Who should the New England draft with their newly acquired pick from the Cardinals?
The New England Patriots orchestrated a blockbuster trade Tuesday afternoon with the Arizona Cardinals to acquire Jonathan Cooper and the Cardinals’ second round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft for Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones.
While Jones is coming off his best year as a professional, New England’s needs to upgrade their offensive line are paramount, as the running game was non-existent behind it and quarterback Tom Brady had to dink and dunk his way to victory behind the worst offensive line of the Bill Belichick era in New England.
Though New England did bring in a former promising prospect in Cooper to help bolster the interior of their porous offensive line, the real steal of this trade with the Cardinals is that the Patriots acquired the No. 61 overall pick.
New England doesn’t have a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft because of Roger Goodell’s Deflategate nonsense, so the Patriots first pick of the Draft comes at No. 60 late in the second round. The Patriots now have both No. 60 and No. 61 at their disposal to fill some of their holes to potentially contend for another trip to the Super Bowl.
By essentially doubling down with back-to-back picks late in the second round, this gives Belichick the freedom to go after a wide receiver at either selection. Belichick has notoriously whiffed on wide receivers in the NFL Draft not named Julian Edelman. New England will almost certainly take a wideout at either No. 60 or No. 61 because they’ll have the luxury of back-to-back picks.
Though wide receiver seems the most likely of positions for New England to target at No. 61, here are five players the Patriots should consider using the pick they acquired from the Cardinals in the Cooper/Jones trade.
Next: 5. Shilique Calhoun
If New England is looking at a possible replacement for Jones at pass rusher, the Patriots’ best option late in the second round is probably Michigan State Spartans standout defensive end Shilique Calhoun.
Calhoun starred on Mark Dantonio’s 2015 Spartans’ defense who won the Big 10 and played in the second annual College Football Playoff. Though Michigan State was annihilated by the eventual National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, Calhoun appeared to be the front seven player most NFL ready on Michigan State.
Belichick is brilliant at finding good college players in the front seven and turning them into stars at the professional level (Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, etc.). Calhoun was more than a good Big 10 defensive end, he was a star in East Lansing.
With defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s great scheme in the front seven, the Patriots could potentially have a player on the front seven of say Richard Seymour’s caliber. Surely, Calhoun will play more on the edge than Seymour did, but if New England wants to essentially reload at pass rusher after trading Jones to Arizona, it would be hard for the Patriots to pass twice on Calhoun late in the second round.
Next: 4. Tyler Boyd
Tyler Boyd turned heads starring for Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh Panthers in the ACC in 2015 at wide receiver. While most of the focus entering the 2015 NCAA campaign was on running back James Conner, and rightfully so, Boyd was perhaps the best player on Pittsburgh in 2015. He’ll be off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft before the end of Day 2.
Boyd emerged as one of the best pass catchers in his conference under then offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Chaney took his former disciple at the University of Tennessee in quarterback Nathan Peterman and turned Pitt into a high-octane offense thanks to a great season by Boyd at wide receiver.
With the New England Patriots needing help at wide receiver as Edelman and Danny Amendola aren’t exactly kids any more, perhaps New England will target a wideout of Boyd’s caliber at either No. 60 or No. 61 to play both in the slot and on the outside.
The leap from the guy throwing him the football in college in Peterman to the greatest active quarterback in the game in Brady is staggering to say the very least. If Boyd can put together 254 career receptions for 3,361 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns in his three years with the Panthers, imagine what he could do with Brady as his quarterback his first few years in the league.
Next: 3. Sterling Shepard
Sterling Shepard of the Oklahoma Sooners may be slight of frame at 5’10”, 190 pounds, but he has this desire to compete from his four years in the Big 12 that will end up separating from the rest of the wide receiver draft class in 2016.
Shepard starred in his four years in Norman with 233 career catches for 3,482 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was a favorite target of quarterback Baker Mayfield who finished fourth in the 2015 Heisman Trophy race orchestrating new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid attack at Oklahoma.
Though he’s not built to handle aggressive press coverage out on an island, Shepard seems like a player that could thrive in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ aerial attack that tries to get the balls into quick, but small wide receivers in space.
Shepard has had to overcome a great deal of adversity, most notably the loss of his father, to become a star at Oklahoma. He seems like a high character, highly intelligent player that certainly fits the mold of the type of player the Patriots typically target in the draft process. It wouldn’t be shocking to see New England use the pick the organization obtained in the Jones trade with the Cardinals on Shepard.
Next: 2. Kenneth Dixon
On offense in 2015, it wasn’t just the offensive line that stunk on the Patriots. The running game was absolutely a non-factor once Dion Lewis got hurt. McDaniels opted to dink and dunk with Brady to effectively move the chains with a strong short game passing attack once running the football became an after thought at mid-season.
While the Patriots might feel pressure to take 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry with either of the second round picks to try to fix New England’s bad running game, Henry will only be as good as his offensive line is in the NFL and really only grades out as a north-to-south bell cow back with little lateral agility.
If New England did want to go with a tailback at No. 60 or No. 61 the Patriots may want to consider Louisiana Tech’s star running back Kenneth Dixon. Dixon’s stock is climbing exponentially since his dominating bowl game and his impressive combine.
Dixon had 802 carries for 4,483 yards and 72 rushing touchdowns in four years with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. He also had 87 career receptions for 969 yards and 15 touchdowns as a true dual-threat running back.
This guy is going to help someone win their fantasy football league the next few years and it would be wise for the Patriots not to let Dixon get into the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft by making him at least their No. 61 overall selection this spring.
Next: 1. Will Fuller
If there is really anything that the Patriots don’t do well on draft day, it’s finding a wide receiver that can stretch the field or to be physical enough to do much of anything on the outside. Outside of Randy Moss and Deion Branch, who else has helped the Brady/Belichick era Patriots move the chains on the outside at wide receiver?
By acquiring the Cardinals’ No. 61 second round pick that just so happens to come right after the Patriots’ own No. 60 selection, it allows Belichick to take a risk late in the second round and get his guy to potentially star on the outside for the next few years in Foxboro in Notre Dame Fighting Irish star wide receiver Will Fuller.
Fuller had back-to-back 1,000 receiving seasons for the Irish under head coach Brian Kelly in South Bend. At 6’0, 180 pounds, Fuller won’t be bullied by bigger press coverage corners on the outside. His sure-handedness along the outside will almost certainly help Brady moving the chains for the next few seasons if New England goes with the Notre Dame wideout at No. 61.
While Brady won’t play quarterback for New England until the end of time, it wouldn’t hurt to have potentially a star at wide receiver on the outside in Fuller in the latter years of the Brady era in New England.
If Fuller does become a star for the Patriots, he could help Brady’s backup Jimmy Garoppolo effectively transition into his new role when Brady retires. That is if Garroppolo is indeed the heir apparent to Brady in Foxboro.