Best draft value at DB
FOXBOROUGH -- If the NFL Draft were held today, and someone asked whom the Patriots would select with their first-round pick at No. 21, my list would be narrowed to these three names:
-- Tye Hill, a cornerback from Clemson
-- Donte Whitner, a safety/cornerback from Ohio State
-- Richard Marshall, a cornerback from Fresno State
In other words, I think the team is going for a defensive back. And I believe Hill -- diminutive at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds but ultra-athletic and not afraid to get physical -- is the prize the Patriots covet. Whitner would also fit at No. 21, while Marshall might be a bit of a stretch (one team has a second-round grade on him).
The question is whether Hill will be available at No. 21.
In the end, I think the best first-round value for the Patriots is at defensive back. Then they can look to the linebacker position, which is deeper than years past, in rounds two and three. Receiver as well.
This figures to be the last mailbag before the draft. Thanks to all those who submitted questions. Here we go ...
Will the Pats select a linebacker in the first round?
Howard Armbrust, Bradenton, Fla.
A: If they do, my guess is that it will be Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter. But I'm sticking with the thought that they're going to take a defensive back.
I keep hearing "would-be" draft experts saying that the Patriots need to draft a corner in the first round. I disagree completely. I think that our corners are totally underrated. While I think that it always helps to have more talent at corner, I see us as having huge holes at running back, receiver, and linebacker. Receiver isn't very deep this year, but there are some true franchise running backs available in the first round and taking one would thin the pool for Indianapolis at the bottom of round 1. Do you think the Patriots are thinking about a running back? What do you think of DeAngelo Williams and Laurence Maroney?
Matthew DiAntonio, Weymouth
A: Looks like we're on different wavelengths here, Matthew, although it's hard to argue with your viewpoint. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots took a running back in the first round (most likely Maroney; I've cooled on Williams), but my feeling is that the best value comes at defensive back. The team has a lot of d-backs on the roster, but with Asante Samuel's contract up after 2006 and my feeling that the cornerback/safety depth isn't as strong as it might appear, I've convinced myself the team is going in that direction in the first round. That's why I think cornerback Tye Hill would be a great addition for the Patriots.
Why wouldn't the Patriots consider someone like DeAngelo Williams of Memphis? This guy was the NCAA leader in all-purpose yards and might be the answer to their running game for years to come.
Tom Carmichael, Old Orchard Beach, Maine
A: I think they would consider Williams, although if every running back not named Reggie Bush was available, and the Patriots were definitely going with that position, my vote would be for Laurence Maroney (Minnesota). Williams (5-9, 214, 4.5 speed) as you noted, does have exceptional production. I just don't think he has the outstanding physical gifts in terms of size, speed, and athleticism that the Patriots would seek in a first-round talent.
I know that the Pats' most pressing needs are at linebacker and wide receiver, but what do you think the chances are of them taking a running back in the first or second round? Corey Dillon is getting old and last year it seemed like he was running in slow motion. I know he was injured but I still think we could use some youth in the backfield. What do you think?
Craig Lochiatto, Abington
A: They definitely need some youth in the backfield, as Dillon is 31, Kevin Faulk will be 30 when the season begins, and Patrick Pass is 28. So I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots picked a running back in the first or second round, but I'm not expecting it.
There seemed to be a suggestion that Bethel Johnson would be out of Foxborough and that management had run out of patience with his inconsistency and lack of application. But with the loss of David Givens and limited free-agent activity at receiver, is Bethel now seen as indispensable? Could he be a number two receiver in 2006?
Ben Hunt, London
A: Johnson was reportedly being shopped by the Patriots in trade talks this offseason. The fact he wasn't dressed for the Patriots' two playoff games in 2005 (coaches' decision) makes me think it's a long shot Johnson can emerge at a No. 2 receiver. While it's always possible, based on the way Johnson ended 2005 and the fact he has 30 career catches over three seasons, I'd say it's highly unlikely.
Is there any chance the Patriots could make a deal with the Packers for Javon Walker. My predictions on the draft: Bobby Carpenter in the first round and in the second round they move up to get receiver Derek Hagan.
A: I don't see the Patriots trading for Walker, because of the price to acquire him and the price it would cost to extend his contract. Donte' Stallworth (Saints) and Ashley Lelie (Broncos) are other receivers reportedly on the trading block, and I'd say one of those players is more likely than Walker, because I'm assuming they could be acquired at a lesser price.
Considering his production on the field, although seemingly not in pre-draft workouts, would Tamba Hali be a good fit for the Pats as a defensive end/linebacker in the mold of Willie McGinest? He was dominant for Penn State and it now looks like he will be available, maybe even in the second round. Brendan Piper, Brighton
A: Hali would project as an outside linebacker, like McGinest, in the Patriots' 3-4 defense. He is a player to keep on the radar. At 6-3, 275 pounds, there aren't many players built in his mold who project as an outside linebacker in the 3-4.
