Commentary

Trying to guess Bill Belichick's draft plan

As always with the Patriots, it's all about being prepared for anything

Updated: April 12, 2011, 3:25 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Patriots coach Bill Belichick often talks about situational football. He wants his players to be ready for all scenarios that come up during a game, so he'll practice different ones every day.

This week's Patriots Mailbag might best be described as "situational drafting."

Emailers are considering some of the options that might be available to the team during the NFL draft. Identifying some of the players who best fit the Patriots, specifically on the defensive line, is a big part of the bag.

Elsewhere, one question is about Tuesday night's "The Brady 6" documentary on ESPN (8 p.m. ET) and if it might be available for those who don't have access to ESPN. I'm checking on the answer to that.

Q. Hey Mike. I recently read a mock draft that had the Pats selecting Cameron Jordan, with JJ Watt going next at 18. I've also seen other mocks that have Jordan being the pick with Watt still available. While I'd like to think that a trade up for Robert Quinn could be possible, supposing those two players are there at 17, which would you choose? Everything I've read leads me to believe that Watt is more fitted for anchoring down that right defensive-end position left vacant by the Richard Seymour trade. -- Josh (Deerfield, Mass.)

A. Josh, I like both players. I think Watt is a slightly better natural fit for the Patriots' 3-4 system, mainly because I see him being a bit stronger for that challenging two-gap style the team plays. So if all things are equal, I'd go with Watt. One factor to consider is contractual. Watt is represented by agent Tom Condon, and the Patriots haven't negotiated with Condon since Benjamin Watson's 2004 holdout. I was thinking a rookie salary cap/slotting system might make this a moot point, but with that issue not resolved it could be something that makes Jordan more "signable" in the team's view.

[+] EnlargeJJ Watt
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireJJ Watt is a natural fit for the Patriots' 3-4 system.

Q. Mike, I have an off-the-wall idea I'd like to run by you. If at 17 both JJ Watt and Cameron Jordan are available, I'd like to see the Pats trade the 28th pick and whatever else it takes to move up and pick both at 17 and 18, then use Watt as DE and convert Jordan to OLB. Jordan has the size, speed and athleticism, and if he can't make the transition, he can move back to play DE opposite Watt and have a DL that is stacked for years to come. What do you think? -- Ahmed (DC)

A. Ahmed, that could be tough because the Chargers own No. 18, and they are right behind the Patriots in terms of having a bounty of picks (five in the first three rounds). So I'm not sure they'd be looking for more picks to give up that No. 18 spot. But let's say they are, I think you look at what it would take to move up from 28 to 18. You'd probably have to give up 28 and either a late-second-round pick or a high-third-rounder. That's a bit rich in my view.

Q. Mike, from all I've heard there seems to be a consensus opinion that JJ Watt would be the most ideal pick for the Pats if he's available. I'm trying to crunch the value charts to figure out what it would take for the Pats to leap the Cowboys at No. 9, seemingly the first place where Watt could potentially go. Would you say that it would take both the 17th and 33rd to jump up to 8th? If you were in that draft room, and understanding that it's a deep defensive draft, would you make that trade? I feel like Watt is a sure thing while others like Cameron Jordan, Cameron Heyward and Muhammad Wilkerson have to be projected. -- David C. (Phoenix)

A. David, I think it would take the 17th and 33rd picks to move up to 8. While there is a lot to like about Watt, I wouldn't make that trade. I think the combination of two players at those spots (17 and 33) is greater than what you'd be getting in Watt at 8.

Q. Mike, hypothetically, according to the standard value chart, the Patriots could move up to 5 or 6 by packaging their two first-round picks. I can't imagine Bill Belichick doing so, but do you think if Marcell Dareus or someone else is still available at 5 they make that move? Do you think it is possible that BB has never felt strongly enough about a player coming out of college that he would trade two first-rounders in order to take him? -- Andrew (Boston)

A. Andrew, I wouldn't put anything past Bill Belichick. Just when you think you might have a read on him, he'll probably trade into the top 10 ... or pick a long snapper in the first round.

