When it comes to the NFL Draft no one person in particular really knows who will be stars and who will end up the next bust. Even harder to predict is who Bill Belichick will take with his allotted picks, especially when looking at previous draft headscratchers such as Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon. Nevertheless some prospects always pan out better than others so here's my list of players who I think have great potential, and should be targeted by the Patriots in the upcoming 2014 draft.
The Patriots in past seasons have gone into the off season not needing much on the offensive side of the ball, but after yet another injury prone season by Gronkowski and uninspiring performances by the rookie wide outs and interior linemen the Patriots have several key holes to fill. The New England Patriots may be looking to fill all or none of these positions in the 2014 draft depending on how free agency shakes out, but either way the Patriots should take a serious look at these studs on offense.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington – Starting where just about every Patriots analyst and fan feels the team could use an upgrade, the tight end position was an area of turmoil for the team in 2013. the of-injured Rob Gronkowski and the incarcerated Hernandez left the Patriots with free agent tight ends starting off the street. Bill Belichick will not let that happen for another season, and if he wants to address the position early in the draft he will take a long look at Seferian-Jenkins. With Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro likely off the board by the Patriots first pick, Seferian-Jenkins provides a legitimate option. At 6-6 266lb Seferian-Jenkins provides a more stout option than the previously mentioned tight ends while also showcasing a great red zone presence. With his great size Seferian-Jenkins could develop into a terrific blocker, and has the talent to step in day one and play in Rob Gronkowsi's role until he returns from a torn ACL.
- Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State – If Belichick and the New England Patriots want to go a different route and bring in a tight end in the middle rounds they need to look at Joe Don Duncan. Duncan is shorter than Seferian – Jenkins at only 6-3 but wont give up any girth weighing in at 267lb. Duncan wouldn't fill the immediate need to play the number one tight end but will provide athleticism and versatility much like Hernandez once did. Duncan is not your typical tight end and can be seen coming out of the backfield, returning kicks, and burning teams deep while playing for Dixie State. Playing at a small school may lower his draft status but could also overshadow some of his real talent. A possible steal for the Patriots.
- Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor – At 6-4 343 pounds Cyril Richardson certainly looks like he can play guard in the NFL. Other than his massive size Richardson showed consistent talent since 2010. Richardson was originally played as a tackle and shows good athleticism for a man of his size, while also being able to use that tremendous size to open holes in the running game. A poor Senior Bowl performance hurt his draft stock but Richardson would likely challenge Dan Connolly for a starting spot. Not a glamorous option with a high pick but Richardson fills an enormous team need.
- Jon Halapio, G, Florida – Any average New England Patriots fan could tell you that Bill Belichick loves the SEC. Jon Halapio out of Florida was a consistent starter for the Gators in 2013 when he was on the field. At 6-3 320lb Halapio won't be held back by his size, and starting in the SEC his level of competition wont be questioned either. If Halapio can avoid nagging injuries like he suffered from in 2013 and string together consistent performances he could be a future starter out of the mid-rounds.
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State – If the Patriots aren't feeling confident in Aaron Dobson's progress they very well might invest in a player like Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin may not have the break away speed and route running that smaller wide outs have but at 6-5 235 Benjamin gives Tom Brady a sure handed receiver that excels in the red zone and jump ball scenarios.
- Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin – Standing 6-2 one might expect Jared Abbrederis to be a physical receiver on the outside, but only weighing 188 pounds Abbrederis is actually more of a possession receiver. Quick for his size and with a strong route tree Abbrederis shows the ability to get open on intermediate routes and over the middle, perfect for Tom Brady.
The Patriot's defense seemingly took a huge step forward in 2013 but it all ended so poorly in Denver. The Patriot offense was exposed for having no run defense, and too much of a reliance on Aqib Talib. Its unlikely the Patriots will make a big splash in free agency so these holes need to be filled in the draft
- Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois – Jimmy Ward out of Northern Illinois may not be the biggest name or the biggest player at 5-10 191, but one thing is for certain, he can cover. What his small stature takes away from him in the run game is made up for in the passing game as he managed seven interceptions, and 10 passes defended during the 2013 season. If the Patriots decided to go another season with Gregory at safety, Ward could be an impact safety subbing in for Gregory in passing situations.
- Antone Exum, CB/S, Virginia Tech – Only managing to play two games in 2013 Antone Exum looks like a hit or miss player in the mid rounds. Exum started at corner for Virginia Tech in 2012 but at 6-1 224lb Exum looks more suited for safety in the NFL. Not always showing terrific recovery speed Exum may fall off of most teams draft boards but playing along side coverage extraordinaire Devin Mccourty Exum could be a long term replacement for Steve Gregory. If Exum makes a smooth transfer to safety and maintains the same ball skills that allowed him to break up 16 passes in 2012 he could be an ideal safety in the robber role and covering tight ends.
- Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska – Although not the fastest corner in the draft Jean-Baptiste had an impressive showing at the senior bowl. Standing 6-2 and weighing 215lb Jean-Baptiste has the ability lock up receivers at the line in man coverage. Whether the Patriots re-sign Talib or not they need to continue playing press man on the outside, and Jean Baptiste can do just that. The combine will answer a lot of questions about Jean-Baptiste's athleticism, but if he falls to the third or fourth round he could be an excellent value for the Patriots.
- Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota – Interior D-line was one of the most troublesome spots for the Patriots after Wilfork, and Kelly went on the IR. If the Patriots look to provide reinforcements with an early draft pick don't be surprised if the Patriots look at Ra'Shede Hagemen. At 6-6 318lb Hagemen has the size to play inside, and with thirteen tackles for loss and multiple pass break ups Hagemen has disruptive tendencies inside. Very scheme versatile Hageman could be a go two second or third tackle for the New England Patriots in 2014.
- Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee – The Patriots were consistently undersized on the interior line in 2103 and Dan McCullers would stop all of that. Weighing in around 350 pounds McCullers is an absolute space eater on the inside. He wont give the Patriots much pass rush but going in the third round or later he could fix many run stopping problems for the Patriots without spending a high pick.
- DeAndre Coleman, DE/DT, California – If the Patriots want to get a leaner player than McCullers out of a simialar position in the draft the target should be DeAndre Coleman. Compiling 9 tackles for loss in 2013 Coleman can be a disruptive force. More importantly at 6-6 315lb Coleman can play both DT and DE, just the type of versatility the Patriot's covet. If the Patriots are looking for a man that can play all four down linemen spots the best answer may be Coleman.