BOSTON (CBS) – This week, finally, Patriots fans will find out which player will be taken with the 29th pick and beyond, and to preview the draft Bob Socci welcomed Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald Sunday morning on the latest edition of the NFL Draft Preview Show.
Howe covers the Patriots and the NFL, so when it comes time for the draft he really has to do his homework in researching the prospects because during the season free time is hard to come by.
“I watch a lot of college football but it’s hard to keep a scouting eye on prospects in the middle of an NFL season. Now is the time to really start to break down the board and break down some guys.”
The Patriots held a press conference for player personnel director Nick Caserio earlier this week, where the staffer held court and answered many questions involving topics related to the draft.
Both Socci and Howe found it curious how the Patriots brought in so many quarterbacks to Foxboro for workouts and visits, so naturally Caserio fielded numerous questions on that subject alone.
Based on the answers to some of those questions, and the overall sentiment around the league, Howe feels like the Pats are trying to get everyone else off their scent in regards to the quarterbacks.
“With the quarterback [questions] Caserio just kind of went into a shell and either didn’t answer the question or diverted it entirely.”
Despite all the posturing and smoke screening from the Patriots going on right now, Howe’s gut tells him they’re still not in a position where they need to be drafting Tom Brady’s successor. However, he added, “I don’t think they’d pass over on a quarterback if the right one was available.”
Howe says that if Houston takes Jadeveon Clowney at no. 1 overall, and the quarterback they’re hoping to draft in the second round isn’t there anymore, a draft day trade scenario with the Patriots could line up nicely.
“If their QB isn’t there later on, maybe they give the Patriots a call for Ryan Mallett. And then the Patriots can do the trade because they’ve already done their homework on [quarterback prospects] beforehand.”
Former league general manager, and sprout from the Belichick coaching tree, Michael Lombardi was hired in the offseason to be a special assistant to the Patriots coaching staff.
Former Rutgers and Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano has also been working with Belichick, although the exact capacity is not clear. Schiano was seen in Indianapolis with Belichick back in February — both at the combine and around town.
Socci was curious to know if the two of them hold any sway in the draft room.
“Really what it comes down to is Belichick has a very heavy hand in whoever they end up drafting — not that that’s really much of a surprise. Lombardi was very instrumental with the Mallett draft pick a few years ago, or at least that’s the story.
“And with Schiano, when you get one Rutgers guy, two Rutgers guys, three maybe it’s a coincidence. But when you have fifteen of them coming through the doors over the span of two years, you can tell the college coach really has a handle on Belichick’s brain and it’s all part of the equation.”
After a discussion was had about the importance of positional versatility on the Patriots offensive line, and the difference between working out a player in your own facility vs. visiting him at his college, the conversation shifted to specific players the Patriots could pick.
For Howe, this upcoming draft comes down to three positions for the Patriots: tight ends, defensive tackle and defensive end.
Based on Rob Gronkowski’s injury history, tight end could ultimately prove to be the most important of the three.
“You need a quality tight end to bring into that offense. The backup tight ends last year, I believe, totaled 14 catches, 152 yards and 2 touchdowns. Gronkowski had three times that amount in six games. [Tight end] was too much of a liability with Gronk out. They were there for blocking only. Brady couldn’t even look at them and defenses didn’t have to cover those guys.
“You need to have insurance for Gronkowski — even if he plays 16 full games you want to at least take the stress off of him.”
Some names Howe says to keep an eye on are Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington), Troy Niklas (Notre Dame) and C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa). The highest graded tight end is Eric Ebron (North Carolina), but he’ll be “long gone” by the time the Patriots pick at no. 29.
Amaro and Jenkins are potential first round picks, Niklas is a likely second rounder and Fiedorowicz projects as a third — so they have some flexibility to exercise patience if they so choose.
Howe isn’t operating on the formula that, “They need to pick this position in the first round, this position in the second round, this position in the third, etc” — Rather, it’s about finding impact players at your positions of need, and another position of need is a pass rusher.
“My hat’s off to Chandler Jones for playing 98% of the defensive snaps last season. He led all NFL defensive ends. Rob Ninkovich was tied for second with 95% of the snaps. That’s great. That means they have two really quality defensive ends. If you look at the Seahawks, not a single one of their defensive ends played more than 60% of the time and they had the best pass rush in the NFL.
“The Patriots need to get a quality defensive end that they are positive will not get benched midway through the season, like their last two defensive end draft picks have been in the mid to late rounds,” Howe said in reference to Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan. “That’s why that’s an area they should target early in the draft.”
Howe says to keep an eye on Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State) in the second round as a possible rusher to fill that need.
Listen below for the full discussion: