With the 31st pick in the Rant Sports 2012 NFL Mock Draft, the New England Patriots select Stephon Gilmore from the University of South Carolina.
In 2011, the New England Patriots displayed the worst defensive secondary in the NFL. On the league’s weakest defense which allowed 428 yards per game, 239 of those yards were given up through the air. Former Patriots Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison declared them the worst secondary in a decade. The biggest issue for the Patriots secondary is the lack of depth and experience. After releasing veterans James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather, the team was left with five players to fill out the defensive backfield which included two rookies. Like Troy Brown did in the past for Bill Belichick’s Patriots, the lack of secondary depth forced wide receiver Julian Edleman to abandon his usual position on offense to help out the depleted staff.
To help solve the issue, New England will draft South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Leaving college after his junior year, Gilmore will be the next step in rebuilding the struggling secondary. At 6-1, Gilmore possesses elite length and uses his length to re-route receivers at the line of scrimmage. The 193 pound defensive back will need to add some bulk before the season starts but already shows good strength. Though he lacks flat out speed, he makes up for that with terrific lateral quickness and vision of the field. NFL teams will also like the way Gilmore fearlessly attacks the ball in the air.
South Carolina’s “Mr. Football” and a Parade All-American his senior year of high school, Gilmore started all 40 games for the Gamecocks making 46 tackles in 2011 and leading the team with four interceptions. After a freshman season in which Gilmore recorded 56 tackles with six for a loss, he showed his outstanding skill in 2010 with 79 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions earning All-SEC honors and was named third-team AP All-American.
With a late first round pick, Gilmore is likely to be the best cornerback left in the draft. He won’t help the Patriots with their lack of NFL experience but he is experienced with several different types of coverage displayed in South Carolina’s defense. While others may have slightly more skill and prestige than Gilmore, he is known for his strong character and attention to detail which will make him a good fit under Bill Belichick. Gilmore will likely play in 2012 as a backup cornerback but may see more playing time if pro bowl cornerback Devin McCourty sees significant time at safety.