2018 NFL Draft

Projecting the draft: New England Patriots

Projecting the draft: New England Patriots

By Dane Brugler | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
The Patriots have traditionally been one of the better drafting teams over the past dozen years, but even New England has had their share of misses. However, what the Patriots do extremely well on draft weekend, maybe better than any other team, is trading and maneuvering up and down the draft board, picking up additional picks along the way.

Bill Belichick and the Patriots currently hold just six draft picks for the 2012 NFL Draft and all of them are in the initial four rounds – two 1st rounders, two 2nd rounders, a third and fourth round pick. But as active as the Patriots traditionally are over the course of the draft, it is doubtful they will actually pick with those selections. New England is known for trading back and picking up future picks, but every once in awhile, they will target a player in the top half of the first round and package picks to trade up. And it wouldn't be surprising if that is the case this year if Belichick and his staff wish to trade up for an impact player like Mark Barron or Dre Kirkpatrick, who otherwise wouldn't be around for their current picks.

Despite representing the AFC in the Super Bowl last season, the Patriots have several needs to fill on both sides of the ball. New England desperately needs to address their secondary issues at both cornerback and safety in order to improve upon their 31st ranked pass defense. The Patriots also need to replace their top pass rusher from a year ago (Mark Anderson) and add depth along the offensive line.

Here are five prospects the Patriots might consider on draft day:

LB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 32)
Although he lined up as an inside linebacker in Alabama's 3-4 scheme, Dont'a Hightower is projected by some teams as an outside pass rusher or hand-on-the-ground defensive end. And that is the role he might fit best in the Patriots' hybrid defense. Hightower is thickly-put-together with natural strength to work through blocks and find his way to the ballcarrier. He doesn't have great change of direction skills and is more of a downhill thumper, which will limit his role for a lot of teams, leading many to believe his best position in the NFL will be rushing the passer. But regardless, he brings the versatility to wear a lot of different hats for a creative defensive coordinator and would be an interesting pick for Coach Belichick and New England in the late first round.

DL Kendall Reyes, Connecticut (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 36)
With two first round picks, there is a good chance the Patriots trade out from one of these selections, but assuming they keep their picks, defensive lineman Kendall Reyes from nearby Connecticut makes a lot of sense. He is a versatile, flexible lineman who was recruited as a 220-pound linebacker out of high school, but has developed into a 300-pound defensive disruptor. Reyes is quick-footed with the natural strength to be effective against both the run and the pass. He has the skill-set to play inside and out on the defensive line and gives New England options.

CB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 75)
In order to improve upon their second-to-last ranked pass defense from a year ago, the Patriots will likely target a cornerback in the early rounds. Casey Hayward was productive at Vanderbilt the past three seasons, starting all 37 games and collecting 15 interceptions over his career. Although he has a very average skill-set with only ordinary speed for the position, he has very good football instincts and natural awareness, using his eyes extremely well. Hayward is ideally suited for a zone scheme because he struggles when asked to play with his back to the ball, but he has good footwork with the innate feel for the position that pro teams seek. He will be graded differently by every team, but Hayward would be a good second round option for the Patriots.

S George Iloka, Boise State (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 73)
When you talk about defense in New England, the key is versatility. And George Iloka possesses that versatility that will be attractive at the next level, especially for the Patriots. He enrolled at Boise State as a 17-year old freshman and has done a lot of learning and maturing over the past four years, culminating as a senior captain and earning his teammates' respect. Iloka plays with some body tightness when attempting to quickly change directions, but he has a natural explosion to play fast and decisive. He has “wow” length for the position with nearly 34” arms and the cover skills to match up well against receivers, especially tight ends. Iloka can play a hybrid LB/CB/S role and is a candidate to be the second safety drafted, behind Mark Barron, and could come off the board to the Patriots in the second round.

OL Brandon Washington, Miami (FL) (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 108)
The Patriots need to add offensive line depth at some point during the draft and Brandon Washington would be a nice addition in the fourth round range. Washington, who was a surprise early-entree to this draft class, has intriguing versatility with experience at both guard spots and also at left tackle, manning the blind side in 2011. He has impressive movement skills for his size with natural coordination, but is still developing and needs extensive coaching to maximize his potential. Washington is dripping with raw ability and athleticism, but he does come with concerns about whether or not he will ever reach his ceiling. He projects best inside, but has the ability to kick outside in a pinch and play tackle if needed, giving the Patriots versatility and depth in the trenches.
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