Jan 062014
 

Kiko Alonso2013 saw some outstanding performances among defensive rookies, and we have nominated eight for the award won by Luke Kuechly last season. This year’s nominees include (in alphabetical order):

Kiko Alonso, BUF (6-10, 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INT)
Jarvis Jones, PIT (8-8, 40 tackles, 1 sack)
Star Lotulelei, CAR (12-4, 42 tackles, 3 sacks)
Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (10-6, 68 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT)
Alec Ogletree, STL (7-9, 117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD)
Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (8-8, 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
Logan Ryan, NE (12-4, 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 INT, 1 TD)
Desmond Trufant, ATL (4-12, 70 tackles, 2 INT)

This award generated a wide variety of opinions among our contributors, as three different players accumulated first place votes, and one player who received a second place vote and three third place votes didn’t make the final cut (Logan Ryan), nor did another player who received a first place vote (Star Lotulelei). When all the votes are tallied, here are the top three vote winners:

Third Place: Alec Ogletree, linebacker, St. Louis Rams

Ogletree led a resurgent Rams’ defense with 117 tackles while forcing six fumbles. Ogletree also returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, had a sack and a half and ten pass breakups. The first round sellection from the University of Georgia, coupled with defensive end Robert Quinn, give Jeff Fisher a solid defensive nucleus entering the 2014 season.

Second Place: Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, New York Jets (2 1st place votes)

One of our two selections from the AFC East, Richardson single-handedly made new GM John Idzik look pretty bright this season, as the budding star dominated the line of scrimmage and was a force against opposition running games. Despite being a rookie and joining a very talented defensive front, Richardson proved to be arguably the best defensive player on the Jets’ roster. Richardson closed the season with 76 tackles and three and a half sacks.

First Place: Kiko Alonso, linebacker, Buffalo Bills (4 1st place votes)

Jets’ fans may disagree, but we agree with Mel Kiper on this one. Alonso was the best defensive rookie in the NFL in 2013, nearly on par with Kuechly’s performance in 2012. Alonso recorded 159 tackles in 2013, while helping the Bills improve to the tenth ranked offense (in defensive yards allowed). The secondary proved to be the bane of Buffalo’s defensive unit, but Alonso quickly established himself as a dominant and disruptive presence, picking off four passes while breaking up another nine, and tallying two sacks, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Alonso finished third in the league in tackles, behind only Vontaze Burfict and Paul Posluszny.

Apr 272013
 

Jamie CollinsOnce again, the New England Patriots traded out of the first round in order to secure more picks and then proceeded to baffle the “experts” with their selections, drawing twice from the secondary at Rutgers. The Patriots targeted defense and wide receivers, which was widely expected prior to the raft. Let’s take an early look at the Patriots’ 2013 draft selections.

Second Round

Pick 20 (52nd overall) – Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Mississippi

The Patriots passed up my fave pass rusher in SMU’s Margus Hunt, who was taken with the next pick by Cincinnati. So what do the Patriots get in Collins? According to Mike Mayock, Collins is “one of the most explosive edge rushers in this draft. He’ll line up, stick his hands in the dirt and get his hands in the quarterback.” If that is true it would certainly be music to Bill Belichick’s ears, as the Pats could use a pass rusher opposite Chandler Jones to apply consistent pressure to the quarterback. However, if the Patriots plan to use Collins as a linebacker, they will need to coach him up on keeping track of his place in coverage. Collins has a lean fame that he is still growing into, and has quick feet, having converted to linebacker from the safety position. Collins smells like a boom or bust candidate for the Pats.

Pick 27 (59th overall) – Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall

Donson is quite possibly the best sleeper receiver of the draft, and is the best wide receiver prospect to come out of Marshall since Randy Moss; not that Dobson has Moss’ talent. Dobson looks more like a cross between Brandon Lloyd and Sidney Rice, and has the potential to fill the Patriots’ glaring need at X receiver.  “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s got good hands, he’s a strong player,” Belichick said of Dobson. “Smart, very smart. He has some position flexibility and versatility. Catches the ball very well.” Like Lloyd, Dobson is not a burner, but will make acrobatic catches. He seems like a better bet than the other second round receivers taken during the Belichick era, but time will tell.

Third Round

Pick 21 (83rd overall) – Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers

Ryan is an aggressive and physical corner with good size. He is not a burner and still needs to work on his technique. Ryan has a habit of not turning his head to find the ball, a flaw that Patriots’ fans are too familiar with. Still, Belichick sees a lot of raw talent in Ryan. “He’s been very productive. He’s one of the most productive corners in the draft,” Belichick said. “He’s been in a very good system. He’s been well-coached, knows his techniques well, he’s an instinctive player. He’s tough, a good tackler.”

Pick 29 (91st overall) – Duron Harmon, S Rutgers

Word is that Belichick and other coaches went to Rutgers looking at Logan Ryan, and then fell in love with Duron Harmon. According to Mike Mayock, “Bill Belichick knows that school like few coaches do. I had him on my board late as a late-priority free agent. I got on him late when I saw some cut-ups. I moved him up my board because I went, ‘Wow.'” Harmon is this year’s annual surprise pick by Belichick, and was not invited to the NFL Combine. Harmon is considered a high character guy, and becomes the third player from Rutgers in the Patriots’ secondary, joining Ryan and safety Devin McCourty. For the moment, he appears to add depth at the strong safety spot.

Fourth Round

Pick 5 (102nd overall) – Josh Boyce, WR, TCU

Boyce will immediately add depth at the slot receiver position, behind Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. His quickness and strength are reminiscent of both Edelman and Devery Henderson. Boyce has good hands but is not able to bring in balls when extending himself. He cuts well and is good at creating separation. Boyce seems to be a solid fourth round value pick.

Seventh Round

Pick 20 (226th overall) – Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

Buchanan had a huge junior year for the Illini, then ended up in a fight and had his jaw wired shut, causing him to lose twenty pounds and causing him to have a disappointing senior year. Buchanan is a solid pass rusher who needs to gain weight and improve his technique, but could be a real find in the seventh round.

Pick 29 (235th overall) – Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers

That’s right… the Pats grabbed another defender from Rutgers. Beauharnais is a solid, strong player who can stuff the run. He can cover on short passing plays but will struggle to cover right ends in man coverage, and he lacks the speed to be an edge rusher.

Beyond these players, the Patriots sent a seventh round pick and running back Jeff Demps to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for running back LeGarrette Blount, who failed to produce under Greg Schiano in Tampa. Blount had a solid rookie campaign but has struggled mightily over the past two seasons. If he can regain his form he would be an excellent complement to the Patriots’ backs, but the Patriots are deep at this spot and Blount is not a lock too make the team.