Draft Grades – 2012

Draft Grades: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are always a tough team to predict in the draft, and Bill Belichick proved why once again. Belichick builds his own draft board and sticks to it, regardless of how it matches up with the consensus opinion.

I was somewhat surprised by the trade up for Chander Jones, but I like the pick. He’s a perfect fit at end/linebacker in the Patriots hybrid defense. And while he’s still developing, Jones has the potential to be a true three-down lineman.

The selection of Dont’a Hightower felt like a slight reach in my opinion, and it’s tough to figure out how he’ll fit in the Patriots defense. That said, Belichick stacks his draft board with players whom he sees a specific role for in his defense, so I have no doubt that they have a plan for him.

While I’m willing to give Belichick the benefit of the doubt with Hightower, I can’t be so generous with the selection of Tavon Wilson. He’ll provide some much needed depth in the secondary but it’s tough to imagine him ever developing into a starter. Belichick does not have a strong track record drafting defensive backs, and this is just the latest slip up.

Jake Bequette was a great 3rd-round pick. He’ll have a chance to compete for a starting job, and should be used as part of the rotation at defensive end. He’s not an explosive pass rusher, but should be an asset on running downs.

Nate Ebner was the biggest 6th-round reach I’ve ever seen. He’s a former rugby player who was exclusively a special teams contributor at Ohio State. His measurables are impressive, but it’s tough to justify spending a 6th-round pick and a roster spot on a guy with so much development needed.

Alfonzo Dennard was overrated and his recent arrest led to his fall, but he was well worth the risk in the 7th round. However, it’s difficult to understand why the Patriots waited until the 7th round to address their need for a cornerback. Depth at the position was serious issue last year and relying on Dennard to fix the problem is a risk.

Jeremy Ebert will be Belichick’s latest project at receiver. He was productive at Northwestern and has the skill set necessary to contribute in the Welker/Edleman role. However, it’s getting crowded at the receiver position in New England and he’ll have a tough time making the final roster cuts.

Overall, this was just a so-so draft for the Patriots. They made some significant upgrades to their defensive front-seven, but the secondary was essentially ignored. It’s tough to imagine Wilson, Ebner or Dennard providing any meaningful contributions this season, which could mean their passing defense struggles from last season will carry over to 2012.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Patriots Comments Off

New England Patriots select Tavon Wilson, Grade F

This is the biggest reach of the draft and the worst 2nd round pick since the Raiders reach for Mike Mitchell in 2009.

The New England Patriots do a great job managing the draft with trades, but every so often Bill Belichick gets too cute and tries to out-smart everyone else, but only ends up out-smarting himself. Wilson is a special teams player who lacks the basic skills to start in the NFL. I don’t see any possible way this selection proves to be worthwhile for the Patriots.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Patriots 1 Comment

New England Patriots select Dont’a Hightower, Grade B

I’m not crazy about this pick for the New England Patriots, but I’ll give Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt. I don’t see Dont’a Hightower as a great fit in New England’s defense, but I have to assume Belichick has a specific plan for him. It will be interesting to see where he lines up, either at inside or outside linebacker. Or maybe even at defensive end in some 4-3 sets.

I probably would have added a defensive back here, such as Harrison Smith, especially considering the fact that they already added Chandler Jones earlier in the round.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Patriots 1 Comment

New England Patriots select Chandler Jones, Grade A

The New England Patriots needed to upgrade their pass rush, and they definitely go someone capable of getting after the quarterback here. Chandler Jones  is raw, and may not be a significant difference maker immediately, but he will develop into a quality starter for the Patriots.

Jones has the combination of size/athleticism to make him a perfect fit for the Patriots hybrid defense, and I have no doubt that Belichick will find a role to maximize Jones’ skills.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Patriots Comments Off

Patriots showing interest in cornerbacks

The New England Patriots lack of depth in the secondary forced them to turn to a couple of receivers to play on the defensive side of the ball this past season, so it should come as no surprise that the team is doing its homework on some cornerback prospects for the upcoming draft.

The Patriots may be willing to roll the dice on the injury-plagued Bolden.

Most mock drafts have linked the Patriots to a cornerback (or two) with their four 1st and 2nd round picks. But since they’re looking for depth more than just one playmaker, they don’t necessarily need to spend a high pick on the position.

The Patriots have reportedly scheduled pre-draft visits with LSU cornerback Ron Brooks and Omar Bolden of Arizona State.

Both prospects should come off the board no earlier than the 3rd round, but could each compete for playing time immediately in the Patriots secondary.

