Is RB a draft priority for Pats?

The Patriots received solid 2010 seasons from running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Both return in 2011, but do the Patriots need to complement them with another rusher?

That is the topic leading off this week's draft-heavy Patriots mailbag.
If the Patriots do draft a running back at some point, then the question becomes how high they'd consider doing it. For a historical perspective, Bill Belichick's running back selections with the Patriots break down this way:

First round -- 1
Second round -- 0
Third round -- 1
Fourth round -- 1
Fifth round -- 0
Sixth round -- 1
Seventh round -- 2

Let's get to the questions.

Q. Mike, it seems like it's getting more and more difficult to assess how a college RB will do in the NFL. Because of this, I like the idea of taking a third- or fourth-rounder and a sixth- or seventh-rounder -- getting two given our surplus of picks. What say you? Also, is there more work for the Pats this year draft-wise, since they have to perform due diligence on everyone, given the likelihood that some "top pick" is going to slip pretty far this year, maybe kind of like Paul Pierce did to the Celtics in 1998? I rememeber Rick Pitino saying that they never even called coaches at Kansas because they never felt Pierce would fall to them. -- Jason P. (Portland, Ore.)

A. Jason, I think the Patriots will select at least one running back in this draft. When I look at the roster, that's one of the areas where I see one or two spots open for the taking, so I like the idea of the team tapping that position in the draft for the first time since 2007. I wouldn't hesitate picking a running back in the first round if it's Mark Ingram. I think he can be a special addition to this team, but is the only back worthy of first-round consideration. From a philosophical standpoint, I wouldn't eliminate the position from consideration in any round if the scouting/analysis dictates the player should be the pick. As for the Patriots and studying more players because some top prospects could fall in the first round, I think you can take out the quarterbacks and put everyone else in play. One of the things I heard on the scouting trail is that the Patriots are leaving more options open, trying to think more outside the box so they don't rule out players who might not fit the traditional profile of what they look for.

Q. Hey Mike, I was wondering if you think the Pats should trade up in front of the Dolphins to take Mark Ingram, because there is a strong possibility that the Dolphins might take him. -- Chad (New York)

A. Chad, I'm in the Ingram camp in the sense that I believe he could be a special player here and add a lot to this offense. If the Patriots feel like Ingram is the best fit for them, and they can move up to 14 by giving up a fifth-round pick, I'd make that move.

Q. Hi Mike, I'm reading a lot of rumors regarding the Pats looking to deal No. 28, possibly to the Chargers. Why? And what do you think it would it be for? In that scenario, why would Bill Belichick pass on a top-tier OT and DE talent depth late in the first? It's not often the Pats needs line up with the draft class's strength. -- Ben (Los Angeles)

A. Ben, I wouldn't read too much into that at this point. From a Patriots standpoint, I think Bill Belichick is doing the right thing if he's generating interest in, or sparking discussion of, the assets the team has. That doesn't mean he has to necessarily trade the pick. But it does is "set the table" for the possibility if you get to the No. 28 pick and you think it's the best move for the club. If the Patriots were to trade No. 28, I think they'd get a 2012 first-round pick and a 2011 third- or fourth-round pick.

Q. I have a theory on Belichick's draft strategy. There have been rumors of him shopping the later first-round pick in this year's draft, most likely for a 2012 first-rounder, considering they don't need quantity and you cannot trade for players at this point. Wouldn't this be a good strategy to use every year considering they are always good enough that they don't draft until mid/late-20s and on almost any year you will find someone who you project to have, say, a top-15 pick in next year's draft? It's a win-now league with Belichick being one of the few with long-term security, and every year there are several GMs/coaches on the hot seat who are willing to sacrifice future picks. I know it's tough to project how well a team will do next year, but either way they can continue to roll the lower of their two first-rounders into the future. It worked with Carolina's second-rounder this year and the Jerod Mayo pick came through a similar situation from San Francisco. Thoughts? -- Jeremy (Boston)

A. Jeremy, I think you've hit on a good point when it comes to Belichick's trading. His discipline in maintaining a long-term mindset, while several others are looking for more of a quick-fix, has helped produce some quality trades. Not every trade in this regard has been a winner, but the majority have been positive.

Q. Hey Mike, I have two very different feelings on what Bill Belichick should do for this year's draft. First, my initial reaction when the CBA extension was not reached was that he would trade multiple picks from the first three rounds into next year. The thinking is that rookies will most likely be redshirted anyway due to lack of an offseason. Now, my gut tells me Bill should trade up in this year's draft to get two high-impact players on defense. Tom Brady has only so many years left, why not look at getting into the top 10 or top 15 with two picks this year? Also, it surprises me when people are talking about trading up for players I hear names like Robert Quinn and not Von Miller or Marcell Dareus. I mean, if you are going to trade up, then why not really go for it and get the best at the positions we really need? Thoughts?? -- Benn (Canada)

A. Great point, Benn. Bill Belichick might have the reputation for trading down (he's made 25 trades down or into future years and 15 trades up in his Patriots tenure), but this could be the year he goes in the other direction. One scout floated to me the possibility that the Patriots -- who desperately need a pass rush -- go up and get Von Miller. I think that's unlikely because you'd have to get into the Top 5, and I also wonder if Miller could hold up against the run in their scheme, but it's something to keep on the radar.

