Belichickian ties: Potential Pats from Alabama

Belichickian ties: Potential Pats from Alabama
April 15, 2014, 1:30 pm
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It's nearly impossible to try to predict just where the Patriots are going to turn when the NFL draft rolls around, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

There are all sorts of methods we can use to try to decipher who's on coach Bill Belichick's draft board: analyzing the team's current positional needs; projecting needs one or two seasons into the future; breaking down the draft's top talents regardless of position; etc.

The fact of the matter is that it's hard to pin down which tactic the Patriots might employ from pick to pick.

One trend that has popped up repeatedly over the years, though, is that the Patriots have at different points leaned toward drafting players who have played for coaches whose opinions carry a lot of weight in Belichick's eyes.

One of the latest examples has been New England's selections of Rutgers products. They took three last season -- Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan and Steve Beauharnais -- who played under former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.

Obviously, playing for a well-respected football mind isn't any guarantee that the Patriots will be interested in a particular player. Yet, it's one added piece to the puzzle -- along with workouts, pre-draft meetings, college tape and more -- that can give the Patriots a better idea of what a player brings to the table.
 
Before the draft begins on May 8, we'll break down one college program at a time, listing prospects who have played for coaches with Belichickian ties. Today we'll start with Alabama.

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Bill Belichick and Alabama coach Nick Saban go back a long way. Saban served as Browns defensive coordinator for four years under Belichick in the early 1990s, and they knew each other long before that as they came up through the football ranks.

Belichick has said in the past that he's glad he no longer has to coach against Saban (who coached the Dolphins in 2006) since the two are still friends and since Belichick clearly respects Saban's abilities as a coach.
In recent years, Belichick has drafted two of Saban's players: Brandon Deaderick (2010 seventh round) and Dont'a Hightower (2012 first round).

Here's a rundown of Saban students who might pique the Patriots' interest in the draft.

Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, safety: The Pats have a need in the back end of their secondary, but it's unlikely that Clinton-Dix would slip to the Patriots at No. 29. He's projected as the top player at his position and should go in the middle of the first round.

CJ Mosley, inside linebacker: Another long shot for New England, Mosley will likely be the first inside 'backer off the board. Still, if a large number of quarterbacks and receivers go in the first round -- two positions that don't fill glaring Patriots needs -- Mosley could slip to the back end of the first round and give Belichick an impact player for his front seven which is lacking in linebacker depth.

Cyrus Kouandjio, offensive tackle: At 6-foot-7 and 322 pounds, he presents as a prototypical offensive tackle. A First-team AP All-American last season, he projects as a second-round talent but is still considered relatively raw.

AJ McCarron, quarterback: Hard to argue with his winning track record as the signal-caller for the country's most successful program in recent years. If the Patriots covet a quarterback, but not one in the first couple of rounds, he could be a worthwhile selection.

Kevin Norwood, receiver: He ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and measured in a 6-2, 198 pounds at the combine. Seen as a smart guy both on the field and off -- he already has a master's degree -- he'll make someone happy in the middle rounds, but probably not the Patriots after they addressed the wideout position with two draft picks in 2013.

Adrian Hubbard, outside linebacker: If the Patriots are looking for some pass-rush help on Day 3 of the draft, the 6-6, 257 pounder could be available. With pretty good athleticism (4.69 40-yard dash) to go with his size, he's drawn some comparisons to Dion Jordan of the Dolphins, who went No. 3 overall in last year's draft.

Anthony Steen, guard: The Patriots could use an infusion of youth on the interior offensive line depending on how they project guys like Josh Kline and Chris Barker. Steen is somewhat undersized at 6-3, 314, but is deemed to be fundamentally sound enough to perhaps make a move to center. Coming off a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the end of the college season, he could be an option starting in the fifth or sixth round.

Ed Stinson, defensive end: Powerful player off the edge with long arms, he could be in the Patriots sights for a couple of reasons: 1) he could be strong enough to be a versatile player along the line and 2) special teams experience. Probably a fifth or sixth-round choice.

Vinnie Sunseri, safety: Here's an interesting choice for late in the draft. One of the signal-callers on a high-level defense, Sunseri is known as a strong tackler and solid special teamer if not a stand-out athlete. He tore his ACL in October but could be worth a late-round flyer.