Bolden could be of particular interest to the Patriots, who aren’t afraid to gamble on prospects with high upside. Bolden’s stock has fallen considerably after missing most of the 2008 and all of the 2011 season with injuries. But when healthy, Bolden, who was a starter since his freshman year at Arizona State, has shown legitimate starter potential.

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Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Patriots Comments Off

Draft Needs: New England Patriots

Matt Peterson tracks the offseason needs of every team in the league. Today’s franchise, the New England Patriots [full archive here].

Season Recap: The Patriots, once again, were one of the best teams in the league, and had it not been for a dropped pass, a fourth Super Bowl ring could easily be resting on Tom Brady’s pinky finger (middle or index, for that matter). The most interesting aspect of the Patriots 2011 season is the fact they did so well while giving up the 2nd most yards allowed. With a revamped defense this offseason; New England very may be the favorites in 2012.

Team Needs:
1. Wide Receiver: Even with the recent franchise tag on Wes Welker, New England simply needs more options. The stud duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski would be even more dangerous with a vertical deep threat to open up the outside. The Patriots have a plethora of options to solving this problem. New England has 6 picks in the first four rounds, with four selections in the first and second round alone! The best move may be to give up pick 31 for Mike Wallace, who was tendered for a first round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wallace would give Brady perhaps the best deep threat in the game. If New England decides against Wallace, they can choose from Desean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Reggie Wayne, or Robert Meachem. Not too shabby.

2. Defensive End: Andre Carter exceeded expectations as a 32 year old, low-signing free agent, recording 10 sacks in 14 games. Carter is coming off a torn Quadriceps tendon, and is a scheduled free agent. Even if he does return to form, the Patriots need a difference maker. Mario Williams dominated in his first five games in the 3-4 defense before a season ending injury, and could be headed to New England. That would be scary.

3. Strong Safety: Patrick Chung is set at FS, but the Patriots need to find him a counterpart. James Ihedigbo played serviceable, but is a scheduled free agent and is better suited as a backup. Laron Landry is a free agent and when healthy is one of the better strong safeties in the league.

4. Outside Linebacker: The Patriots toiled between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense in 2011, but with All-Pro NT Vince Wilfork in the middle, the 3-4 is the better option. Mario Williams could fill this role with ease, but if New England wants a cheaper option they could fill the void in the early rounds. Andre Branch and Bruce Irvin are names to keep an eye on.

5. Cornerback: New England dealt with numerous injuries at the CB position and were forced to play WR Julian Edelman in the slot for most of the season. Waiver wire pickup Sterling Moore played brilliantly in the playoffs, but is not proven enough to be counted on for 2012. Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are the top free agent corners available. Brandon Boykin, a corner from Georgia, will be in heavy consideration for one of the Patriots two first round selections.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Needs - 2012, Patriots 1 Comment

2011 Draft Grades: New England Patriots

When you own as many picks as the Patriots it’s tough to get a poor grade in the draft. However, Bill Belichick certainly doesn’t get high marks for this year’s draft class. One or two risky picks can make a draft great, but only if supported by a few safe selections. The Patriots, however, rolled the dice on almost every one of their selections. It’s possible that they’ll all work out and this will become a legendary draft class. But there’s also a chance that very few of these players wind up contributing in New England.

The Patriots selection of Nate Solder was one of the biggest reaches of the entire draft. He was over-hyped based on his size and raw athleticism, but he did very little in college to warrant a 1st-round selection. I gave Solder a 3rd round grade based on the fact that he has the potential to develop into an elite left tackle, but he isn’t there yet. When drafting an offensive linemen in the 1st round I expect him to be able to start immediately. It’s one of the few positions that can provide immediate value, and the Patriots passed up on some safer options such as Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo to land the guy with the higher ceiling, but also a lower floor.

Ras-I Dowling was another reach with the first pick of the 2nd round. Like Solder, his size and athleticism indicate the potential of a future Pro Bowler. However, injuries and inconsistency limit his immediate value. It will be interesting to see where the Patriots end up using Dowling. He has the potential to play cornerback, but may ultimately be a better fit at free safety.

Keeping with the theme, Shane Vereen was another reach in the late 2nd round. He will be productive in New England as a Kevin Faulk-type change-of-pace running back. However, there were better players that fit that mold on the board such as Kendall Hunter.

The selection of Stevan Ridley in the 3rd round would have been a reach for anyone, but looks like a partucularly poor choice for the Patriots following the selection of Vereen. Ridley is more of a downhill runner than Vereen, but wasn’t particularly productive at LSU. In New England he’ll benefit from sharing the load with others, but the Patriots passed up an opportunity to land others capable of playing a larger role at that spot in the draft.