Q. Hey Mike, I know draft forecasts are just for fun, but I'm still surprised at how many so-called experts have the Pats drafting for need. Historically, how many of Bill's early picks have been for positions of high need? Zero? My prediction for the Pats in the first two rounds? Watch for somebody highly rated, but at a position where there has NOT been an early run -- the value pick. Watch for players who still have some questions about them, but who come from Bill's coaching tree -- the inside information pick. And then, when you're sure you've got the right guy, admit that Bill's just gonna trade the pick anyway. -- Rob M. (Westborough, Mass.)

A. This one made me laugh, Rob. Let's revisit it after the draft.

Q. Mike, am I alone to think the Patriots should take the opportunity to select two defensive linemen in the first round? The draft has a lot of good defensive linemen and we need at least a great DE (Jordan, Watt, Heyward) if not two, or consider a DE/OLB pass-rushing type. Why waste a first-round pick with RB and OL? It was shown that you can get a good RB in the second round, and Pats offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is so great, he can make a starter with a second-round talent, even with undrafted players. Do you agree? -- David L. (Coleraine, Canada)

A. David, I would hesitate to lock on a position before the draft. I think the best approach is to thoroughly grade every player so you can be ready for whatever opportunities present themselves. I wouldn't be against a running back or offensive lineman if those prospects were the best value based on the scouting process (e.g. Logan Mankins in 2005). I do like the idea, if the draft falls right, of going with a defensive lineman and then a sub-rushing defensive end/outside linebacker type with those top two picks.

Q. Hi Mike, more mock drafts are forecasting Mark Ingram might be available at 17 and even 28. If the Pats were to pick him, what role do you see him playing, assuming it's him, BJGE and Woody in the backfield mix? I think the Pats would be absolutely fearsome on 1st and 2nd downs with Ingram and our 2-3 tight ends on the field. -- PatsFanInCO (Denver)

A. I agree when it comes to what Ingram could bring to the Patriots. In terms of the role, I think it would be similar to what the Patriots envisioned when they signed Fred Taylor as a free agent. The idea was to team Taylor up with Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk atop the depth chart, then you tailor your game plan on a week-to-week basis based on the strengths of those players and how they match up with the opposition. It's my belief that the Patriots will work hard to come out of this draft with a running back with one of their first six picks. They will probably keep four on the final 53-man roster, and right now I think most would agree BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead are the only locks.

Q. Hi Mike, like most people I'm looking for an explosive rusher in the first round. The first person who jumped out on film to me was Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan. I've tried to look at clips of most of the rushers, and Kerrigan passes the look test. Most of these rushers ([Brooks] Reed, [Justin] Houston, [Jabaal] Sheard, even Robert Quinn) look like they make a lot of their plays unblocked or on the wide bend (a la Jerry Hughes). The thing that impresses me about Kerrigan is that he does that well enough, and he has power in his moves, attacking the O-lineman and pushing them into the backfield, which can benefit collapsing the pocket or disrupting the run in the backfield. I'm back on the Kerrigan train and hope we see Mike Vrabel 2.0 in a Pats uni. Thoughts? -- Matt (Brighton, Mass.)

A. Matt, I love the way you explained what you like about Kerrigan. I really like his style of play. Relentless. I think he'd be a great addition. It's a challenging projection, but if you want to change the attitude of your third-down defense, which ranked last in the NFL in 2010, I can't think of too many better options than Kerrigan.

Q. OK Mike, the draft is just around the corner. You have to know about as much as you are going to know about the prospects. As a fan, give us your dream (but plausible) scenario. What players do they draft? What trades do they make? What is the outcome that gets you really psyched? -- John (Huntington Beach, Calif.)

A. John, it's my feeling the Patriots would have a successful draft if they come away with help for the pass rush, interior offensive line, offensive tackle, running back and more 2012 picks. The help on the pass rush can come at defensive line and outside linebacker. I like the idea of trying to move up if someone such as defensive/outside linebacker Quinn is still there at 10. So that would be my answer. I think you always get a little more excitement when a team goes up and gets a player because it shows how strongly it feels. Consider how the pick of Devin McCourty might have initially been viewed last year if the Patriots traded up to get him instead of trading back.

Q. Hi Mike, in your opinion, how soon does this labor dispute need to be resolved in order for the NFL to still have a regular-length season? Or, for that matter, even a shortened season? -- Scrappy (Noho, Mass.)

