Take your picks
With draft on tap this weekend, fans pepper the 'bag with questions
This is the dart-board version of the Patriots' mailbag.
The question is "Who might the Patriots draft?" and we're throwing some darts up on the board. By trying to connect a few dots, maybe we hit a few bulls-eyes.
I'm expecting the Patriots to be active in the trade market. With 11 selections, which ties for the NFL high, they have plenty of ammunition with which to move around the draft board.
The darts are in hand, so let's start firing away ...
Mike, how about sharing your draft notes with us? Knowing the picks
that the Pats have (a low 1st, three 2nds, two thirds, etc.), could you
pick out a few guys for each round that you think would fit the Pats'
system and needs? I think that would make following the draft more fun for
us laymen, to give us an idea, as it's going along, of who's left that
might be a good fit.
Max, Montpellier, France
A: Sounds like a plan, Max. Every year, I try to pick out a few players at each position that I think could be possibilities. Instead of breaking it down by round, I'll just list them by position. Here is my hot list and let's revisit after the draft to see if there were any hits:
- Quarterback: Tom Brandstater (Fresno State), Stephen McGee (Texas A&M), Pat White (West Virginia)
- Running back: Donald Brown (UConn), Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon), Cedric Peerman (Virginia)
- Wide receiver: Brooks Foster (North Carolina), Juaquin Iglesias (Oklahoma), Brandon Tate (North Carolina)
- Tight end: Cornelius Ingram (Florida), Bear Pascoe (Fresno State), Richard Quinn (North Carolina)
- Offensive line: Eben Britton (Arizona), Jamon Meredith (South Carolina), Rich Ohrnberger (Penn State), Jason Watkins (Florida)
- Defensive line: Jarron Gilbert (San Jose State), Evander "Ziggy" Hood (Missouri), Roy Miller (Texas)
- Outside linebacker: Connor Barwin (Cincinnati), Larry English (Northern Illinois), Clint Sintim (Virginia)
- Inside linebacker: Moise Fokou (Maryland), Tyrone McKenzie (South Florida), Jason Williams (Western Illinois)
- Cornerback: Darius Butler (UConn), Jairus Byrd (Oregon), Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest)
- Safety: Patrick Chung (Oregon), Chris Clemons (Clemson), Michael Hamlin (Clemson), William Moore (Missouri)
Hi Mike, this isn't really football related, but I'd like to know
how and where you and other Pats reporters spend draft day? Are you at the
stadium? Are you actually in the Pats war room, or is that off limits for
reporters? If off limits, where do you follow the draft from? It would be
hard to believe you follow it on TV like the rest of us do.
Nick, Montreal, Quebec
A: Nick, most of the reporters following the Patriots will be located in the press box at the stadium. We will have the TVs on -- NFL Network and ESPN -- and have access to speak to the draft picks by speaker phone. Also, Bill Belichick usually holds a press conference in which reporters ask questions about the team's draft. We are not in the "War Room", although from what I understand, you might be interested to know that those team officials in there are also following on television while maintaining contact with the team officials representing the club in New York.
A year or two ago, I heard Bill Belichick say that in the last two
weeks before the draft his staff is focusing on "horizontal stacks" (i.e.,
prospects with the same grade but different positions) and ranking them.
This suggests that more players have the same grades than many of us assume
-- and that the "ties" must be broken by other factors. I would guess that
need, value of the position, depth of the draft at that position, interest
of other teams, and perhaps alternative ways to get comparable players are
all factors. Can you offer some insight on this?
A: Solid topic here, John, and you had me scrambling back to 2003 to read some of Bill Belichick's comments on horizontal stacks. Here is what I took from Belichick's comments that year: The vertical stack is by position -- quarterbacks, tight ends, running backs etc. The horizontal stack helps you assess value -- comparing, for example, the cornerback rated at the same spot as the guard. It is possible I might not be interpreting this the right way, so here are Belichick's comments from 2003:
"When you stack your board, you're going to look vertically ... The way we do it, we look vertically by positions. Here's all the quarterbacks, here's all the tight ends, here's all the running backs. Horizontally across the board, you try to get some kind of value of ... This cornerback and this guard, and this linebacker and this tight end would have about the same value. They'd come in and they'd be role players for us. They're never going to be starters. Or whatever their value is. And so when you're sitting there trying to make your picks, you may be looking at three or four guys and they're all kind of about the same. You're five or six picks away and whichever one of these guys we end up with, we take them in this order, but we could live with any of them. But sometimes you're sitting there and you have three or four guys in that category and you have one guy that you feel like is sitting up there and is significantly higher and you're not saying, 'Well, he's just going to come in and be a role player and he'll never be a starter.' You're saying, 'Well, this guy could come in and he's going to be a starter for us, now it might take a year and he has a little developing he has to do, but we feel like this guy can come in and he can be a starter for us.' That's when you sit there and think about, 'Alright, do we want to try to jump up and get this guy if we don't think he's going to fall to us and give up whatever we have to give up to move up and get him, or do we want to stay here and hope he's on the board -- he probably won't be -- and we'll end up with one of these other guys.' It just comes down to draft management. Sometimes you try to trade up and get him and nobody wants to trade with you and you sit there and let it come to you. But that's basically the process. I don't think you sit there and say, 'Well, we're only going to trade up if we think the guy's going to be an impact player or we're only going to trade up if the guy's going to be a starter or whatever.' We've traded up in the fourth round, fifth round, down in the fifth round, sixth round, so I don't think when you're picking in the sixth round you're really thinking, 'This guy's going to be an impact player.' We would have picked him in the second."
Hi Mike, I enjoyed your recent review of the 2006 draft. I have always
wondered why every team does not follow the best-available-player approach.
It seems to work consistently for teams like the Pats, Cardinals, Chargers,
Colts, Steelers, Ravens, etc. Yet year after year, other teams stray toward
need-based drafting. Do you have a general idea of which teams consistently
draft for need and which teams draft BAP (outside of the ones I mentioned)?
Could you venture a guess upon the percentage of teams that use either
A: Vincent, I think the debate about need vs. best player available is a bit a myth in the sense that I believe every team actually leans toward need more than they might care to acknowledge -- and part of that is driven by the economics of the game. I think it's probably 80-20 in terms of a team leaning toward need vs. a team taking the best player even if they're already well stocked there.
Hi Mike, what position in the draft do you think the Pats will
address first? I was thinking outside linebacker, but with the Pats you
never know. Also, just read that John Madden is retiring from broadcasting,
and will be missed.
A: John, if I had to narrow it down, I'd say anywhere on the defense. Part of that will be what players are available when they make their first selection, and as I project the way the draft will unfold, I'm thinking outside linebacker and a player like Larry English sounds like a good pick at this point. The other thoughts I have are if a player like cornerback Darius Butler was there, I could see them going in that direction. Or if they believe Ziggy Hood could develop into a 3-4 type defensive lineman, that wouldn't surprise me either. Forced to pick one at this time, I believe they'll be speaking English when they're pick comes up. On Madden, I will miss him. When I watch Patriots games the next day, I always enjoyed his analysis.
Hi Mike, considering all the key veteran depth that the team has
added, it gives them a lot of latitude. I don't believe they need to target
a position at all. They may say "let's focus on defense" or let's just "get
the best player". First question: Do you agree with that assessment or do
you think they might target a position of weakness? The second question is
how on earth will the first 6 picks (23, 34, 47, 58, 89, and 97) even make
the team? I think this is a year they move up. I would rather have 3
players in the top 34 (20, 23, and 34). I would trade 47, 58, and 124 to
Detroit for 20 and then trade 89 away into next year for a 2d-rounder.
These players (20, 23, and 34) would likely make the team and you still
have enough ammo to garner some extra chips for next year. Do you think
they will move up or out?
A: Zak, my first thought is that the Patriots will go into this draft saying: What can we do to help our pass rush that contributed to us finishing 26th out of 32 teams on third down last season? That can come in a few different forms -- better coverage players in the secondary, or better rushers in the front seven. I believe that would be their preference. In terms of the picks, Belichick made this point as well -- it's probably unreasonable to expect 11 rookies to make the team. One factor to consider is that any coach always wants to create more competition and build depth to absorb injuries. In the end, I think the ideal scenario would be for the Patriots to make about eight selections, and hopefully push a pick into next year so they continue to have flexibility on draft day.
Great blurb about Jerod Mayo from Christopher L. Gasper on the
Boston.com Patriots blog. Question about Mayo -- what's his personality
like? Is he an extroverted leader? A quiet student or somewhere in between?
If he's a budding leader then perhaps one reason for letting Vrabel go is
to let Mayo's leadership take over.
A: Lance, my impression of Mayo is that he's extroverted enough, but he also understood that as a rookie he didn't know much about the NFL and thus it was best for him to keep his mouth shut and learn. I think he's a budding leader. At the same time, I don't think that fact had much to do with Vrabel.
Hey Mike, if Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith were to fall to
23, do you think the Pats would take him? Or is he off their board? I'm
sure Bill has spoken with Nick Saban. Not their No. 1 need but would be a
steal based on talent alone.
