The 2014 NFL Draft starts on Thursday May 8th and the Patriots will try to complete one of their most memorable off-season’s in quite some time.
New England had the drama surrounding the beloved Vince Wilfork, who restructured with the team at a discounted rate. Julian Edelman also resigned at a discounted rate. The Patriots also signed Darrelle Revis, the best cornerback in football, CB Brandon Browner and big WR Brandon LaFell from free agency
This is the first of a series of articles leading up to the draft on what the Patriots should look to do in the draft, including recent visits and top prospects at each position:
Round 1 (pick 29) – Tight End:
Some might argue that the Patriots need help on both offensive and defensive lines when they look to use their 29th overall pick in the first round, but as I see it, the Patriots need a tight end and this class is top-heavy. A top-heavy tight end class means once you’re out of the second round, the drop-off can be significant. In other words, the Patriots hopefully won’t pull the ‘trade their first for a second and two third-round picks’ routine.
Pats fans will be able to hold their breath without passing out for the top prospect at tight end Eric Ebron to be picked because he’s not getting out of the top-10 or top-15. He possesses similar skillset to Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, etc. as a pass-catching tight end. I think it’s more realistic for Patriots fans to set their sights on Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech, Austin Seferian-Jenkins out of Washington or Troy Niklas out of Notre Dame.
Jace Amaro is projected to go in the first round and could be off the board before the Patriots select, but he would be a good compliment to Gronkowski for the season as he learns how to effectively block. At 6’5 254 pounds, Amaro found the end zone seven times while gaining 1,352 yards through the air. He was hardly asked to block, but the part I find appealing is the fact that he worked out of the slot position for Texas Tech. As big of a putz as Hernandez turned out to be, he was an effective counterpart to Gronkowski and it flat out worked here for a few years.
According to NFL Network’s Mike Mayock – “He’s a very natural hands catcher, and he’s a mismatch inside against the linebacker or safety. He could slide late into the first round, but I doubt it. I think he’s [going to] be an early second-round pick.”
Amaro ran a slower 4.74 at the NFL Combine, but when Gronkowski went down, the Patriots found little relief from any option in the red zone. This bigger target with great hands offers a little insurance in a Gronk-less offense along side the addition of 6’2 Brandon LaFell.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (just Jenkins for the purpose of my fingers cramping) is projected to go in the late first round, right where the Pats sit. There is two ways to go about drafting a tight end this season. Up until this point, I’m gambling for the quick payoff across from Gronk and get one that maybe lacks in blocking skills, but makes up in the passing game. Jenkins is yet another viable option in the passing game.
Coming into the season, Jenkins had won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top tight end, but had a rough season, which included a decline in production. He also got arrested for a DUI and suffered a few injuries, the latest being a partially fractured foot that kept him from partaking fully in the NFL Combine and Washington’s Pro Day. He has since proclaimed he’s recovered and a workout he held a few weeks back seems to confirm that as a former NFL scout, Dave-Te Thomas told reporters that he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash while working out for the Jets. Hernandez ran a 4.64 as a frame of reference.
The DUI is concerning, but is also a reason he just may fall in your lap in the late first round. He’s good value for the Patriots, who have consistently ignored small arrests for the sake of talent.
I said I was gambling on the quick payoff earlier in the article, but there is another way to go about drafting a tight end for the Pats. At the end of this season, it is a very possible scenario that the Patriots won’t pick up an option for Rob Gronkowski, which would make Gronk a free agent. His time with New England has been injury plagued and the option, if picked up, would pay Gronk about $15 million in 2015. If Gronkowski can’t stay healthy, maybe the Patriots look to draft a tight end that ultimately replaces Gronk, as opposed to one that compliments him.
Troy Niklas is projected to go in the second round and is thought to be somewhat of a work in progress. According to Sports Illustrated writer Chris Burke, ‘Niklas has advanced blocking skills in comparison to the rest of the tight end draft.’ This, along with many other articles seem to think that being the biggest tight end of the top-4 (6’6, 270 pounds) he could become the best overall tight end this season.
You want the numbers? Niklas caught 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns last season, but experts think he has only begun to scratch the surface of what he can be as a tight end in the NFL. He compares more to Gronkowski in the sense that he can block effectively and is a true three-down tight end. He’s slower than Gronk and less explosive in the redzone, but if a tight end is to be groomed to take Gronk’s spot, this may be the guy, especially with a QB like Tom Brady.
I’m of the mindset of win now. That means that you risk the Gronkowski situation by adding a talent that is a contrast to Gronk. Gronkowski will have the motivation to play in every game this season because of that option looming. He obviously wants the money here, but there’s also motivation to stay healthy and appeal to other teams if the Pats opt to let him go.
The Patriots recently hosted Dustin Keller, but NESN reports that even if the Pats signed him, the often-injured Keller wouldn’t stop New England from still drafting one and neither do I. The Patriots don’t need Keller and it’s been days since his visit and still no signing, so I doubt that happens.
A few teams need tight ends like the Seahawks, Packers, Jets and Ravens proving that the Patriots shouldn’t sit on a thin tight end draft class, but instead get one early.
As far as visits, the Patriots have had a visit with former Iowa tight end, C.J. Fiedorowicz and according to C.J. the Patriots are among the teams that have shown him the most interest prior to the draft. He’s another candidate for the draft, but I don’t like him as much as the other three. C.J. had 30 catches for 299 yards and six touchdowns.
Coming up: 2nd round – defensive end