A. Scrappy, I'd say late July/early August is probably the marker in my view.

Q. Hi Mike. Looking at the draft, do you think the Patriots would skip selecting a wide reciever and instead address that area with possibly bringing in vetern talent to stretch the field? Some of the possible candidates in free agency would be T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Santonio Holmes (stick that in Rex Ryan's eye), Randy Moss (again, but for less pay), or even Plaxico Burress (low pay/ high reward risk)? -- Chris C. (Bainbridge, Ga.)

A. Chris, I think the team's preference, if there is an addition at the position, would be a draft pick. The main reason I believe that is because Deion Branch and Wes Welker enter the final year of their contracts, and the Patriots would be thinking more long term with an addition. Specific to the players mentioned, I don't think Houshmandzadeh is a stretch-the-field type at this stage of his career, and I doubt the Patriots would clear Holmes and Burress from an off-field perspective. So that leaves Moss, and my hunch is that the team's preference is probably to move on.

[+] EnlargeKerrigan
Michael Heinz/US PresswireThe Patriots' third-down defense could use a relentless player such as Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue.

Q. Hey Mike, my question pertains to the offensive line, which is deemed one of the higher needs for the Patriots. My feeling is that the O-line need is subject to the next CBA and free agency. If the franchise tag remains under the new CBA, Logan Mankins will likely be back, and I have a feeling that Matt Light will be back as well. If those two return, then our offensive line is set for the immediate future. But, of course, there are some assumptions there, and it would never hurt to start grooming younger players to someday replace Light and Dan Koppen. My question is, how do you evaluate our needs for offensive line with the pending CBA and free agency? Also, how do you feel about the other backups we have that we keep saying the Patriots are grooming? -- Mike (Rhode Island)

A. Mike, I think you've hit on the challenging part for teams in this uncertain environment. My feeling is that the best teams position themselves as well as possible for both scenarios, with the approach being that you can't assume anything. So I think the Patriots need to proceed as if Light and Mankins won't be back. As for the linemen the Patriots have on the roster, I think there could be some answers (Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Rich Ohrnberger and Thomas Austin at guard; Nick Kaczur, Mark LeVoir and Steve Maneri at tackle), but I also believe the team would be leaving itself too thin to not add some talent from the draft.

Q. Mike, I've heard that teams in need of a quarterback may soon show a lot of interest in Brian Hoyer as a potential starter/alternative to the Kevin Kolb sweepstakes. Pretending for a moment that by draft day a new CBA will be ironed out and players could be traded, could you imagine a situation where the Patriots dealt Hoyer, pick 17, either pick 28 or 33, and a mid-late-round pick to either Cincinnati for pick 4 or Arizona for pick 5 and a shot to draft Von Miller? Unlikely, yes, but if you're New England do you make that deal? -- Tyler (New Canaan, Conn.)

A. Tyler, I don't think Hoyer has enough trade value yet. One more strong preseason and I could see the interest increasing. To me, that's too much to give up to move up for Miller. I don't think he is special enough to warrant that type of haul.

Q. Hey Mike, during your weekly chat you mentioned Danny Woodhead could possibly bump Kevin Faulk from the roster because they play similar roles. If Kevin is healthy, don't you think that he could still contribute to this offense even with Woodhead in a similar role? I can picture both guys lined up next to Brady in shotgun and the defense having to account for both guys. Faulk, providing he's healthy, should still be great at picking up the blitz and he's very reliable catching the ball. BB will probably hold onto four or five RBs and if Kevin's able to go I think he deserves a spot. What do you think? -- Eric (North Andover, Mass.)

A. Eric, I think most would agree that Faulk is a winner and any team is better off for having a player like him at full health. I think the danger you run into is devoting a roster spot to a third, fourth or fifth running back who hardly plays on special teams. You're also balancing 2011 with the future, and the idea of grooming a running back to take over if something happens to Green-Ellis. So there are a lot of factors in play. You make a strong case for Faulk. It wouldn't be shocking if that happened, but I'm thinking it's going to be hard for Bill Belichick to keep both.

