Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

April, 28, 2013
4/28/13
5:00
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

[+] EnlargeJamie Collins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJamie Collins impressed at the combine. Will he do the same in pads in New England?
1a. Here are some of the notes I jotted down on top Patriots draft choice Jamie Collins, the Southern Mississippi outside linebacker/defensive end, from an NFL assistant coach who assisted in the scouting process on him and had direct contact with him prior to the draft: "Freak athlete. Quiet kid. Biggest knock is his lack of motor and not always playing hard, but could be tied to playing on a poor team his final year. Structure of Patriots program has a chance to knock that out of him. First-round physical skills."

1b. Collins, the youngest of five children, was raised by his sister Lisa after their parents died before Collins turned 6. That hardship and adversity has naturally played a big role in shaping his character. I think he'll fit well in the Patriots' program.

1c. Collins was one of the busier prospects leading into the draft, taking visits with the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, 49ers, Jaguars, Ravens, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers and Texans. Usually when a player is in that high demand, there is either a medical question (not so much with Collins) or it's a reflection of teams "catching up" with a player later in the process as maybe some of his testing results had teams taking a closer look. Collins, it seems, was a player who rose in the eyes of several teams after the season as coaches became more involved in the process.

2. Five of the Patriots' seven picks in the 2013 draft were defensive players. Six of the seven players drafted by the Patriots in 2012 played defense. Add those 11 defenders to high picks in 2011 (second-round CB Ras-I Dowling) and 2010 (first-round DB Devin McCourty, second-round LBs Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes) -- not to mention acquisitions like Aqib Talib and others already in place -- and it seems fair to say that if the Patriots' defense can't turn a more decisive corner it will be a major disappointment. That's a lot of draft capital devoted to defense.

3. With the Patriots drafting two receivers -- Marshall's Aaron Dobson (second round) and Texas Christian's Josh Boyce (fourth round) -- it will be interesting to see if that affects where Bill Belichick slots assistant coach Brian Daboll on his staff. Daboll was the receivers coach in 2002 when the Patriots had their greatest success in developing rookie receivers with Deion Branch and David Givens, and he returned to the club last January in a roving type role. Receivers coach Chad O'Shea has been with the Patriots since 2009, arriving in the year that Josh McDaniels departed to become Broncos head coach, and he's back coaching receivers again in 2013. When I asked Belichick if Daboll would be working with receivers at times, he said he would in some form. "We didn't bring him here to tape ankles," Belichick said, stopping short of getting into specifics on Daboll's role.

4. Interested to see how things shake out for the Dolphins at offensive tackle, which was a need entering the draft. Third-round draft choice Dallas Thomas of Tennessee, a solid pick who would have fit well in New England, has tackle-guard versatility and the Dolphins aren't saying where he'll play, only that they'll start working with him on the left side (likely at guard). For all the moves the Dolphins have made this offseason, the tackle spot still looks like question mark and it resonates here because I thought the Patriots exploited that at times last season. However it unfolds, they're surely counting on Jonathan Martin, a still-developing 2012 second-round pick, to make the type of jump that Nate Solder did for the Patriots in his second season. He's likely the starting left tackle.

[+] EnlargeDuron Harmon
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesThe only unsurprising thing about the Pats' selection of safety Duron Harmon? He's a Rutgers man.
5. Part of Bill Belichick's greatness is tied to his strong belief and unwillingness to go along with the "groupthink" that can be a big part of football scouting, which might explain why there always seems to be at least one selection that is so far outside the box that it leaves many scratching their heads (e.g. Tavon Wilson in the 2012 second round; Duron Harmon in the 2013 third round). In those cases, it would be interesting to see the notes of all the Patriots scouts who wrote reports on the prospect, and the coaches who evaluated them, to see if there was some across-the-board momentum from multiple scouts, or if it was more a case of Belichick standing alone and making the call. When the selection seems like such an outlier, it makes you wonder.

6. Schedule thought with a draft-based twist: E.J. Manuel (Bills), Geno Smith (Jets) and Mike Glennon (Buccaneers) -- it's possible that the Patriots could face a rookie quarterback in each of the first three weeks of the 2013 regular season.

7a. There was a time when it almost seemed like a guarantee that the Patriots could come out of a draft with an extra pick in the following year's draft. But that hasn't happened the last two years, and instead, a Belichick disciple -- Browns general manager Mike Lombardi -- cleaned up in that area over the last three days by acquiring a 2014 fourth-round pick from the Colts and a 2014 third-rounder from the Steelers. Interesting strategy by Lombardi, right out of the Belichick playbook of trying to capitalize on the urgency of others, that could set the Browns up nicely next season to be one of the teams that could have some "control" over the draft. The only other deal I saw that involved a 2014 pick was the Titans shipping a '14 third-rounder to the 49ers to move up in the second round for receiver Justin Hunter.

7b. As it stands now, the Patriots have their full arsenal of picks for 2014, then a void with a seventh-round pick for 2015, which was shipped to the Rams in the Greg Salas deal.

8. The draft came and went without a deal for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, which wasn't much of a surprise. I think the key for Mallett is the upcoming preseason. If he lights it up, then there's a greater chance he's traded at this time next year. If not, I could see him finishing out his initial four-year contract with the Patriots which runs through the 2014 season and then being free to explore opportunities on the open market. If you're the Patriots, there's no need to rush it unless there's an offer you can't refuse. Mallett is an important insurance policy. Not that anyone needed the reminder, but the Giants traded up in the fourth round for Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib as part of their insurance policy for Eli Manning.

9. The door likely isn't permanently shut, but was thinking that with the Patriots drafting receivers Aaron Dobson (second round) and Josh Boyce (fourth round), it likely means that veteran Deion Branch won't be back. And along those lines, I wondered if the surprising selection of Rutgers safety Duron Harmon in the third round could make things tougher for veteran safety Steve Gregory when vying for a roster spot.

10. Hard to believe, but it's been three straight drafts in which the Patriots have completely avoided selecting a big, burly interior defensive lineman. Maybe they were spooked by selecting Ron Brace (6-3, 330) in 2009, but a more likely scenario is that since they aren't lining up as much with those players on the field, they aren't needed as much as they once were. In the old days of the 3-4 defense, Belichick used to load up in the draft with high picks such as Richard Seymour (2001), Ty Warren (2003), Vince Wilfork (2004), Marquise Hill (2004) and then attempt to fill in depth with the likes of mid-round picks such as Jarvis Green (2002), LeKevin Smith (2006) and Kareem Brown (2007). Now those picks seem to be going to defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid types, with Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Jermaine Cunningham, Markell Carter and Michael Buchanan among those drafted by the team over the last four years. It's a good reflection of how the times have changed. It wasn't long ago when it seemed like the Patriots were hesitant to delve into the hybrid ranks.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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