After an exciting win in Super Bowl 51 the New England Patriots will be picking at the end of the each 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. We started talking about the first round last week, and here we will examine the possibilities in the second round.
Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State
The Patriots may not necessarily have a major need at either offensive tackle spot, but it is good to have a solid backup, which LaAdrian Waddle is not. Johnson has been starting for the Seminoles since his true freshman season, and has been a strong presence at left tackle for the team. In 2016 he helped freshman quarterback Deondre Francois and running back Dalvin Cook work very well this year. Although he may need to improve his footwork and add some upper body strength, the former can be fixed with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and the latter with an NFL weight training program. Look for Bill Belichick to possibly continue the “Florida State offensive line” pipeline with Johnson this spring.
ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama
One thing everyone can agree on: ArDarius Stewart is fast. A former track and field star at Alabama, he decided to focus on football, and it will clearly pay off for him. While selecting him in the second round may be a reach, he has shown the ability to perform well in important situations, being a strong receiving presence along sophomore Calvin Ridley and graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter. Stewart is a special type of speedster given his size. If the Patriots deem Danny Amendola too expensive to return, selecting this receiver from Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide would not be a bad replacement.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
A 10/10 name in this draft, Awuzie is a long, physical corner that could do a great job of replacing Logan Ryan if he leaves in free agency after this year. A strong presence along with safety Tedric Thompson, Awuzie and co. were the best part of the Buffaloes season. His 6-1 frame that allows him to match up well with the bigger-bodied receivers, coupled with his ability to blitz from the slot position on defense, brings memories of what Logan Ryan has done for the team in the past few years. If the Rutgers man moves on, look for this Colorado star to replace him in Matt Patricia’s defense.
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
One of the main reasons the Patriots’ defense is so strong is the fact that their run defense, especially up front, is so stout. The team was led by Alan Branch, who may be looking to retire after a strong Super Bowl win. While the team would be set with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine stepping up, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add Elijah Qualls to the roster. While his play was overshadowed by fellow interior lineman Vita Vea, Qualls was a good defender against the run, and was also a decent pass rusher who showed the starting of a good spin move on some centers and guards. Chris Petersen and the Huskies defensive coordinator used him in a variety of ways, whether it be as a nose tackle or a 9-technique stand-up pass rusher. The versatility he displayed would be a dream come true for Bill Belichick, and Qualls would fit in well with the Patriots.
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
A name matched only by the aforementioned Awuzie and wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow, Jake Butt is a very good tight end prospect. He can do everything from blocking to receiving at a slightly above average level, which is ideal for the Patriots, who embrace versatility at every position. With the possibility of Martellus Bennett leaving after a successful year, and the only remaining tight ends being Rob Gronkowski and Matt Lengel, it would be a smart idea to bring in a prospect like Butt, who could likely contribute early on. In a stacked tight end class, someone with talent like this will get pushed down as other teams favor the likes of OJ Howard and a better receiving prospect in Evan Engram. Look for Butt to be out in New England this spring with the other rookies, and for him to make an impact in his rookie season.