We are less than two weeks away from the 2014 NFL draft, but in any other year, we would already be talking about the first-round picks. Why the extra wait? More time before the draft only gives writers more time to induce and succumb to paralysis by analysis.
Coaches are probably more than happy to take the extra time to evaluate players and make sure they have all the information they need to make the best decisions for their team during the three-day frenzy of the draft.
One thing is certain: Fans can't get enough of the draft talk, so let's get right to the questions, mostly centered around the draft.
@ErikFrenz I still feel like the Patriots need to add to the interior of their offensive line (via draft). Old and injury prone. Thoughts?— Arjuna Ramgopal (@ArjunaRamgopal) April 24, 2014
I don't know about injury-prone, Arjuna. Maybe Logan Mankins, who finally played all 16 games in 2013 after missing at least one game in each of the previous four seasons, but Ryan Wendell has played and started every game at center for the Patriots over the past two years and Dan Connolly has missed only two games in the past two seasons.
The Patriots should definitely be building for the future on the offensive line, though. Connolly's contract will expire after the 2014 season unless the Patriots sign him to an extension beforehand. Marcus Martin (center, USC) and David Yankey (guard, Stanford) are good early-round options, and Russell Bodine (UNC) and Gabe Ikard (center, Oklahoma) are names to bear in mind from rounds four through seven.
Don't forget about second-year guard Josh Kline; as an undrafted rookie, Kline performed well when he was asked to start Week 15 against the Baltimore Ravens, and Wendell expressed to CBS Boston's Bob Socci that Kline made a positive impression in that performance.
The Patriots currently sit with $7,932,369 in cap space, according to NFLPA records. They only need roughly $1.6 million to sign their draft picks, according to estimates by contracts and salary cap website OverTheCap.com. They should be all set when it comes to paying their draft picks.
@ErikFrenz The Pats clearly need a backup TE, when do you think they'll target one in the draft? Also, the same goes for QB.— Jordan Boss (@JBoss_) April 24, 2014
There are too many good players in this draft to pin down a team's need to a specific round. That being said, the depth at tight end looks like it could dry up after the third round. If the Patriots want a tight end, they should consider doing it within the first two days of the draft.
The Patriots could draft their backup quarterback anywhere from the third to seventh round, or even undrafted free agency. They've been all over the map with their backups in recent years: Matt Cassel (seventh, 2005), Kevin O'Connell (third, 2008), Brian Hoyer (undrafted, 2009), and Ryan Mallett (third, 2011) have been a blend of mid- and late-round picks.
There will be quarterbacks available in that range, including Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois), Zach Mettenberger (LSU), A.J. McCarron (Alabama), and others who have had contact with the Patriots (hat tip to James Christensen of NEPatriotsDraft.com). The Patriots have also had pre-draft contact with early-round prospects like Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), but that may be nothing more than a a smokescreen.
Even if the Patriots surprise everyone on draft day (it's becoming a yearly thing at this point) and don't draft a quarterback, they still made a smart choice to begin evaluating quarterbacks ahead of Tom Brady's inevitable retirement. If nothing else, they have begun to readjust their eye to scouting quarterbacks.
Murph, there's such a lack of consensus from the end of the first round to the middle of the second round that it's hard to identify a player who could be taken in the first round and still be a "shock."
However, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby be in for a draft day freefall. He had already been red-flagged for off-field concerns, but he didn't help his case when he was reportedly cited for OVI (operating a vehicle under the influence) on Sunday in Columbus.
Got room for one more.
It seems like a lock at this point, doesn't it? For months, we've heard that this will be one of the deepest drafts in years. That seems to play into Bill Belichick's draft philosophy of previous years, in which he has preferred to make a bulk of his picks in the second- to fourth-round range. They could trade back if they have identified several players that they can take with the 29th pick, all around the same value, with confidence that one of those players will be available when it's the Patriots' turn to pick again.
One thing I keep thinking, though: the Patriots aren't going to be the only team trying to trade down. Demand will be higher for trading down than up, therefore the value of trading up may be better this year than in previous years. If the Patriots target a player they covet higher than the 29th pick, they could find a way to trade up. They have eight picks this year, one more than the standard, and the Patriots may find it difficult to make room for eight rookies. The only player I could see as a target, in that scenario, would be Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but his stock has been soaring since a monstrous combine performance and he could be taken anywhere from No. 6 to 16 overall.
Thanks for the questions, everyone! Further questions can be directed to me on Twitter or in the comments.