Current Roster: Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott, Markell Carter, Aaron Lavarias (and God willing, Andre Carter if he re-signs)
Positional Overview: This is the 13th Draft of the Belichick Epoch, and still there are a multitude of people who don’t get it. Year in and year out the same voices say the same thing in the exact same way. Their top priority is a pass rusher. Someone who can come off the edge and apply pressure and move the quarterback off his spot blah bitty blah blah. So they fall in love with some one trick pony like say, Von Miller and convince themselves the Pats are going to package a bunch of picks, move up and grab whoever the Edge Rusher du Jour is. They’re like dogs chasing cars. They wouldn’t know what to do with one if they caught it. And in obsessing over some undersized Johnny-One-Note (the Pats faced Denver twice this year and it was like Nate Solder threw an Invisibility Cloak over him), they completely misread what the Belichick defensive scheme is all about.
For starters, there are no “rush specialists.” The premium is on the ability to do it all. Pressure, sure. But also be strong enough to fight off blocks from tackles and tight ends to set the edge on outside runs. Agile enough to drop into the flat on pass coverage. Tall enough to get a hand up and disrupt passing lanes. And smart enough to know when to do what. The key to remember in the Patriots attack is 6-4-4-6. They like their DE/OLBs 6-4 or bigger and 4.6 or faster. It’s a system that has no use for a guy like Pittsburgh’s James Harrison (5-11), but took Mike Vrabel off Dick Lebeau’s bench and turned him into a legend. It made Ninkovich a solid pro. But proved too much for established vets like Adalius Thomas. Subsequently it took guys like Carter and Mark Anderson (now with Buffalo), who looked like they were at the end of their careers, and found a fit for them. Carter proved he could do everything asked of him. Anderson achieved a level of unblockability on passing downs. And they were one of only two pair of teammates in the league with double-digit sacks because they found a home in this system.
All of which makes life a living Hell for Patriots Draft Geeks. It’s hard enough sifting through the draft dogcrap to find the diamonds. Finding someone who’ll fit the Pats is like sorting laundry. You’ve got to separate the 4-3 ends from the 5-technique 3-4 ends from the 4-3 Will and Sam linebackers from the hybrid DE/OLBs. Then find someone from all those piles who has what they’re looking for. Sure, it would easier to just parrot the “Gotta get an edge rusher” crowd. But Patriots draft guruism is a man’s game. This is why I lift all them scouting reports. So here goes:
Pure 4-3 Defensive End-Type You Can Cross Right the Hell Off Your List:
Quintin Coples, North Carolina. 6-5, 281, 4.75.
Coples is exactly the kind of guy who comes out every year and has the Pass-Rusherophiles calling their doctor to find out what do about a 4-hour erection. The way his UNC teammate Robert “23 tackles in 2011” Quinn did last year. But he’s a guy who put his motor on cruise control for long portions of his senior year and is a bad risk to give a big contract to. Weirdly, Coples never forced a fumble all season. Still, he’ll go in the top 10, sell a ton of jerseys for a team that won’t make the playoffs for most of his career and years from now make you say “Where did he end up?”
Guys You Don’t Have to Waste Your Time on Because There’s a Better Chance Kate Upton Will Be Available to You On April 26th Than They Will Be to the Pats at 27:
Melvin Ingram, So. Carolina. 6-1, 264, 4.66
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. 6-2, 272, 4.7
It’s a moot point, because they’re both top 20 picks, but I can’t see the Pats taking either of them even if they had a high choice. Ingram is more along the Von Miller lines. A powerful but quick guy better suited to pinning his ears back and going after the QB than anything else. And while Upshaw thrived as the “Jack” linebacker in Nick Saban’s Belichickish scheme, he’s a little shorter and squatter than they’d like.
Guy Who’ll Also Be Gone But Is Kind of a Risk in Spite of His Freakish Athleticism:
Nick Perry, USC. 6-3, 271, 4.50.
Perry bulked up for the Combine by about 20lbs, then proceeded to blow everyone’s spandex off with 35 bench press reps and a redonkulous 40 time. But he’s still more of a straight line runner and looked to some like he’s not agile enough to play outside linebacker. He’ll probably still go high, but to a team looking to put him at 4-3 end where he’s better suited.