Q. If I hear someone else say the Pats haven't been the same since Richard Seymour left ... How quickly we forget that Seymour's last couple of years in New England were not impressive. Teams had stopped double-teaming him at that point AND were no longer worried about calling run plays to his side. Too many times I'd watch him picking himself off the ground, doing that shoulder shrug thing he does and walking back to the huddle with nary a tackle to his credit. Please Belichick, please ... draft a DL with the Seymour pick (17th) and put him in at RDE on Day 1, so we can get some good RDE play for the first time in years. I'm thinking Cam Jordan or Cam Heyward. At the very least, let's pick up Christian Ballard in the 2nd round. -- JB (Atlanta)

A. JB, I agree that Seymour wasn't consistently the same player we saw at earlier times in his career. But I still think he was playing at a higher level than what we've seen at that spot for the Patriots the last two years.

Q. Following your Sunday thoughts on draft choices being analyzed after three years, much has been made of draft success and failure under Belichick. Back when Scott Pioli left for KC, the common thinking was that Belichick wouldn't have a counter weight in the draft room. However, the past two drafts seem to have been more productive than prior years. Could it be that Coach Belichick doesn't need a counter weight, he just needs to do his job better? -- David (Norwalk, Conn.)

A. David, I don't read that much into it, because I think the draft has that hit-and-miss aspect to it for all teams. Even teams with the best reputations for drafting, such as the Packers, Ravens and Colts, have had dry spells. I think the Patriots' drafting record, over the long haul, compares favorably with the rest of the NFL.

[+] EnlargeKevin Faulk
Richard A. Brightly/Icon SMIWill Kevin Faulk be around next season or do the Pats need his roster spot for someone younger?

Q. Hey Mike, I have heard a lot of talk about the Pats possibly taking Jabaal Sheard in the second round. However, I am intrigued by his Pitt teammate Greg Romeus. He was an absolute beast of a pass rusher his sophomore and junior seasons and would likely have been a high- to mid-second-rounder last year had he come out then. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, he also has prototypical size for an OLB in the Pats system. I know that his back and knee injuries have to be considered and that whoever picks him will likely stash him on the PUP and/or IR lists for this coming year if he doesnt heal completely by September. However, I would love to see the Pats pick him with their fourth-round pick if he is available. Your thoughts? -- Mike (Laconia, N.H.)

A. Mike, I agree with everything you mentioned. Romeus has a lot going for him in terms of his physical build and production when healthy, but those back and knee injuries are significant issues in the scouting process. With that in mind, I think you have to decide if you are willing to take the risk at this point of the draft and try to make the best determination of when that should be. I wouldn't be surprised if it's third round.

Q. I really like Dane Fletcher, but I've wondered: What was the motivation behind transitioning him from college DE to inside linebacker as opposed to pass-rushing outside linebacker? Obviously, this same transition was made with Tedy Bruschi a few years back (although if I'm correct Bruschi actually played OLB for the Patriots at first). Fletcher was a pass rusher in college and the Patriots needed pass rush/outside linebacker help; and isn't inside linebacker a more difficult transition? Why not put Fletcher outside and have him rush the passer like he did in college? -- Cameron (Wolfeboro, N.H.)

A. Cameron, I think the main issue is size. Fletcher is 6-foot-2 and 244 pounds, which is a bit undersized for the Patriots' scheme. So the idea is to play him off the line where he won't be engaged with those big tackles and tight ends up front.

Q. Hey Mike, are we overrating how big of a need Bill Belichick actually sees at OLB? Jermaine Cunningham seems like a long-term solution on one side, and the Rob Ninkovich/Tully Banta-Cain combination are at worst serviceable on the other side. I'm not sure Belichick will see anybody in the first couple rounds that is an immediate upgrade over that combination. Second, how come we're hearing no talk about Ugo Chinasa as a late-round project at OLB? He's a guy who has the size at 6-foot-5 and 263 pounds, and performed as well or better than Robert Quinn and Aldon Smith (two guys of similar size) at the combine. He certainly doesn't have the college production of those two, but I think we could do much worse in the 4th or 5th round than taking a chance on a guy with athleticism and maybe some unrealized potential. -- Sam (Westfield, Mass.)

A. Sam, it is possible that analysts are overrating the need, as all three players mentioned (Cunningham, Ninkovich and Banta-Cain) have produced at various times. To me, it comes down to third-down defense and how those players are also counted on as rushers in sub packages. The Patriots were last in the NFL on third down last season and it's my belief that a significant part of that was an inconsistent pass rush. On Chinasa, of Oklahoma State, let's keep him on the radar based on his physical build and potential.

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

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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