Patriots

Bean: Patriots don't need to go crazy over No. 1 seed

Bean: Patriots don't need to go crazy over No. 1 seed

The Patriots have been very careful to not finish the 2016 regular season the way they did in 2015, when they lost their final two games to cede the No. 1 seed in the AFC to Denver and were eventually eliminated in . . . Denver. 

The first measures to prevent a similar fate this season were taken last week with a 41-3 drubbing of the Jets. Now the Pats control their destiny and can sew up the top seed Sunday with a win over Miami or a Raiders loss to the Broncos. By all accounts, they’re prioritizing a win over resting star players. 

But last season was last season. Denver's defense was scary. What could the Patriots possibly fear this season? 

With Derek Carr out of the picture, there's probably more space between the Patriots and everyone else in the AFC since . . . when, 2007? Would anything actually worry them if they’re to take their chances with the scoreboard Sunday and give guys like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman a breather? 

This isn’t a plea for the Patriots do necessarily do that; guys want to play because stats lead to money, and given the supply and demand of top athletes, you should want those guys to do whatever makes them happy. But the Patriots know where these guys are at health-wise, and they shouldn’t think twice about giving the necessary ones a quarter or four off if it means it’ll be easier to trounce the flotsam and jetsam they’ll be playing in the coming weeks. 

Drudging up old history in this case might not be too telling given that these are all different teams, but it’s not like the Patriots have needed the No. 1 seed to get to the Super Bowl. In their six trips to the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick, two of their four victories (2001 and 2004) came as the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Conversely, they were beaten in the divisional round -- at home -- as the No. 1 seed in 2010 by the Jets (a victory that probably kept Rex Ryan employed as a head coach for the next six seasons). And in 2012 they lost the AFC Championship Game at home to the Ravens (they were the No. 2 seed that year, but got to host the title game when Baltimore upset top-seeded Denver).

Yes, they lost as the No. 2 seed in Denver in both 2013 and 2015. But that was then and this is now. With the Matt McGloin-led Raiders as their only potential road opponent if they're seeded second, does it really matter where the Pats wind up? It’s commonplace to go through potential playoff opponents and find a team to fear, but it might be a stretch to say one genuinely exist this year. 

Of course the Patriots should covet the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It’s a feather in the organization’s cap and it would guarantee they wouldn’t have to go anywhere before heading to Houston for the Super Bowl.

From a competitive standpoint, however, it's just not that big a deal this time around.

Prototypical Patriots: Ward, Alexander check every box at corner

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Prototypical Patriots: Ward, Alexander check every box at corner

For the Patriots, cornerback falls into the category of positions they could address . . . but don't have to. Trading for Jason McCourty earlier this offseason gave Bill Belichick some proven depth at the position with Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones already on the roster. And if Cyrus Jones can bounce back from injury to give the Patriots anything defensively, that would be a plus. 

Still, you can never have too many corners. And there are a handful in this draft class who fit the Patriots profile. When it comes to cover men Belichick has drafted highly in the past, there are certain physical traits he's after: You should be at least 5-foot-10 and weigh at least 183 pounds; you should run at least a 4.5 (though Logan Ryan and Darius Butler were outliers there); you should clock at least a 6.75-second three-cone (though, again, Butler was slow there); you should have a 4.21-second short-shuttle or better; you should jump at least 33 inches in the vertical and 116 inches in the broad. 

If you're a good tackler, if you can play inside and out, if you can play man and zone, if you have clean footwork? Those improve your chances of being taken by the Patriots even more. 

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:

Let's get to some of the prospects in this class who hit most, if not all of those requirements . . . 

 

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE

DENZEL WARD, OHIO STATE, 5-11, 183

Speed to burn (4.32-second 40), explosive athleticism (134-inch broad jump), and experience under both Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano? Ward is undersized by some standards, but the Patriots have no issue with taking sub 6-foot corners. They'd have to trade up to draft Ward, but he might be worth it depending on how far he falls. 

JAIRE ALEXANDER, LOUISVILLE, 5-10, 196

Alexander hasn't received nearly as much as his college teammate Lamar Jackson in terms of being a good fit for the Patriots, but he's one of the best fits in the draft class for New England -- regardless of position. An injury last season may bump him down draft boards, but the Patriots could view any type of slide as a chance to pounce on the aggressive, confident, and extremely quick (4.38-second 40, 6.71 three-cone, 3.98 short shuttle) cover man.

JOSH JACKSON, IOWA, 6-0, 196 

Another coaching connection here for Bill Belichick. Jackson had an incredibly productive year under Kirk Ferentz as a pass-breakup machine. He doesn't meet every athletic marker the Patriots like (4.56 40, 6.86 three-cone), but they might make an exception in order to acquire a player with good size and arguably the best ball skills in the class. He may not make it to No. 23.

MIKE HUGHES, CENTRAL FLORIDA, 5-10, 189

Hughes didn't necessarily nail the 40 (4.53 seconds), but he checks just about every other box the Patriots have drafted in the top-100 before at this position. Is he a late first-rounder? An early second-rounder? He's tough, but he'll need to take to the coaching he gets at the next level in order to refine his game. 

ISAIAH OLIVER, COLORADO, 6-0, 201

Another corner with projectable traits, Oliver has rare length (33.5-inch arms) and size to play press-man on the outside. A decathlete during his freshman season at Colorado, he was named a first-team all-conference corner last season even though his year was shortened due to a leg injury. Oliver also has some punt-return experience. 

DUKE DAWSON, FLORIDA, 5-11, 197

Dawson has experience playing in the slot, which the Patriots will like, and he's accustomed to seeing some of the best competition in the country. He has the size the Patriots like from their "star" corners, and he tested well (4.49-second 40). He reportedly made a visit to the Patriots during the pre-draft process and could warrant a Day 2 selection, though his shuttle (4.39 seconds) and three-cone (7.02 seconds) from his pro day were not great. 

IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING

ALABAMA CORNERS

Both Anthony Averett and Tony Brown could end up piquing Bill Belichick's interest in this draft. They meet the size requirements of Patriots corners, and they obviously come from the most well-respected college program at One Patriot Place. Athletically, they miss the mark in a couple of areas, but maybe Belichick is willing to look past that. Averett's vertical (31.5 inches), three-cone (6.93 seconds) and short shuttle (4.4 seconds) don't quite meet the standards of top-tier Patriots cornerback picks of the past. Brown's vert (31.5) and three-cone (6.78) are also a shade below the ideal marks in New England. 

DONTE JACKSON, LSU, 5-10, 178

One of the fastest players in this year's draft class, Jackson is a little light compared to other Patriots corners Belichick has drafted early. In all likelihood, there's another team out there who would be OK with selecting Jackson before the Patriots are. 

MJ STEWART, UNC, 5-11, 200 

Stewart can cover and play the run. He can play zone or man, inside or outside. Sounds like a Patriot, right? And he may be. But he doesn't hit many of the athletic measures set by other top-tier Patriots draft picks (4.54-second 40, 6.9-second three-cone, 4.28-second short shuttle). His explosiveness is solid, though (35-inch vert, 118-inch broad).

HOLTON HILL, TEXAS, 6-2, 196

Physically, Hill has just about everything a team could want in a boundary corner. (Though, from a Patriots perspective, his vertical jump and three-cone marks were a little underwhelming.) But there are questions about his maturity that will knock him way down draft boards. He could become a roll-of-the-dice, high-upside pick late in the draft if he's still available on Day 3. 

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