Next Tier of Guys Who Will Probably Be Available But Don’t Fit the Patriots Profile:
Vinny Curry, Marshall. 6-3, 266, 4.85
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma. 6-2, 253, 4.69
Curry’s 40-time at the Indianapolis Kennel Show didn’t help his 1st Round prospects any. Though he had a solid week at the Senior Bowl and showed that at least he has strength and technique enough to hold his ground vs the run. Lewis is not only on the small side, he’s barely 21 and could’ve used another year of college ball.
All the Factory Quality Parts, Great Chassis, But I Don’t Like the Way the Motor Sounds:
Andre Branch, Clemson. 6-4, 259, 4.62.
No one ever questioned his athleticism. Especially after his Combine numbers. But he’s a bigger one-year wonder than Adele. And even then he was up & down all season. He had great games (Auburn) followed by crap games (Florida State’s Andrew Datko basically gave him an Atomic Wedgie) and then great game again (11 tackles, 6 TFL and 4 sacks vs Virginia Tech). He’ll go high but there are questions about his motivation. And the general prejudice against Clemson guys won’t help.
The Draft Board Riser Who’s Making All the Pundits Swoon Like He’s Megan Draper:
Shea McClellin, Boise State. 6-3, 260, 4.62.
Last week Don Draper’s second wife sang “Zou Bisou Bisou” and every TV critic in America fainted with desire. Even though she’s played by Jessica Pare’ who’s been on the show a while and been in a bunch of things including “Hot Tub Time Machine.” That song was her moment of reckoning for a lot of guys who should’ve known who she was. Well that’s what’s happened with Shea McClellin the last few weeks. He opened some eyes with a good showing at the Lucas Oil Rodeo. But since then the better draft pundits have watched his tape and been blown away by what they’ve seen. He did a number on Georgia’ Cordy Glenn, another future NFLer. McClellin’s a relentless effort guy who was great in the agility drills like 3-cone and who is working his way into the 1st Round by the hour by doing nothing more than letting scouts watch his film.
Guys the Patriots Have Shown No Interest In But Will Go Mid-Rounds Somewhere They’re Not So Particular:
Jake Becquetter, Arkansas. 6-5, 278, 4.78
Brandon Lindsey, Pitt. 6-2, 254, 4.78
Value Picks They’ve Shown Interest In and Could Have on Day 3:
Bruce Irvin, W. Virginia. 6-3, 245, 4.43
The Pats had an official visit with Irvin. The knock on him is that he needs to add bulk. Being undersized and asked to play traditional 4-3 end got him pretty much dwarf-tossed all through his senior year. Unless and until he puts some sand in his pants, he’s pretty much a situational player.
Kyle Wilbur, Wake Forest. 6-5, 249, 4.78
Here’s another guy who could stand to get on the protein shakes and fatten up like a foie gras goose. Scouts love his effort and brains, but he’s not super physical. I’m thinking more of a Gary Guyton situational pass-rusher/ zone cover guy than any real point-of-attack downhill stuffer.
Sleeper You’ll Find in the “Others” Section of Your Draft Magazine, If At All. But They’ve Been Curiously Interested In:
Ryan Davis, Bethune Cookman. 6-2, 269, 4.84.
They’ve held private workouts with this kid and an All Star gave visit with him. Trust me, it’s faster to find him with a Google search than look for him on any mock draft site. He was recruited to BC as a wide receiver, and his Pro Day had to be held at Miami where he was invited as a local player. Maybe they like him as a special teamer? Clark, Ruby Sue falls down a well and her eyes go cross. She gets kicked by a mule and they go back to normal. I dunno.
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois. 6-4, 261, 4.63
This kid is the absolute prototype for what they’re looking for. The right size, the right speed, the right character. He’s the son of hardworking Haitian immigrant parents with a work ethic like the 3-job-working Haitian dishwashers at my old restaurant job. He led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles. He had a stellar 1.5 sack performance against certain Top 15 pick Mike Adams of Ohio St. He came out as junior and is still a little raw. He’s learning the game and needs to get better at reads and changing direction. And he only did 19 reps at the Combine. But hopefully that will just scare teams off who are looking for a quicker fix while the Patriots can afford to let him learn for a year in a rotation or behind (again, God willing) Carter. Most mocks have him going anywhere from 18th-to-out of the 1st round so it’s anyone’s guess. But no matter what else anyone thinks of him, you have to admit he’s got THE best name in the Draft. And if he does come to Foxboro I call dibs on the nickname “Ming.”
The Patriots Will Take: Mercilus, if he’s available. If he isn’t, McClellin.