Win or lose in Super Bowl 51, the New England Patriots will be picking at the end of the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. While the draft is a ways away in late April, it is always interesting to project who each team might select. One of the more mysterious teams when it comes to the draft is the Patriots. It’s hard to know which way Bill Belichick will go when he is on the clock in Philadelphia. Here we can project some possible fits for the Patriots, starting with the first round.
Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
Watkins, a captain in his senior year as a Tiger, was one of the better players for Clemson in their College Football Playoff run this season. He, along with Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Ben Boulware, led a strong front seven and helped Dabo Swinney’s team achieve their goal of a national championship. Watkins is a strong run defender, and in the pass-rushing game, he can succeed when others make mistakes, as shown above. He is an agile mover for his size, and he can move well laterally across the line to affect all aspects of the game. He does show some issues facing tougher talent, where stronger interior linemen can take advantage of him, but he has the frame that could benefit from some added weight and strength. Watkins would be a solid addition to the Patriots’ defensive line rotation behind Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine.
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
A two year starter for Urban Meyer’s strong defense, McMillan was a standout inside linebacker for the Buckeyes, racking up over 100 tackles in the 2016 season alone. He collected 7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks as well. A strong presence against the run and a decent coverage linebacker, McMillan is a good fit for any team. He helped lead the Buckeyes on a decently successful season, and although it ended on a low note with being shut out by Clemson in the CFB Semifinal, it was a good season for the linebacker to showcase his worth to NFL teams. While he isn’t the most sound tackler, and his instincts are off at times, he is an aggressive force in the middle of a defense, showing the ability to get off blocks and attack the ball carrier quickly. A co-captain on a playoff team, McMillan will likely be picked up in the late first or early second round, and would be a strong second fiddle to Dont’a Hightower in the Patriots’ defense.
Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan
At first glance, Chris Wormley is an ideal player for Matt Patricia’s defense: he’s good-but-not-great at most things he’s asked to do, and he plays all across the defensive front for the Michigan Wolverines. At 6-5 and a shade over 300 pounds, he has a good body type to play plenty of roles for the Patriots. His stats aren’t gaudy, with 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks for the 2016 season, but Wormley played on one of the most talented defensive lines in college football, with fellow trench-mates such as Rashan Gary, Taco Charlton, and Ryan Glasgow. His ability to win with technique instead of just pure athleticism will be attractive to NFL teams, and his stock rose a few draft slots after a good Senior Bowl week. While he won’t be the flashiest defensive player, he’s a dependable guy that you look for in a defensive line rotation, and would be a great fit in New England.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
A less likely option, due to the fact that the Patriots normally stick to drafting a certain position group due to CBA rulings, but McCaffrey does so many things above average he should still be considered here. People have been saying McCaffrey, whose father played for the Broncos and mother was a track star, will be a Patriot since he emerged onto the scene in 2015, racking up almost 2,700 yards from scrimmage. Even in this past season, when teams knew he would be the focal point of the offense, he still collected 1,600 rushing yards, over 300 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns. McCaffrey also averaged 23 yards per kickoff return and 10 yards per punt return in 2016, with 2 return touchdowns in his college career. While he’s not a burner, he has the long speed to continue working the return game in the NFL, and his skillset across all roles he plays would be a match made in heaven with Bill Belichick.
Caleb Brantley, DL, Florida
A player very similar to Wormley, Caleb Brantley’s Florida career followed a parallel path, and the two will likely be picked around the same time as each other. While the last time the Patriots selected a defensive lineman from Florida didn’t work out too well, Brantley is a much different player compared to Dominique Easley. After collecting 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks as part of one of the most talented defenses in the country this season, Brantley’s stock has risen recently, and he will likely end up as a Top 50 talent. More of an inside lineman compared to Wormley’s chess piece role, he is a stout run defender and an okay pass rusher. While he can get blocked out of plays at times, he has good playing strength and understands his responsibilities with little to no freelancing. Look for Brantley to be picked in the first two rounds come April, and for him to possibly land in Foxborough.