The New England Patriots might have to take a calculated risk in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.
If the Patriots take a defensive tackle, they could miss out on one of the top cornerback prospects, all of whom seem to be rising up draft boards. A player such as UConn’s Byron Jones might have fallen to the Patriots in the second round, but then he destroyed the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day, and now likely will be selected in the first round.
The Patriots should look to take a future No. 1 cornerback. They have decent depth with Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher and Alfonzo Dennard, but none of those players have the potential to be a lock-down defensive back.
If the Patriots take a cornerback, however, they could miss out on a top nose tackle. Their need along the defensive line might be even greater than at cornerback, because after Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch, the Patriots lack dependable run-stuffers. Most of the top nose tackles are projected to be selected late in the first round or early in the second.
With that in mind, here’s what I would do if I was in charge of the Patriots on draft day:
First Round (32nd overall): Kevin Johnson, cornerback, Wake Forest
If the Patriots are going to draft a cornerback, their best bet is to act early. The position could get shallow by the time the Patriots pick in the second round.
It’s still unclear how the cornerbacks will fall off the board, but Johnson, Jones, Washington’s Marcus Peters, Utah’s Eric Rowe and Florida State’s Ronald Darby all would be worth picking here.
It might not be wise to count on a rookie cornerback to come in and start from Day 1, but the Patriots need a player with the potential to be a No. 1.
Second Round (64th overall): Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle, Clemson
The Patriots might be able to wait and grab Jarrett in the second round. He’s currently rated as a third-rounder by The Sports Xchange, but that seems a little low. Jarrett is slightly undersized at 6-foot-1, 304 pounds, but he’s strong, athletic and explosive, and he could add weight in the NFL to fill Vince Wilfork’s old role.
The Patriots need another big body to clog up their defensive line.
Third Round (96th overall): Chris Conley, wide receiver, Georgia
Conley is the most athletic wide receiver in the draft, and he’s not as raw as past workout warriors like Stephen Hill and Darrius Heyward-Bey. He wasn’t overly productive at Georgia, which is concerning, but he has tons of upside.
Third Round (97th overall): Ben Heeney, linebacker, Kansas
The Patriots must select a linebacker early in the 2015 NFL draft, because they lack any semblance of depth at the position behind starters Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo. Hightower and Mayo are coming off injuries, and the Patriots need insurance.
Heeney is one of the most athletic linebackers in the draft, and he should be able to fill Jonathan Casillas’ role from last season.
Fourth Round (101st overall): Arie Kouandjio, guard, Alabama
The Patriots will need to hope Kouandijo drops in the draft because of medical question marks. He underwent multiple surgeries on both knees during his time at Alabama. Center Bryan Stork dropped to the fourth round last year because of medical issues.
Fourth Round (131st overall): Hau’oli Kikaha, outside linebacker, Washington
Kikaha also is expected to drop because of medical question marks, but he could fill the role Akeem Ayers played last season as a pass rusher and off-the-line linebacker. Free-agent addition Jabaal Sheard doesn’t offer as much ability to drop back and cover.
Kikaha isn’t an overly impressive athlete, but he was extremely productive at Washington and said at the combine that he is open to playing inside linebacker in the NFL.
Sixth Round (177th overall): Josh Robinson, running back, Mississippi State
The Patriots are showing interest in taking a running back early, but with LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Tyler Gaffney and Brandon Bolden on the roster, plus James White and Travaris Cadet ready to contribute on third down, it might not need to be addressed on the first two days of the draft.
Robinson is undersized and not overly athletic, but he showed an impressive burst and the ability to run people over at Mississippi State. He could compete with some of those players listed above for a roster spot.
Seventh Round (219th overall): AJ Derby, tight end, Arkansas
Derby began his college career as a quarterback before moving to tight end in his senior year. He caught 22 passes for 303 yards with three touchdowns. He impressed at his pro day, running the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds. He also ran a 6.99-second 3-cone drill and 4.51-second short shuttle.
The seventh round is when the Patriots starting drafting projects, and Derby has plenty of upside.
Seventh Round (253rd overall): Geremy Davis, wide receiver, UConn
The Patriots lack dependable depth at receiver, so they might as well double up at the position. Davis didn’t have a single drop during his senior season, and he would bring a big, physical presence to the position. He doesn’t have flashy speed, but he could compete for a roster spot.
Thumbnail photo via Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports
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