Possible Day 3 draft targets for the New England Patriots
Analyst Louie Benjamin takes a look at potential Day 3 prospect fits for Bill Belichick's Patriots.
Possible Day 3 draft targets for the New England Patriots
With less than two weeks remaining before the 2017 NFL Draft, the Patriots’ first pick is at No. 72 overall (eighth pick in the third round), which they obtained along with defense end Kony Ealy from Carolina in a swap for their second-round pick.
The Patriots seem to be standing by their claim that backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is not going to be traded, and with each passing day, it seems less and less likely that a move happens. In addition, owner Robert Kraft recently came out and said the team has no plan to trade CB Malcolm Butler. Garoppolo and Butler are New England’s best two trade chips to move back into the first or second round, should they choose to play them.
If the current situation stands, the Patriots own five draft picks in the fourth round or later. While we may be higher on some of these players and see them as Day 2-type prospects, the general consensus is that most of these players should be available on Day 3 of the draft.
Bill Belichick loves drafting team captains (see Elandon Roberts, Trey Flowers, Jordan Richards, Ted Karras, Malcolm Mitchell, and Shaq Mason, to name a few), which Gerry was elected by his Nebraska teammates in 2016. And it wouldn’t be a Belichick draft without a token safety pick. Patrick Chung is getting up there in age, and Nathan Gerry could fill a similar role. Gerry, at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, is bigger than the 5-foot-11 Chung, and is a physical player who is at his best coming downhill providing run support from the safety position. He recorded 23 run stops in 2016, and can cause some disruption in coverage, as his eight interceptions and nine passes breakups over the past two years would suggest. Gerry could bring some physicality to the New England defense.
Key stat: On 384 passing snaps in the 2016 season, Gerry missed just one tackle.
Kittle would provide depth at TE behind the oft-injured Rob Gronkowski and recently-acquired Dwayne Allen. Despite average size, Kittle was a dominating, all-around blocker in college. He also has the athletic potential to develop into a downfield weapon. Kittle could be a hybrid/move-type TE for the Patriots, a role that hasn’t been properly filled since the days of Aaron Hernandez. While not as dynamic a receiver as Hernandez, he is a more complete player and has the type of versatility the Patriots covet.
Key stat: In his 2015 and 2016 seasons combined, Kittle surrendered only one QB pressure.
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The Patriots have a need at the edge position after losing Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard, and Rob Ninkovich is no spring chicken. They recently had success drafting a defensive end out of Arkansas in 2015 fourth-round pick Trey Flowers, who was a PFF draft favorite. Deatrich Wise Jr., another edge player out of Arkansas, could be a real fit in 2017. He has outstanding size and length for the position, and is strong enough to consistently set the edge. He is a high-effort player, and Belichick could take advantage of his unique physical traits to find a role for him to succeed in.
Key stat: Wise recorded the most QB pressures (eight) and tied for the most run stops (three) of any player in the 2016 East-West Shrine Game.
Najee Murray, SCB, Kent State
With the departure of CB Logan Ryan, the Patriots should be looking to bring some competition to the slot corner position to compete with Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman. Najee Murray graded extremely well for PFF in 2016, finishing the year with a final grade of 85.6. Out of his 364 coverage snaps, 301 were in the slot. When in slot coverage, he allowed only 16 receptions on 38 targets, no TDs, and a 37.8 QB rating. The former Ohio State transfer is projected as a late-round pick or UDFA, but could come in and compete for playing time in nickel and dime packages.
Key stat: Murray averaged 18.8 cover snaps between surrendered receptions in the slot in 2016, the best rate in FBS.
The Patriots love having a big back to feed the ball to when the gameplan calls for it, and 30-year-old LeGarrette Blount remains unsigned. Elijah Hood fits the bill as a big back, weighing in at 232 pounds, and is as tough to bring down as his build would suggest. Over the past two seasons, Hood averaged 3.96 yards after contact and had 25 rushing touchdowns. While not a burner, he broke off 19 runs of 15 yards or more in 2016. Hood is a patient, yet decisive, downhill runner with the vision and balance to be a productive power running back.
Key stat: Hood forced 96 missed tackles over the past two seasons at UNC.
The Patriots’ starting left tackle, Nate Solder, is in his last year under contract, so the team could be looking for a future replacement in this draft. Conor McDermott has rare height and length, much like Solder. He is fluid in his movement for a man his size, and uses his length well. He’ll need to get stronger, but McDermott has the skill-set needed to develop into a starting tackle in the NFL.
Key stat: McDermott allowed two QB pressures or fewer in every game in 2016 except for Week 1 at Texas A&M.
The Patriots have become longer and taller at the CB position with Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, and the 6-foot-1 Channing Stribling fits the mold. Stribling was unafraid to use his length to disrupt receivers in 2016, while lining up in press on 68.8 percent of his coverage snaps. He does not have great speed, and was a bit too grabby at times, but he was extremely productive at Michigan and has a chance to succeed if in the right situation.
Key stat: Quarterbacks recorded a 22.7 NFL passer rating when targeting Stribling in coverage in 2016, the second-best rate in the draft class (only Gareon Conley was better).