Tom E. Curran's potential Patriots draftees

Tom E. Curran's potential Patriots draftees
April 12, 2011, 12:53 am
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By TomE. Curran
CSNNE.com

Heading into the NFL draft, Tom E. Curran has compiled a series of looks at potential Patriots draftees. Check out the full list here:

RUNNING BACKS

Mark Ingram, Alabama5-9, 215Running Back

The Skinny: The highest-rated running back in this draft. Won the Heisman Trophy in 2009 when he ran for 1,658 yards. He was dinged up in 2010 but still averaged 5.5 per carry. He's compact and very solidly built. Thick. He's got elusiveness in small spaces, runs with excellent patience and finishes his runs. He's played against the highest competition, which is something the Patriots value in their evaluations. Also, he played for Bill Belichick's buddy Nick Saban, so the Patriots will get a solid review of Ingram's skills. He's not exceptionally fast but accelerates quickly to his top speed and has excellent quickness.

Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
6-0, 227Running Back
The Skinny: The consensus best "big back" in the draft. Ran for 1,695 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010, averaging 6 yards per carry. A legitimate pounder between the tackles who can handle a heavy workload, he's got good quickness and soft hands. according to Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki. He's the second-best running back on Wes Bunting's rankings over at National Football Post. Both analysts see him having feature back potential. He should be on the board well into Round 2.

Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
5-9, 212Running Back
The Skinny:The Patriots have shown interest, with running backs coach Ivan Fears working Williams out down in Blacksburg, Virginia. Williams had his2010 season ruined production-wise by a torn hamstring and only gained 477 yards (4.3 per carry) but managed nine touchdowns in five starts. As a result, he promises to be undervalued by decision-makers who need to "sell" their draft picks to their owners and fanbases. The Patriots don't have to do that, as the Brandon Tate and Rob Gronkowski picks the last two seasons showed. Williams' speed, aggression, competitive fire and overall package makes him very enticing.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Gabe Carimi, 6-7, 314
OT,Wisconsin

The Skinny:After an injury-plagued junior season, the cocksure Carimi came back in 2010 and won the Outland Trophy, an award given annually to the best interior lineman (defense or offense) in the country. Carimi was part of a bludgeoning rushing attack for the Badgers. He demonstrated excellent smarts and toughness and a willingness to play through the inevitable dings an offensive lineman will deal with. With the Patriots needing to soon hire the successor to Matt Light at left tackle - or do some shuffling to get Sebastian Vollmer over there from right tackle- they will need a new guy. With BC's Anthony Castonzo and USC's Tyron Smith seemingly stacking up as the most attractive LTs in the draft, that will leave Carimi on the board for New England later in the first round.

Danny Watkins, 6-3, 310

OG, OL, C, Baylor

The Skinny:One of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, the 26-year-old (he'll turn 27 during his rookie year) didn't play football until junior college when he was enrolled in firefighting school at Butte (Calif.) College. Went on to start 25 games after he got to Baylor and impressed as a strong, nasty, humble, mature mauler. Stephen Neal's gone? Really, who better to pick up where he left off? And the nice thing? He's played two years at left tackle but can also play either guard spot or center.

Nate Solder, 6-8, 319OT, Colorado

The Skinny: Massive football player who entered Colorado as a tight end prospect but was transitioned into a left tackle during his redshirt sophomore season. Started at left tackle the next 38 games consecutively. Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki notes that, on 1,400 career pass plays, he allowed five sacks and 21 pressures. The Patriots have visited extensively with Solder, a player described as being very professional, dedicated and coachable. One of the reasons they may have spent significant time with him, though, was to figure if that long frame can put more weight on without sacrificing too much athleticism and to find out if his relatively meager 21 bench press reps were indicative of a guy who will struggle with bull rushes.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Cam Heyward, 6-5, 294
DE,Ohio State

The Skinny:Son of Ironhead. A four-year starter at high-profile, highly-competitive program. While Cam Jordan is wonderfully versatile, Cam Heyward is near the other end of this deep class of defensive end prospects. He's a run-stopper; a plugger. He doesn't do a ton of different things - little pass rush upside - but what he does, he can do pretty well. He's got a very good reputation as a player, teammate and worker.

Ryan Kerrigan, 6-4, 267DEOLB,Purdue

The Skinny: Havoc-causing defensive end in Purdue's 4-3. Had 32.5 sacks in past three seasons for Boilermakers and tied the NCAA DivisionIrecord for forcedfumbles in a career (14). Kerrigan is probably the player most often ticketed to go to the Patriots in mock drafts this spring. There's a lot of reason for that. He's a football junkie and carries himself with the kind of professional air that says nothing matters more than football. Additionally, he's terrifically productive in a high-profile program and has played well against top Big Ten competition. It's not clear yet how well he'll operate in a 3-4 alignment. Whether or not he can drop into coverage on first and second down is the main question. But when the Patriots go 4-3 in passing situations, he's a beast on the edge going forward. Meanwhile, I keep reading about his lack of explosivenessand athleticism in scouting reports. I'm not getting it. Seems more than athletic and explosive than people give him credit for.

J.J. Watt, 6-5, 290 DE, Wisconsin

The Skinny:The buzz for this kid istremendous. Mike Mayock, the highly-respected NFL Network draft analyst and aman whose opinion Bill Belichick values, thinks Watt is one of the best"5-technique" defensive ends to come along in a while. (5-technique meanshe lines up on the outside shoulder of the left tackle; 0-technique means aplayer is head-up over the center). Put together an amazing show at the NFLCombine where his measurables in short quickness drills were equal to somerunning backs. He is a 3-4 defensive end, though, not an edge rusher. ThinkRichard Seymour. Same spot, not as outstanding though.

Cam Jordan, 6-4, 287DL, California
The Skinny: Possibly the most versatile of all the 3-4 defensive end prospects, Jordan is a smart, engaging, unique player whose dad Steve was a six-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Minnesota Vikings. He and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt are seen most often as the best fits for the Patriots' most pressing need - a suitable replacement for Richard Seymour. Bill Belichick has spoken of how rare it is to find the guy who's 6-5, 270 and runs 4.7. Here's one that's 6-4, 290 that can do that. And he's smart as hell.

Tom E. Curran canbe reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran