Grading an NFL Draft immediately following the draft is akin to a food columnist rating a restaurant based upon pictures of the meals on Instagram. There is absolutely no way to properly project how the player will fit in the system, how quickly they will pick up the schemes, and how they interact on the field with their new teammates. In fact, grading a draft before the regular season games after only the pre-season and training camp seems far too soon to make an accurate determination. That said, even grading last year’s NFL draft seems to jump the gun as so many players were still acclimating to the NFL and working their way into the offensive and defensive systems. Really, three to five years later is the optimal time to get a proper grade of an NFL Draft; However, as a popular Internet youtube clip/meme exclaims: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Therefore, the rapid-reaction, quick grading of the New England Patriots 2013 NFL draft picks begins below.
2nd Round (#52 Overall) – Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss
The one consistent definition of linebacker Jamie Collins has included two important words: “athlete” and “explosive”. With linebacker Brandon Spikes a potential free agent, and very little depth behind the starting “SEC Three”, Collins will be able to step in and contribute immediately in–what coach Bill Belichick loves– a variety of roles on the defense and special teams. Collins ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the draft combine and is the much-needed linebacker who is capable of covering running backs and tight ends as well as blitzing and rushing the passer. Initially as a rookie, expect to see Collins, who seems to excel playing in space, be a core-4 special teams player immediately.
Eventually, he should be able to contribute at both inside and outside linebacker in both Bill Belichick’s traditional 3-4 defense and defensive end opposite last year’s dynamic rookie defensive end, Chandler Jones, in their current 4-3 defense. Collins is a player who was versatile in college and did a lot of different things on a horrible Southern Miss team and can be a tool to help the Patriots get back to their different looks that they switched between game by game, and even half by half, during their Super Bowl run. The defense desperately needed an influx of speed, versatility and playmaking, and Collins looks like a good fit. After not drafting a hybrid athlete like Clay Matthews in 2009, coach Bill Belichick has apparently seen the error of his ways and this pick is a big step towards correcting that mistake. Collins is a first round talent who slipped due to the horrible team around him in college. This looks like a great fit for a defense desperate for this player’s skill set.
2nd Round (#59 Overall) – Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
The huge question before the draft was would the Patriots address their severe lack of depth, playmakers, speed, and size at the wide receiver in the draft this season. Well, the Patriots hit twice at wide receiver, grabbing Aaron Dobson at #59 overall and Josh Boyce from TCU in the fourth round. Like they did in 2010 doubling at tight end and 2011 doubling at running back, the Patriots appear to have jumped in with both feet in the deep end to fill this need. Unfortunately for Dobson, the Patriots traded out of their first round pick and the Minnesota Vikings grabbed the wide receiver many mock drafts pegged for the Patriots with the explosive, yet raw, Cordarrelle Patterson. Expect those two to be compared often over the next few years.
One reason to like wide receiver Aaron Dobson and his fit in New England is that pre-draft reports emphasized his smarts and ability to find the open spot on offense. Like other successful wide receivers in New England, speed is not enough in the offense. Receivers like David Patton, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, and David Givens succeeded because they had the football smarts to pick up their offense and instead of speed, they had a concept of the offensive concepts and hands to catch the ball and earn quarterback Tom Brady’s trust. Dobson is definitely not not a speedster, but has great size (6-foot-3) was lauded as having pro-ready skills getting his release off the line of scrimmage and the body control and hands to make athletic catches. There will always be a learning curve for a wide receiver joining New England, but Dobson has the skills and smarts to carve out a prominent role by the end of the season.
3rd Round (#83 Overall) – Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
As a third round pick, getting a player in Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan that Pro Football Weekly had rated in their top-50 is potentially a steal. Ryan began the Rutgers march to New England and gives them a strong player to add to their cornerback position with free agent signing Aqib Talib on only a one-year deal. Cornerbacks in New England are expected to contribute prominently in the rush defense, so the team can never have enough depth as cornerback often get dinged over the course of the season. Ryan adds immediate depth on defense and will play on special teams.
Ryan is not a burner on defense, but had strong ball skills in college and made up for it with good instincts and technique. What no doubt caught Bill Belichick’s eyes as a fit in his scheme is that Ryan has excellent skills in run support. Ryan will contribute immediately on special teams and work his way into the defense for 2014. Cornerback needed depth, and this pick was a perfect find for a need. Ryan looks like a typical Bill Belichick player: tough, solid, and smart.
3rd Round (#91 Overall) – Duron Harmon, SS, Rutgers
Every once in a while, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has to flex his muscles as uber-executive in New England and pick a player he really likes regardless of what the draft experts have decreed. It paid off in spades with offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (how Belichick must have loved watching Mel Kiper Jr. sweat and have no clue who Vollmer was in 2009), and last year’s surprise second round safety Tavon Wilson showed flashes this past year (4 interceptions) but is still an incomplete grade. Harmon was projected by most to be a 6th or 7th round pick and again all the pundits were surprised when the Patriots went back to Rutgers to grab another young safety.
