by T.J. HORGAN
As the National Football League season winds down, and the “Har-Bowl” is decided, April’s draft looms over the needy hearts of NFL junkies, and could not come too soon. Belichick abandoned the customary New England tradition of trading down picks last year, and having witnessed Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower’s remarkable rookie seasons, Belichick’s draft prowess cannot be questioned.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s draft strategy is anyone’s guess, and predictions in regards to a draft pick usually turn out about as well as the decision to pick JaMarcus Russell first overall (This is not a Russell comeback article).
However, as of when this article is being written (1/24/13), New England owns the 29th overall pick. There are two players who I would be ecstatic to see join the Patriot’s roster, come April 25.
One player who has caught my attention throughout his senior season is Alabama’s nose tackle, Jesse Williams. Williams’ tenacious playing style was valued with high regards in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense. Williams plays a Wilfork style nose guard, and is rarely dislodged from his territory in the middle of the line.
At 6’3,” 320, Williams’ unyielding firmness would make him a staple in any defense. However, if New England managed to land him, their defense’s future would be built around him. Currently, Vince Wilfork congests the middle of Belichick’s 3-4 defense, however, Wilfork is 31, and when his contract ends in 2014, he will be 33 years old, and requesting more money than Belichick would ideally pay for a nose tackle on the decline.
Jesse Williams is an inch taller, and just five pounds lighter than Wilfork. Both Williams and Wilfork are known for their size and ability to cause havoc in the middle of the field. The only negative comment to be said about both is their mediocre pass rush. Other teams have to create schemes built around avoiding these men.
Lastly, Williams can bench over 600 pounds and is speculated to break the NFL combine’s record for bench press. His versatility was exhibited throughout the year as Saban often utilized Williams in goal-line sets as a fullback.
CBS Sports’ Rob Rang predicts Williams going 17th to Pittsburgh, which is a reasonable assumption, considering Casey Hampton’s deteriorating performance, and lack of a suitable replacement. No drafts that I have seen have Williams going in between Pittsburgh and New England, so if the Steelers pass on the big guy, Belichick has to make his move.
While the possibility of Williams going early remains, there is one man, entering the 2013 draft, whose explosiveness could bring a new dimension to New England’s offense. Tavon Austin, from West Virginia was an incomparable go-to man in his four years with the Mountaineers.
Austin collected 114 receptions his senior year, putting him second in all of college football. Meanwhile, his 1,289 receiving yards earned a spot at 11th in that category. However, Austin is surely not a one-trick-pony. He caught 12 touchdown passes, good enough to tie for eighth in the nation.
I have not lauded Austin’s versatility to only showcase superb receiving stats. Austin carried the ball 72 times in 2012, averaging just below 9 yards per carry. His three trips to the end zone aren’t too shabby, either.
Although he is not a primary running back, his unique playing style will bring an unpredictable dimension to the team on which he lands. However, with Welker getting older and requesting more money, Belichick could be frustrated with franchising him again in 2013.
At 5’9,” 175, Austin is just ten pounds lighter than Welker. With some work in the weight room, Austin could transform into one of the NFL’s best options in the slot. He would be the subject of many successful “End Around” plays, in addition to attainment in the slot. With Austin’s adroitness in the run, a fair comparison would be a mix of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, who have both thrived in New England’s offense.
Jesse Williams, if available, would be the safer pick for New England. His ability to consummate at least 2 linemen every down is valued in the Patriots’ 3-4 defense. However, Tavon Austin could complement an already fast-paced offense in New England, with unmatched explosiveness and unpredictability. If either one of these men were to be drafted by the Patriots, Belichick would have drafted successfully.