A: Mike, I haven't seen the Patriots' board, but the team did take the time to meet with Smith last week. That tells me he was still under consideration at that point. My hunch is that the Patriots would pick Smith in the unlikely event he is there.
Mike do you think if Malcom Jenkins from Ohio State were to slide,
the Patriots would select him? I think he would be a good pick because he
can play safety or corner and would give the Patriots some versatility in
the secondary. What are your thoughts?
A: Josh, I'd put Jenkins in the same category as Andre Smith from the prior question. In fact, I feel even stronger about this one because there aren't as many off-field questions with Jenkins, so I think it would be a big-time "yes" on this one. Jenkins, who visited Gillette Stadium on a pre-draft visit, can play -- especially with what the Patriots would ask him to do.
mentioned in your chat that Ziggy Hood was a possibility at 23, but
then went on to say he could be a Jarvis Green type player -- a top
backup/borderline starter. Did I read it wrong? Wouldn't you hope to get a
productive starter with any first-round pick? If the best DL on the board
is a guy you project as a solid backup, doesn't it make more sense to draft
a different position? They have 6 picks in the top 100, and I'd guess the
hope is all of the guys they draft that high (especially first-rounders)
will develop into productive starters. They don't have a ton of holes, but
they do have enough holes that they should get at least a couple starters,
if not this year, definitely the next.
A: Rick, I did not word my answer very well in the chat, and I'm glad you caught it. I think in the first year, a player like Hood would project to a Jarvis Green-like role and that could be big for them because of their struggles on third down in 2008. But you don't take Hood there, at No. 23, if there is doubt that he could develop into more than a borderline starter. Hood is a tough projection. I think he is a solid choice to a 4-3 team looking for a "3" technique tackle (e.g. Buccaneers, Falcons). I'm not sure if he projects to a 3-4 scheme.
With all the lingering questions about the possibility of Brandon
Pettigrew being the Patriots' selection at 23, it brings me to question a
few things. Is tight end really that much of an impact position to be worth
a first-round pick? Between Dan Graham, Watson, Shockey, Winslow,
personally I don't believe they are involved enough to warrant a
first-round pick, but then again I am not a safety trying to defend one of
these guys. By the way, I am kind of locked into my prediction of Larry
English as the Patriots' first pick.
Jarrod, Rhode Island
A: I think this is an interesting point, Jarrod, and I tend to lean toward your line of thinking for the Patriots, as they are more of a three- and four-receiver type of offense. I do think we saw how a productive tight end can put a defense in a tough spot when the Jets beat the Patriots last season -- Dustin Keller seemed to eat up those linebackers in the passing game. So a player like Keller forces you to make some tough decisions defensively -- do you stay in your base defense and try to cover him? I don't see Pettigrew the same way; he's a combination type who blocks and catches, but I don't think he threatens a defense down the field as much.
Mike, most mock drafts have ILB Rey Maualuga falling into the late
20s. If that's the case, I think the Patriots are going to snag him. He's
an absolute battering ram that would really solidify the middle LBer
position, alongside Mayo for years to come. I am giddy at the thought. I
think the Pats are fine at OLB with Crable, Woods, Redd or potentially
Taylor, and it's not as big of a need as people make it out to be, so ILB
would be a great fit (I think a lot of people are forgetting about Crable
and overstating the need at OLB for the Patriots). Also, then in the second
round they will pick up a Darius Butler or Rashad Johnson or Sean Smith
(what's not to love about a 6-foot-3, 215-pound DB?). What would you say
to 1st- and 2nd-round picks of Maualuga and Smith?
A: Eric, my hunch is that the Patriots will pass on Maualuga if he's available. I know what you are saying about him being a battering ram and he certainly looks good when you watch Southern Cal play. But I think when scouts and evaluators put a magnifying glass on his play, they see some things that concern them, such as undisciplined play at times, and the possibility that he could be a liability on third down (he's apparently a good blitzer, but pass coverage might be an issue). I could be wrong on this one, but when I hear that, it makes me think the Patriots would go in another direction. I don't think Butler will be there in the second round. Johnson reminds me a bit of Brandon Meriweather and I wonder if they're just duplicating skill sets there. On Smith, I wonder if he's a fit off the field. In the end, I think they're all good players, I'm just not sure they're the right ones for the Patriots' style of play.
With Terrell Owens, Anthony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne, Ted Ginn, and
others streaking across the middle against the Pats this season, who do you
think would be the fastest CB in the draft to counter them? I was wondering
why Sean Smith isn't being talked about more-with his height and speed.
Wouldn't he fit into the Pats defense? Or do you think Butler or Alphonso
Smith have more tools? As good as Bodden, Springs, Hobbs, Wheatley etc.,
can be, I am concerned about speed.