Expect Harmon to (this is getting to be a theme) contribute on special-teams with playing time on defense looking more likely in 2014 or 2015. He at least has the skills to eventually be a center-field type at safety, which the Patriots needed to move former Rutgers cornerback and first round pick in 2010 Devin McCourty to that role at mid-season. Harmon is hardly an inadequate player and has good instincts and skills to play in the Patriots defense. Harmon’s versatility at the safety position and having played both man-to-man and zone in a similar defense at Rutgers makes him a great fit in New England. If he eventually starts and contributes at the position, it doesn’t matter where Mel Kiper Jr. thinks Harmon should have been picked.
4th Round (#102 Overall) – Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
The Patriots finished their double-up at wide receiver by spending their first 4th round pick on TCU receiver Josh Boyce. Boyce has decent size, very good speed and many scouts lauded his smarts. In the 4th round, a wide receiver is expected to be a project, and Boyce fits the bill. Boyce showed top-level speed at the draft combine while running with a broken bone in his foot. Boyce could be that receiver who finally adds both pure speed and vertical explosiveness on the outside. If Boyce can stretch the defense, he could be a key cog on the offense.
7th Round (#226 Overall) – Michael Buchanan, DE/OLB, Illinois
Buchanan is one of those prospects (see: Barkley, Matt) who went back to school and dropped in the draft ratings. Buchanan is a pass-rusher. Period. If he contributes at all at anytime, as a 7th round pick that is a win. A potential practice squad member next season, Buchanan will battle last year’s 3rd round pick and invisible man, Jake Bequette for a back-up role. Based on his skill set, Buchanan should have gone higher. A solid pick.
7th Round (#235 Overall) – Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers
Beauharnais continued the Rutgers theme in the draft and is a long shot to make the roster. Expect Beauharnais to have to win a job on special teams to make the 53 man roster. He is a possible practice squad player and depth linebacker in the future.
1st Round: (#29 Overall) – Traded to Minnesota for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th Round picks
The Patriots desperately needed more draft picks: Minnesota rushed back to the first and gave up a bundle of picks. This was a win for the Patriots and just what they needed. Fans are always going to get upset after staying up late only to see the pick traded. Fortunately, Bill Belichick and the Patriots did the right thing instead of the popular move. It should pay off for them in 2014 and beyond.
4th Round – (Bucs – Aqib Talib)
This trade was the right move to make at the time as the Patriots were desperate for cornerback help after watching their secondary be torched on a weekly basis. Talib stepped in and helped the team to solidify the defensive backfield by allowing cornerback Devin McCourty to move to safety, move Kyle Arrington back to slot cornerback (where he was far superior), team with cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and play a more aggressive defense, and put liability safety Patrick Chung on the bench. This move allowed the Patriots defense to gel and got them to the AFC Championship Game where the defense had shut down Baltimore’s Joe Flacco led offense before Talib left with a leg injury. Talib re-signed this off-season for one year at a discounted rate on a “show me” contract as he tried to rehabilitate his image and get a large contract. In this case, an affordable and potential top 10 cornerback for a 4th round pick is a steal.
5th Round – (Redskins – Albert Haynesworth)
It was worth a shot: It just did not pay off in the end. It could have been a wonderful move if Haynesworth had not thrown in the towel. C’est la vie.
6th Round – (Bengals – Chad Ochocinco)
This trade did not make sense when it was made, it ate up a ton of cap space on the roster, and, simply put, getting the wrong receiver cost the team the Super Bowl against the New York Giants following the 2011 season. The Ochocinco Era (Error) can be summed up in two words: Abject failure. At least the move ended up costing only a 6th round pick.
7th Round – (Tampa Bay (from Vikings) – LeGarrette Blount)
The New England Patriots used the seventh-round pick they acquired from the Vikings to dump running back and wanna-be Olympic track and field star Jeff Demps to acquire former Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead running back LeGarrrette Blount. Blount reworked his contract to a near minimum deal, which increases his odds of sticking on the roster as a back-up to starter Steven Ridley. Blount is not as good as he seemed as a rookie, nor as bad as he seemed last year where he was buried on the bench and in the coach’s dog house. He has the ability, the question is the attitude, but he is a player who can contribute, so–for a 7th round pick–that is a win.
The New England Patriots turned a late first round pick into a bundle and continued to find potential contributors to fill a need and develop for the future. Some nice pieces were picked up with an eye towards 2014 and beyond, and there may some huge pieces to fill in at wide receiver. The defense got a dose of athleticism and picked the Rutgers secondary dry. A solid draft for a solid team. This draft should look much better in three years, but looks quite good anyway today.
The New England Patriots’ 2013 NFL Draft did not boast two first round picks, like last year. Instead, like in 2010, this draft is about drafting players who can contribute as back-ups and on special teams this year and learn the system and step-in and contribute in 2014. The Patriots have a plethora of undrafted free agents in camp this year as well, and recent history indicates that a player or two should surprise and make the final 53 man roster out of that group. This draft was not flashy, but–like the Patriots–solid, full of potential, and high on value. It was another year adding a group of players that should continue to add depth and inexpensive cogs to both sides of the ball.
FINAL GRADE: B+