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J.J. Watt available for Patriots at 17? It may be more likely than you think

03.08.11 at 4:56 pm ET

Every year there’s at least one first-round star who falls much further than anyone could have expected in the draft. Somehow, a guy with a top 10 grade went 21st overall in 2004. His name? Vince Wilfork. Last year, it was Bryan Bulaga, who went 23rd to the Packers after Mike Mayock (count the times he’s wrong — it doesn’t happen often) said he wasn’t getting out of the top 10.

Our latest mock draft has the Patriots taking Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, a 6-foot-5 3/8, 290-pounder who had seven sacks as a junior and excelled at the combine. Mayock has called him the best five-technique prospect he’s ever seen. How, then, could Watt be available with the draft’s 17th pick? It’s a question that’s popped up, and one that’s very fair to ask. Here’s the attempt at answering it.

This draft class is known for its defensive stars. From cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara to top linemen in Da’Quan Bowers, Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley, the best talent in this draft is on defense.

As far as five-technique prospects go, Dareus and Cal’s Cameron Jordan are in the conversation for the first one to come off the board. Both figure to be top 10 picks.

The Panthers, Broncos, Bills and Bengals — the teams with the first four picks in this draft — all have 4-3 defenses, with Denver and Buffalo making the switch this offseason. If they opt for defensive linemen with their picks, they won’t be going for 3-4 guys, and Watt’s size and skill set translates to playing end in the 3-4. The Cardinals (No. 5), 49ers (No. 7), Cowboys (No. 9) and Redskins (No. 10) are the only teams picking in the top 10 that run a 3-4.

Of those four teams, only two of them have a perceived need at defensive end, as both San Francisco and Dallas could address the position. That makes two teams in the top 10 potentially going after the draft’s star five-technique ends.

For Patriots fans hoping their team can secure Watt, that’s very good news. Assuming that both Dareus and Jordan are taken in the top 10 picks, something that isn’t a certainty, Watt’s potential slide to 17 is actually quite conceivable. Here’s a look at the teams picking before the Patriots after the top 10 picks.

11. Texans One of two teams that runs a 3-4 between No. 10 and 17. Will they go defensive line in the first round for the fourth time since 2005? If they did, they would probably be looking for a nose tackle above a defensive end.

12. Vikings The defense is a 4-3, and they already have Jared Allen at one end. Everson Griffen should get more time in his second year.

13. Lions Another 4-3. They threw money at Kyle Vanden Bosch last season, committing to a four-man front anchored by a boy named Suh.

14. Rams: Starts with a four, ends in a three. Chris Long is St. Louis’ stud defensive end, and Watt wouldn’t make sense as the other.

15. Dolphins: Finally, another 3-4. The Dolphins drafted Jared Odrick in the first round last year, and Randy Starks is plenty capable of being a starting end, which he did after Odrick went down last year.

16. Jaguars: What’s one more 4-3 defense for good measure? Jacksonville already has Aaron Kampman, and though they may be looking for another defensive end, it would be one in the 4-3 mold. We have them taking Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan in our latest mock draft.

That brings us to the Patriots, and the conclusion that the star five-technique stands an excellent chance of remaining on the board at No. 17 if he doesn’t go in the first 10 picks.

Of course, there are other obstacles the Pats could encounter if Watt is the player they seek (and who has ever been sure of a Pats’ target before the draft?). Teams with 3-4 defenses could trade up to leap-frog the Pats, and the Herald’s Ian Rapoport makes an excellent point in noting that he is a client of Tom Condon, an agent whose players the Patriots have avoided since the ugly Benjamin Watson negotiations.

Those things aside, maybe it isn’t so crazy that the Patriots could end up with Watt. It would be seen by draftniks as a huge steal, and it would be seen by opposing offenses as a big problem. A line of Watt, Wilfork and a healthy Ty Warren sure would be tough to deal with.

Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, j.j. watt, NFL scouting combine, Vince Wilfork



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