Finally, nearly three months of offseason draft prep has dwindled down to the final hours of anticipation. It's going to feel good for everyone to get through this weekend, which will completely turn the focus toward the field for the last month and a half of offseason workouts.
Let's run through this week's Two-Minute Drill, which reviews my first nine mock drafts and then weighs a number of trade scenarios before emptying out the week's notebook.
1. Maybe it's because the Patriots can be completely unpredictable in the draft, or maybe it's because they've got two late first-round picks, but I've been all over the place with their picks in my nine mock drafts. I've slotted 10 players over the course of their 18 picks (two each week for nine weeks).
2. Those 10 players have been Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus (four times), Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still (twice), Clemson defensive end Andre Branch (twice), LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers (twice), Alabama safety Mark Barron (twice), North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins (twice), Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones.
3. At this point, it looks like there's no chance that Barron or Gilmore are still on the board by the time the Patriots are up at No. 27. It seems slim that Brockers will still be there, and I think there's a decent chance either Mercilus or Jones will be around. The other five are very realistic possibilities.
4. Unless something happens to change my opinion in the coming hours, I'm planning to take Jenkins off the Patriots' draft board in time for Thursday's 10th and final mock due to his quotes in Tuesday's Palm Beach Post story. I can still see the Patriots taking a chance on him in the second round, but I'm thinking they'll want to use their first-round assets on something else. The quotes line up with NFL.com's story about Jenkins' falling stock earlier this month.
5. Jenkins could be like any other 23-year-old who needs to learn how to mature. There's nothing wrong with that theory at all. The problem teams will have is that he's repeated some immature acts, and the quotes show that he's deflecting blame rather than taking responsibility for his actions. The debate teams must have is whether or not they believe they can lay down a structure that will get through to Jenkins and maximize the talent that should have turned him into a top-15 pick.
6. The Patriots are very well set at the top of their depth chart, and they've got some quality reserves who will again make this one of the deepest teams in the NFL in 2012. For that, it's worth wondering if they should identify an elite player early in the first round and package some picks to move up. I can see the logic from both sides.
7. Let's use Barron as an example because he'd be the most realistic home-run pick, in my opinion. Many analysts believe Barron will be off the board by the time the Cowboys pick at No. 14. For the Patriots to move up to Nos. 12 or 13, I'm guessing they'd have to surrender one of two deals — either both of their first-round picks, or the 27th pick and both second-rounders (Nos. 48 and 62). If they agree to the latter, I'd guess that they'd acquire a fourth- or fifth-rounder in return.
8. Let's roll out three scenarios: If the Patriots keep their first four picks, they might end up with something like Jones, Worthy (or Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David), Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson and Boise State safety George Iloka.
9. If the Patriots have the 13th and 31st picks, they could land Barron and either Jones, Mercilus or Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry. And there's no reason the Patriots can't trade out of No. 31 to get Curry and an additional fifth-rounder.
10. If the Patriots have the 13th, 48th and 62nd picks, they could nab Barron, Johnson and maybe even Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin, whose draft stock is all over the place.
11. I guess it comes down to a matter of preference. Barron could be a phenomenal addition, but trading for him would mean sacrificing the ability to also select a very good coverage linebacker like David, a starting-caliber corner like Johnson or a pass-rushing prospect like Curry. I fully admit this is a very imperfect exercise, but I thought it was interesting to add some names to help the context.
12. I think we can all agree it's more realistic to see another five (relatively) snowless winters in Boston than to see the Patriots trade into the top 13 for Barron. But if I were running the team, I would trade the two first-rounders before trading one first-rounder and two second-rounders because I think they can address some good needs in that second round.
13. If Bill Belichick makes a surprising pick in one of the first two rounds (aside from the joking response that he'd add a first-round edge rusher for the first time in his tenure), I'd go with a tackle or inside linebacker. The Patriots' ideal scenario would be for Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer to man the tackle positions for the next decade, but Vollmer's back should be a concern, especially as he enters a contract year. So, if the Patriots select a tackle early in the draft, it may not be the greatest sign for Vollmer's back. If they don't, well, that's a very good sign.
14. One more on that note: I'll still refer to Marcus Cannon as a right tackle until I see something that makes me believe the Patriots are seriously grooming him to play guard. But it's unclear if Cannon can take over for a longer stretch next season if there's an injury. I think that's part of the reason why the Patriots signed Robert Gallery, whose best position is at guard, although he can fill in at tackle in a pinch. And for an unknown prospect, keep an eye on Matt Kopa, who spent last season on the practice squad.
15. Now, back to inside linebacker: If the Steelers pass on Alabama's Dont'a Hightower, don't be surprised at all if the Patriots jump on him at No. 27, assuming the Ravens don't trade up for him. Since Hightower and Jerod Mayo have the versatility to play in multiple spots, it could definitely work. But more importantly, the Patriots' defense took a big hit last season when Mayo and Brandon Spikes went down, and Dane Fletcher's injury didn't help, either. Expect Belichick to add depth there.
16. Another player I like is David, who has first-round instincts and talent but second-round size (6-foot-1, 233 pounds). The Patriots need a linebacker with better coverage skills — Mayo is solid, but Spikes and Fletcher need improvement — and David can fill that role in sub packages.
17. Here's a fact you probably weren't ready for, especially on the heels of all of that trade talk: Since 2001, the Patriots have traded up in the draft 15 times, and down in the draft 13 times. Of course, the last time they moved up in the first round was 2003, when they jumped from No. 14 to No. 13 for Ty Warren. They've traded down in the first round five times in that same span — all of which have happened since 2008.
18. Last week, Solder mentioned the challenges of gaining weight, which is one of his goals the offseason, but it's also been a goal since his freshman year of college. He said he was at about 310 pounds and could see himself getting to around 320 or 330 at some point down the road, although he stressed the importance of gaining good weight as opposed to bad weight.
"It's not hard to gain a lot of weight that's not going to help you play football," Solder said. "So when I say it's hard to gain weight, it's hard because it takes a lot in the weight room. You've got to be lifting hard because you want to gain muscle and you want to stay fast, you want to stay flexible and those sorts of things, too.
"I think a lot of it comes down to your diet, how you're eating. I'm just eating four or five meals a day, protein shakes in between. So that's sort of what goes into it."
19. Cornerback Will Allen has always been a good cover corner, and if he makes the team, it'll be because of his value in the slot, where he played recently with the Dolphins. Miami, of course, had a pair of very good young cornerbacks in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, which pushed Allen into the slot more often than not. Allen, though, knows how much more important a slot corner is now compared to the time he entered the NFL in 2001.
"Yeah, extremely, if you look at where most of the balls are thrown, a lot of the balls are thrown in there, especially with where the game is turning now with a lot of slot guys getting a lot of balls," Allen said. "If you take a guy like Wes [Welker], Wes gets the ball a ton, and [so do the] tight ends. It's easier throws for the quarterback, and the fact that [teams] are spreading guys out, and you create most mismatches inside there."
20. Speaking of Welker, Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said he still isn't giving his teammate any advice during his contract situation. Remember, Branch went through something similar before he was traded to Seattle in 2006. Rather than getting involved, Branch said they just stay in touch as friends.
"We all know it's a business," Branch said. "Wes knows that. The organization knows that. We have to let the two of them handle that, and they'll hash it out. That's our friend, regardless of the business side. We always call to check up on him."