On the weekend of the release of Kevin Costner’s new movie Draft Day, which fictionally covers the draft of who other than the Cleveland Browns, most football fans have full attention on the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. Starting on May 8th at 8pm, all 32 teams will start actually picking players and all of this speculation and mock rankings will be thrown out the window.
Yet still 22 days away, all we can do is guess, sit back and wait because we never really know what Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft have in store for Patriots Nation.
From what has now been a seemingly annual occurrence, the Patriots very well could trade up or down in the 2014 Draft. The cynical Patriots fan with any long term memory usually goes into draft day thinking Belichick and Kraft won’t be doing anything flashy. However, recent history and the general mindset of this offseason give us hope that the Patriots can get in on what many analysts are calling the deepest draft in 20 years. Remember when they traded up twice in the 2012 draft for Chandler Jones AND Dont’a Hightower? I wouldn’t rule out another defensive draft frenzy this year.
This year, the Patriots start with the #29 overall pick as a result of their standings at the end of the 2013 season. Barring any jaw-dropping draft day trades which I think we can leave to Kevin Costner, the Patriots will certainly miss out on the household names from this draft. Sadly, there will be no Jadeveon Clowney, Sammy Watkins, or Johnny Manziel in New England. Could you imagine the combination of Johnny Football and Gronk though?
As it stands now the Patriots will then have another 7 picks, and will need to heavily rely on the scouting team to find the best players available at each pick. So ultimately, we can’t help but speculate, who will they pick?
This past Sunday at Gillette Stadium, ESPN analysts and Patriots legends alike came together for the 5th annual Draft Day Preview party. Among the speakers were NFL Live and NFL Primetime host Trey Wingo, ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss, ESPN college analyst and former Patriot Trevor Matich and the man, the myth, the legend, Tedy Bruschi. It’s amazing the applause and the support Tedy gets and always will get from Patriots fans and he draws the biggest crowds wherever he goes. All the luck to him next Monday, when Tedy will also be running in this years Boston Marathon. The panel combined to discuss the state of the Patriots; the offseason moves thus far, biggest position needs, and potential draft picks.
Most everyone agreed that the biggest area of need for the Patriots in this draft is the defensive line. Watching Seattle beat up on the Denver offense in Superbowl 48 should turn out to be a lightbulb moment for Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Where the Patriots have struggled in recent post-season history is getting to the quarterback, being physical, and taking over a game defensively which is debatably the most important makeup of a team in this age of the NFL. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships, isn’t that what they always say?
With Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich locked into the defensive end positions, interior DL talent and depth should be the primary concern of the Patriots’ draft. Names that were profiled as possible Patriots on the defensive side of the football included Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix from Notre Dame, Kony Ealy of Missouri, and Dee Ford of Auburn. Since the health and production of Vince Wilfork (coming off a torn achilles) is in doubt, Tedy Bruschi talked about the need to collapse the horseshoe, and that starts in the middle. If Big Vince will be able to dominate every down like he has almost every year is a big question haunting the 2014 Patriots, so why not look for a youthful and coachable replacement? In the very least it would help give Wilfork a little bit more rest so he can give it 100% energy every snap he does play. I’m partial to the Notre Dame boys and would be ecstatic if Louis Nix was there for the taking at pick 29.
While we can dream of some of the talented receivers that are at the top of the board in this year’s draft, the tight end position is far and above the most important offensive area to address. Despite the torture that I imagine giving defenses with a WR like Kelvin Benjamin and a healthy Gronk on the field at the same time, the Patriots struck gold with the development of their 2 TE sets.
With Michael Hoomanawanui re-signed and Gronkowski returning to the field fully healthy (fingers crossed), the Patriots clearly value TE’s who can block. After seeing the success of the 2 headed TE monster New England created years ago, many teams have caught on and undoubtedly Eric Ebron will be long gone before the Patriots are on the clock. The focus then turns to Texas Tech tight end, Jace Amaro. At 6’5″, 265, Amaro is talented and versatile. He runs good routes and has hands similar to Gronkowski. The Patriots struggled immensely in 2013 in the red zone, and Amaro could provide immediate impact within the 20 yard line.
Moving into the 3rd and 4th+ rounds, priority should be placed on building D-line depth, taking a chance if an explosive WR drops, and an area of focus Tedy Bruschi is certainly concerned about: linebacker.
We know Jerod Mayo is going to make sure he returns from injury his usual self, but after losing the physical, hard-hitting Brandon Spikes, the rest of the weight will be placed on Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Both have yet to prove to be trustworthy, especially in pass coverage. While Spikes is out of line comparing his time in New England to slavery (one SuperBowl appearance and 2 AFC Championship games is quite the suffering), his presence in stopping the run had been extremely valuable so that might be an interesting position for a late round pick.
Even though we try to predict who the Patriots will add to their roster through the 2014 draft, there are sure to be some surprises and that’s what makes NFL football so fun. No matter the situation, Bill Belichick and the Patriots will always keep us guessing.