and in the future.
The Patriots have had their issues attacking the secondary but I like Logan Ryan. He is not a boom or bust guy; rather he is pretty much exactly what he appears to be in college. A good, reliable player that is not going to make a ton of big plays but not get his team killed either. He should able to fill his role and will have the opportunity to contribute early in nickel and special teams early with some potential to be a solid #2 corner down the road; maybe more.
I do not understand the Duron Harmon pick anymore than I did with Tavon Wilson before. The Patriots have had a revolving doors of first to third round safeties come and go through the last several years and have struggled miserably at getting the right guys. They seem to acknowledge that fact by moving McCourty to free safety and having Wilson come in to play but they would certainly like to have Wilson and Harmon to be able to develop and take over those positions at some point.. Clearly, the Patriots have a plan with guys they pick and while unclear where those plans lead, it comes close to verging on saying that the Patriots are trying too hard to outsmart everyone with their drafts. Maybe Harmon will develop into a franchise player but he was even stunned that he was picked as he was just watching the draft as a fan when the selection was made.
I do like the picks they made in the seventh round and while the depth chart is always dense for linebackers with the Patriots, but I feel more confident in Buchanan and Beauharnais as football players than I do the picks they made in the second through fourth round, save Collins. Buchanan and Beauharnais have a lot to prove and will have to be good to get kept, but it will be interesting to see if they can beat out a couple of these veterans for spots on the final roster.
Overall, like most drafts with the Patriots, I come out of it confused and unconvinced they did much that will make a big impact. Belchick has had a bizarre relationship with the draft having some drafts having several impact players with others being almost a complete waste; where this one lands remains to be seen. But if the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl, they are going to need this draft to have an impact immediately, especially from the receivers but Collins and Ryan could really help their pass defense. Tom Brady is not quite in his prime but he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and if the team around him cannot do enough to help him get to the Super Bowl get that fourth ring, these drafts and this draft in particular will be to blame.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft Aaron Dobson Duron Harmon Illinois Fighting Illini Football Jamie Collins Josh Boyce Logan Ryan Marshall Thundering Herd Football Michael Buchanan New England Patriots Rutgers Scarlet Knight Football Southern Miss Golden Eagles Football Steve Beauharnais TCU Horned Frogs Football