Bill Belichick will look to continue and improve the Patriots roster in the 2014 NFL Draft. (USA TODAY Images)
With the NFL free agent frenzy in the books, rosters around the league are beginning to take shape.
The Patriots have addressed several needs and improved in many areas, but there is still work to be done. With that being said, here is my first Patriots only Mock Draft for the 2014 season. —
Round 1, Pick 29 â€” Kony Ealy, DE/OLB Missouri:
As I look over the Patriots roster, defensive end and tight end are the two biggest positions of need as it stands now. Missouri’s, Kony Ealy, and Auburn’s, Dee Ford, are two prospects I would love to see fall to New England at no. 29.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich played over 95 percent of the snaps in 2013. The two played strong, but their lack of production towards the end of the season was a direct result of season-long fatigue. Adding another pass rusher to the duo would make the front seven more versatile and deadly in 2014.
Ealy has prototypical size — 6’4, 273 — great burst and brings another long, lean, athletic player to the defensive end position. He has the ability to play with his hand in the ground as a 4-3 end, or standing up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which the Patriots use occasionally as well.
He’s by no means a finished product, but he can contribute from day one and has tremendous upside.
Round 2 Â Pick 62 â€” Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame:
As aforementioned, tight end is a big positional need for New England. With the team going defensive end in round one, they look for another pass catching option in round two.
Niklas has only played tight end for two seasons, as he was converted from a DE/OLB at Notre Dame, but has quickly ascended during that time. His big 6’6, 270 frame would give the Patriots another reliable option to start the year at tight end.
With Rob Gronkowski tearing his ACL in 2013, the Pats need a balanced player to pick up some of the slack in his place — Niklas fits the mold. He’s athletic for his size, has good hands and is a solid blocker as well. When Gronkowski returns, both could be on the field and give New England what they love the most, versatility.
Other tight end prospects like Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro or Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all other candidates for the team, but expected to go much earlier.Â North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, considered the top prospect at the position, would force the team to most likely trade up in the first round, but I don’t envision that happening.
Round 3, Pick 93 â€”Â Weston Richburg, C Colorado State:
This was a tough pick to mock. I could see the Patriots targeting either of their defensive or offensive lines in the draft. I thought about Penn State’s DaQuan Jones, but went with Richburg as the Vince Wilfork situation is still playing itself out.
Richburg would be a great selection in the third round. He’s considered the most NFL ready center in the draft and with Ryan Wendell still on the free agent market, he could step in and potential contribute early on.
As of now, I see Nate Solder at left tackle, Logan Mankins at left guard, Dan Connolly at center, Marcus Cannon at right guard and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. While that all sounds good on paper, it does leave the team thin in terms of depth; plus, it’s not a guarantee.
Richburg has good size — 6â€™3, 300 — and started 49 games at Colorado State. He has the ability to play center as well as guard, and considered an intelligent prospect who should transition nicely to the pro level.
Round 4, Pick 126 â€” Jordan Tripp, LB, Montana:
The Patriots have a solid starting trio of linebackers on the roster now: Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. The team is lacking depth at the position and could use a versatile guy to develop.
Montana’s Jordan Tripp has “Patriot” written all over him. Third-generation football player, tough, competitive, versatile, overachiever, special teams performer, versatile — he’s the kind of player Bill Belichick usually loves in the middle rounds.
Tripp has an outstanding motor and plays with a high level of intensity. He diagnosis plays quickly and has a great reaction time; which his 6.89 second time in the three-cone drill — something the Patriots have been known to put a lot of stock in — at the NFL Combine illustrated, the top for his position.
Round 6, Pick 182 â€” Chris Davis, CB, Auburn:
Davis might be most known for his incredible last-second return to upset Alabama in the Iron Bowl last season.
He’s a stout, 5’10, 200 cornerback, that plays with a chip on his shoulder. While he is more effective in zone schemes, Davis has good field awareness, a strong tackler and considered a leader at Auburn.
The edge he plays with is best shown at the line of scrimmage when he can knock receivers off their routes and take out much bigger opponents in the open-field.
Davis would also bring some play making ability to the return game, which should help him carve out a role in the NFL. He’s not going to become a starting cornerback, at least on the Patriots roster as it’s currently constructed, but he would be a quality depth signing for the defensive backfield and contribute on special teams.
Round 6, Pick 190 â€” Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana:
With Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell all essentially locks to make the roster, the receiver position isn’t a glaring need. Also, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, both going into their second years, will have an opportunity to earn a roster spot when training camp rolls around.
With all that being said, Latimer could be a late addition to add more competition and be looked at as a developmental prospect for the future. The former basketball player has a big frame — 6’2, 217 — and knows how to use his size on the field; boxing out smaller defensive backs, snagging the ball nicely in the air and also a redzone target.
His biggest questions are whether he’ll be able to create separation against more athletic competition at the NFL level. He doesn’t have great quickness or burst, but has reliable hands and continues to develop as he plays the game.
Round 7, Pick 221 â€” Matt Patchan, OT, Boston College:
Patchan looks like a NFL lineman, boasting a big 6’6, 307 frame. He played left tackle at Boston College, helping lead the way for running back Andre Williams as he led the nation in rushing for 2013.
Patchan has had injury problems throughout his career, but was able to be productive and healthy last year. He has the tools to be a solid tackle at the next level, moving well for his size, being able to bend and possesses good functional strength. He would be a nice developmental prospect for New England.
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