One thought I had as this year's NFL draft nears is that the Patriots, with many needs to address, have to be careful about a 1998-like situation.
That was my second year covering the team and one of the things I remember is that the Patriots felt good about the players they came away with in the draft because they plugged specific spots.
The top of the draft looked like this:
It wasn't a disaster, but two of the things I took away from that year are that it can be dangerous to draft mostly based on need, and that it's risky to project a player into a position (e.g. Jones at cornerback).
Fast-forward to this year and my feeling is that while it would be ideal to lean toward a need, the best approach in most cases is to take the best player and remember that filling out a sheet of paper in April means nothing once you step on the field in early September for the regular season.
So that's what I think Bill Belichick and Co. will be balancing this year. They know they have significant holes to fill, but they also can't reach for need. It's a fine line to walk.
Before getting to the questions this week, one e-mailer, Dave B. in San Francisco, was looking for a good football X's and O's website. I'd recommend "Move the Sticks", which is run by former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah. I've learned quite a bit from visiting there.
Q. Mike, after seeing both the Dolphins and Jets improve with big-time veteran acquisitions, the draft is now extremely important for the Patriots. They must hit on these four picks in the first and second round. I would love to see a defensive end/rush linebacker to help the defense. However, I feel the offense needs even more help at running back, tight end and wide receiver. They also need a hidden gem among their final eight picks. What do you think? -- Tom (Randolph, Mass.)
Tom, I think you captured it well. This draft is extremely important to the Patriots, as is developing the players from the 2009 draft so they can become significant contributors. I think it was important before the Dolphins and Jets made their big moves, but those moves by the AFC East rivals simply further highlighted the Patriots' draft-based approach. I think it is crucial that the team come away with a defensive end and outside linebacker among their first four picks, as long as they aren't forcing the issue based on the need. I could see them going cornerback and receiver with the other two picks, as I'm not sure they'll deem a tight end worthy of a top 53 pick.
Q. Hi Mike, if Gary Guyton starts at inside linebacker, doesn't that make getting a run stopper to take Richard Seymour's place at right defensive end maybe the highest priority? We know know that the two tough division opponents (Jets and Dolphins) are run first teams who have hurt the Patriots on the ground in the past year. The addition of Santonio Holmes and Brandon Marshall respectively will not change their identity to pass first. I say get a stud DE at No. 22. Your thoughts? -- Jim (North Haven, Conn.)
A. Jim, I think the Patriots would agree with you, but the question is, "What stud defensive end?" I don't think there is one there, unless the Patriots view Penn State's Jared Odrick in that light. One scout I talked to doesn't see Odrick as the perfect fit based on what the Patriots would be looking for in an end. If not Odrick, I think the next choice might be California's Tyson Alualu and some question whether he is tall enough to play that spot. Then you're getting into Linval Joseph (East Carolina), Corey Wooton (Northwestern), Arthur Jones (Syracuse), Al Woods (Louisiana State) and Co.
Q. Mike, with disappointing play from the TE position in recent years I'm wondering what role a good matchup tight end would play in the Patriots offense. Would a TE lessen the workload of Wes Welker or permit the team to carry one less OL? -- Lance (Brookline, Mass.)
A. Lance, I think there are two lines of thinking on this one: 1) Given the limited tight end production in the pass-catching game of late, why invest so highly in that position? 2) Put in a different tight end, possibly a blue-chip talent, and we'll see more production in the pass-catching game. I tend to lean toward No. 2. I think to overlook tight end would be a mistake and I see it as a glaring need on this roster. Right now, they're counting a lot on a 10-year veteran in Alge Crumpler who is not the player he once was.
Q. Hi Mike, I know you have already provided this information but what is the estimated time for the Patriots' first pick? -- Matt (Boston)
A. Matt, the Patriots estimate that it will come around 9:45 p.m. on Thursday, if they stay at No. 22.
Q. Mike, given the "depth" of this draft, doesn't the potential for the Pats trading down in the first round make sense? Depending how things shake out, rather than give a second-rounder away to fill a hole don't you think they could take another team's third rounder (or maybe second) and move back a few spots and still fill one of their many holes with a first round talent? I say trade out entirely and start the Patriots draft on Friday. -- Ed (Northborough, Mass.)
A. Ed, I think they have to make the pick if one of their first-round targets is there at No. 22. I'm sure they'll go into this draft with a few names that they'd feel very good about at that spot, and my thought is "don't get too cute and make sure you get a good player." If none of those players are there, and they can move back a bit and pick up an additional pick, then I'd start entertaining that thought. I have these words from NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock in mind: "The sweet spot of this draft is 24 and beyond."
