by Patriots Daily Staff

Chris: Well, faithful PD readers, by this time you’ve evaluated a slew of mock drafts, so we figured it was our turn to put ourselves out there (with an appropriate New England bias, of course).

Let me begin by saying that the high level of talent in this year’s draft makes this mock a lot of fun. Pass rushers, receivers and running backs abound. I’d like to add that, if I really were in charge of the Patriots’ picks, I’d trade at least two toward 2011 because 13 of last year’s rookies remain on the roster.

Instead of bothering with specific numbers I just stuck to rounds. I figure there will be plenty of hopping around over the three-day draft, anyway. Enjoy, and if you have a different opinion of who the Pats should draft, feel free to engage in some lively debate in the comments section below.

FIRST ROUND

Jerry Hughes of TCU

Chris Warner: Jerry Hughes, OLB, TCU. Some talk about taking Brandon Graham here – and that might happen – but I like Hughes better as an all-around athlete. Lined up as a defensive end at TCU, but showed the ability to play on his feet. He can rush the passer or cover tight ends, giving the Patriots versatility at that spot. You’ll notice that I am NOT trading down from 22. Because that would be cruel to New England fans. (Pats front office, please take note.)

Greg Doyle: You have to like Hughes’ production and despite everything, he is still only 21 years old. So you are getting a young player, with upside and big college production. I do have a couple of concerns with him. First, I watched him closely vs. Boise State in his bowl game and thought he had a mediocre game at best. He also took a couple really dumb penalties including an after the whistle personal foul reminiscent of David Thomas versus the Colts in 2008. He also had some good moments of pressure against a hard to rush Boise team. Second, his great production came against mid-level college teams, not the elite. I just think it’s a bit of a gamble pick in the first round. He hasn’t played linebacker at all either. I see high boom or bust potential in him. I’d feel better about taking him in the second round.

My pick would be Jared Odrick. I see limited downside to him. Just a very productive, possibly slightly undersized but not significantly, hard working player who was productive against great competition. He’d slide into that 3-4 end spot and allow Mike Wright to be sort of a super sub at every spot on the line. I think worst case Odrick is a close to a decade solid starter. Best case is he’s a Pro Bowler. I don’t see a lot of risk in this pick, which is the main reason I’m favoring it now. As an alternative, Ryan Matthews at running back really intrigues me but it’s not as big a need for the Patriots right now as the defense is. If they could trade Maroney for a third, I might consider that direction.

Scott Benson: This year’s draft meme is clearly the defensive front seven, as it should be – unless the Pats get a lot better there in a hurry, they’ll continue to slide farther and farther away from another championship. Unfortunately, it’s not the only area in which they’ll need to quickly improve. Offensively, the Patriots have essentially reduced themselves to playing 3 (Brady, Moss and Welker) against 11 every week. So offensive skill players are also needed, and in a hurry, as they will likely be without Welker when they open the season. The good news (and isn’t some good news needed?) is they have 4 of the first 53 picks in what is regarded as a solid, even deep, draft. So to me, New England braintrust, the top priorities are these: 1) No avoidance. Give me players, not future picks. If you decide to trade back from 22 (and that may turn out to be in your best interest) it’s for picks you’ll make THIS YEAR. 2) No prototypes. I don’t give a shit what kind of ‘length’ you like. Shawn Crable has ‘length’, and he SUCKS. 3) No projects. Give me grown ups who have demonstrated productivity and consistency for a long period of time. Don’t give me Jason-Pierre Three Names and this ‘freak’ bullshit. Honestly.

Oh, I was supposed to pick a player there? Okay, I’ll take Graham. During Senior Bowl week, he looked like an eighth grader playing with sixth graders.

SECOND ROUND

Chris: Cam Thomas, DL, North Carolina. I just love the whole 6-foot-4, 330-pound thing he’s got going for him. He’s tough to move and fast in a straight line (5.14 in the 40), making him an ideal backup nose and a strong candidate to anchor one side of the line at defensive end.

