Patriots Draft Targets: McCaffrey, Peppers, and More

Philip Tor | Pats Militia

Its the offseason, aaaaannnnndddd it kinda sucks watching bowling instead of football. What do I have to occupy myself for the next 6 months until camp opens? Talk about the Patriots obviously. The next step for New England is the NFL combine and then NFL draft in May. I personally am excited to see the direction Bill Belichick guides the team into. This offseason is big for the Pats, bigger than in recent years. The Patriots have about a million guys with expiring contracts, and don’t have enough money to sign them all. Martellus Bennett has already said that he is going to test free agency, and there is a more than likely chance that he will go. Guys like Dont’a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Logan Ryan, Sebastian Vollmer, Duron Harmon, hell even Malcolm Butler are all headed for free agency. This years draft is critical for New England to stock up on young talent  and build up a core just as they did in 2012-13 (Hightower, Collins, Butler, Flowers, Brown)

With that being said, the 4 areas that the Patriots need to target in the draft are SS, LB/DE, RB, TE. Here are my top targets for each position

Strong Safety:

Jabrill Peppers – SS – Michigan – 6″1 – 205 lbs

(Getty Images)

Peppers is an interesting player in this years draft. despite getting Heisman trophy votes after a great career at Michigan, many people believe Peppers is hyped up. After looking at his numbers from his senior year (1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PD, 4 Sacks) i was extremely unimpressed. His production lacked on the field, but what makes Peppers so valuable is his versatility. Peppers can cover the slot, drop back to safety, or even move up to linebacker in different sets. Peppers is not afraid to throw his body into a hit, and that man can hit hard. Peppers would work great in a Matt Patricia defense that uses many different sets and packages. With McCourty and Harmon both turning 30 this year, it would be smart to invest in a jack of all trades type player like Peppers for the future. Peppers also has value in the return game, as he averages 27.9 kickoff return yards his senior year. With Cyrus Jones’ status in question, Peppers could slide right into that role if he were selected by New England. We’ll see where the scouts place Peppers after the combine, because with a good showing he could potentially move up in the draft to the mid 10’s or 20’s. If he does happen to fall the Patriots should not hesitate to grab this kid.

Running Back:

Christian McCaffrey – RB – Stanford – 6″0 – 202 lbs

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Just how perfect of a match is McCaffrey and the Patriots? A little too perfect if you ask me. The Junior out of Stanford tore it up in college. His Junior year he torched the PAC-12 with over 2,000 yards rushing with another 645 receiving yards. His numbers dropped off a bit in 2016, but he still netted 1,600 yards rushing 310 yards receiving and found the end-zone 16 times. I love the fit of McCaffrey and the Patriots because of his quickness, ability to catch and run in the open field, and his durability (He touched the ball a lot in college and he rarely complained of injury or was listed on the injury report). I love me some Dion Lewis, but if he cannot stay healthy enough to be on the field for at least 13-14 games per season, what is the point. If I could grab a guy like Lewis, who is proven to be more durable and have more potential upside, than take the shot. I really hope McCaffrey slips down to 32 because he is a special talent that the Patriots could really take advantage with all the changes they will make by next year.

James Conner – RB – Pittsburgh – 6″2 – 240 lbs

Gene J. Puskar AP

If McCaffrey gets taken earlier than 32, which is probably going to happen, another good option at RB would be the big man James Conner out of Pitt. Even though LeGarrette Blount has said he wants to stay in New England, his age, his desired salary, and his production, all beg the question: Is it worth it to re-sign him? If that answer becomes a clear cut no, than the Patriots would need another power back to push the ball between the tackles. This is where Conner is most valuable. His large frame helps him burst through the line. He is a great downhill runner who protects the ball brilliantly. Conner only had one fumble in 2016, and 6 in his college career. His best season came as a sophomore where he rushed 298 times for over 1700 yards and 26 TDs. According to his coaches, Conner is a stand-up guy and a vocal leader in the locker room. It’d be interesting to see what kind of impact he could make if he does end up in Foxboro. Not to mention the kids obvious mental strength and positivity, as Conner was diagnosed with cancer and missed nearly all of the 2015 season. Glad to see he is doing better and one step towards his dream.

After watching this video, I really hope the Patriots draft this kid

 

Edge Rusher:

Takkarist McKinley – DE/OLB – UCLA – 6″2 – 265 lbs

Carrie Jesenovec/Icon Sportswire

McKinley is a BEAST on the edge, plain and simple. The man can bull rush the f*** out of the passer. His explosiveness combined with his quickness is what made him one of the most feared OLB’s in the country last season. With 10 sacks and 3 forced fumbles last year, McKinley established himself as a beast on the edge. Experts project McKinley to go anywhere from mid first to high second, so if he falls expect the Pats to jump on a D-lineman as they have done in the past (Easley 2014, Brown 2015).

 

Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

TJ Watt – OLB – Wisconsin – 6″4 – 243 lbs

The next Watt brother to jump into the NFL is TJ Watt again out of Wisconsin. After battling a number of injuries in his freshman and sophomore season, Watt emerged as one of the best OLB’s in the nation collecting 11.5 sacks in 14 games. His athleticism and football IQ are what the scouts believe will help him excel at the next level. If he is anything like his older brother JJ, than he will be sure to make a splash early on in his career. I consider TJ to be a very realistic pick at no.64, but if he has a good combine and pro-day than he could shoot up into the late first round.

 

Tight Ends:

O.J Howard – TE – Alabama – 6″6 – 242

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard (88) runs the ball against Clemson Tigers safety T.J. Green (15) during the fourth quarter in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With the likelihood that Martellus Bennett is leaving New England, and Rob Gronkowski’s injury status in limbo the Patriots have to start looking for other options at tight end. The position has been a fundamental factor in the Josh McDaniels offense for the past 5 years, and in this draft a clear cut replacement is OJ Howard from Alabama. Howard is a big body, much like Bennett and Gronk, and makes the safeties and LB’s that cover him look puny. Even though he is a big body he is super fast. A good comparison that people have been making is Jimmy Grahm of the Seahawks. His upside is massive, but the reality is the Patriots will have to move up to get him, which Belichick is not inclined to do. Howard is a great talent and certainly will be on the Patriots radar come combine time.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Bucky Hodges – TE – Virginia Tech – 6″6 – 245 lbs

Hodges is a lot like Howard. Big, long, athletic body who can make defenders look foolish in the passing game. He is a talented deep threat, but some experts believe he is simply “an overgrown receiver”. Despite those beliefs, Hodges is definitely one of the most targeted red
zone threats in the draft. This was his specialty at Virginia Tech, and where he did most of his damage. Hodges would be an interesting pick for the Patriots because he is another guy who is weak in the blocking area of his game. His production cannot be overlooked either, as he has been a consistent factor in the Hokies attack (25 games, 85 Rec, 1056 Yds, and 13 TDs). I think Hodges would be a great value 3rd round pick and be a great replacement for Bennett if he were to leave the Patriots.