Q. Please Mike, get a grip. Is a LB corps of Tully Banta-Cain, Gary Guyton, Jerod Mayo and Adalius Thomas satisfactory to you? Or a wide receiver corps of Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Sam Aiken and Brandon Tate? You think Tom Brady will be happy throwing to those guys? This Patriots team has so many holes and you talk about them, in your chats and mailbag, like they are a dynasty team. They have drafted awful the last five years and their free-agent moves and trades have been worse. So stop pretending and just say it. You must be concerned that your weekly paycheck from the Patriots won't show up. -- Chris (Mass.)
A. Chris, I don't think I've ever been afraid to say anything when it comes to the Patriots, as long as I believe it. I'll link here to my assessment of the roster from a piece on ESPNBoston.com, which I don't think holds anything back. It reflects the holes on this roster right now and makes the point that a big part of this year is going to be the development of the 2009 rookie class, as well as the prospects selected in this year's draft.
Q. Who do you think that the Patriots would trade up for? Do you think any one will drop lower than expected with the few trades that have happened? -- Todd (Arlington, Va.)
A. Todd, I don't see the Patriots moving up past 12, so I'd be thinking anywhere in the range of 12-21 if they were serious about making a leap up the board. When I think about players that might interest them there if still on the board, it's all defense -- linebacker Rolando McClain (Alabama), defensive end/outside linebacker Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), outside linebacker Sergio Kindle (Texas) or cornerback Joe Haden (Florida).
Q. Hi Mike do you think that if we picked up a nose tackle like Terrence Cody that we could move Vince Wilfork over to end? We would have a huge line, but could Vince play the end position regularly? -- Mike (Belmont, N.H.)
A. Mike, I think the smart play is to leave Wilfork at nose tackle. While I do think Wilfork could play end and be successful, I wouldn't tinker with two spots when considering the possibility of adding Cody or someone like Tennessee's Dan Williams.
Q. Mike, it looks like the Redskins are poised to dish Albert Haynesworth. With the Redskins' draft selections for this year looking sparse (only one pick in the first 100), would it make sense for the Patriots? I know he's put up a fight about converting to the 3-4 scheme, and has some off the field problems, but would he be a good fit for the organization? -- Nick (Boston)
A. Nick, if the Patriots can get Haynesworth for a second-round pick, I think they run to the podium to make that happen. Then you start thinking about a very impressive defensive line that includes Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork inside, Ty Warren on one end, and then filling that other piece with more of a rush-based end. That unit would be very, very tough to beat. I wouldn't hesitate on that one.
Q. Hi Mike, I enjoyed your article on how it was unlikely that the Patriots would pick Tim Tebow (admittedly in part because I hope we don't pick him, seems a waste of a high pick). I was wondering if there would be another consideration as well: The team's relationship with Tom Brady. I'm sure Brady would say all the right things, but time and again we've seen aging top-flight quarterbacks get steamed when the team spends a top pick on a potential replacement. Given the way Brady's career started, with the awkward transition from Drew Bledsoe, don't you think it would be natural for him to feel a little threatened by the team drafting Tebow that high? Given the focus on locker room chemistry, doesn't that seem like a headache the team doesn't need? -- Gus (Los Angeles)
A. I see what you are saying, Gus, and I think teams sometimes get themselves into a tough spot when drafting a quarterback so high because there is always that question looming "When are we going to turn it over to Aaron Rodgers?" or "When are we going to turn it over to Kevin Kolb?" But even though I don't think the Patriots will draft Tim Tebow, I don't think the team would be thinking along these lines. I believe they are fully behind Tom Brady for another 5-8 years, and with that in mind, they simply have too many other needs to bring in a player like Tebow.
Q. Mike, how much do you think economics and marketing are playing into the Patriots' interest in Tim Tebow? I know talent is the most important factor, but the buzz that Tebow would draw for training camp, preseason and every move he makes in a Patriots uniform would open up huge new business opportunities for the Patriots organization. Tebow's positive PR image would also not hurt considering how many teams are dealing with negative images right now. -- Cory (Lexington, Mass.)
A. Cory, I don't see this at all, and if the Patriots were truly thinking that way, it would be a sign to me that the end of this terrific run has officially arrived. I believe the best way to improve economics and marketing is to win.
