New England Patriots Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Jon Halapio, G, Florida – Round 6
The Patriots have had some of the best guard play in the NFL over the last decade with a potential Hall of Famer in Logan Mankins. However before long, New England will have some new starters at guard. Mankins is 32 years old, while Dan Connolly turns 32 just before the 2014 season kicks off. Halapio is a great fit to learn behind those veterans while getting some time to rejuvenate after his college injuries.

If injuries hadn’t held back Halapio, he had the talent to be a second-day pick. The 6-foot-3, 323-pound Halapio has the strength to move defenders at the point of attack and is a good run blocker. Across his college career, he improved as a pass-rusher and illustrated that against LSU’s speed rushers in 2013.

Of all the positions in the NFL, the offensive line is one of the most common spots where late round or undrafted players end up becoming good starters. That could be the case with Halapio. It wouldn’t surprise this writer if Halapio develops into a quality starter for New England.

Most Likely To Bust

Bryan Stork, C, Florida State – Round 3
Stork was one of the surprise picks of Day 2 of the 2014 NFL Draft. Other teams told that they had Stork graded as a fifth-rounder for a variety of reasons. There were injury concerns with him including concussion issues from college, but they also felt that Stork wasn’t very good athletically for the NFL.

Stork (6-4, 315) is a big center, but he isn’t overly strong or physical. The road grading done by the Seminoles’ offensive line came from its powerful guard tandem of Josue Matias and Tre Jackson. Stork also isn’t very quick or athletic. His skill set points more toward being a backup rather than a good starter.

Starting Patriots center Ryan Wendell is 28, so he has some quality years left in him. Stork will compete with Braxston Cave to back up Wendell. It wouldn’t be surprising if Stork has a hard time breaking into the lineup.

Potential Boom Pick

Dominique Easley, DE, Florida – Round 1
For months, I had Easley mocked to the Patriots – typically in the second round. What I wrote about Easley and New England made perfect sense, “The Patriots could use more youth on the defensive line and love Florida products. Easley could play end on running downs and move inside to tackle in passing situations. With his experience playing 3-4 end, 4-3 end and 4-3 tackle, he would be a great fit for Bill Belichick.”

Unfortunately, I moved Easley in my final mock because I knew he wasn’t going to get to the Patriots second-round pick and his injury history caused me to project him to Day 2 rather than the first round.

Easley can be a dominant defensive lineman when healthy. He was one of the top two or three defensive lineman in college football during September 2013. Easley was in the running with Jadeveon Clowney for the best get-off, and Easley had a non-stop motor and never took plays off. The 6-foot-2, 288-pound Easley was firing into the backfield to cause a ton of disruption. He was putting heat on the quarterback rushing from defensive tackle and required double-teams. Easley is very strong for his size and held his ground well with plays coming straight at him. Florida’s season was essentially sunk when Easley suffered his second ACL tear of his college career; this one coming in practice.

If healthy, Easley could be a dynamite defensive lineman for New England. He could play end in running downs and provide an excellent interior pass-rusher by moving inside in passing situations. Staying healthy and returning to his old form will determine whether Easley pans out in the NFL.

Future Depth Player

Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford – Round 6
Many projected Fleming to be selected on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft, so the Patriots got a great value by landing him in the sixth round. Fleming is a tough run-blocker who could use further development in his pass protection. The 6-foot-6, 318-pounder was a good player for Stanford as its starting right tackle in 2013.

The Patriots look set for the long term with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer as the franchise’s starting tackles. Thus, Fleming is unlikely to see the field. However every team needs a swing tackle for game days who could play left or right tackle if one of the starters is injured. Fleming is a good fit for that role and could contribute in goal-line situations. He should provide New England with good depth on the offensive line.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

29. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida: B Grade
This pick surprises me because Dominique Easley doesn’t fit Bill Belichick’s profile. That’s not to say Easley isn’t a good player. He’s very talented, and would be a top-15 choice had he not sustained torn ACLs. But the injuries have to be a factor, so this is a big high-risk, high-reward selection. Easley could be a force for the Patriots, but he could also frustrate the coaching staff by always being banged up.

62. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois: MILLEN Grade
Finally, a Millen grade! Here’s why: The Patriots are in an arms race with the Broncos to reach the Super Bowl. Both teams have done many things this offseason to put themselves in a “win-now” mode. This pick does not help New England win now. Rather than give Tom Brady a better weapon, or improved blocking, or someone to help on defense, Bill Belichick pissed off Brady by making this choice. With the Patriots and Broncos being so close, this second-round pick could end up making the difference.

I have nothing against Garoppolo. He could evolve into a decent starter, though I doubt it. I just absolutely hate this fit.

105. Bryan Stork, C, Florida State: C+ Grade
This is a bit early for Bryan Stork, who was projected as a fifth-rounder by some teams we’ve spoken to, thanks to some medical concerns. It shouldn’t be a surprise the Patriots took a center though, as the position was a huge hole on the roster last year.

130. James White, RB, Wisconsin: C Grade
Bill Belichick doesn’t have a running back he can trust, but I’m not sure if James White will be that guy. White is a reach, as he was projected to go a bit later than this. I don’t hate this pick, but New England could have done better.

140. Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford: A Grade
Some thought Cameron Fleming would go as high as the second round, so this is terrific value for the Patriots. Fleming doesn’t fill a huge need for the Patriots, but they did have to get some tackle depth.

179. Jon Halapio, G, Florida: A- Grade
Bill Belichick is taking a Florida player? Wow. Anyway, this is a very good pick. Jon Halapio could have been chosen in the fourth round without any complaints, so New England is getting decent value. Guard depth was viewed as a big need.

198. Zach Moore, DE, Concordia: B Grade
Zach Moore is the first player ever chosen at his school, and it’s a good pick. The Patriots wanted defensive line depth, and there was some buzz about Zach Moore as a late-round prospect.

206. Jemea Thomas, CB/S, Georgia Tech: A- Grade
Secondary depth was needed, and the Patriots hadn’t added a defensive back yet. Jemea Thomas, who could’ve been chosen earlier, can play both cornerback and safety, so I like this pick.

244. Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan: B- Grade
Jeremy Gallon was viewed as being on the cusp of draftability, so it’s no surprise to see him go in the seventh round. I’m sure he’ll have a place on New England’s special teams.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: D . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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