Your Patriots Mock Draft (Free-Agent Edition)

Hammering away at this mock draft, making changes where we feel necessary, wondering how many picks the Pats will trade away this spring.

For a review of how we got here, first came our Way-Wicked-Early Edition in February followed by an amended post-combine edition in March. Since then, the Patriots have maneuvered their way through free agency, losing cornerback Aqib Talib (Denver), running back LeGarrette Blount (Pittsburgh) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (Twitter) while adding wide receiver Brandon LeFell and – in case you hadn’t heard – cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. New England has a compensatory fourth-rounder. They traded their fifth-rounder and got an extra sixth-rounder as part of the Isaac Sopoaga trade.

Instead of deleting past potential picks, we decided to show our work. It’s been a long time coming, but stay focused, people: the draft begins May 8.

Round One: The Versatile Defensive Lineman

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (6-6, 312). (Actually 6-5, 304.) (Actually, 299.) Tuitt was diagnosed with a foot injury at the combine and had surgery to correct it. Though unable to participate in his pro day on March 20, he spoke with reporters and mentioned that his weight was down to 299. At the combine, he did put up 31 reps in the 225-pound bench press. Tom E. Curran’s analysis of Tuitt as a potential pick compared him in size to former Patriot first-rounder Richard Seymour while questioning his ability to reach that level of impact.

Tuitt played all along the defensive line at South Bend, with 49 stops and 7.5 sacks on the year. He would add a dynamic, versatile pass-rusher to New England’s front seven. Coach Bill Belichick has a friendly relationship with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, a potential window into Tuitt’s abilities and tendencies.

Round Two: The Long-limbed Cornerback The Overlooked Defender

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska, (6-3, 215). (Weighed in at 218 pounds.) With the additions of Revis and Browner, we assume the Pats will seek to bolster other parts of the roster.

Their history of picking defenders in the second round has been about as secure as one of those rope bridges in an Indiana Jones movie, with such names as Terence Wheatley, Patrick Chung (welcome back, buddy!), Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling, Tavon Wilson, Ron Brace and Jermaine Cunningham coming to mind. They seem to covet players that other teams may not, which brings us to…

Brock Coyle, Montana LB (6-1, 235). Looking for another athlete who could move around a defense? Someone with the speed of 2013 second-rounder Jamie Collins crossed with the relative anonymity of 2012′s Tavon Wilson? Look no further than Coyle, a combine snub who turned heads at his pro day with a 4.60-second 40 and a 6.74-second 3-cone drill. (For comparison, running back Shane Vereen had a 6.95 3-cone.) Don’t underestimate the importance of quickness at Gillette: WEEI.com’s Christopher Price has been touting the Patriots’ attention to 3-cone drill performances for years.

In 2013, Coyle led the Grizzlies with 125 tackles, including four sacks. He added two interceptions and five forced fumbles. His work on defense earned him Montana’s Co-MVP award with QB Jordan Johnson. Considering the Patriots play sub defense most of the time, this gives Coyle chances to display his positional versatility.

Round Three: The (Other) Big Tight End

C. J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa (6-6, 262) (Actually 6-5, 265). Due to numerous ailments in the past year, tight end Rob Gronkowski has been sliced up more than an Easter ham. Matthew Mulligan left New England for Chicago in free agency, depleting the team of a butcher-block end, albeit with limited catching ability (two receptions, one TD in 2013). In a limited TE draft class, Fiedorowicz looks like one of the most complete, with a notable ability to block and a size-speed combination (4.76-second 40, 7.10-second 3-cone drill) that makes him a tough match-up. Fiedorowicz caught 23 passes for five touchdowns in 2013. The former Hawkeye made the Senior Bowl and was lauded as the best tight end in attendance. For what it’s worth, two Patriots representatives attended Iowa’s pro day.

ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss has touted Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas for a while. We agree with his assessment, but feel that other teams will rank Niklas too highly for New England.

Round Four: The Solid Interior Lineman

Tyler Larsen, Utah State (6-4, 317). (Weighed in at 313 pounds.) Worth repeating that Larsen started 51 consecutive games at Utah State, making the All-Mountain West Conference team three times and qualifying as a Rimington Trophy finalist (for best center) his senior season. He’s an experienced, sturdy pivot who bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times at the combine, tied for second-best overall. The Aggies’ offense scored 32.6 points per game.

Round Four (Compensatory): The Hard-hitting Linebacker

Max Bullough, Michigan State (6-4, 250). With both Spikes and Dane Fletcher gone to Buffalo and Tampa Bay, respectively, New England could use their extra pick to bulk up a bit in the middle. Bullough quarterbacked the Spartans defense (his coach’s words, not ours). The feisty Spartan made All-Big Ten First Team with 76 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) and a forced fumble. He ran a 4.78 40 and benched 225 pounds 30 times at the combine (top bench for all linebackers at Indy), then ran a 7.08 in the 3-cone at MSU’s pro day.