Q. There has been talk of New England considering Tim Tebow with its first-round pick. Despite his talent, do you think the Patriots should use their first pick on offense while their defense continues to age? -- Chris (Boston)
A. Chris, I actually think the defense is young when compared to the rest of the NFL. It's the offense that is older. As for my thoughts on which direction they should go with the first-round pick, I wouldn't pick one or the other. I'm an advocate of picking the best, safest player, because you can never go wrong that way. Then, in the second round, they can start thinking about specific spots they'd like to address.
Q. Every year, pundits seem to want to give the Patriots a DE/LB hybrid in the first round, but it's never happened under Bill Belichick. With the exception of Seymour (DT in college, DE in NFL), there isn't another early pick in the BB era where a player was selected with the objective of switching positions. Wouldn't that seem to minimize the chances of the Pats going with somebody like Graham or Kindle at 22? -- Seth (St. Louis, Mo.)
A. Seth, I think it's dangerous to be that decisive on this topic. I remember 2005 and saying something to the extent of "We don't know who the Patriots will draft, but we do know it won't be a guard. They don't value that position that highly." Then they take Logan Mankins. I think it's an interesting topic on the DE/LB hybrid, because that player comes with some added risk because of the position switch, and thus the team might not want to go there in the first round. But I don't think it's necessarily black and white.
Q. Mike, I may be alone, but I think the No. 1 need is in the offensive line. Everyone's complaining about the defense, but I remember last year quite well, and the number of times we blew fourth quarter leads because we couldn't make a first down. No patented eight-minute drives. The OL couldn't push anyone back, and Laurence Maroney kept getting hit in the backfield. Take away Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and we were dead. Give me another Sebastian Vollmer, and I'll take my chances. What thinks you? -- Paul (Cape Elizabeth, Maine)
A. Paul, I had been high on the idea that Florida center Maurkice Pouncey could be the pick if there at No. 22, but I've moved off that based on Pouncey's lower-than-average Wonderlic score, which I just learned of this week. With this being a below-average class at center/guard, I don't see any significant additions there, so I think they'll work hard to develop Rich Ohrnberger (2009 fourth-round), Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly. At offensive tackle, I think they view Nick Kaczur more favorably than the public perception, so my sense is that the only way they pick a player at that position is if the value is too good to pass up, which I see as unlikely.
Q. Hey Mike, I know Belichick likes to trade on draft day, so with that in mind and his relationship with Josh McDaniels, do you think he could trade away the 22nd overall for the 43rd and 45th selections? McDaniels ends up with 2 first-rounders and Pats get 3 picks in a row in the second and a chance to fill more needs and depth. If not, maybe with Philly, which also has 2 second rounders? I was just curious if these trades would be fair or make sense for both teams, I don't know the draft trade value chart off the top of my head. -- Liam (Philadelphia)
A. Liam, on one draft value chart that some teams use, the 22nd overall pick would represent 780 points. The 43rd and 45th spots would be worth 470 and 450, for a total of 920, making it a lopsided deal in favor of New England.
Q. Hi Mike, how indicative is a private workout or pre-draft visit of legitimate interest? I know the Patriots do not always bring in people they draft (I remember you recently cited Mankins) but what is your take on this? Did they bring in Mayo or Brandon Meriweather during past years? If Kindle is on the board do you see that Patriots taking him? -- Watson (Canton, Ohio)
A. Watson, I think most pre-draft visits represent genuine interest. Unless there is a smokescreen involved, or a favor to a player or agent, my feeling is that a team isn't going to fly a prospect in to town that it isn't interested in drafting. Sometimes it's medical based where the team wants to clear up a question, and the physical from the visit could rule out a player. The Patriots did host Mayo. On Meriweather, Bill Belichick visited with him in Miami. As for Kindle, I'd say he'd be a good pick if on the board at No. 22.
What is the strategy with Logan Mankins? He's consistently been their top lineman and he's been rock solid on and off the field. Why are they letting this situation fester? Especially with an uncapped year, couldn't they give him a front-loaded contract that would be cap friendly in 2011 and beyond? It seems like they're creating another hole on a team that already has quite a few question marks. -- Greg (Boca Raton, Fla.)
A. Greg, I think the strategy was to take care of the players who had a more urgent time element connected to their situations. So it would be those players whose contracts expired. I'm sure they plan to talk to Mankins about his situation, and perhaps they already have.
What is the current health status of Shawn Crable, Tyrone McKenzie and Brandon Tate, and what chance to they have of helping the team in these areas of need? -- Rick Manburg (Millis, Mass.)
A. Rick, all three players are participating in the team's offseason program, with Bill Belichick saying in March that McKenzie would have no restrictions. I'm not as sure about the level of participation for Tate and Crable. I think Tate and McKenzie have a real good chance to help the team, while Crable is a bit more of a question mark.
