The New England Patriots are in the perfect position to trade down in the 2014 NFL draft.
It’s unlikely that all of the quarterback-needy teams selecting in the top 10 (Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings) will draft a signal-caller in the first round. If a top quarterback falls to No. 29, where the Patriots are selecting, one of those teams might be willing to trade back into the first round to ensure they grab some help.
In this week’s seven-round Patriots mock draft, we have New England trading with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Round 1, pick No. 29: Trade
The Patriots trade pick Nos. 29 and 93 to Jacksonville Jaguars for pick Nos. 39, 70 and 205. This allows New England to stockpile more picks to fill needs across the roster, while Jacksonville moves up to take a quarterback.
Round 2, pick No. 39: Stephon Tuitt, defensive lineman, Notre Dame
The Patriots should have learned their lesson last season that a lack of depth along the defensive line can hurt. They lost Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead by Week 5, and were left with just Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga and Isaac Sopoaga by the end of the season — only Vellano was on the roster at the start of training camp.
It makes sense for the Patriots to switch to a 3-4 base defense this season, and Tuitt is experienced as a five-technique defensive end in that alignment. He also can get after the passer from defensive tackle on passing downs, and if the Patriots want to use a big 4-3 alignment, he can play defensive end in a four-man front.
Tuitt might be slightly risky as a first-round pick because of his injury history, but he would be worth taking after a trade down into the second round.
Round 2, pick No. 62: Troy Niklas, tight end, Notre Dame
The Patriots are hoping Rob Gronkowski can stay healthy in 2013, though obviously that’s far from guaranteed. Since his health is such a risk, the Patriots need a competent backup behind Gronkowski, who preferably can line up on the field simultaneously, as well.
Niklas has a lot of upside as a receiver, but he’s better as a blocker right now. He would be a perfect fit to learn behind Gronk, and their personalities are similar, too.
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound former Golden Domer had 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns as a junior in 2013.
Round 3, pick No. 70: Billy Turner, offensive lineman, North Dakota State
Turner played tackle in the FCS, but a switch to guard could be in his future. Patriots All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins was a left tackle at Fresno State before seamlessly moving to guard as a rookie for the Patriots in 2005. Even if Turner can’t start immediately, he’ll be valuable depth along the line.
Round 3, pick No. 93: Trade
Round 4, pick No. 130: Howard Jones, linebacker, Shepherd
Jones is a similar player to Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, since neither had a defined role coming out of college. Jones likely projects as a pass rusher, but he’s undersized at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. He tore up the combine and would be a nice project as a pass rusher who can play special teams in the meantime.
Round 4, pick No. 140: Storm Johnson, running back, Central Florida
Johnson would give the Patriots a powerful back who can catch passes out of the backfield. He’s just 6 feet, 209 pounds, but he plays much bigger. Johnson caught 30 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns last year to go with 213 carries for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Round 6, pick No. 198: Connor Shaw, quarterback, South Carolina
The Patriots can afford to wait one more year before drafting the heir to Tom Brady. They can see what they have in Shaw until 2015.
Round 6, pick No. 205: Corey Linsley, center, Ohio State
The Patriots can use all of the interior line depth they can find in the draft. Linsley has the size and athleticism that the Patriots typically look for in a center.
Round 6, pick No. 206: Rob Blanchflower, tight end, UMass
The Patriots need to stockpile talent at tight end to plan for the seemingly inevitable — another Gronkowski injury. Blanchflower isn’t exactly the embodiment of health, himself, since he missed half of the Minutemen’s season, the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day with a sports hernia. If he can get back on the field, he’ll be valuable depth behind Gronkowski and Niklas.
Round 7, pick No. 244: Bennett Jackson, cornerback, Notre Dame
If the reports are true that Bill Belichick wants to move Logan Ryan to safety, the Patriots will need another cornerback. Jackson has similar size and athleticism to Ryan at 6 feet, 195 pounds with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, 6.75-second three-cone drill and 4.00-second short shuttle. Ryan ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash with a 6.69-second three-cone drill and 4.06-second short shuttle at 5-foot-11, 191 pounds.