The Patriots went with two skill position players in the first 36 picks of the draft. They selected running back Laurence Maroney to be Corey Dillon's heir apparent with the 21st selection and then traded up in the second round to grab Florida's Chad Jackson with the 36th pick. Both players have top 15 talent and should be able to come in and help the Patriots in their first season.
In the third round, the Patriots stayed on the offensive side of the ball and took their annual tight end in Texas' David Thomas. Thomas is a good pass catching tight end who should be able to come in and fill the void left by Christian Fauria. He could also be groomed to take over for Daniel Graham – who is a free agent after the 2006 season.
Day 2 of the Patriots draft will most likely see the team switch gears and focus on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker, defensive back and nose tackle are positions the team will most likely target on Sunday.
While the Patriots are off to a fast start, strong teams are built in the middle rounds of the draft. Here are the best players available at positions the Patriots should be focusing on tomorrow.
Even though the Patriots selected Jackson with their second selection, they could still use one more receiver on Day 2, especially one with the versatility to be a kick returner as well.
Skyler Green, LSU – The Patriots were able to steal Jackson – arguably the best receiver in this draft – but they still need to upgrade their return game. Green can be a Dante Hall-type player where he can play some slot receiver and be an explosive kick returner. Green should be selected in the fourth or fifth round area and since the Patriots have really tried to improve their special teams this offseason, he's is a possibility to join his cousin Jarvis in New England.
Mike Hass, Oregon State - Hass is a smart receiver who can pick up the Patriots system quickly and contribute as a slot receiver in his first year. He's the type of player who will earn Tom Brady's trust quickly with his soft hands and ability to get open. Hass isn't going to wow you when you look at him but he's one of those guys that understands how to play the game of football and is very comfortable on the field. He would be a nice compliment to Deion Branch and Chad Jackson as a possession receiver and could fill the void left by Troy Brown once he retires.
Todd Watkins, BYU – Watkins is a tall receiver who is a big-time deep threat. He scored 15 touchdowns in two seasons at BYU, despite the team's inconsistent play at the quarterback position. He has very good hands and a knack of making tough catches look easy. Watkins readjusts well to the ball and made a lot of acrobatic catches in college. He needs work on his route running and with his slim build he doesn't break a lot of tackles. Watkins is raw and probably won't contribute much as a receiver in his first season but he can be a dangerous return man because of his speed and elusiveness in the open field.
Offensive LineThe Patriots used two of their first three selections last year on offensive linemen but they can still use some depth, especially at guard and center. Here are a couple of players who have the athletic ability and versatility the Patriots like out of their linemen.
Jahri Evans (G), Bloomsburg – A big lineman with a huge wingspan. His long arms allow him to fight off defenders. Evans is versatile: he can play either guard or tackle in the NFL. Absolutely dominated at the small college level and is a punishing run blocker. He'll probably play guard in the NFL because he's a Larry Allen-type mauler inside. Evans is raw and needs work on his technique but he's one of those small school players who could end up dominating in the pros with a good offensive line coach like Dante Scarnecchia.
Ryan Gibbons (OT), Northeastern – A local product who is a smart player and got better every year he was at Northeastern. Plays with a mean streak and has the attitude and athleticism a lineman needs to dominate. Gibbons is a better run blocker than he is a pass blocker right now but if a team can get a hold of him and improve his footwork, Gibbons could be a late round/undrafted free agent find. He's the kind of player who has enough skill that a team like the Patriots can mold in two or three years to be a solid starting offensive linemen like they did with Tom Ashworth and Stephen Neal.
Patrick Ross (C/G), Boston College – Ross is another local product the Patriots could be interested in. He's a smart player who succeeds because he plays with good technique. Dan Koppen is coming off an injury and is a free agent next year, so adding a young center makes sense for the Patriots. Ross would provide depth at the center position and could become an eventual starter in New England. He's definitely a Patriots-kind of lineman.
The Patriots are pretty set along the defensive line but they could use some depth at nose tackle behind Vince Wilfork. There are still some good defensive tackles left on the board that fit the Patriots system and could be possibilities on the second day. There are also some good DE/OLB tweeners still available who project as edge rushers in the 3-4 defense.
Brent Hawkins (DE), Illinois State – Hawkins began his college career at Purdue before transferring to Illinois State where he was a two-year starter. He dominated at the Division I-AA level, recording 17 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss as a senior. Hawkins has one of the quickest first steps of any player in this draft and that's something you just can't teach. He's so quick off the ball that he looks like he's offsides most of the time. He played defensive end in college but at 245 pounds, Hawkins projects as a 3-4 edge rusher in the NFL. He was the Defensive MVP of the Hula Bowl and with his athletic ability Hawkins has as much upside of any defensive player in this draft. Hawkins isn't only athletic but he shows good instincts on the field and is also better in coverage than most people would think. Hawkins won't fit into every scheme but he has the freakish skills to be an impact player in the right system and that system is the one the Patriots run. Give Bill Belichick a guy with Hawkins' raw physical tools and ability to rush the passer and you could be looking at a Pro Bowler two or three years down the road.
Mark Anderson (DE), Alabama – Anderson really shined at the Senior Bowl. He finished off a great week in Mobile by beating D'Brickashaw Ferguson for a sack during the game. With a lot of the DE/OLB tweeners expected to go high in this draft, Anderson is sort of flying under the radar. Projected to go somewhere in the late first day-early second day area, Anderson's pass rushing skills are as good as some of the player who will be selected ahead of him. He's extremely quick off the ball and also shows a nice inside move. Anderson has good instincts and can beat offensive linemen in a variety of ways. He's only 254 pounds, so there are some concerns about him holding up against the run but he did a pretty good job in that area at Alabama despite his size. Anderson has the ability to play outside in the 3-4 defense, so he's a possibility for the Patriots if they don't go linebacker early in the draft.