Q. Does Bill Belichick think that Jason Taylor is over the hill? The Pats need multiple OLBs and they've always respected Taylor. It seems like Taylor doesn't really want to go to the Jets and is stringing this out, hoping that a better offer comes from Miami or at least New England. It seems like a perfect opportunity for the Pats and yet they don't seem to have reached out. -- Jonah (New York)
A. I don't know the answer, Jonah. If I had to guess, I would say that any conversation about the possibility probably came directly between Bill Belichick and Taylor, and that would explain why it remains under the radar. I can't imagine Belichick thinking that Taylor, who had seven sacks last season, is over the hill. My sense is that it might be more of a timing thing at this point.
Q. Mike, I read your blog post "Adalius Thomas plans to attend camp", and subsequently, the linked article. I have a tough time making up my mind about AD. If he's such a disappointment, why is everyone afraid that he will go to the Jets? I'm curious about a few things. I read a piece that said he was a good blitzer but not a good pass rusher. What does that mean? Is he not good at getting off blocks? Also, should we read anything into the fact that they named Mayo a captain in his second year, even though AD was a high-priced veteran who'd been on the team longer? Captains are voted by their teammates, right? -- Dean (Billerica, Mass.)
A. Dean, I'd start by saying that the thought of Thomas going to the Jets might lead some to have reservations because he could prove to be a more disruptive player in that scheme. As for the good pass rusher vs. good blitzer, I thought former scout Daniel Jeremiah broke that down nicely in his podcast on his Web site "Move The Sticks". I suggest you listen. On the Mayo/AD captain deal, it is my understanding that every player votes for captains although I'm not sure if coaches are involved as well.
Q. I'm OK with the divisive Adalius Thomas getting cut late so the Pats make it harder on him and his next team (Jets) to assimilate, but wouldn't he be kept more in line by the growth in leadership by other players (Wilfork) this year, and the fact that it's a contract year? He could provide valuable depth at a thin position even if he gets outplayed by either a second year player or a rookie. Also, why give him to a division rival with motivation to prove Pats wrong pass rushing against Brady? There's no cap hit, why not keep him? -- John (Scituate, Mass.)
A. John, the biggest reason not to keep him is the locker-room dynamic. The Patriots have spent a lot of time and resources this offseason trying to clean up a locker room that Thomas contributed to casting some dark clouds over. It wasn't all Thomas's fault, so this is not to pin all the blame on him, but I'd be surprised if the team was willing to go down that road again. I think they'll try to trade him and if there are no takers, they'll release him.
Q. Hi Mike, Adalius Thomas doesn't need to shoot his way out of town, his travel arrangements have been booked. Who would have thought Ray Lewis was right about him? What is the final date that he can be cut without taking up a roster spot? -- John (Walpole, Mass.)
A. The final cutdown to 53 players is Sept. 4, but I don't think it will come to that.
Q. Mike, so how long will the actual Patriots draft boards would be this year? -- Mark (Japan)
A. Mark, in terms of how many players will be on the Patriots' board, I think a safe estimate is in the 100-125 player range. That seems standard for them based on stories from those who are familiar with Belichick's draft approach.
Do you think the Patriots will trade Laurence Maroney for a fifth-round pick prior to the NFL Draft? -- Steve (Friendswood, Texas)
A. Steve, if the Patriots draft a back, I could see them considering a trade. But I don't think it would be before the draft. If I had to put odds on it, though, I think trading Maroney would be a longer shot at this time.
Q. Mike, does the Ted Ginn trade set any market for what Maroney could fetch in a trade? I can't see the Patriots getting much more than what Ginn was worth. I feel Ginn was taken too high but they are both 1st rounders who showed flashes of their potential but disappointed in overall production. -- Brian (Mansfield, Mass.)
A. Brian, I'd say they are two totally different situations and I don't see one linking to the other. I can't imagine a team parting with anything more than a fourth-rounder for Maroney at this point.
Q. ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli wrote Friday about the "buyer's market" for WRs. With that in mind, what do you think the odds are of Seattle trading Deion Branch to the Pats? -- Paul (Everett, Mass.)
A. Paul, I'd assume the Seahawks would do it if the compensation tempted them enough. But if all they would be getting is a late-round pick, I think they'd be more inclined to hold on to him. And right now, I can't see anyone offering more than a late-rounder. The only other factor to consider would be a player-for-player trade that entices them, and that would be something to keep on the radar. The Seahawks could use a boost on the offensive line and at safety.
Q. Mike, with no salary cap this year, do you see a large amount of holdouts with players and agents seeking top dollar? Or do you see quick signings with teams playing fast and loose with their cash? -- Mark (Beautiful Machias, Maine)
A. Mark, I'm not anticipating seeing any difference in the pace of signings. I think teams will still structure deals as if there was a cap in place.
Q. Mike, in your needs analysis, why is Myron Pryor listed as a nose tackle? He seemed like he was in the Ty Warren type body build and he seems like he could play end over Ron Brace? -- Jan (Auburn, N.H.)
A. Jan, the main thing with Pryor is height and length. He's 6-foot-1, which is short to play end in the team's 3-4 alignment. I see him as an interior presence. Brace could potentially play both, but I see his best chance of helping this team coming at end.
Q. Hi Mike, my question is what do you think Dan Connolly's role will be this year? He played a lot of different positions last year on offense and did well, especially at fullback and center. Your thoughts? -- Kerry (Chatham, N.Y.)
A. Kerry, I sort of see him as the "new" Russ Hochstein. He could fill in as a starter if there is an injury, while serving as a top backup at guard and center. The competition there will come from Rich Ohrnberger and Ryan Wendell.
Hi Mike. I would like your thoughts on RB LeGarrette Blount. Do you think there would be any interest in him? He's a 6-foot-3 241-pound power back that consistently breaks big runs with quick feet and great balance. He had the punching incident vs. Boise St. and was suspended, but the Pats took a chance with Meriweather who had a lesser yet similar incident while at Miami. He could be the answer to our red zone stalls? -- Clark (Muncie, Ind.)
A. Clark, I would have never thought the Patriots would draft Meriweather based on that incident at Miami, so I guess you can't rule out Blount. But when I think of the running backs in this draft, the two that I think might be targeted by the Patriots are Tennessee's Montario Hardesty and Buffalo's James Starks.
Q. Hi Mike, as a longtime Pats fan, it really irks me that we have so many holes to fill on this team. We don't have a choice but to draft for "needs". I also wonder why don't have depth at most positions, in part because there are so many special teamers on the roster, like Matthew Slater, Kyle Arrington, Eric Alexander and Sam Aiken? Do we have the luxury of keeping so many special-teams only type of players? -- Tommy (Cape Cod, Mass.)
A. Tommy, I think what you're ideally looking for out of the Slaters, Arringtons, Alexanders and Aikens from a non-special teams perspective is that they could fill a gap in an emergency. Aiken has proven that he can, and I think Slater has too much value as a gunner to move away from him. Arrington could emerge at corner with some more time, while it seems clear by now that Alexander is a special-teams only type of player for the Patriots. So we could see the ranks thin a bit this year, but I wouldn't expect a dramatic change.
Q. You mentioned that if the Patriots drafted Damian Williams, he could be used as a WR and as a possible returner. What happened to Matthew Slater - wasn't he drafted thinking his main contribution would come as a returner? Did the coaches not have confidence in his hands or what? -- Rosenblatt (Beverly, Mass.)
A. While Slater is very fast, it looks to me like he doesn't have the top-level vision/instincts to thrive in that role. It looks to me like Slater seems best suited as a coverage guy on special teams.
Q. Hi Mike just read this article on AOL FanHouse regarding the 2005 draft. The Pats get kudos for Mankins and Matt Cassel but the writer makes a parting shot that the 2005 draft was the last good one for the Pats. What about 2007? It seems that that the trades for Moss and Welker continually get left out of that equation. Thoughts? -- Rich (Westwood, Mass.)
A. Rich, I think in many cases people are going to look at a draft and focus only on the prospects selected. But I think any evaluation also should include veterans acquired with draft picks. I can assure you that the Redskins are going to be including Donovan McNabb in their evaluation of this year's draft, and the Falcons will be doing the same with Tony Gonzalez, a player they acquired last year for a 2010 second-round pick. As for 2007, the Patriots weren't enamored with the prospects coming out and basically were trying to push picks into the next year.
Q. The first round of the NFL draft might not change much for the media but I think it will change quite a bit for the average Patriots and NFL fan. I think a grater percentage of fans will read about picks 20-32 Friday morning online or in the morning paper. I think fewer fans will be watching the entire first round and the Patriots pick at No. 22 because of the lateness of the hour. Has the NFL lost touch with the average fan with this move? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)
A. David, my vote would be for the traditional setup of Saturday and Sunday. While I can understand why some won't be staying up for the draft, something tells me that television ratings won't be hurt by this change. Let's revisit next week and see what impact the time change had on the viewing.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.