Q. Mike, what position do you feel the Pats will try to upgrade first this coming draft? -- Travis M., Topsfield, Mass.)

A. Travis, I think the top areas that could use a boost are the pass-rush (outside linebacker/defensive end), the defensive end spot in the 3-4 defense, interior offensive line and running back.

Q. Mike, I've been hearing that Akeem Ayers would be the ideal fit for the Patriots' system. It seems the more tape I watch on him, the more I feel he lacks pure strength. I see a lot of arm tackles where others come in and bail him out. Watching more film, I can't help but feel that Justin Houston is more what I would want for the Pats. The guy is strong, fast, and constantly behind the line (in the limited film I've seen). Which of the two makes more sense to you? Or, if neither, which pass-rusher do you like? -- Joshua (Deerfield, Mass.)

A. Joshua, I'm impressed that you took the time to watch both Ayers and Houston. I agree on Ayers; I don't think he's physical enough for the Patriots' liking. On Houston, I think scouts have seen him look like a first-round pick and other times like a later-round pick. I think that inconsistency is going to make it tough for the Patriots to take that plunge. Houston looks to me to be more of a 4-3 end than a 3-4 outside linebacker. Pittsburgh's Jabaal Sheard is a prospect who I think could be the best outside linebacker fit in the late first-round range. Much like Jerod Mayo in 2008, I think we're going to see Sheard rising on teams' boards as the draft approaches.

Q. Hey Mike, as the draft is getting closer I was wondering what positions you think the Pats are going for with their first four picks? In my opinion, they should draft (in order): Ryan Kerrigan or Akeem Ayers, Mike Pouncey or Rodney Hudson, Ryan Williams or Shane Vereen, and then Brandon Harris or Davon House. Do you see the Pats drafting any of these guys in the first two rounds? -- Steven (San Diego)

A. Steven, of the players listed, I put Kerrigan, Pouncey, Vereen and Harris on my list of possible Patriots targets. They all seem to have some qualities that I could see appealing to the team.

Q. I don't understand why people get so upset when the Patriots trade down. If the Pats are able to get their guy and acquire additional picks I don't see the down side. For instance, a lot of people complained when they traded down and took Devin McCourty last year and that worked out great, and I think that Jerod Mayo was their target in 2008. I think sometimes the perception of draft picks is unfairly changed after teams trade down. I think people need to remember that just because a team trades down doesn't mean they don't get their guy. Oftentimes it just means they get their guy and an additional asset. Thoughts? -- Greg (Stoneham)

A. Greg, I think this is a valid point. The times are rare when the Patriots trade down and don't get their target, or a player who is part of a cluster that the team has interest in selecting. So you get the player, save some money by trading down, and pick up additional assets. That's a good formula. On the flip side, I think it's easier to get excited, as an analyst or follower of the team, when the Patriots feel so strongly about a player that they make a move up to get him.

Q. Hi Mike, so we're all focused on fixing the pass-rush, but how about the sub-run defense that was such a problem last year? What upgrades are needed to get that house in order? Would an elite 3-4 DE like Watt, Heyward or Jordan be able to move inside in a 4-man front and control the line next to Wilfork? -- Stephen (Denver, Colo.)

A. Stephen, I think Watt, Heyward and Jordan all fit the profile of a prospect who would be a defensive end in the 3-4 on early downs, then reduce inside to tackle in a sub defense. I don't think the Patriots' early-season problems with sub runs can be specifically pinned on the interior defensive linemen in that scheme. It's the entire front five and/or six defenders and how they "fit" on those runs.

Q. Hi Mike, it seems to me like a lot of the draft talk centers on DE and OLB for the Pats. On the other end, one thing we saw quite a bit during the season was Vince Wilfork being asked to play DE, and his versatility on the line is something that BB seems to like. In that regard, do you think the Pats could look for a big body early in the draft to anchor the middle and let BB be creative with Wilfork? -- Fred (Quebec City)

Fred, that is an option the Patriots have, so if they like someone such as Baylor's Phil Taylor, it's not out of the question. I still think Wilfork is most effective in the middle and believe that would be the Patriots' preference.