Bullough missed MSU’s bowl game due to undisclosed reasons (only a vague “violating team rules” was offered). If New England checks him out – and, oh, they will – he could add important depth to the position and contribute right away on special teams.

Round Six: Doubling Down On Round Four

Marcus Martin, USC (6-3, 310).  Would be nice, but …

John Urschel, Penn State (6-3, 313). We let Martin go here because the junior has risen up draft boards. We go with two offensive linemen because it seems that the Pats have doubled up each year, nabbing two receivers in 2013 (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce), two defenders in 2012 (Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower) and two running backs in 2011 (Vereen, Stevan Ridley). Urschel played at Penn State under Bill O’Brien, who coached New England’s offense for years. Urschel earned a 4.0 average both as an undergrad and grad student in math.

The former Nittany Lion ran a less-than-spectacular 40 in 5.31 seconds, but he showed good strength (30 reps in the bench press), and agility (7.55-second 3-cone drill, top 10 for all O-linemen). Most importantly, he has experience in a New-England-style offense, and he looks more and more like a Foxboro candidate.

Round Six: The Complementary Receiver

Kevin Norwood, Alabama (6-2, 198). We crossed off Norwood after his successful combine – coupled with his SEC pedigree – made him unobtainable in the sixth round.

Cody Hoffman, BYU (6-4, 223). Hoffman’s 4.65-second 40 time should keep him on the board, along with his senior year nagged by injuries. He caught 57 balls for 894 yards and five touchdowns in his last season at Provo after a 100-catch effort with 11 TDs as a junior. Hoffman showed an instinct for finding holes in defenses and aggressiveness going after the football in the air. (You can see his highlight reel here.) This pick would add more variety to a multi-pronged passing attack.

Round Six (Compensatory Pick?): The Special-Teamer/Quality Backup

Tyler Starr, South Dakota (6-4, 250)Nope. As previously noted, the Pats get their compensatory pick earlier than anticipated. If Starr remains available after the draft, we imagine they’ll give the linebacker a call, especially considering his 6.64-second 3-cone drill and 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle.

Round Seven: The Big Defensive Lineman With Potential

Zack Kerr, Delaware (6-2, 334). (Actually 6-1, 326.) Yes, Vince Wilfork is back, but we figured the Pats would look for backup at the end of the draft. Kerr was voted All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team. As much as we liked him, we remembered that the Patriots tend to stick with FBS schools when drafting. So, we’re going with…

Beau Allen, Wisconsin (6-3, 330). Allen makes our list for so many reasons, from size to experience. He played in 54 games for the Badgers, switching to nose guard in a three-man front his senior year after playing tackle in a 4-3 defense most of his career. The change in position accounts for his decreased stats, totaling 20 tackles (1.5 for loss) as a senior after tallying 37 tackles (7.5 for loss) as a junior. In the East-West Shrine Game, Allen played in a 4-3 for former Pats defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

ROOKIE FREE AGENTS

Under Coach Belichick, the Patriots have signed at least one undrafted free agent almost every fall (receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and defensive tackle Joe Vellano are two recent examples). Below, we feature several athletes who may get bypassed during the draft but could easily find their way to Foxboro the following week.

Only one three of these players got invited to the NFL combine (receiver Corey Brown out of Ohio State, Lorenzo Taliaferro out of Coastal Carolina* and Maurice Alexander from Utah State*). We’ve kept our original stats-based comments about each and added combine results or pro day dates.

*recent additions

The Productive Small-School Running Back (Big Version) (New)

Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina (6-0, 229). Whether the Pats sign Michael Bush or not, we’re adding Lorenzo in light of Blount heading over to Pittsburgh, as well as the fact the Pats have done well finding bigger backs after the draft (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Bolden). Taliaferro rushed for 1,729 yards (6.3 avg.) with 27 touchdowns for the Chanticleers while catching 23 passes for 153 yards and two TDs. The Big South Offensive Player of the Year had a solid combine, running a 4.58 40 with a 6.88 3-cone drill. As mentioned in our Senior Bowl review,  Taliaferro complemented tough running with solid pass-blocking skills.

The Productive Small-School Running Back (Pocket Version)

Branden Oliver, Buffalo (5-7, 208). (Actually 5-6.) After Vereen went on the temporary disabled list thingy (or whatever the hell it’s called) for over half of last season, the Patriots found themselves without a prototypical third-down back. Oliver fits that bill, making the All-MAC First Team with 1,535 yards rushing with (5.0-yard avg.) and a head-shaking 15 touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 173 yards and one TD. The bullish Bull ran a 4.62 40, which will keep him undrafted but won’t affect his overall effectiveness: he also ran a 7.04 3-cone and benched 225 pounds 26 times.