Greg: Thomas is definitely a player I like who really stood out at the Senior Bowl and the more you check him out you see what a good player he is, if not flashy. He isn’t going to be a big time pass rusher. But he is a guy who could play end or nose tackle that will be very stout against the run. I might go this direction if I did the Matthews thing in the first round, but with my pick being Odrick, I think I prefer Thaddeus Gibson who I see as a high upside guy with tons of talent, who came out after his junior year and has room to grow and has actually played the outside linebacker position. That is my pick at 44.

Scott: I got my linebacker earlier so now I’m looking to fill that vacant RDE spot, so my pick here is the Cal DL Tyson Alualu. Productivity, versatility, consistency, maturity.

Jared Veldheer

Chris: Jared Veldheer, OT, Hillsdale. Like the rest of us, Matt Light isn’t getting any younger. Also like the rest of us, Nick Kaczur made some mistakes last year. Veldheer has a Vollmer-like reach (6-foot-8), quick feet for his size (4.51-second 20-yard shuttle), and the strength to hold down the edge (32 bench press reps). In fact, a comparison to Vollmer’s pro day shows quite a few similarities. A former high school hoopster, Veldheer could put in some time as a blocking tight end, too.

Greg: I like your reasoning on Veldheer, but with Light, Vollmer, Kaczur and LeVoir still on the roster I just see this as too early. Perhaps if they were to trade Matt Light, who is headed into his last year under contract, this might be the move. Instead, I projected Kam Chancellor here who is a big safety. While safety also isn’t a big need with Meriweather, Chung, Sanders and McGowan still around, I would overlook that by saying I don’t think they see Sanders and McGowan as long-term answers. And I think they feel they are lacking a big, physical safety presence since Rodney Harrison retired. Chancellor is a very big safety, around 230 lbs., but with excellent speed and playmaking ability. He was also a leader of Virginia Tech’s defense. Finding a big safety who can hit, run, cover and make plays on the ball isn’t easy. I think Chancellor fits the bill of being Rodney’s replacement they’re right now lacking.

Scott: At this point, I’ve got to diversify my ridiculously limited offensive attack, so the pick here is BYU TE Dennis Pitta, whose athleticism, short area quickness and feel for the passing game gives him the chance to be an immediate contributor. I’m guessing this will be considered by some to be a reach, but keep in mind those people would have you address your tight end need with a freaking basketball player.

Ben Tate

Chris: Ben Tate, RB, Auburn. Okay, okay, maybe this is early. But considering the Pats traded away their third- and fifth-round picks for Derrick Burgess’ garbage-time sacks (Who, me? Bitter?), this will be their last chance to pick up a big, fast back who has had success against the best defenses in college. Time to revamp the offensive backfield, starting with a steady presence who can hold up both physically and mentally for 16 games. Gaining over 1,300 yards vs. SEC defenses says a lot.

Greg: I like Tate a lot and I’m tempted to just agree with you. He is the best blocking running back in the draft and showed great running ability this season and in the Senior Bowl. He tested better than expected after the season as well before scouts. But I’m gonna stick with my defensive oriented first two days by projecting Alualu, the big defensive end from California. With two of the top 4 picks being 3-4 pure defensive ends, I think that would cure worries about that position and right now I have some. Ty Warren has slipped in recent years and battled quite a few injuries. Besides him, they only have the solid Wright established. Alualu, like Odrick, is a very hard working, tough, physical fighter of a player with good size and 3-4 end speed who’d really help solidify the position. I see both as Patriots-type players. Or at least the type of hard working players they were known for in their Super Bowl years.

Andre Roberts

Scott: Daniel Jeremiah of the outstanding Move the Sticks blog has been telling us for weeks that one of the most polished and pro-ready receivers in the draft is the Citadel’s Andre Roberts, so he’s my pick with #53. Like Pitta, he’s got the speed and quickness to go with the well-honed route tree, and the kind of character and maturity that has evidently been in short supply of late in Foxborough. Enough with leading these young players around by the nose. On the field, Roberts  can also step into the punt returner role that Welker will almost assuredly vacate.

Chris: Scott, as you’ll see tomorrow, you’re not alone on the Roberts pick, though Greg and I would consider a second-rounder a bit high to pay for him.

No third rounders, dear readers, so we’ll see you in Part 2 with rounds four through seven…