The NFL draft is finally upon us and it should be an exciting year despite the Patriots’ lack of a first-round pick. This is my only 2016 Patriots mock draft and I’ve put a lot of time into considering each prospect, especially with the top four picks.
The first four picks of this draft are vital. While I thought the Patriots could trade up in the second, I think they’d be smarter to wait and see which of the quality offensive and defensive tackles fall through the cracks. Those are the positions where need, value and fit will all converge in the late second round.
The wild card position for me is wide receiver, as I’m sure it is for the Patriots themselves. I love Sterling Shepard, but don’t think there are a ton great fits who I feel confident could earn Brady’s trust out of the gate. Leontae Caroo, Tyler Boyd and Braxton Miller all have desirable traits, but I also have questions about all of them that left me indecisive when they were available in my mock draft work.
As always, the draft is crapshoot, not just for bloggers like me who have never been trained as scouts, but for the actually scouts themselves. But expect the Patriots to add at least a couple players who will play significant roles this season.
You can check out my Top-50 Big Board here for my full list of Patriots fits, all of these prospects have been pulled from there.
Here’s my 2016 mock:
Round 2, 60th overall:
Shon Coleman, Tackle, Auburn (6’5″, 307, 35 1/8″ arms)
Football games are won in the trenches and though there are other, perhaps more pressing needs, I feel like tackles on both sides of the ball is the way to go with the first two back-to-back picks. That’s where the best value is and with both Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon entering the final years of their deals, it’s the same situation as when the Pats drafted Nate Solder in 2011.
I considered all the top-tanked tackles, and ran dozens of mock drafts. Sometimes Coleman was there, sometime he wasn’t. The big red flag on him is that he took two years off to beat cancer, so he’ll already be 25 this year. Both of those issues existed previously — Cannon overcame cancer and Vollmer was an older prospect, so it’s not scaring me away. And obviously, the guy beat cancer and has a maturity and perspective about him that should make him a good fit in New England. One thing I did more of in my draft research this year was watch interviews with prospects and I love how Coleman spoke and carried himself.
Coleman’s athleticism is what I crave for the Pats o-line, as he was a left tackle at Auburn, and I think he can project to take over the right tackle spot in 2017, while also bringing some much needed athleticism that Vollmer is slowly losing and Cannon never had. He could bring even more value if he can beat Cannon out and make him expendable as the swing tackle. But that might be a tall order right out of the gate.
Jason Spriggs is probably my favorite tackle fit in the class, but I think he’ll be gone by this point. There’s also the issue that Spriggs is probably more of a left tackle and I’m trying to project someone who can end up on the right side. Although I do think the game continues to evolve and the difference between left tackle and right tackle is getting smaller. I’d love to get more athletic at right tackle for the future. Joe Haeg and Willie Beavers are later options who I also think fit extremely well, but I see this spot as one to capture a gem who falls through the cracks.
Round 2, 61st overall (from AZ/Chandler Jones):
Austin Johnson, Defensive Tackle, Penn State (6’4″, 314)
Sticking with the trenches here, my mock drafts always left me choosing between Johnson and Hassan Ridgeway. Johnson has a little more size and a little less concern about his conditioning and overall work ethic so I’m taking him by a nose, though I’d be happy with either player. Johnson adds another dimension with Malcom Brown inside, while Ridgeway seems perhaps a little to similar to Brown, even if he might be better. Johnson would fit right in with Alan Branch and Terrence Knighton, as I believe the Pats will avoid 3-techiques who are undersized but are skilled pass rushers. That role will be for a rotational defensive end.
Johnson is everything the Pats need at defensive tackle now. He can hold his ground vs. double teams, he can push the pocket and get pressure, and is aware of what’s going on around him. He was incredibly productive playing a similar role to what the Pats would ask of him. Combine him with Malcom Brown and the Pats are set inside schematically regardless of what happens when Branch and Knighton’s contracts are up after the season.
Drafting a player like Johnson here, although not a pressing need, is what good teams who want to sustain excellence do. You can’t afford to lack depth or talent on your defensive line and Johnson gives just the right bump of youth and size that the Pats need for their future.
Round 3, 91st overall:
Alex Collins, Running Back, Arkansas (5’10”, 217)
Running back is the most pressing need in this draft and a position where the Pats can really round out their offense and add a new dimension to their attack that was severely lacking in the season-ender against the Broncos. Collins is my favorite Pats fit in the draft. While I think Kenneth Dixon would also do the job, there’s just something about Collins on tape to me that screams Patriots to me. He runs how they want their early down/early game back to run. Collins would step right in and give the Pats just what they need — 10-15 carries, grinding out everything that is there.
I do think that the talent dropoff after the third round at running back is significant, the Pats must strike with one, or even two, draft picks sooner that later. That’s why this is the perfect spot for a running back.
There are some late round options who could be interesting, and I also think Davonte Booker and Jonathan Williams could be options that would fit pretty well, but I don’t like either of them as much as I like Dixon and Collins. Though the receiving back role seems sturdy, could the Pats double dip like they did with Ridley and Vereen? I wouldn’t rule it out, but they must get at least one hard-running back here.
