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The Patriot Way Is To Draft Smart And Cultivate Stars

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Alfonzo Dennard could be one of the best steals of the 2012 NFL draft. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images.
Alfonzo Dennard could be one of the best steals of the 2012 NFL draft. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images.

As the free-agent frenzy comes to an end, teams can now fully focus on the upcoming draft. Even though teams scout players year-round, the next month leading to the 2014 NFL Draft is an extremely important period for teams either trying to rebuild or add an extra player that will establish themselves as a title contender. Teams often have a certain drafting style. For example, the Oakland Raiders under Al Davis, had the tendency to go for strong-armed quarterbacks and speedy wide receivers.

The Patriots are no exception to that rule, as they often have traded down in return for additional picks. But which type of players New England usually goes for?

In last year’s draft, the Patriots’ first pick was outside linebacker Jamie Collins out of Southern Mississippi. Collins was described as a physical specimen with a 4.59 40-yard dash combined with a 6-3 frame. He also had a 41.5-inch vertical jump. At Southern Mississippi, he was used both as a defensive end and an outside linebacker and recorded 92 total tackles and 10 sacks in his final season. In this case, the Patriots waited until the 52nd pick to grab a player with a high motor and freakish athleticism. Collins had only played in Conference USA, but the Pats took a chance on him. He came out of his shell at the end of the season — more precisely in the playoff against the Indianapolis Colts, where he recorded six total tackles, one sack and one pick.

Aaron Dobson was selected seven picks later. The 6-3, 200-pound receiver was identified as a physical WR who could get off the jam. He also showed speed at his pro day with a 4.37 40. Dobson’s production at Marshall was good but not elite — he caught 57 passes for 679 yards in his final season and he only had three receiving touchdowns. In the NFL, Dobson had to adapt to New England’s offense and it was tough both for him and Tom Brady to produce great offensive results at the beginning of the season. He had his best game in Week 9 when he caught five passes for 130 yards and two TDs. Dobson is still identified as raw, but he brings a nice physicality to the receiving corps. With his explosiveness and frame, his production can only go up.

The third Patriots pick of the 2013 NFL Draft was CB Logan Ryan out of Rutgers. The 5-11, physical corner had recorded an outstanding 94 tackles in his final 12 college games. He had also broken up 17 passes and intercepted opposing quarterbacks four times. Ryan was definitely not scared to help against the run, as his 94 tackles show. He was also able to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. However, it was said that he could be beaten vertically. It seemed like Bill Belichick was trying to build a more physical secondary. The corner out of Rutgers had the most interceptions out of all Patriots defensive backs with five. His best game was against Baltimore in Week 16 when he had three deflected passes and two picks. Ryan is going to be a solid nickel option.

Eight picks later, at the 91st spot, New England selected another defensive back from Rutgers — Duron Harmon — who was listed as a strong safety. Harmon saw limited action throughout last season.

New England emphasized physical ability in last year’s draft. The Patriots took a chance on players playing at lower level conferences that demonstrated potential. Their first three picks are promising and the Pats know that if these players can fully grasp the subtleties of the systems they play, they will show all of their potential.

In 2012, New England’s first pick, No. 21 overall, was DE Chandler Jones from Syracuse University. The pick came in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones was listed at 6-5 and 266 pounds and ran a 4.87 second 40. He suffered an injury in the 2011 season and had to prove that he was fully recovered. Jones had six sacks in his first season and almost doubled his total with 11.5 last season. He also went from 45 total tackles to 79. The defensive end has progressed steadily and could get more sacks with Darelle Revis covering the opponent’s best receiver this year.

The Patriots picked Dont’a Hightower four spots later. Again, this pick came from a trade, this time with the Denver Broncos. The linebacker from Alabama was measured at 6-2, 265 and he was identified as a great run stopper that lacked the speed to chase ballcarriers down the field. Hightower had 97 tackles last season, which were 37 more than in his first season. He will most likely anchor the middle of the defense next year.

One of the draft’s steals could be CB Alfonzo Dennard from the University of Nebraska. Dennard — 5-10, 204 with a 4.55 40-yard dash and a 37-inch vertical jump — had an interception in his first regular season game in a win against Denver and recorded three interceptions in 10 games in 2012. He also has 75 tackles in two seasons. Dennard is a viable option at corner and could start opposite Revis, at least until Brandon Browner returns from his four game suspension. The ex-Husker was picked so late due to some off-field troubles and poor play late in the season. He could turn out to be the biggest steal from the 2012 draft.

In the past two drafts, the Patriots have taken risks on players who were mostly raw but showed great physical potential. New England also likes to pick in bunches. For example, Jamie Collins and Aaron Dobson in the 2013 NFL draft were picked a few picks apart. The same happened for Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in 2012. The Patriots seem to like to get maximum value during the draft and are willing to trade down, even though it can be frustrating for their fans.

It is hard for NFL fans and so-called experts to predict New England’s strategy during NFL drafts, but Bill Belichick and his staff tend to go for lesser known players that have great potential. New England seems confident that it can develop talent when the player reaches training camp.