COMMENTARY | New England Patriots fans need something to get excited about after falling a game short from an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII. Mock drafts can do just that. Here's my first take:
First Round - Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech (6'5", 260 lbs)
Drafting a big and talented tight end like Texas Tech's Jace Amaro could solve a lot of problems for the New England Patriots.
Firstly, the Patriots would have a quality tight end to fill in for Rob Gronkowski should he have a lengthy recovery from ACL surgery or should he get hurt again. He's not the blocker that Gronk is but he is a terror in the passing game who showcases great hands, solid route running and serious after-the-catch skills.
Secondly, should Gronk stay out of the injury bug's bite radius, the Patriots would be able to deploy their two-tight end set that gave defenses fits in years past. Amaro spent most of his time in the slot at Texas Tech and would naturally be a perfect fit as the "move" tight end in the Patriots' offensive scheme with Gronk manning his usually "Y" spot.
Tom Brady's biggest strength has always been passing in the middle of the field. No 12's days are numbered. It's time to maximize that strength and give him another big target between the numbers.
Second Round - Xavier Su'a Filo, OG, UCLA (6'3", 305 lbs)
The Patriots could use some youth and more importantly some talent on the interior of their offensive line.
Logan Mankins is still a beast at left guard, but right guard Dan Connolly and center Ryan Wendell really struggled at times in 2013.
Wendell is a free agent. The thought here is that the Pats may opt to let him walk, move Dan Connolly back to center where, in my opinion, he is more effective and then draft an offensive lineman.
Su'a Filo is a big man at 6'3'', 305 lbs, but he's still an impressively agile athlete who has experience at both guard and tackle. He's quick and has a lot of power at the point of attack. His technique isn't perfect, but he already looks like a fairly accomplished pass protector, and his size and athleticism bodes well for his NFL run blocking.
With right tackle Sebastian Vollmer returning from injury in 2014, Su'a Filo would undoubtedly be in a dogfight with fourth-year man Marcus Cannon (who took over at right tackle for Vollmer in 2013) for the starting gig at right guard. But even if he lost the fight, it would be nice to have a guy like Su'a Filo in the pipeline.
Third Round - DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State (6'3", 320 lbs)
When Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down to injury, the Patriots had to rely on guys like Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga and Joe Vellano at defensive tackle.
While the youngsters played well at times, the team needs better depth behind the two old men in the starting lineup, especially when considering that they are both coming off season-ending lower body injuries.
Jones was an absolute monster at Penn State. He led the Big 10 with 11.5 tackles for losses. He's great at shedding blocks and taking on multiple blockers. He's a big man who plays with a lot of power but also has good burst off the line.
The Patriots could line Jones up all over the defensive front at the 1 or 3 technique in their 4-3 defense or as a 5 technique in their 3-4 defense.
The Patriots may need to move up a bit to get Jones, but it'd be worth it.
Fourth Round - Aaron Lynch, DE/OLB, South Florida (6'6", 244 lbs)
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich make for a strong pair of defensive ends, but they can't do it all by themselves, all the time.
The Patriots need to add a guy to the defensive end rotation to improve the consistency of their edge rush.
Lynch could really help.
As a freshman at Notre Dame in 2011, Lynch aggravated collegian offensive lines on the regular, primarily from the five-technique in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense--he weighed around 265 at the time. After leading the team in sacks with 5.5, along with seven tackles for losses, 14 quarterback hurries and one forced fumble, Lynch earned freshman All-America honors.
Lynch transferred to USF in 2012 but was forced to sit out the season in accordance with NCAA rules. However, when he got his chance in 2013, he tore it up. He led the Bulls with six sacks and 12.5 tackles for losses as well as 30 total tackles on his way to a first-team All-AAC selection.
He's got the length and speed to immediately help as a designated pass rusher on passing downs but given his ability to add weight, he could develop into an every down player down the road.
Sixth Round (via PHI) - Dontae Johnson, CB, N.C. State (6'2", 195 lbs)
The Patriots don't have a big corner to back up Aqib Talib (and yes I'm operating under the assumption that he returns in 2014).
When Talib went down in the AFC Championship game (again) 5-foot-10 Dennard was asked to cover 6-foot-3 Demaryius Thomas and it wasn't pretty. Dennard is good corner, but sometimes there just isn't a good substitute for size.
Johnson is a big corner who's also seen time at safety. He's a good athlete, plays with a lot of physicality and has flashed good ball skills throughout his collegiate career.
He's definitely a project but he has the physical traits to potentially develop into a solid corner.
Sixth Round - Caleb Lavey, ILB, Oklahoma State (6'3", 235 lbs)
The 2013 season likely was Brandon Spikes' last season in New England.
Though Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are penciled in as starters in 2014, the Patriots could stand to build some depth behind them, especially considering Dane Fletcher is a free agent as well.
Lavey probably won't wow you with his athleticism but he's good against the run (12.5 tackles for a loss in 213) and excels in coverage (four interceptions).
He's an instinctive player who seems to have a firm understanding of the game.
Could be a steal late in the draft.
Seventh Round - Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina (6'0", 210)
If the Patriots get the opportunity to trade backup quarterback Ryan Mallett this offseason, they'll do it.
Considering 2014 is Mallett's last season under his rookie deal, they need to start thinking about a contingency plan regardless.
With that said, Connor Shaw is an intriguing option. He's an efficient passer (only one interception in 2013) and can make plays with his legs (558 yards). If not for his size--or lack thereof--Shaw may be viewed more as a mid-round pick.
If not drafted, Shaw will definitely be signed by NFL team as a free agent. If they Patriots like him, using their 7th round pick to ensure he's a Patriot seems like good business.
James DiMaio is a Yahoo contributor who also covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for Bleacher Report.
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