Every week, the FanSided.com main page is going to do a 2013 NFL Mock Draft for each team in the league. In the inaugural addition of this feature, Josh Hill had the New England Patriots selecting Florida Gators star safety Matt Elam with the 28th pick in the draft.
Elam is the younger brother of NFL safety Abram Elam, and it looks like Matt has the chance to be better. He’s as good of a leader as your going to see at the safety position, and he’s the second best safety in the draft behind Texas’s Kenny Vaccaro. Elam would be yet another Gator on the Pats team, and his intangibles are off the chart.
Intangibles are obviously a very small part of the picture for a draft prospect, and Elam certainly has talent to go with the intangibles. He has incredible range and is as aggressive as any safety in college football. He is a hard-hitter who is one of the premier defensive playmakers in this draft and has excellent range,
The problem is that Elam isn’t as big, fast, or athletic as the other safeties heading into the draft, but what separates him from most of the pack is his effort and leadership. Florida wouldn’t be as dominant of a defense with a good-but-not-great safety back there.
While Elam makes some sense for the Patriots in the first round, I think the only safety the Pats will pick is Vaccaro if he can fall to them in the late 20′s. The Pats already have depth at the safety position, since Devin McCourty looks like he will be there for the long haul. They also found a gem in the second-round in Tavon Wilson, and Steve Gregory just signed a deal to stay with the team. The Pats also have to deal with the question of re-signing Patrick Chung, and I doubt the Pats end up selecting a safety in back-to-back years.
The four guys that Josh has behind Elam are WR Tavon Austin, WR Terrance Williams, DT Sylvester Williams, and LB Khaseem Greene.
The Patriots have sent scouts to watch the Baylor Bears before, and their top prospect is Williams. At first glance, it seems like the Patriots don’t need to draft a wideout. But the wide receiver position is actually more of a “need” for the Pats than safety. It’s not an actual need, but it’s the fact that it is easier to draft a WR and that depth transfers better at that position.
Austin will likely be off the board sooner than the Pats pick (and most likely before Williams is selected), but he might be the better fit for the Patriots. Williams does an excellent job of stretching defenses, but that’s not what the Pats need. It’s going to be hard to keep both Julian Edelman and Wes Welker this offseason. In fact, it’s going to be nearly impossible, no matter how much I hope it happens.
If the Pats want to replace Welker in the slot and add some more big-play ability to that, then they can sort of fill that need with Austin. He’s not nearly as reliable as Welker, but he provides more pop. He will most likely never be as good as Welker, but he’d be a quality fit for the Patsin the slot. Williams is the pick for the Pats if they merely want someone who can stretch the field vertically to help balance the play in the slot if they keep either/or Edelman and Welker.
So it all depends on what the Pats want/need here, but both players do add big-play ability. However, neither of them are even close to matching the consistency of the receivers currently on the Patriots roster. Tom Brady would love to have an added weapon to throw it to, and it actually makes more sense to draft a WR than a S.
Sylvester Williams is an incredibly gifted defensive tackle and the third-best in the draft behind only stalwarts Star Lotulelei and Jonathan Hankins (it definitely isn’t a bad thing to be behind those two), and he has even drawn comparisons to Geno Atkins; the best pass rushing three-technique in the game.
UNC is great at churning out top defensive linemen, with St. Louis Rams DE Robert Quinn and New York Jets rookie Quinton Coples being two noteworthy examples in recent years. Williams has an explosive first step and is more of a penetrating DT than one who clogs up OLs, but he’s still an above-average run defender. He has great upside as an interior pass rusher and has as much upside as any defensive player in this draft. His skill-set is different from run-cloggers Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, and I think Pats fans need to take a serious look at this guy.
Khaseem Greene has been great for Rutgers this season, but he’s clearly not someone the Patriots will be targeting at linebacker. The Pats linebackers are set, with current rookie Dont’a Hightower being the much more notable player as well.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.