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, the second round here, and most recently the third round. Now it’s time to move on to Day Three of the NFL Draft, which is where things will be crazy, as it’s the last day of the draft. Let’s get into it, starting with round four.
Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane
One word that often is used to describe Tanzel Smart: explosive. While standing at a stout 6-1 and 305 pounds, his first step is almost unmatched in terms of interior defensive linemen in this draft class. He quickly comes out of his stance at the snap, and he can generate good power when he does this. He used his abilities to collect 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2016. While he can lose his balance sometimes while being blocked, he is a solid defensive tackle that does a lot of what the Patriots ask their linemen to do; plug gaps in the offensive line so running backs can’t run through them. This is a vital part of the defense, and it’s part of why New England’s defense has been consistently successful. It’s also one of Smart’s better abilities, and why he should be on the Patriots’ draft board when their pick in the 4th round comes around.
Storm Norton, OT, Toledo
Storm Norton is a large man. Coming in at 6-8 and 310 pounds, he will be one of the taller offensive tackles in the NFL. He uses his length and strength to be a strong presence as a bookend for the Toledo Rockets’ offense, and he did well in 2016. His quarterback, Logan Woodside, averaged 10 yards per attempt as a passer, and running back Kareem Hunt rushed for almost 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. These statistics are normally indicative of a strong offensive line, and Norton led that group. It is almost impossible to beat him with a bull rush from defensive edge rushers, and even some speed rushers can’t get past him. Norton shows good strength and he knows how to “build his house,” or get himself in good position before facing a rusher, in pass protection. Adding Storm Norton doesn’t just bring an A+ name to New England, it brings in a young offensive tackle that line coach Dante Scarnecchia can mold and make into a great backup for Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon.
Matthew Dayes, RB, NC State
If the Patriots are interested in drafting a new running back, they could look to return to the NC State Wolfpack well and select Matthew Dayes. A year after Jacoby Brissett departs the school, Dayes rushed for 1,166 yards on just under 250 carries, good for a 4.6 yard per carry clip. He also collected 10 touchdowns on the ground, as well as 267 receiving yards on 32 catches. The gif above showcases his vision and ability to make cuts, especially to the backside of a play, which is an important skill for running backs. He is elusive in space, and runs with more strength than is expected of someone at his size. He has reliable hands in the passing game, and has shown the ability to pass block at an average level. Dayes has been a solid do-it-all type back for the Wolfpack in his time with the team, and he was voted a team captain in his senior season. Even standing at 5-9 and a shade over 200 pounds, Dayes was one of the toughest and most competitive players on NC State’s team, and he was loved by coaches. These are the kind of things professional teams love to hear, and the Patriots will surely have him on their radar.
TJ Watt, LB, Wisconsin
Yes, you’ve heard that last name before: TJ is the youngest brother of JJ Watt, the Texans’ defensive superstar. Being the third Watt brother to come to the NFL by way of Wisconsin, TJ was part of what made the Badgers’ front seven so strong this year. He was able to collect 15.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks while playing across from fellow linebacker Vince Biegel, who could also be a consideration here. While Watt apparently has the same work ethic and passion that his older brother has, he is undersized to be a truly effective edge rusher in the NFL, and he needs to improve his techniques and skills to make an impact in the pros. The Patriots are in need of linebackers and edge rushers, and Watt would be a great choice to fill the void, possibly at both spots, in the fourth round, if he lasts that long.
Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo
Another member of the Toledo Rockets, Roberts has been getting some late hype that could propel him to an early Day 3 selection. He is similar to Alabama prospect OJ Howard in that he is a good run blocker and receiver, although he played lesser competition and is not quite the athlete Howard is. Even though he comes from a relatively run-first offense, Roberts still collected 45 catches for 533 yards (11.8 yards per reception) and 16 touchdowns in 2016 alone. He has some good run after the catch ability and shows his strength off while running and blocking. Roberts’ hands are relatively reliable, which is the most important trait a receiving tight end can have. He may need some work on his blocking technique, as he often can be caught with his hands outside of the numbers on defenders, and can be thrown off balance with a “rip” move from some linebackers. Roberts also needs to refine his route running, which is a common problem with many tight ends coming into the league. Although he may never be a superstar, Michael Roberts would be a good selection for the Patriots, who may be in need of a second tight end if Martellus Bennett leaves in free agency.