I read that the Pats hosted Ray Edwards, a defensive lineman from Purdue, at Gillette Stadium. I have a name to submit that is a sleeper, also from Purdue. It's Rob Ninkovich, a defensive lineman/outside linebacker. He unseated the more highly touted Edwards for a starting job halfway through the season and was voted MVP by his teammates. He is cut from the same cloth as Mike Vrabel and has lined up at tight end in junior college and in goal-line situations for the Boilermakers (catching a TD pass vs. Illinois).
L.C. Divita, Midlothian, Va.
A: Ninkovich is one of the top seven projected 3-4 outside linebackers in the draft, according to Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage. Like Hali, who is also part of that group, Ninkovich is a good name to remember. Thanks for passing the thought along.
Do you see the Patriots leveraging picks and/or maybe a current player (Bethel Johnson for example) to either trade for a player of need or move up in the draft? Typically in regards the draft we've moved up and down, depending on need and assessed player value. How do you see things shaking out?
Gregg Stephens, Manchester, NH
A: I think the Patriots will find the greatest value at defensive back in the first round and linebacker/receiver/running back in the second and third rounds. I could see the Patriots trading either draft picks, or a player like Bethel Johnson, to move around the board.
I was hoping you could provide some insight into why Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli don't fill all the glaring needs of the team before the draft begins? The last few years it seems as if they purposefully enter the draft with unmet needs when they don't have to do so. Why?
Dan Meyer, Hartford, Conn.
A: Primarily, my feeling is that the Patriots don't feel the free agents available are that much better than the rookies they can draft. Cost is also an issue. Cornerback Jamar Fletcher, for example, had some discussions with the Patriots. But the sides couldn't meet on an asking price. Furthermore, some of the veterans like to wait to see what a team drafts before signing. Also, the Patriots have 11 draft choices and want to infuse the roster with some youth and athleticism. I think all those factors pool together as to why the Patriots haven't filled all "needs" entering the draft.
Hi Mike, I have my doubts as to whether Martin Gramatica is the answer to the kicking situation. Beyond that am I right to be excited about Maurice Stovall? Having lost Givens and Dwight, this kid looks like a great prospect. I'll defer to the pros on the selection of a corner and an OLB, but I am curious to know what you think of LenDale White? His stock seems to be dropping rapidly. Could we get him at 21 and would you take him at that spot?
Paul Lynn, Missoula, Mont.
A: Gramatica hasn't been handed the kicking job; he'll have to win it in training camp. I also have my doubts and will look forward to that kicker battle in training camp. Stovall is on my "hot list" for players I believe the Patriots will have high on their draft board. The Patriots planned to have him at Gillette Stadium for a pre-draft visit, which I view as a sign of their interest in him. As for LenDale White, I was high on him when the draft process started and have since decided he is too risky for my liking, both from an injury standpoint and the fact I can't determine how important football is to him. So no, I wouldn't take him if he was available at No. 21.
I have looked at over many mock drafts and most people are all over the board about who the Pats will draft. If they don't sign anyone else before the draft, realistically who might they go after in the first two rounds? Also they still have a great deal of salary cap space. I would think that they will use some of it to lock up Deion Branch (hopefully) and their draft choices, but there will still be a lot left. What is their plan? It will be a major disappointment if they go into next year $10 million under cap especially with the losses of Vinatieri and Givens.
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: The reason so many people have the Patriots selecting different players in mock drafts is because the Patriots are one of the most difficult teams to predict their plans. As for some names of players as early targets, I'll lock in on defensive back, receiver and linebacker. I think one of the three defensive backs mentioned above (Tye Hill, Donte Whitner, Richard Marshall), receivers Chad Jackson (Florida), Maurice Stovall (Notre Dame), and Jason Avant (Michigan); and linebackers Bobby Carpenter (Ohio State), Parys Haralson (Tennessee), and Abdul Hodge (Iowa) could be first-day targets. As for the cap, my understanding is that the Patriots can use the $6.6 million portion of Richard Seymour's option bonus due after Aug. 3 and turn it into a roster bonus that would put all that money on the 2006 salary cap. So there are a lot of ways the team can use cap space and I wouldn't expect the team to be $10 million under the cap entering the season. They'll use the space, whether it's for Deion Branch or other free-agents-to-be like Dan Koppen (center), Asante Samuel (cornerback) or Daniel Graham (tight end).
What do you think about Manny Lawson? Could he be a real pick at 21 for the Pats. Or will the Pats move up for a guy like Chad Jackson? Because I don't think Jackson will be there at 21. Or just stand pat and take a corner -- like Jonathan Joseph from South Carolina.
Dean Matthews, Rye, NH
A: Lawson has been compared to Dolphins Pro Bowler Jason Taylor, so in theory I think he could be a great fit for a lot of teams. The one question is whether, at 240 pounds, he'll be able to add more bulk to hold up as an outside linebacker in the Patriots' 3-4 alignment. Willie McGinest plays the position at 270, Mike Vrabel at 260 and Rosevelt Colvin at 250. As for Jackson at receiver, I think the Patriots like him, but would be surprised if they traded up to get him. In the end, I think the team will find the best first-round value at defensive back.