Patriots’ 2013 NFL Draft Class Has Boom, Bust, Boring Potential Written All Over It


April 30, 2013

Aaron DobsonThere are many words you can use to describe Patriots head coach (and general manager) Bill Belichick, but when it comes to drafting, conservative is not one of them.

It may appear he is when the Patriots are constantly trading down because it allows them to take more players, but typically the players they do draft are raw and let their workout numbers stand out just as much as their play on the field. On Friday, the Patriots took four players, two of whom are boom or bust prospects, and two of which can be considered “boring” (feel free to replace the word “boring” with “Rutgers”).

Jamie Collins, the Patriots’ first pick in the draft, has all the potential in the world. He destroyed the combine by posting top marks in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, vertical jump and most notably, the broad jump. His play on the field was up and down, though. He never found a true position at Southern Miss, and he’s been knocked for showing a questionable motor at times during the Golden Eagles’ 0-12 2012 season.

Still, Collins was able to put up 10 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 92 tackles during his senior season playing mostly defensive end. In 2011, when Collins was a junior playing more of a hybrid linebacker role, he totaled 98 tackles, 19 1/2 tackles for loss and 6 1/2 sacks. He took down the quarterback 21 times during his four-year career — the first year of which he spent playing safety — with 45 tackles for loss and 314 tackles.

The key to Collins’ success in the pros may be to finally give him a true position rather than making him rely on his versatility as a cover linebacker/pass rusher. The Patriots have holes in both areas, but having a coverage linebacker may be the bigger one right now. If Collins were expected to play on the line across from Chandler Jones, he would need to bulk up from his 250-pound frame to better set the edge against the run. That may limit his speed and flexibility in a coverage role, though. As a cover linebacker, Collins could either stay at 250 pounds or cut weight to stay with tight ends better, and he could still be used as a blitzing linebacker.

At wide receiver, Aaron Dobson looks like what the Patriots have needed for years at the X position. He’s big (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), fast (4.37-second 40-yard dash) and strong (16 reps on the 225-pound bench). But he’s also raw. He wasn’t expected to run many refined routes with the Thundering Herd, and he’ll need to catch on to New England’s massive playbook quickly — and that includes option routes where he’ll need to read the defense.

One of Dobson’s biggest strengths is his smarts, according to analysts. That will certainly come in handy with the Patriots in picking up the playbook. Lets hope that includes football smarts, though. It would have been nice to see the Patriots finally grab a wideout that has experience in a pro-style offense, but if Dobson can put it all together — and fast — he could be a “boom” prospect. Unfortunately, like Collins, due to his rawness, Dobson has bust potential.

At the very least, Dobson can hopefully finally provide the offense with a field stretcher who can threaten defenses deep. Last year the best deep target on the team was Rob Gronkowski, who has the size needed, but not the speed. The Patriots will just need to hope that Dobson can do what other second- and third-round wide receivers couldn’t in Foxboro. Taylor Price, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate and Bethel Johnson all had the size and speed that Dobson provides, but they couldn’t last, combining for just 1,075 receiving yards in their Patriots careers.

Patriots fans essentially know what they’re getting out of third-round defensive backs Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon and seventh-round linebacker Steve Beauharnais. There’s little bust potential out of these Rutgers grads, but multiple Pro Bowls may not be in their sights either.  All three are smart, hard-working players that will feel like freshmen in college again learning under Devin McCourty. They, along with defensive lineman Justin Francis, will be comfortable playing together on the second or third team in preseason and training camp, and that will likely allow them to contribute early.

All three players have their limitations, too. Ryan had some struggles in man coverage while at Rutgers, and projects better as a zone defender, slot corner or safety. Harmon and Beauharnais may start their careers as special teamers, but unlike players like Malcolm Williams and Tracy White, who are essentially special teamers only, the two Rutgers rookies should provide nice depth at safety and linebacker.

In the fourth round, the Patriots went with another boom or bust workout warrior, wide receiver Josh Boyce. The TCU wideout can play the “Z” wide receiver role or line up in the slot, and his agility and speed should provide a spark in the Patriots offense, if it all comes together. But Boyce is a fourth-round pick, and expecting a mid-rounder to contribute right away isn’t wise.

In the seventh round, yet again, the Patriots grabbed a boom or bust guy in Michael Buchanan. It’s much more forgivable to do that late, and it could turn out to be the best pick New England made. Buchanan joins a crowded pass rusher corps in Foxboro, but his size (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) and athleticism (4.71-second 40-yard dash, 6.91-second 3-cone drill) should allow him to find a spot on the roster. Buchanan has potential to the max, which he showed his junior year at Illinois with 7 1/2 sacks and 13 1/2 tackles for loss across from Whitney Mercilus. But a down senior season and off-field issues are what made him fall all the way to the seventh round.

It’s never a perfect situation to bring in a rookie class with no obvious immediate contributors to a team with holes, but that’s part of the risk-taking ways of Belichick. Had the Patriots stayed at No. 29 or even traded up like they did last year, they could have brought in an obvious starter (or two), but there are serious questions whether Collins, Dobson or Boyce can be starters right away due to their raw ability.

Photo via Facebook/New England Patriots from B/R

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