Thursday, April 3, 2014

New England Patriots 2014 Offseason: Offensive Draft Targets Pt. 2

I’m still liking my Part 1 selections as legitimate potentialities for the Patriots at pick 29 overall in the May 8th-10th NFL Draft. In case you missed that article, scroll down until you reach New England Patriots 2014 Offseason Draft Targets Pt. 1, where I wrote about the top talents at positions the Patriots need help at, and the realistic, available talent at those positions come pick 29.
Tight end, center, and wide out were the positions I highlighted that are of New England’s most substantial needs. As the cards of the offseason are falling in place, the Patriots have made a couple of moves that don’t rule my hypothetical first round player options out, but make them a little less likely, as well as they would fit with the club.
For example, New England re-signed center Ryan Wendell to a two year deal. With the bulk of the Patriots protection issues coming in the interior offensive line, I thought they could address it with a moose in the first round to replace the former undrafted Wendell. New England very well could draft a thoroughbred in the second or third round, but who knows if my top center, Travis Swanson out of University of Arkansas, will be available. Teams may neglect offensive line for skill talent in the first, so it’s a possibility Swanson is on the board in the late second round. Still, with the signing of Wendell, drafting a center in the first round can be all but ruled out, unless Belichick signed him for depth and plans on bringing in high level first round-caliber competition.
In the case of my former top ranked guard, Cyril Richardson, the Baylor University stalwart could easily be on the board at 29 and be a talent to compete with Dan Connolly and the aging, injury-riddled Logan Mankins. Like with Wendell and Swanson, Belichick and co. could look to amp up the guard and center competition, knowing Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder are manning right and left tackle for the foreseeable future. However, other guards are shooting up the Draft boards after impressive combines.
The Patriots also signed former Carolina Panthers wide out Brandon LaFell to a three year $9 million contract in mid March. LaFell isn’t a blazer or a number one option, but he is as solid as solid gets for a number 2. I thought New England could trade up for a guy of Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans’ incredible skills, but it seems unlikely with the signing of LaFell, who is versatile and can play every wide receiver position, including a little tight end, according to Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Still, a splash such as Watkins or Evans in the top 10 would would give Tom Brady a big time electric play maker, which he hasn’t had since Randy Moss. It’s impossible to predict trades, but as I noted in my first offensive Draft article, Watkins or Evans would be well worth trading a future first round pick for.
Staying with the wide receivers, if Belichick doesn’t want to unload Draft picks to nab Watkins or Evans, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin could still be around at 29, and he held a private workout with New England in late March after the NFL Combine. Benjamin is a specimen at 6’5″ 240 lbs and would be a physical deep threat to push Aaron Dobson’s development, or take his job, as Dobson is currently rehabbing from foot surgery.
1. Tight End
CJ Fiedorowicz, University of Iowa
6’7″ 270 lbs
4.76 40 Yard Dash
Strengths: Size, balance, route-running, durability
Weaknesses: Speed, elusiveness
2013: 30 REC 299 YDS 6 TD
With North Carolina’s Eric Ebron at the top of the tight end class, Fiedorowicz is a guy who is projected to go in the third round. I can’t seem to figure out why he grades out so low, though. In my eyes, CJF is a poor man’s Gronk, which is great by all accounts. I love his clean bill of health, as well as his demeaning stature that reminds me of Jake Ballard (before injury, of course) and fellow Iowa alumnee, Scott Chandler. The Patriots don’t need another Aaron Hernandez. They need an inline tight end who has Gronk’s skill set: blocks like a beast, catches over the middle, and is an end zone threat. It’s easier said than done to find Gronk Jr., but CJF does all of that, without the elite speed and athleticism. Besides, all of these “athletic” tight ends such as Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham go ghost against physical defenses. CJF is along the lines of a Heath Miller (and poor man’s Gronk), as he fearlessly goes deep over the middle, takes contact, is a fantastic blocker, and puts his body on the line in the red zone.
The knock on CJF is his productivity at Iowa. He didn’t kill it like Ebron or Jace Amaro statistically, but his quarterback, Jake Rudock, threw just 18 TDs to go along with 13 picks, 2383 yards and a 59 completion percentage. As an inline tight end, with an accurate quarterback, CJF will excel at the next level with his massive frame and smooth ability, especially if he has three to four established options ahead of him.
2. Runningback
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State University
6′ 240 lbs
2013: 1521 YDS 7.3 AVG 15 TD
Though Hyde is the top back on many people’s boards, we’ve seen Belichick go after one in the first round before. If he believes Hyde is the best player left on the board at 29, he will take him. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be a stupid move. The Patriots lost their bruiser in LeGarrette Blount to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but after carrying the ball just five times for six yards, he wasn’t worth the $3.85 million over two years that Pittsburgh rewarded him. In addition, it is quietly a do or die year for Stevan Ridley. A free agent after the 2014-2015 season, Ridley must fix his fumble problems or New England will move on in free agency, or the 2015 Draft. If Hyde is sitting on the board at 29 and there is still defensive value in the later rounds, why not grab the best back in the Draft, who also has solid hands, catching 16 passes for 147 yards and 3 TDs in 2013.
3. Guard
Xavier Su’a-Filo, University of California Los Angeles
6’4″ 310 lbs
2013: Second Team All American, First Team All Pac-12
“X”, as his teammates call him, is a monster. Being of Samoan descent, X is looking to succeed in the path paved by fellow Samoan, Mike Iupati, starting guard for the San Francisco 49ers and 2012 All Pro. I find all Samoans to be beastly football players with (good) psycho attitudes and mean streaks. X has no injury history and is a great all around blocker, not just a tank that is an effective straight ahead, and trap blocker. He is athletic in pass blocking and has great footwork. X tends to get confused by complex defensive schemes, and with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia gone, he would need extra help diagnosing switches and stunts. Bottom line, he is more athletic than Dan Connolly, and has played tackle as well. Would be a fantastic pick at 29 as the heir to Logan Mankins or replacement for Connolly. Gotta protect the franchise.

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