The Patriots are the lone team so far this year that has two first round picks, having received the seventeenth overall pick in a trade with the Oakland Raiders before the 2009 season in exchange for defensive end Richard Seymour. The Patriots also hold the twenty-eighth overall selection as well as the top selection (thirty-third) in the second round.
The Patriots are notorious for moving back in the first round of the draft, and could choose to do so again with this pick if the play they don’t love is there. But considering the team’s many defensive needs, it’s probable that the Pats will stand pat with this pick and take Cal’s Cameron Jordan.
The absence of Seymour on the roster the past two seasons has been felt by the Patriots, due to their limited pass rush and weak run defense. In 2008, their run defense ranked 9th in the league according to Football Outsiders DVOA-based efficiency rankings, but dropped to 23rd this past year. Injuries to other end stalwarts like Ty Warren and Mike Wright certainly didn’t help matters this year as well.
The Patriots also need help on the outside with their pass rush. Tully Banta-Cain led linebackers with 5 sacks, a big dip from the 10 sacks he had in 2009. Rob Ninkovich had 4 sacks, half of which was gained in the season finale against the Dolphins. Overall, it paints not a glowing portrait of the Patriots pass rush.
For that reason, their top need appears to be adding an edge pass rusher. But it remains to be seen if a quality one will be available at this point in the draft. Von Miller and Robert Quinn are the best in the class, but both are almost locks to be Top 15, if not Top 10 picks, and would require the Patriots to move up to get them, something as previously noted they are unlikely to do. Instead, they will likely look at three defensive ends that have potential to be converted to linebacker: Missouri’s Aldon Smith, Georgia’s Justin Houston, and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan. Houston has the most experience among the three, playing in Georgia’s 3-4 this past year, although Smith might be the most athletically gifted. Kerrigan is intriguing because he played very little from a stand-up position at Purdue, and did not perform well in that role at the Senior Bowl. BUt he tested well enough at the Combine that he should get more looks by teams in that role.
But the Patriots can also help their pass rush by adding a defensive end up front that can provide similar pressure to what Seymour used to provide. Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt and Cal’s Cameron Jordan are good fits. Many experts peg them as potential Top 10 picks, which means they are arguably better players overall than any of the outside linebacker candidates. Whether or not the team goes in that direction may also depend on what the team plans to do with the twenty-eighth selection. They might be able to get a defensive end like Muhammad Wilkerson or Cameron Heyward at that point in the draft, meaning they could be more willing to go in another direction with the seventeenth pick. It should be also noted that UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers could also be available that late in the first round as well.
Besides their needs in their front seven, the Patriots could also use help on offense. Adding more playmakers around Tom Brady and Wes Welker would certainly improve things. If running back Mark Ingram is available, he would make a nice pickup at running back. He brings similar tools to the table that BenJarvus Green-Ellis does, but would allow the Patriots not to have to overpay Green-Ellis, who is seen more as a role player. But the presence of Green-Ellis and Woodhead, mean that the Patriots can likely address their needs at running back in the middle of the draft.
Wide receiver is a concern. Deion Branch played well down the stretch and Welker is always an asset. But the team probably wants a younger, more explosive playmaker on the outside. Brandon Tate has flashed those skills, but hasn’t quite put it together. A player like Maryland’s Torrey Smith could be a good fit on the outside, but he may be available later in the round, so there is no overriding push to add him with their top pick.
The Patriots also may need to address their offensive line, with the future of guard Logan Mankins in doubt. But the team might be able to snag one of the top guards with their next two picks.
Cornerback is also a problem area on the defensive side of the ball. The team got great production out of Devin McCourty last year, but Darius Butler was outplayed by Kyle Arrington for most of the year. The healthy return of Leigh Bodden should ebb any major concerns at the starting position, but shoring up their depth is a need.
In the end, the Patriots will likely have to go with the best player available at this pick and that is likely to be one of the two defensive ends: Watt or Jordan. Based off this current mock, Jordan is the one that is available after the Jaguars took Watt one pick ahead.