The Underrated Middle Linebacker

Greg Blair, Cincinnati (6-1, 252). Even after the hypothetical Bullough pick, Blair could contribute in New England. He led the Bearcats with 106 tackles with seven for loss (one sack). He also broke up three passes and forced one fumble.

The Patriots made a productive Cincinnati selection by picking up undrafted rookie Thompkins at receiver last year. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them return to that source in some capacity (see below).

The Pass-catching Fullback/Tight End Hybrid

Gator Hoskins, Marshall (6-1, 244). (Actually 6-2, 253.) Hoskins made our Senior Bowl review, and he stays on this list as a potential “move” tight end with the ability to line up anywhere on the field. He should go undrafted after a disappointing pro day that included a disappointing 4.73-second 40 and a so-so 7.22-second 3-cone.

The Patriots should focus on Hoskins leading all tight ends in the country with 13 touchdown passes. In 2013, he had 44 catches and averaged almost 17 yards per grab.

The Small-School ‘Tweener Defender

Jerry “BooBoo” Gates, Bowling Green (5-10, 227). (Actually 5-11, 203.) BooBoo had a noteworthy pro day, but perhaps most noteworthy was the discrepancy between his previously listed weight and what the scale read. (Difficult to bring the lumber while driving a Smart Car, is what we’re saying.) Sorry to say bye-bye to BooBoo, but…

Maurice Alexander, Utah State (6-1, 220). We make the switch to Alexander here, who had a 38-inch vertical at the combine, along with a 7.05-second 3-cone drill and a respectable 4.54 40. An All-Mountain West Honorable Mention, Alexander had 80 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and nine tackles for loss.

The Raw Receiver

Corey “Philly” Brown, Ohio State (5-11, 190). (Actually 178 pounds.) We liked Brown because he led all Buckeyes with 63 catches, as well as because of Belichick’s  connection to OSU coach Urban Meyer, but really: what the hell are the Pats going to do with another slot guy?

Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (6-0, 210). Not unlike Julian Edelman, this college QB should make a switch to pass-catcher in the pros; he displayed the potential to do so at his pro day, running a 4.44 40, a 3.83-second 20-yard shuttle, a 39-inch vertical and a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump. All of those scores would have been top six for combine receivers. As the Husker head honcho, Martinez rushed for 117 yards in four games before missing the rest of the season with an injury. As a junior, he compiled 1,019 yards rushing (10 TDs) and 2,871 yards passing (62 percent completion rate).

The Backup QB For Grooming

Tommy Rees, Notre Dame (6-2, 214). Seemed like a good idea at the time. However …

Garrett Gilbert, SMU (6-3, 225). Oof. We move away from Gilbert after discovering he had a great pro day on March 28, good enough to get this productive signal-caller (3,528 yards and 21 touchdowns) into the thick of the draft’s Day Three. Seriously: if he ends up as a rookie free agent, New England needs to get this guy.

Brendon Kay, Cincinnati (6-3, 226). Kay completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,302 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also had a great pro day, running a 4.63-second 40, traveling 10-foot-1 in the broad jump, and completing the 3-cone drill in 6.99 seconds.

Two Belichickian connections: Kay was recruited by current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who was at Cincinnati until 2009. Also, aforementioned Bearcat and current Pats receiver Thompkins played with Kay in 2012.

The Rutgers Guy

Antwan Lowery, Offensive Guard (6-3, 310). (Actually 329 at his March pro day.) Rutgers rookies are to Foxboro as swallows are to Capistrano. Lowery had an injury-riddled senior year but was honored as a First Team All-Big East offensive lineman as a junior. He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game. Went from a defensive lineman as a redshirt freshman to the offensive line. Has battled weight issues but plans on getting down to about 320 before the draft.

The Other Rutgers Guy/Utility Player/Special Teamer (New)

Jeremy Deering, Free Safety (6-1, 200). We felt we had to add this category after the Scarlet Knight ran a reported 4.40-second 40 at his pro day. Deering did a little of everything at Piscataway, including run the Wildcat as a QB his freshman year (averaging 4.6 yards per carry). After switching to safety full-time as a senior, he tallied 39 tackles and one interception. Over his career, he averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return, including a 99-yard take-back his sophomore year. Also caught 16 passes for 338 yards as a freshman (21.1 avg).

What say you, draftniks? What players have we missed? Are the Pats just going to trade all their picks anyway? Let us know in the space below.

Chris Warner can be reached via email at chris. [email protected] or through Twitter at @cwarn89