Jan 29, 2015; Chandler, AZ, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speaks to reporters during the New England Patriots press conference at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
With the 2015 NFL Draft fast approaching, the New England Patriots players are getting back to work as they prepare to defend their Super Bowl championship. With key free agent defections in the secondary and on the defensive line with the loss of veteran cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner as well as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and running back Shane Vereen, the Patriots have a need for reinforcements.
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) makes a third quarter catch in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
New England has used the draft to find key contributors on both sides of the ball in recent seasons. These draft picks such as Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski (2010), Nate Solder, Stevan Ridley, and Vereen (2011), Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower (2012) and Jamies Collins (2013) have become the backbone of a team that went to two Super Bowls and four AFC Championship games in the past four season.
In addition to these key players, the Patriots have built up their impressive depth on both sides of the ball with contributions over the past four years from Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Deaderick, and Brandon Spikes (2010), Marcus Cannon (2011), Alfonzo Dennard and Tavon Wilson (2012), and Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan (2013). Each of these players have played a key role in winning games be it Cannon stepping in at right tackle for the second half of 2013, Spikes keying the defense to a Super Bowl in 2011, Dennard as a surprise starter as a rookie in 2012, or Harmon with his key interception to defeat the Ravens in the Divisional Playoffs this past January.
One thing for certain about Bill Belichick and the New England front office is that they will keep the NFL Draft analysts guessing. Last year, with a deep wide receiver class and a need at tight end they ignored the positions almost entirely and only drafted a wide receiver who did not make the team in the seventh round. In 2013 the Patriots traded down from the first round and accumulated a number of contributors.
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
In 2012 the Patriots surprised by moving up in the draft to snag pass rushing defensive end Chandler Jones. Then they kept their second pick and grabbed Dont’a Hightower. In addition, they surprised all by picking Tavon Wilson at #48 overall. In 2011 New England had the first pick of day two and surprisingly did not trade down (when they should have since they wasted the pick on Ras-I Dowling). In 2010 the Patriots moved down (to #27 for McCourty) and then up again (to #42 for Gronkowski) with a dizzying array of moves.
What can one expect for 2015 from the Patriots? Who could predict? But based on their recent draft history there are tea leaves to be read. Here is the first of five bold predictions about what the New England Patriots will (or won’t do) in the 2015 NFL Draft:
One: Expect the Patriots to Move Down and Accumulate Future Draft Picks
Unlike last year which was exceptionally strong at the top of the draft and fell off, this year’s crop of talent looks short on superstars but deep with solid contributors in later rounds like it was in 2013. That year the Patriots aggressively moved down in the draft to accumulate picks passing up tantalizing wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, safety Matt Elam, or tight end Zach Ertz and accumulating draft picks that turned into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan and wide receiver Josh Boyce. In addition, the seventh round pick they received in that deal turned into running back LeGarrette Blount.
Jan 11, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) is tackled by Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) in the 2014 NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The 2013 NFL Draft saw all four of the best offensive players drafted in the second round or later. Running backs Eddie Lacy (#61 overall), Le’Veon Bell (#48 overall), and Giovani Bernard (#37 overall) were second round selections who are number one backs while wide receiver Keenan Allen (#76 overall) has outperformed Tavon Austin (#8 overall), DeAndre Hopkins (#27 overall), Cordarrelle Patterson (#29 overall), Justin Hunter (#34 overall), Robert Woods (#41 overall), and Aaron Dobson (#59 overall) who were all first or second round picks.
Feb 20, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers tight end Maxx Williams catches a pass during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots will be hunting for depth and this draft should be another loaded with bargains in the second and third rounds. Virginia linebacker Eli Howard, UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, South Carolina guard A.J. Cann, Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams, and Florida State center/guard Cameron Erving and cornerback Ronald Darby are all players who could be taken in the second round who would appeal to the Patriots.
Expect the Patriots to take another shot at loading up with picks in the second and third round to get the most value from this draft class. Look for the Patriots to again take a page from the past and load up on picks early like in 2011 (5 of the top 75 picks), 2010 (5 of the top 90 picks), or 2009 (6 of the top 100 picks). With 5 picks in the top 101 picks, the Patriots could be moving down from #32 overall to add to their second and third round haul and allow them to move up and down as they desire.