Bevan, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: Bevan, adding speed and athleticism to the back end of the defense has been a priority for the Patriots of late, so they seem to share your concern. In terms of Smith, I wonder if he is a fit off the field. Also, while he has the physical characteristics in terms of height, I'm not sure how he makes the grade with change of direction, which is the No. 1 attribute I believe the Patriots seek at that position because it's so important to get in and out of breaks. Butler and Smith rate highly in that area. I still think Wheatley has a chance to be the guy you describe. He looked pretty fast to me last year in Indianapolis before getting hurt.
Don't you think that drafting Pat White in the second round would
be too soon for a developmental player? If he is involved in some type of
"Patriots Wildcat" wouldn't that mean Brady would be off the field, or even
worse, line up at WR like Chad Pennington did. I think the Patriots would
want to have Brady on the field more not less. If they took a chance on him
as a QB/WR and special teams player, wouldn't the fourth or fifth round be
more reasonable? If he isn't there, so be it.
A: A few other e-mailers mentioned the same thing, David. I agree that Brady at receiver is not a thought that would allow most Patriots fans to sleep well at night. Overall, when it comes to White, I guess it depends on how you view him. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, for one, believes that White is more than just a Wildcat-type pick. He thinks he has a chance to develop into a quarterback down the line. So the idea is that you pick White, he contributes initially as a receiver/returner, and while doing so he is laying the groundwork to possibly become a productive quarterback. If he's on your 45-man game-day roster and producing positive contributions from Day 1, I think the pick could be a good one.
Mike, do you see one of young linebackers (Woods, Alexander,
Crable, Guyton, Redd) stepping in to fill the role of Mike Vrabel? I have a
feeling that Belichick would not have traded Vrabel if he did not believe
that one of these guys could not step up and do a good job. That would give
us some extra freedom in the draft to focus on other areas of need like CB,
DL, and TE.
A: I think that one of those players -- or perhaps a combination -- will assume that role in the early going this year. I'm not sure if they'll get the job done, because it's hard to project the strides that Crable and Redd have made at this point. I still think the Patriots need to upgrade their pass rush, so perhaps a player like Woods plays on early downs, and the team's first-round pick (Larry English?) subs in on third down. Or something like that, with the draft pick -- from the team's view -- hopefully developing into a three-down player down the line.
So Mike, is Bill Belichick doing double duty as his own offensive
coordinator for one year only in anticipation of the return of Charlie Weis
in 2010, after he gets fired from Notre Dame?
A: Pete, I think this is going to be similar to 2005 when Josh McDaniels essentially held that role, but without the title. I believe quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien will be the team's coordinator, although his title is quarterbacks coach.
Hey Mike, I was doing some thinking about Julius Peppers. Many
other readers have mentioned they're still hearing that the Patriots are
interested in him. Obviously, the Panthers' time has passed to get a
maximum value for Peppers, and they're soon to have their backs against the
wall if draft day comes and he's still a part of the organization. With
that said, do you think the Pats give up their first overall pick, and
maybe a late 2nd rounder for Peppers? This would give them that presence
they're searching for to fill the Vrabel void, and for a long period of
time. If the Pats knew they could spend a 1st round pick on that talent,
they'd jump at the chance, or at least that's how I feel. Then, they would
still have their #34 to pick up a CB/S or OL. It sounds good, but I might
be jumping over some stuff here. I know the Panthers don't have a 1st round
pick, and as you've pointed out, they've been known to trade back into the
1st round. Your thoughts?
A: Interesting scenario to consider here, Sean. I'd make that trade, assuming the contract numbers work. That's the big hurdle I see -- the contract for Peppers and clearing the salary cap space. At this time, I just don't see the Patriots having the room to be able to do that.
Hi Mike, there are some deceptively tough events on this schedule.
Both Monday night games are followed by divisional games on the road -- at
Jets, and at Miami. The Miami road game is following a road game against
New Orleans. On top of that, tons of night games and a really irregular
schedule with lots of flexible scheduling which, if they play well, means
they'll have even more disruptions. This is a really tough schedule. People
keep looking at last year's winning percentage, which is pretty irrelevant.
The stuff Bill Belichick always seems concerned with are short weeks and
the inability to get a consistent pattern. On that count, they have a
terribly difficult schedule this year. Thank goodness the London game is
followed by the bye. What do you think?
A: I don't see the schedule as tough as you do, Mardak. I think the fact that four of the first six games are at home is big. I agree that the stretch after the bye is the iron -- and it will be interesting to see how the team comes through that. I also think it's advantageous that the Patriots don't face an opponent coming off a bye week.