After months of studying the NFL draft, we'll start our list of "10 perfect Patriots", narrowing down the list of prospects to a select group that we feel would be ideal (and realistic) for the New England Patriots, while adding a few draft-related thoughts:
Player: Joel Bitonio
Position: Offensive tackle/guard
Listed height/weight: 6-foot-4 1/4, 302 pounds
Scouts Inc. rank: 7th-OT (scouting profile)
Draft projection: Late first round/early second round
Why he’s on our list: The Patriots haven't drafted an offensive lineman in either of the past two drafts, and going a third draft without doing so potentially threatens the desired ability to feed the pipeline of young talent for the team. Bitonio has played tackle and guard, and some even envision him as a possibility at center, which is the type of versatility a team like the Patriots often values. He plays with a mean streak, is said to have top intangibles and intelligence, is effective on the second level (key in Patriots' scheme, where guards often pull), and has been durable. This would be a safe pick with developmental upside at a spot where the Patriots are undergoing change following coach Dante Scarnecchia's retirement.
A feel for the offensive line class: The tackle group is one of the strongest in the draft, especially at the top. The interior class isn't as top-heavy, although a player like Bitonio might be viewed more as a guard by a team like the Patriots (similar to Fresno State left tackle Logan Mankins in 2005), which boosts that group a bit.
Recommended link: Chris Murray of the Reno-Gazette Journal profiles Bitonio, whose father died at 45 and was his best friend and inspiration.
Key stat: Never missed a game in college.
Workout stat: Timed an impressive 4.97 in the 40-yard dash, had the best 10-yard and 20-yard splits among offensive linemen, and his 7.37 three-cone drill time was among the best at the position.
Draft strategy: If Bitonio is available at No. 29, that would be the spot where the Patriots would have to pounce as it's hard to imagine he'd be there late in the second round (62).