Back from the Combine, we have put together our first Patriots mock draft of the year. Keep in mind that we haven't watched a lot of film on these players yet and this is being done just before the start of free agency, so our draft is likely to change quite a bit over the next two months. We'll update the mock draft in a couple of weeks after we see what New England does in free agency. This draft is based on Patriots needs, players we think would fit well with the team and tidbits we picked up at the Combine.
Jon Beason, LB Miami (6-0, 237) – PFW started the Patrick Willis bandwagon two months ago but unfortunately, too many people are now riding that train. Willis has propelled himself into the top 20, which means the Patriots would have to trade up to get him. If he's gone, Beason would be a nice consolation prize. Primarily an outside backer at Miami, Beason would move inside for the Patriots. The athletic linebacker has drawn comparisons to Jonathan Vilma, a player Bill Belichick always speaks highly of.
On the surface, Beason looks like a Tampa 2 outside linebacker but that's not necessarily the case. People at the Combine said Beason has the physical ability to move inside and play the MIKE in a 3-4 scheme. That would give the Patriots the luxury of grooming Beason behind Tedy Bruschi and using him on passing downs as a rookie because of his good coverage abilities. Beason is also a big hitter and solid special teams player. He would add some much needed youth and athleticism to an ageing position.
There isn't a lot of buzz about Beason yet, but he's shooting up draft boards and NFL Network's Mike Mayock believes he'll be selected in the first round. With his physical skills and instincts on the field, Beason would be a good fit in New England.
Chris Houston, CB Arkansas (5-10, 185) – Houston was the star of the Combine after running a 4.32 40-yard dash and doing 27 reps of 225 pounds. Some may think Houston is just a workout warrior but that's not the case. Mayock had him highly rated before the Combine based on Houston's play last year. In 2006, he went up against Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Meachem and Dwayne Bowe – all possible first round receivers – and held them to a combined 14 receptions for 168 yards and one touchdown. That's pretty impressive considering all the hype surrounding those three receivers.
After franchising Asante Samuel and with Ellis Hobbs emerging, the Patriots are sitting pretty when it comes to starting corners. However, they have very little depth at that position. New England enters the offseason with no clear-cut third corner on the roster. Houston can come in and play the slot as a rookie but he also has the skills to become a shutdown corner down the road. Houston is a great athlete with all the physical talent teams look for in a defensive back. Plus, playing his best against the toughest receivers he faced last year will bode well for Houston on draft day.
Here at PFW, we think there's a good chance the Patriots could trade one of their two first round picks. This is a draft where there doesn't appear to be much difference in players who are projected to go in the late-first round area from those expected to go in Round 3. This could be a situation where New England trades down to get more value or adds picks for the future. However, if they stay put at 28 and Houston is on the board, he would be a great addition to the Patriots secondary.
Aaron Rouse, S Virginia Tech (6-4, 223) – You can see the theme here of adding young, athletic playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Rouse is a player in the mold of former Cowboy Darren Woodson. He started his college career at linebacker before moving to safety. Rouse has great size and is very physical against he run. What makes him such an appealing prospect is Rouse has the speed and range to defend the deep middle of the field as well.
Another reason we like Rouse as a possible Patriot is he has a little Rodney Harrison in him. He's an intimidator who plays with a mean streak. There is some question about Rouse being a LB/S tweener but those things don't concern the Patriots as much as other teams because they like their players to be versatile. With Harrison's phenomenal career coming to a close, Rouse would be a nice understudy to replace the veteran as the hard-hitting enforcer in New England's defensive backfield.
Jason Hill, WR Washington State (6-0, 204) – I've been projecting Hill to the Patriots here for the last month but that dream might have come to an end after be blazed a 4.32 40-yard dash at the Combine. Hill is still considered a third round prospect because this draft is so deep at receiver but that could change as his stock continues to soar.
I've been backing Hill because I think he would be a perfect fit for the Patriots system. Hill's not only explosive, he's also willing to go over the middle and make tough catches. Hill is known as a great route runner and has the intelligence to pick up an NFL offense quickly. He could come right in and help the Patriots at a position where they really need players to step up. Hill showed a knack for finding the end zone in college. His 32 touchdown receptions are a Washington State record and rank second all-time in Pac 10 history.
Brian Robison, DE/OLB Texas (6-3, 259) – Robison is coming off a stellar senior season and great showing at the Combine. He played both defensive end and linebacker for the Longhorns, but projects as a standup OLB in a 3-4 scheme at the pro level. Mayock doesn't believe there is a sure-fire first round defensive end that can play in the 3-4 like DeMarcus Ware and Kamerion Wimbley who have come out recently. Because of that, the Patriots could look for a mid-round prospect at that position and Robison would be a good choice.
Robison has the burst to rush off the edge along with the ability to drop back and play in space. His stock is rising after a strong Combine but he was a pretty good player throughout his time at Texas as well. Robison isn't going to come right in and start but he's a smart kid who can add depth as a pass rusher early on in his career. Robison also blocked six kicks in college, adding to his value as a special teams player.
Dwayne Wright, RB Fresno State (5-11, 227) - Wright is a big guy who can play that RB/FB hybrid position similar to Heath Evans and Patrick Pass. The former Bulldog is a powerful runner who wears down defenses between the tackles. He doesn't have great speed but is a versatile player who can do a lot for a team.
Wright came back in 2006 after tearing the patellar tendon in his knee to rush for 1,462 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. He also caught 29 passes last season for Fresno State. Because he's not very fast, Wright will probably never be an every-down back in the NFL. However, his ability to block, play special teams and be a short-yardage back makes him an intriguing prospect late in the draft.
Desmond Bishop, ILB Cal (6-1, 239) - Bishop is one of the better run-stuffing linebackers in the draft. He's not blazing fast and won't wow anyone running the 40, but when you see him on the field he just makes plays. Bishop led the Pac-10 with 124 tackles last year, so he's proven to be a force against the run.
Bishop is that big, physical linebacker the Patriots haven't had since Ted Johnson retired. He's very productive playing in the box and Bishop has the size to take on bigger offensive linemen. He played some 3-4 at Cal and Bishop said at the Combine that he liked the scheme because it allows him to mix it up with offensive linemen and be physical. Bishop also felt like he wood be a good fit in New England.
"I like their style of play, their toughness," Bishop said. "That's how I play. I think I would be a good fit with the Patriots."
Bishop will probably fall too far in the draft because of his timed speed but he's a productive football player and would be a steal in the sixth round.
Leonard Peters, S Hawaii (6-1, 218) – This guy is a flat-out maniac. He'll probably only last four years in the NFL because of his reckless style of play. Peters is very effective against the run and plays faster than his 40-time suggests. However, durability issues will probably make Peters a late-round pick.
The reason Peters would be a good fit in New England is because of his ability to be a one-man wrecking crew on special teams. This guy likes to hit anything that moves. He does have decent range and could develop into a nice backup at safety but Peters will most likely earn his paycheck in the NFL on special teams. The Patriots found a special teams ace in the seventh round last year with Willie Andrews. Peters could be a similar kind of player but instead of running by people, he will run through them. If Peters makes an active NFL roster next season, he'll be on Sportscenter at least once thanks to a bone-jarring hit.