Patriots' Top Needs & Fits in the 2014 Draft
The Patriots currently have seven picks available to them. They have two sixth-round picks and no fifth-round pick due to the midseason Isaac Sopoaga trade, but they do have one pick in each of the other rounds. That number could swell once compensatory picks are announced.
Here are five areas of need and some potential fits that the Patriots could explore this May.
"Move" Tight End
With Aaron Hernandez wearing an orange jersey this year instead of the red, white and blue, the New England Patriots played 2013 without a true "Move" tight end. They will likely use a pick in the 2014 draft to rectify that situation.
Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Ebron is the crown jewel at the move position this year. At 6'4" and 245 pounds, he isn't going to be asked to be like Rob Gronkowski and become an extra blocker on the line; he will be there to catch passes. Like Hernandez, Ebron is comfortable lining up in the slot, outside or inline when needed. His ability to pick up yardage after the catch would be a huge benefit to the Patriots offense.
Ebron's speed, agility, and elusiveness may push him out of the Patriots' range, as the team is not scheduled to pick until No. 29. With a good combine, he could even solidify himself as a top-15 pick.
Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
Amaro is bigger than Ebron—6'5" and 260 pounds—but he isn't a better blocker. He spent most of his time in the slot in college and will likely do the same in the NFL. He runs decent routes, sports good hands and is a bear to bring down after the catch.
Amaro could be available when the Patriots are on the clock in the first round.
Colt Lyerla (TE, Oregon)
Lyerla is the closest approximation to Hernandez in the 2014 NFL draft, both on and off the field. His tape is hard to argue with—he shows the hands, speed, strength, elusiveness, versatility and agility that will make NFL teams drool—but Jeff Risdon of DetroitLionsDraft.com wrote a piece that sheds some light on the package deal that you'd be getting with Lyerla:
When I probed for reasons why he would just up and quit the program, I got a similar story from just about everyone. They portrayed a naïve, self-absorbed man-child. The substance abuse issues, notably drinking, came up a lot. While described as soft-spoken as and “brighter than he comes off”, multiple sources noted a quick temper and difficulty making real friends. He was tired of dealing with Oregon’s attempts to control him. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to get his way, Lyerla hit the eject button.
Lyerla could be picked by an adventurous team as early as Day 2 of the draft, or he could go undrafted.
"Y" Tight End
With Rob Gronkowski's injured knee healing and the duo of Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan looking at unrestricted free agency, adding an inline or "Y" tight end in addition to a "Move" tight end will be a priority this offseason.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa)
Fiedorowicz looks a lot like Rob Gronkowki—he has a huge 6'7" frame and blocks like a third offensive tackle—but doesn't have the same dynamic ability in the passing game. He offers a consistent, if unspectacular, presence catching the ball while being a phenomenal blocker.
His presence would allow the the Patriots' "12" personnel package to regain some punch. Matthew Mulligan gave them hardly anything in the passing game, but Fiedorowicz could make defenses think twice.
Fiedorowicz has received NFL-level coaching at Iowa—Iowa coaches Kirk and Brian Ferentz have both worked with Bill Belichick—and should be able to contribute immediately. Look for the Patriots to target Fiedorowicz in the second round.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
Like Fiedorowicz, Seferian-Jenkins isn't an elite athlete. At 6'6" and 276 pounds, however, he has the frame to be a solid inline blocker and a competent threat in the red zone.
Unlike Fiedorowicz, Seferian-Jenkins has had some problems off the field, including a drunk-driving arrest. This might have led to a poor junior season—only 36 catches for 450 yards—following his suspension to open the year.
Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher are both set to become unrestricted free agents. If they aren't re-signed, the New England Patriots need to bring in some competition for Steve Beauharnais for the fourth linebacker position behind Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo.
Kyle Van Noy (OLB, Brigham Young)
Van Noy is a Swiss Army knife. He plays the run, can rush the passer and is adept at dropping into both man and zone coverage. He won't wow you in any one area, but his versatility could save a team like the Patriots a roster spot.
At 6'3" and 245 pounds, Van Noy is a little light for an outside linebacker, especially in New England's scheme, but defensive coordinator Matt Patricia can surely find a spot to showcase his talents. Van Noy could be an effective 3-4 OLB due to his rush and cover ability, and he would also be an ideal nickel linebacker to pair with Jamie Collins.
Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa)
Kirksey burst on the NFL draft scene with an impressive performance at the 2014 Senior Bowl. Like Van Noy, he excels moving forwards and backwards.
In addition to rushing the passer and dropping in coverage, Kirksey's lateral range is quite impressive. His best fit would be as a Will linebacker that is free to flow to the ball and rack up tackles. Even if Kirksey couldn't break into the starting lineup as a rookie, he has shown the ability to contribute on special teams coverage and return units.
Interior Offensive Lineman
Change may be in order for the New England Patriots at the interior offensive line positions. Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly have daunting 2014 salary cap figures (almost $14.6 million combined according to OverTheCap.com), while Ryan Wendell is set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Zack Martin (OL, Notre Dame)
Bill Belichick loves to stock his interior line with former left tackles, and Martin should be no exception. Martin has played left tackle in the past, but his future might be at guard in the NFL due to his arm length. Mike Loyko from NEPatriotsDraft.com reported on Martin from the 2014 Senior Bowl:
The reason Martin is so good, is because he keeps it simple. He utilizes sound technique, keeps his hips lower, and moves his feet really well. He’s knows how to get hands on with the DE and just take him where he’s trying to go, usually out of the play.
Martin's attention to detail and balanced skill set could very well make him the Patriots' first pick this May.
Xavier Su'a-Filo (OL, UCLA)
Like Martin, Su'a-Filo has played left tackle in the past but is better suited to guard in the NFL. His pass-blocking skills are evident inside, and he would be a huge upgrade over Connolly.
Despite his strong initial punch, the former Bruin isn't a finished product as a run-blocker. In order to usurp a starting position, however, Su'a-Filo will need to sustain his blocks down the field and continue to work on his balance when moving on screens and pulls.
Hybrid Defensive Tackle / Defensive End
Since former New England Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour was shipped to the Oakland Raiders, New England has lacked a lineman that can consistently win on both the inside as a defensive tackle and on the outside as a defensive end.
Two prospects exist in the 2014 NFL draft that could change that trend.
Ra'Shede Hageman (DL, Minnesota)
While many other NFL draft writers don't share my fervor, I have Hageman listed as my No. 4 prospect in the 2014 draft class. At 6'6" and 318 pounds, Hageman has the frame to dominate outside as a 5-technique defensive end and the strength to collapse the pocket from the 3-technique defensive tackle position.
His ability to two-gap or one-gap gives the Patriots added flexibility on their line. The Patriots often split their defense into a two-gap and a one-gap side, with Vince Wilfork as the anchor in the middle.
Hageman has an effective bull-rush and will occasionally unleash a devastating swim move. If he continues to improve both his motor and technique, Hageman could have a J.J. Watt level of impact on a defensive front.
Dominique Easley (DL, Florida)
Despite measuring in at 6'2" and 285 pounds, Easley gets off the ball in an effortless fashion and has a knack for sneaking through small cracks in the offensive line. If the Patriots want a player to disrupt things in the backfield, he will be the pick.
Easley sustained a season-ending injury early in the 2013 season and may fall a bit in the draft to a spot where the Patriots could get a good value on him.