Q. Hey Mike, what are the chances of the Pats drafting a QB in the second round and grooming him as Brady's replacement or trade bait in a future draft? With teams like Philly asking for upwards of a first- and second-rounder for Kolb, it might not be a bad idea. -- Kevin (Pittsburg)

Kevin, I think the Patriots would like to come out of this draft with a developmental quarterback. They've taken a closer look at TCU's Andy Dalton and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi in private workouts, but I don't see them reaching up in the second round for them. With all the teams needing quarterbacks, they might not have a chance to address the position if there is an early run on quarterbacks. Alabama's Greg McElroy is one prospect I have on the radar for them in the middle rounds.

Q. Mike, my question is about Tom Brady and the labor dispute. Do you see any possible negative outcome between the Pats and Brady due to his role in the anti-trust lawsuit? -- David M. (Oakland Park, Fla.)

A. David, I might be naïve, but I look at thi
s as "business is business." I think in football, the lines often get blurred between players/management; coaches/players; captains/other teammates, and it's my view that Brady navigates those blurry lines as well as anyone I've seen. I don't see it as an issue.

Q. Hey Mike, after reading your opinion piece and other comments regarding it, it's just not clear to me why you felt so strongly about Bill Belichick missing the coaches breakfast at the NFL's annual meeting. Do you feel like it's your job to stick up for the imagined hurt feelings of the other coaches? If a Patriots player doesn't particularly want to pal around with his teammates, can we expect another opinion piece sticking up for the other players' hurt feelings? With all due respect as a fan who reads and enjoys most of what you post, if I want to hear about hurt feelings I'll turn on Dr. Phil or the Lifetime network. -- Rob (Carlsbad, Calif.)

A. Rob, the piece wasn't personal on Belichick. I also don't feel like it's my job to stick up for the feelings of other coaches; they're all grown men who can handle their own business. I thought Belichick's action was disrespectful to his peers -- the league's other 31 coaches who attended the 7 a.m. event -- and some coaches felt the same way. I understand the criticism from readers who felt I was too harsh. I take the criticism and move on.

Q. Mike, one thing that I think is being overlooked when it comes to the new kickoff rule is that players on the kicking team are no longer allowed a running start prior to the kick. So while kicks will be traveling 5 yards deeper, the coverage team will be slower getting to the ball carrier. I don't think there will be that much of an affect on the number of returns, as the difference in length of kick should be negated by extra time it takes teams to get down the field without a running start prior to the kick. Thoughts? -- Rick (Pelham, N.H.)

Rick,that is a significant alteration of the kickoff rule. The hope among the Competition Committee is that it leads to fewer high-speed collisions. I'm wondering if it will change the way teams value/assess kickoff coverage players.

Q. How far do you think we are from getting the 2011 preseason and regular schedule announcements? -- Greg (Ashburn, Va.)

A. Greg, the preseason announcement came March 31 last year, so if that holds true this year, that could be coming this week. The regular-season announcement came April 20 last year.

Q. I don't believe there is a spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame for Bill Parcells or Curtis Martin. Parcells burned all his bridges with the way he left us, ruining that Super Bowl and then working for the Jets and Dolphins. I believe Parcells hurt the Pats as much as he helped during his time with the Patriots and continued to hurt the Pats after he left. It would be an insult to Patriots fans if he was ever inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Curtis Martin had a few great years with the Patriots. He is a great individual and a great player. But he played the rest of his NFL Hall of Fame career with the New York Jets. The Patriots cannot add him because of the impact he had there in New York. That must be considered when voting for the Patriots Hall of Fame. The purpose of the Patriots Hall of Fame is to honor the Patriots, not players and people associated with other franchises, especially not unfriendly rivals. Thoughts? -- Nate (Andover)

A. Nate, I think it's going to be tough for Martin to get in because he played just three seasons. He is arguably the best running back in team history, but that isn't enough in my view to get him in. Parcells' case is a bit different to me. The way he exited was a black mark on his Patriots resume, but to me, it's somewhat offset by how he helped "save" the Patriots in 1993. He brought hope and credibility. I think his presence created a whole new level of the fan base. To me, there are few people in Patriots history who have had that impact.

Q. How often will the senior selection committee meet to select a player for the Patriots Hall Of Fame? Who are the committee members? They must be old-timers like me. -- Jim K. (Kennebunk, Maine)

A. Jim, at this time the plan is for the Senior Committee to meet every five years, although that could change. The Senior Committee is comprised of Ernie Adams (Patriots), Ron Borges (Boston Herald), Don Brocher (Patriots), Jim Donaldson (Providence Journal), Mark Farinella (Attleboro Sun Chronicle), Glen Farley (Brockton Enterprise), Ron Hobson (Patriot Ledger), Carlo Imelio (Springfield Union News), Gil Santos (Patriots play-by play announcer) and Howard Ulman (Associated Press).

Mike Reiss covers the New England Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.