November 5, 2011; Gainesville FL, USA; Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps (28) reacts after he scored a touchdown during the second quarter against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots on Paper: Old Mother Hubbard and the Redshirt Factory

The New England Patriots have just five draft picks in April’s draft – that’s like Old Mother Hubbard and her bare cupboard to the normally draft pick stockpiled Patriots – but never fear, for that cupboard isn’t so bare as it is made out to be….

…because Bill Belichick never stops evaluating talent, and always knows just how to turn the rules in his favor…and he has a knack for turning a handful of picks into a treasure trove.  He’s been busy already. picking up a couple of pass rush prospects from the suddenly fertile proving grounds of the Canadian Football League.

When the Patriots came to an agreement with CFL baller Armond Armstead on a contract with  around 650K guaranteed money, many around the league felt that New England recieved the equivalent of a high draft choice in the deal.  Estimates from a pool of league Coaches and General Managers place that draft pick value at an average of the second round.

Playing in Canada is most assuredly a step down in the competition level when compared to the NFL, but the game in Canada is also a game that is, by design and purpose, more wide open and played in space almost exclusively – and while that’s not necessarily where the NFL is ultimately headed, the game is played increasingly in that direction – which is why a pass rusher such as Armstead became such a lusted after product.

It also didn’t hurt that he was a terror at USC before a reaction to medication caused him to suffer a serious cardiac event.  Before the vague reports of the event and subsequent lawsuits arose, Armstead was highly touted on draft boards.  He ended up playing Canada, basically to prove to NFL teams that he was now completely healthy.

It was a shrewd move by New England to offer such money and lure Armstead to Foxboro, as his presence makes an already very deep group of defensive linemen very formidable.  When you look at the depth just on the edges, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis and now Armond Armstead is as deep – and young – as any rotation in the NFL.  If you factor in the possibility that linebacker Dont’a Hightower easily subs in, the depth becomes ridiculously stocked…

…which isn’t a bad thing – and that unit is not the only group on the team that has lots of quality depth, as the Running Backs and Tight Ends are already stocked, but are about to get a boost from their “Redshirt” players via the PUP list and the IR.  Normally, being designated a redshirt is a college thing, yet the Patriots acquired two players in 2012 who fell into an injury status and never saw the field – and are being counted on for big things in 2013.

In the 2012 preseason, the New York Giants inexplicably waived injured Tight End Jake Ballard whom, in light of the severity of his knee injury, they expected to clear waivers and be placed placed on their Injured Reserved list –  but the Patriots put a bid in on him and received his rights, much to the chagrin of the embarrassed Giants’ front office.

Ballard’s body of work is a short sample, one year starting and catching 38 balls and scoring four times, but is also a devastating blocker and at 6′ 6″ and 260 pounds has the bulk and the athleticism to be effective pulling and crunching down with wham blocks…and his height makes him another effective weapon in the red zone.

He was undrafted out of Ohio State, so the draft value would never be known, but given his work and the fact that Coach Bill Belichick thought enough of him to snatch him off waivers knowing that he wouldn’t play until 2013 is enough to make one think along the lines of a mid-round pick now that he’s somewhat of a known quantity.

Jeff Demps has never played a down of professional football, yet his upside may be one of the most exciting stories coming into the offseason.  With world class speed and a full year in the Patriots system under his belt, Demps can honestly be labeled as a secret weapon, because no one really knows how Belichick is going to use him.

A running back and kick returner at Florida – boy, doesn’t Belichick love him some Gators? – some envision him in a Danny Woodhead type role while others see him primarily as a special teamer – though he could certainly become an all purpose back that could run wheel routes out of the backfield or be lined up wide to create a speed matchup with a linebacker or safety.

His body of work at Florida is compelling.  In four years playing for the Gators, he averaged a ridiculous 7.3 yards per carry and has rare speed with two very distinct gears: “Full Speed” and “Saturn V Rocket”, and actually outruns angles.  Once through the crease with a head of steam, get the kick team ready for a point-after try.

Many saw Demps as a third or fourth rounder before withdrawing from last years draft to concentrate on the Olympics, mostly due to concerns about his size and small hands – and signed with New England after returning from London and played briefly in the preseason before being placed on the IR with an unspecified leg injury.

Those three, along with Cornerback Aqib Talib who was acquired for a fourth round pick in November, constitute, at worst, two 3rd rounders and a 4th rounder – and in Talib’s case, Belichick surrendered a fourth rounder to get the former first rounder from Tampa.

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Belichick has been nicknamed “Trader Bill” for a reason – he typically trades down in the draft to acquire bundles of draft picks, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots active in every round of the draft, perhaps multiple times in certain rounds.

As it stands right now, the Patriots have just five draft picks coming up in April’s draft – but that’s ok.  With the talent that he’s redshirted, and the free agent Talib that he hopes to resign, even if he doesn’t make any deals, Belichick’s cupboard isn’t nearly as barren as many would think…

…and neither is New Englands status as Dynasts.  As long as they keep stockpiling talent and can patch a hole or two in the offseason, there’s no reason to suspect that we’ll see the Patriots hit the skids anytime soon.

Tags: Florida Gators New England Patriots NFL Draft Ohio State Buckeyes Tampa Bay Buccaneers USC Trojans

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