COMMENTARY |The 2013 NFL Selection meeting is now history and 32 teams are hoping they accomplished their immediate goals while finding a few diamonds in the rough. For some, their season rests on this hope, but there is one team that went into the 2013 Draft in an enviable position due to their current roster: the New England Patriots. The team with the third overall youngest roster in the NFL began the night with five picks but was able to trade down and bring their total to eight. The 2013 class is a tossup, most likely providing multiple busts in the first round but also All Pro’s hidden throughout the later rounds. This happens every few years, and teams that scout well can take advantage of these situations. The last three seasons have shown the Patriots are one of them.
Roster building starts in three areas: quarterback, offensive line, and defensive line. In a year with zero quarterbacks worthy of a first round pick, the cause and effect is a run on lineman. This is exactly what happened, and because of that, many skill position players slipped to the lower rounds. The Patriots have done a better job of identifying these gems over the last three drafts with Nick Caserio leading the way. Caserio took over for Scott Pioli when he left for Kansas City in 2009, and after a rough start-two players remain out of 12 picks made in ’09- he’s pulled it together and helped Bill Belichick construct one of the best rosters in football.
Seven out of the 12 picks from 2010 remain on the New England roster, with guard Ted Larsen finding a home in Tampa Bay after his release. Eight NFL contributors, five of the eight players being starters, and the steals of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez prove that 2010 was a home run. Nailing the draft helped produce a 14-2 record while taking New England’s plus/minus in turnovers from +6 in ’09 to +28 in ’10. The points per game jumped from 26.7 to 32.4, and the main reason was the great work of Caserio and Belichick. It didn’t lead to a championship, but the goal of building through the draft was accomplished.
2011 wasn’t as productive, but again the positive results parlayed into strong play. The Patriots added two starters, four contributors, and one asset in Ryan Mallett. They had three misses, highlighted by cornerback Ras-I Dowling, the first pick of the second round. The Patriots went 13-3 and ended up losing the Super Bowl, and many believe that if they drafted a contributor instead of a bust in Dowling, it could have made a difference. Even with that huge miss, the Patriots see this draft as a success due to Nate Solder, Steven Ridley, and the aforementioned Mallett.
2012 was an extremely productive draft for the defense, with Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and Alfonzo Dennard becoming starters and also finding special team contributors in safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner. The influx of talent was apparent, as the Patriots jumped from +17 in turnovers in ’11 to +25 in ’12. The points per game went from 32.1 in ’11 to 34.8 in ’12 while the points allowed per game went from 21.4 to 20.7. Although they lost the AFC Title game, it is clear that for the third season in a row, strong drafting resulted in improvements and consistent winning. The defense hasn’t had this type of talent haul since 2003.
After making their annual draft trades, the Patriots had seven selections in the 2013 draft. The picks filled major needs and also drove home the fact that the Patriots are evolving into a bigger, faster and more dynamic team. Jamie Collins is a solid pick but it will take time for him to learn the system and be an integral part of the Patriots linebacking core. Logan Ryan may be New England’s best pick; he appears ready to play immediately and provides depth at a position that dealt with backbreaking injuries in ’12. Belichick and Caserio haven’t had luck with receivers in the draft, but Aaron Dobson (third round) and Josh Boyce (fourth round) hope to break that trend. Dobson is 6’3″ and can beat defenses deep; Boyce is a compact 5’11” that can line up pretty much anywhere. Boyce played in high school with Robert Griffin III and in college with Andy Dalton.
The selection of an unknown safety in the early rounds is becoming tradition. Last year it was Tavon Wilson, who had his moments, although the jury is still out. This year, Duron Harmon is the unknown safety. Why take him so early? Who knows, maybe another team graded him high, but I just don’t see it. Defensive end/outside linebacker Michael Buchanan out of Illinois looks like another seventh round steal. Buchanan was projected as high as the third round, but after slipping to New England, he will look to add his name to the long list of seventh round finds in New England. The second pick of the seventh was Rutgers linebacker Steve Beauharnais, a player that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, but does need to get stronger to compete in the NFL. His best bet to make the roster is on special teams.
Assuming the good luck continues, expect to see at least two starters, four contributors, and three misses in the 2013 class, which is a great draft. If New England continues their hot streak on the last weekend in April, it is inevitable that they’ll end their cold streak on the first weekend in February.
Christopher Simoneau, from Hudson, Ma, has written about the Patriots since 2009, being featured on the Bleacher Report, Musketfire.com, and the Yahoo Contributor Network; a fan since 1982, Chris brings a historical perspective along with a focus on personnel and X’s and O’s.
Follow me @ https://twitter.com/chris_simoneau