Ryan Mallett was one of the few value-based selections for the Patriots in this draft. He may not see the field for three years, but there is a chance that he may by Tom Brady’s eventual replacement. He certainly has the all the tools to succeed, it’s just a matter of teaching him how to think and act like an NFL quarterback.

The selection of Marcus Cannon was another great value pick. He was diagnosed with lymphoma shortly before the draft and likely will not play in 2011. If he returns to 100%, however, he will be the steal of this draft. He played left tackle at TCU, but I had him rated as the top interior lineman in this year’s class. He has the potential to be a Leonard Davis-like force on the offensive line.

Lee Smith was a solid addition in the 5th round. He may never catch a pass in New England behind Hernandez and Gronkowski, but he’ll be used as a blocking tight end and should have a long career in that role.

Markell Carter is a developmental prospect at outside linebacker. He had 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior in 2010 and has flashed the athleticism to carry that production over to the NFL.

Malcolm Williams is a typical Belichick late round pick – a player with very little collegiate production that the Patriots will try to develop. Williams is a former JUCO transfer who was primarily used as a backup at both safety and cornerback in his two years at TCU. His experience on special teams will be the key to earning a roster spot.

Overall, this was a decent draft for the Patriots based purely on the volume of talent they brought in. However, almost every pick was a reach, right down to Williams in the 7th round. They could have as many as four starters from this class. And they could just as easily have none. For a team hoping to compete for a Super Bowl title, this draft class is severely lacking instant-impact players.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2011, Patriots 2 Comments

Steal of the Draft: Marcus Cannon

With the 138th pick in the draft the New England Patriots selected Marcus Cannon, a guard/tackle ‘tweener out of TCU.

A week ago the thought of Cannon slipping to the 5th rounded sounded absurd. He was the 31st-rated player on my board and a consensus 2nd round pick.

Cannon won't play in 2011, but could be a steal once he returns to full strength

However, in the week leading up to the draft it was revealed that Cannon had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer in the lymph nodes. Cannon will undergo chemotherapy in the upcoming weeks and likely will not play in the NFL in 2011.

While the outlook for Cannon’s immediate future in the league is bleak, there is no reason he cannot beat cancer and return in 2012.

The struggle for Cannon will be gaining back the weight he’ll lose and turning himself back into the behemoth lineman he is today. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible. And in the 5th round he is well worth the risk.

I wish Cannon nothing but the best, and hope to see him back on the football field soon.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Patriots Comments Off

Thoughts on Ryan Mallett to the New England Patriots

Ryan Mallet (scouting report) was a boom-or-bust prospect no matter where he landed, but that may be even more true now that he’s a New England Patriot.

Mallett will be a doing a lot of standing around in New England over the next 3 years

Barring an injury to Tom Brady, we won’t see Mallett on the field for an extended period of time for at least three years. Meaning he’ll be given every opportunity to sit, watch and learn.

And that goes for more than just the on-field side of things. New England’s cast of veterans, Brady included, will teach Mallett how to be a professional – assuming he’s willing to learn.

As an outside it’s easy to say that Mallett will be better off watching and learning (because it’s true), but it’s much harder to be in that position. Imagine being Mallett today. You’re arguably the most NFL ready quarterback in this year’s draft class and have obvious 1st-round talent. The draft is filled with teams in desperate need of a quarterback. And you end up falling until the 3rd round to a team with no use for you until three or four years down the road. That’s gotta hurt.

How Mallett responds will determine his future success. If he takes advantage of the opportunity Belichick has given him, I have absolutely no doubt that he will be successful. But if he doesn’t and becomes a distraction in the locker room, Belichick will have no problem cutting him lose before he ever sees the field.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Patriots 1 Comment

Top 10 Draft Day Decision Makers

10. Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons
This Bill Belichick disciple rebuilt the Falcons in one draft, possibly even one draft pick, with Matt Ryan in 2008. What Dimitroff has accomplished in three drafts is impressive, and makes you wonder just how good he could make the Falcons in another three years.
Best 1st-round pick: Matt Ryan (2008)
Best late-round pick: Kroy Biermann (5th round, 2008)
Biggest bust: Peria Jerry (1st round, 2009)

9.  Mike Reinfeldt, Titans
Reinfeldt’s first two 1st-round picks (Micael Griffin, Chris Johnson) have already developed into Pro Bowlers, and Kenny Britt is poised for a breakout year in 2011. Reinfeldt has also started to get production from some late-round picks such as Jason McCourty, Gerald McRath and Alterraun Verner.
Best 1st-round pick: Chris Johnson (2008)
Best late-round pick: Jason McCourty (6th round, 2009)
Biggest bust: Chris Henry (2nd round, 2007)
Read more

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Falcons, Giants, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Titans 1 Comment