Saturday night’s Senior Bowl provided draft-obsessed NFL fans a final glimpse of amateur-level football for the 2008 season (provided the Week 16 version of the Cardinals doesn’t show up for the Super Bowl). We now present the first semi-official Patriots Mock Draft of 2009, with the caveat that, in order to be eligible, each player must have been on a Senior Bowl roster.
The draft slots are based on what New England holds at this moment and ignore the hypothetical situations such as trading Matt Cassel for a first-rounder, getting compensatory picks, or Commissioner Roger Goodell making up for an 11-5 team missing the playoffs. As of this moment, the Patriots have eight picks in seven rounds, with an extra second-rounder coming from the San Diego Chargers.
First Round: Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest – Yes, he missed an interception opportunity that would have resulted in a score, but even that play demonstrated his knack for running receivers’ route for them. Smith has the potential of a shutdown corner, and if one player can shut down half the defensive backfield, the entire defense benefits. (I know, I know: groundbreaking stuff.)
First Round, Scenario B: If Smith isn’t available, let’s hope Brian Cushing still is. The outside linebacker out of USC looked solid in coverage and stood up to blockers better than expected. Tutelage under guys like Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas wouldn’t hurt, either.
Round Two (a): Clay Matthews, OLB, USC – When all’s said and done, this might prove a bit high, but Matthews’ performance during Senior Bowl week showed a solid athlete with a hardcore work ethic. His father played for Coach Bill Belichick in Cleveland, which may or may not mean anything.
Why not Connor Barwin, you may ask? Though Barwin showed great athleticism, I can’t get over the fact that he made the roster as a tight end. While some may argue that his versatility only provides more value, I’d rather have a player dominate one position than fill in as a role player in several. Tom Brady doesn’t hold kicks; Randy Moss doesn’t return punts.
Please don’t misunderstand: I love Troy Brown, for example, but Brown playing defense said a lot more about the roster situation than it did about his talent as a cornerback. Of course, if the Patriots draft Cushing in Round One, I’d have them look for a defensive back here.
Round Two (b): Ron Brace, DT, BC – The biggest knock against Brace this week was that he wasn’t B. J. Raji, which is like poking fun at a Mercedes because it’s not a Porsche. (And if anyone can think of better cars to fit that analogy, please comment below. I was going to use a Buick vs. a Cadillac, but then I thought I’d sound like a 75-year-old man.)
Brace gets major bonus points for chasing down running Andre Brown 30 yards downfield after a screen pass. And for weighing 330 pounds.
Round Three: Tyrone McKenzie, LB, South Florida – I didn’t realize McKenzie played middle linebacker at Iowa State his sophomore year and had 129 total tackles. He transferred to South Florida and had 121 tackles, then led the team with 116 this past year. A little short for a 3-4 OLB at 6-2, McKenzie could take some reps in the middle. Didn’t notice him much during the Senior Bowl, but he showed good coverage skills when I did.
Plus, my mother’s maiden name is McKenzie, so I could buy her his player jersey.
Round Four: Jason Watkins, OL, Florida – you know, I keep hearing these rumors that Coach Belichick communicates with Gators coach Urban Meyer, so he’d get a full scouting report. At 6-6, Watkins has proven difficult for pass-rushers to avoid.
Formerly in this spot: Xavier Fulton, OL, Illinois. After watching tape of DE Larry English play Fulton like a cheap accordion during practice, then having Fulton follow that up with a weak game, he’s off the list.
Round Five: Kyle Moore, DE, USC – He weighs 270 pounds, small by 3-4 end standards, but Moore had a strong week of practice and seemed able to set the edge against opposing linemen. Solid developmental prospect here.
Round Six: Mike Wallace, WR, Ole Miss – I ask you: what on Earth does Wallace have to do to move up draft boards? He averaged over 20 yards per catch and over 24 per kickoff return in the SEC. In the Cotton Bowl, he had four receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. Saturday, he blew past DeAngelo Smith for a 39-yard catch in the left corner of the end zone. (By the way, Smith’s stock fell so hard this week that it’s suing for whiplash.)
So, to recap: in Wallace we’ve got a successful SEC receiver/kick returner with good height (6-0), good speed and great hands. What the heck, move him up to Round Five.
Round Seven: Quinn Johnson, FB, LSU – Listen, I love Heath Evans. He’s a great utility back who has improved his blocking skills immensely since coming to Foxboro. It’s just tough to overlook Johnson, the prototypical fullback the Patriots haven’t had since Fred McCrary got hurt in 2003 and Belichick realized he could win without one. Johnson weighs in at 250 and usually leaves carrying the ball to others (he had 16 carries in his career) but he enjoyed a rushing TD on Saturday.
Undrafted Free Agents: Mitch King, DL, Iowa – A definite “high-motor” guy (which some could call an insult. I mean, think about it: Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, but no one calls him a “high-motor” guy) whose hard work (hmm), guts (uh-oh) and determination (Good God) might have moved him up some scouts’ draft boards.
If King gets the backing of Iowa coach and former Belichick cohort Kirk Ferentz, he could end up in Foxboro. And once he does, he’ll give 110 percent. (Cripes.)
Eric Kettani, FB, Navy – Coach Belichick’s a sucker for those Midshipmen. Kettani’s commitment to the armed forces prevents him from going into the NFL until 2011. Don’t be surprised if Belichick signs him to the practice squad like he did with Kyle Eckel in 2005.
John Phillips, TE, Virginia – A big target at 6-6, 250, Phillips caught 48 passes in 12 games this year for the Cavaliers (and don’t think I’m overlooking the Belichick/Al Groh connection). Not a great athlete, but could help out on special teams and in spot duty once Benjamin Watson and/or David Thomas get hurt.
And if you don’t think both or either of those guys will miss games, then I find your optimism adorable.
Corey Irvin, DL, Georgia – At 6-6, 300, he has the right size for a 3-4 defensive lineman. Coming from an SEC school, he has the proper pedigree. Irvin failed to rack up significant stats his senior year (34 tackles, three sacks), but did enough during Senior Bowl week to warrant a second look.
So, that’s a wrap on the 2008 NCAA football season. We’ll have more once the numbers from the combine are in, including a New, Only-Slightly-Less-Ridiculously-Premature Patriots Mock Draft and a look at some Under the Radar prospects.