Babatunde Oshinowo, Stanford – A perfect fit for the Patriots as a backup to Wilfork. Oshinowo has experience playing nose tackle in the 3-4 defense at Stanford and is very stout against the run. He's a smart player and that allows him to recognize plays and get to the ball carrier despite his lack of quickness. Oshinowo isn't a great inside pass rusher but neither is Wilfork. In a 3-4 defense, nose tackles need to take on blocks and stuff the run and that's exactly what Oshinowo excels at. He isn't as highly regarded because he lacks some of the physical skills teams crave. The Patriots, however, look for players who fit their system and Oshinowo is one of those players. If the Patriots can land Oshinowo on the second day, they will have another steal on their hands.
Montavious Stanley, Louisville – Stanley is an underrated prospect at defensive tackle, probably because Elvis Dumervil overshadowed him at Louisville. While Dumervil got all the sacks, Stanley was a big reason why. He is such a force inside that most teams had to double-team him and that allowed Dumervil to beat one-on-one blocking. Stanley is a powerful run defender who does a really good job at shedding blocks. He tore his pectoral muscle late last season but he appears to be fully recovered. Watching him on tape, he makes a lot of plays in the backfield, especially against the run. At 321 pounds, Stanley has the size and playing style to play nose tackle in the NFL. For a middle-late round pick, Stanley offers a lot of upside and could turn into a really good pro player.
LinebackersThe Patriots decided to focus on the offensive side of the football on the first day of the draft. They were able to land some quality players but they still need to address the linebacker position. Don't be surprised if they select two linebackers on Day 2 of the draft to build some depth at that position. Of course, players above like Hawkins and Anderson would also be considered as linebackers in the Patriots defensive scheme.
Oliver Hoyte, North Carolina State – PFW's top ranked middle linebacker is still on the board and a player we believe the Patriots really like. Hoyte is the most physical player at his position and was extremely productive in college. He played all over the place for North Carolina State because of his versatility but his physical style of play, instincts and toughness project him inside at the pro level. Hoyte has all the traits and intangibles the Patriots like and defensive coordinator Dean Pees is already impressed with his knowledge of the game. Don't be surprised if Hoyte becomes a Patriot on Sunday.
Dale Robinson, Arizona State – When watching Robinson you can see that he plays with a mean streak. He not only tackles people, he punishes them. Sometimes he tackles a little high but he's a vicious hitter and the kind of physical player who would fit in well as a 3-4 middle linebacker. Robinson makes plays all over the field and really excels against the run. Another positive with Robinson is he played both inside and outside linebacker at Arizona State. While he has the speed to play outside, his bruising style of play probably makes him a better fit inside in the NFL. Robinson is a player with a nasty streak who has fun dishing out punishment on the football field so if the Patriots do draft him, they should put his locker right next to Rodney Harrison because the two of them play with a similar attitude.
Kai Parham, Virginia - At his pre-draft press conference, Belichick said Virginia is the college team whose defense most resembles the Patriots because of Al Groh. Parham played middle linebacker for the Cavaliers so if he's a player Belichick likes, there's a good chance he could become a Patriot tomorrow. Parham is big (252 pounds) but he doesn't shed blocks as well as he should for his size. He doesn't have great speed but a middle linebacker in the 3-4 defense doesn't really need to be that fast. Parham would be a decent choice on Day 2 but he needs time to develop.
The Patriots are always looking for defensive backs and it wouldn't be surprising to see them draft a couple on Sunday. As New England fans know all too well, the Patriots can never have enough quality defensive backs.
Darnell Bing, (S) USC – I don't like Bing personally but I said he was more of a fourth round draft pick and that's probably where the Patriots would take him. I don't like Bing's instincts on the football field and I think he misses too many tackles but he is an athlete and I won't kick and scream if the Patriots get him on the second day of the draft. The team had him in for a couple of visits, so he's a player they may be interested in.
Derrick Martin (CB), Wyoming – If the Patriots don't draft a cornerback early, I think Martin would be an excellent selection in the middle rounds. He's a player who can come in and play in the slot as a rookie and contribute on special teams. Martin is very athletic and has the speed to break on the ball and run with receivers down the field. He plays well against bigger receivers and has the ball skills to make a lot of big plays. Martin has the instincts to look up for the ball at the right time and make a play on it, something that's very hard to teach. He plays with good technique and showed the ability to blitz off the corner at Wyoming. Martin is a good tackler and physical against the run, despite weighing only 190 pounds. He's a little raw but with good coaching and hard work, Martin has enough physical ability to become a starting cornerback in the NFL in the near future. He would be an excellent middle-round pick for the Patriots.
Depending on how many picks the Patriots end up keeping, there is a good possibility they'll draft a kicker with one of their later picks. Even if they don't, expect them to bring in one or two young kickers to compete with Martin Gramatica in training camp.
Stephen Gostkowski, Memphis – Gostkowski has the strongest leg of any kicker in this draft and he's very accurate, especially from long range. His deep kick offs add to his value. Gostkowski could be an intriguing selection with one of the Patriots sixth round selections and would push Gramatica for the starting job.
Connor Hughes, Virginia – Besides a subpar junior season, Hughes was very consistent over his four-year career at Virginia. Hughes hit 21-out-of-24 field goals as a senior and like Gostkowski he has a strong leg. He would be another rookie who could come in and compete for a starting job in camp.