By Chris Warner
With six picks this year in the top four rounds, New England should get busy starting April 26. No one knows which direction Coach Bill Belichick will take, so instead of guaranteeing failure with predictions (check out our upcoming mock draft!) we’re focusing on positions we’d like to see Mr. Kraft and Co. address.
DAY ONE (Round One): The Pats have two picks in the first round (27 and 31 overall), and we hope – nay, we insist – they use at least one of them on a pass rusher. We won’t dwell on New England’s recent, lackluster picks, but we can shoot a wistful glance toward the Texans’ roster and get a sense of what we’re missing (Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and Brian Cushing).
Rumors abound regarding a trade up for North Carolina monster Quinton Coples (6-foot-6, 284). We’re not making predictions, but if we were, that would be a poor one. Still, we’d take any player who would force an opposing offense to game plan for him.
Late first-rounders who could help the cause include Clemson’s Andre Branch and Syracuse’s Chandler Jones, college defensive ends who fit the larger outside linebacker mold teams like the Patriots covet.
Also consider: a defensive lineman, like Kendall Reyes of Connecticut (6-4, 299). He’s a versatile guy who can get after the QB when necessary.
What about a receiver? No. Just, please: No. Finding the right receiver for this offense has been such a crapshoot, an early draft pick doesn’t seem worth it. We’d rather have three Julian Edelmans than one Chad Jackson, you know?
DAY TWO (Rounds Two and Three): The Pats enjoy picks 48 and 62 overall in the second, and 93 overall in the third.
We’d love more defense here, including a larger lineman like Washington’s Alameda Ta’’amu, who measures only slightly smaller than a Ford Focus at 6-3, 350. We’re also fans of Mike Martin of Michigan, a 6-1, 305-pound fireplug who ran a 4.9 40-yard dash. This season, Martin hustled all over the field like a Jack Russell Terrier on an Easter Egg hunt, proving himself an ideal 4-3 interior lineman.
In the defensive backfield, we’d love it if Central Florida cornerback Josh Robinson were still available, but after his combine performance (including a 4.33-second 40 and 38.5-inch vertical leap), it’s hard to see him sticking until midway through the second. Despite a relatively slim crop this year at safety, Trenton Robinson of Michigan State might be worth a look.
Keep in mind, with the state of New England’s defensive backfield, Artrell Hawkins could come out of retirement for another cup of coffee and we wouldn’t complain. (Actually, we would. I mean… come on.)
Round Three might provide time to look for an offensive lineman. The futures of veterans Matt Light and Brian Waters remain in doubt, center Dan Koppen missed almost all of last year with an injury, and guard Logan Mankins had postseason surgery.
Come to think of it, maybe we should look for an offensive lineman earlier. But if not, we offer up Miami of Ohio’s Brandon Brooks, who just stunned onlookers at his pro day earlier this month with his size (6-5, 346), speed (5.0-second 40) and strength (36 bench reps of 225 pounds). At center, consider Philip Blake of Baylor, an All-Big 12 choice who may have had a little something to do with quarterback Robert Griffin III’s success.
DAY THREE (Round Four): If Coach Belichick gets the job done on defense and offensive line early, he’ll have some flexibility here. We’d like to get a receiver to give youth a chance in preseason competition, as names like Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth give the roster a distinctly 2007 feel. And not in a record-breaking type of way.
Two names come to mind for a mid-round pick: Fresno State’s Devon Wylie (5-9, 188) has a lot of power for a little guy (39-inch vertical) and averaged over 15 yards per punt return. Florida International’s T. Y. Hilton (5-10, 183) was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. This guy did everything except fetch Gatorade, catching 72 passes for over 1,000 yards, averaging 23 yards per punt return and 30 per kick return, even rushing 19 times for a 6.5-yard average.
Barring a series of downward trades (oh please oh please fortheloveofGodno), the Pats should finish early, which will give them a chance to contact potential rookie free agents (RFAs). From Randall Gay to BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Dane Fletcher, New England has provided a hospitable home to RFAs for years.
Below, some potential rookies who could help out in camp, and maybe beyond that:
Defensive End Broderick Binns, Iowa. Binns had 12 tackles for loss in 2011. He’s a bit on the stocky side (6-1, 261), but his timing and prowess helped him defend nine passes last season. Add to that a potentially thorough scouting report from Belichick buddy and Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz, and Binns would be worth a look.
Receiver Elvis Akpla, Montana State. Okay, one, he’s named Elvis, which is awesome. Two, he performed a circus catch considered one of the best of 2011 (you can link to the video here). Akpla averaged over 18 yards per catch on his way to 1,145 yards for the season.
Running Back Jonas Gray, Notre Dame. A stout back at 5-10, 223 pounds, Gray’s injury history will keep him off draft boards, but his production (and experience under former Irish coach Charlie Weis) should force New England’s higher-ups to offer him a spot at camp. Gray averaged 6.9 yards a carry in 2011 while scoring 12 TDs.
Thoughts? Comments? Favorite clam chowder in your area? Feel free to post your ideas below.
Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]