Round 3, (96th overall, compensatory):
DJ White, Cornerback, Georgia Tech (5’11”, 193)
This is the hardest pick in the mock draft. I’d really prefer to go offensive tackle, defensive tackle, running back and wide receiver with the first four picks, and I’d take them in just about any order, but no matter how many mock draft simulations I ran I could only ever get three prospects I liked in those positions.
So this is probably too high to take White, but he’s my favorite Pats corner fit in the draft. A three-year starter and captain who forced fumbles every season, White has all the instincts, athleticism and character that the Pats demand. He’d instantly step into the mix with the Pats young corner group and, at the very least compete for a starting job in the slot against Justin Coleman, if not push Logan Ryan and Darryl Roberts at the outside spots.
Ryan is entering the last year of his deal, and most seem to think the Pats will invest in Malcolm Butler long-term, though they control his rights as a restricted free agent next offseason. But you can never have too much depth at corner. The Pats were lucky last season as far as injuries are concerned. That might not happen again and after the two outside starters there’s no much else to work with.
Cyrus Jones and Harlan Miller are two other choices I considered around this spot. Ideally a wide receiver would be sitting here at this spot for the taking, but it’s probably too early for someone like Daniel Braverman to be selected.
And now the shots in the dark begin. While I’d predict the Pats make some trades to give them picks in each round, for mock draft purposes I never actually project trades. So here, with the bottom seven picks in the last two rounds, I’m simply sticking in players who I think fit well and ignoring needs for the most part.
Round 6, 196th overall (from HOU Keshawn Martin): Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado – Spruce isn’t the big name many Patriots fans want, but he’s consistent and productive and has better size than any slot receiver we’ve had at 6’1″, 206 pounds. He’s the classic Patriots fit — doesn’t have the flashy performance numbers, but he’s a football player who competes and catches everything thrown his way. He’s also described as a fearless punt returner. I’m not quite ready to say he’s going to beat Danny Amendola out in training camp, but if he progresses he could give the Pats options at the slot position in the future.
Round 6, 204th overall (from CHI Martellus Bennett): Blake Martinez, LB, Stanford – With Shea McClellin in the mix, I don’t see linebacker as the huge need it was entering the offseason. Still I think they need some depth there and Martinez could give them a developmental player who can run. Martinez is one of the bigger middle linebacker prospects this year (6’2″, 238), he was also a top performer at the combine in bench press, three-cone drill and 20 yard short shuttle. There are still concerns over his quickness, but he plays tough and could immediately play a role on special teams.
Round 6, 208th overall (compensatory): Dan Vitale, FB/H-Back, Northwestern – Nick Caserio had some private one-on-one time with Vitale this offseason and pretty much anyone who studies the Patriots’ draft has Vitale as a potential target. I can’t leave him off because he’s such a unique player and I think Belichick is drawn to them. What stands out most to me is that while Vitale is built like a fullback/h-back hybrid, I’ve never quite seen someone run routes like he does at his size. It’s no wonder his position at Northwestern was called the “Super Back”. Vitale was a top performer at the draft in bench press, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. Special teams would be his way on the roster, but he’s got the Patriots feel to him and many people can see it.
Round 6, 214th overall (compensatory): Keenan Reynolds, RB, Navy – A record-setting player from Navy? Yes, few things are more Belichick-y that that. I’m not sure how Reynolds fits in, whether he could legitimately win a running back roster spot, especially if someone like Collins has already been taken. But I’m trying to nail Pats picks and the Patriots cannot ignore the former quarterback. Fumble issues initially scared me off of this, but as was pointed out to me by many on twitter, these issues were more related to zone read pitches than poor ball security. His passion and leadership are unquestioned, he’d fit seamlessly into the New England locker room, even more so considering Joe Cardona, a fellow former Midshipman, is already on the roster.
Round 6, 221st overall, (compensatory): Ben Braunecker, TE, Harvard – With Martellus Bennett likely only here for a year, there’s definitely a need for a developmental Y tight end and Braunecker is an interesting fit. He was a top performer in every combine category, but his athleticism and strength also translate to the field where he plays with the required edge for blocking. It’s a big step up from Harvard, but the Pats could afford to practice squad him and develop him over the next year.
Round 7, 243rd overall: Mike Thomas, WR, Southern Miss: A small school receiver who plays with “his hair on fire”, I love doubling up at the wide receiver position in this draft. Thomas is a small school guy but leaves everything he’s got on the field on every snap. He could use some time to develop, but he checks all the boxes coming in.
Round 7, 250th overall (from HOU Ryan Mallett): Joel Heath, DL, Michigan St. – Heath’s a guy that kept popping up in my draft research and seems to follow a model the Patriots often consider – the guy with great size, versatility and leadership skills who never quite found a position in college and thus his production was underwhelming. The Pats love to plug guys like that into their system to see if they can awaken a beast. Heath seems worth the shot and will compete hard in training camp, possibly earning a practice squad spot.