New England Patriots Mailbag: Safety in Harrison Smith?

Aaron Dodge@Aaron_DodgeAnalyst IApril 10, 2012

New England Patriots Mailbag: Safety in Harrison Smith?

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    Thaddaeus Wharton asks: If the Patriots draft Harrison Smith, the safety out of Notre Dame, do you think he'd be able to start right away? Profootballfocus.com rates him pretty well, and it looks like a cover safety is a big need. Or is McCourty the best bet there? Is the team possibly done making additions at safety?

    Smith is an intriguing name to watch come draft day, because he seems to be crawling into first-round contention. At one point, he was thought to be a second-rounder, but that appears more and more unlikely.

    If he's on the board when the Patriots pick, it might be too difficult to pass on him. 

    New England has shown a tendency to start its first few picks over the last few years. That's likely an indication that the team is selecting players at the position out of need.

    Nate Solder started 13 games last year. Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty and a few others all started sizable chunks as rookies in 2010 as well. Go back yet another year, and you've got Sebastian Vollmer and Pat Chung in 2009, and Jerod Mayo came out of the 2008 draft. 

    With this franchise's struggles last season in the defensive backfield, it would be an upset if an addition is not made at the position.

    Yeremiah Bell is reportedly drawing interest from the Patriots, and while he's getting up there in age, he could provide a a steady presence as a proven wrap-up tackler. That would give the team three veteran safeties with starting experience (Chung and Steve Gregory) and could convince the Pats to go in another direction on draft day. 

    I don't see McCourty as a long-term fit, because he's already shown his upside at corner, and moving him just creates a void at that position. Give him decent help at safety, and heck, maybe the kid plays like he did as a rookie. 

Mock Drafting

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    Thaddaeus Wharton asks: Assuming the Patriots kept all their picks, how would you split them up with regard to offense and defense? The secondary in particular needs help along with the pass rush. 

    Hypothetically speaking, if New England didn't trade up, down or into future drafts, then the Patriots would own six picks total.

    The only offensive positions I can see the team addressing via the draft are the offensive line and wide receiver. There's a small chance that they could look at a running back, but it's not likely. 

    So, with four to five picks to spend on defense, I think the Patriots will go defensive line early. I'd like to see an end/linebacker hybrid brought in, and it wouldn't surprise me to see a true, stand-up outside linebacker selected, either. 

    I'd invest in the secondary with a pick at safety and corner and still have another pick to play with. Since the team seems so interested in a defensive tackle, I  think that'd be a good place to invest as well.

    The real draft should be quite fun to watch with all the moving around that's sure to happen. 

AFC East

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    Shane O'Halloran asks: Which, if any, divisional opponent has improved enough through free agency to give the Patriots a run for their money in the AFC East?

    The Dolphins look absolutely terrible at this stage; the pieces are there on defense, but who the heck is going to captain that ship on offense? No one knows. 

    It seems like the Jets and Bills find themselves in a dead tie behind New England. Buffalo has improved its defense and retained some important pieces, but whether that team can remain healthy is a big question mark. 

    New York hasn't done much to improve its roster this offseason, but that's a franchise that gets it right from time to time in the draft, so it may be too early to call the offseason a wash.

    I don't think the addition of Tim Tebow will rock anyone's world in 2012. 

Who Carries the Load?

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    Pat Maillet asks: Will a running back-by-committee approach work this year? It's going to be essential to keep the opponents' defense equally worried about the running game. Is an addition necessary?

    Necessary isn't the word I'd use, but an addition sure would be nice. Second-year backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley have both carried the load for their collegiate offenses, but it's fair to question the track record of a backfield that has less than 250 snaps of combined experience. 

    Danny Woodhead is also in the fold, but his ceiling as a between-the-tackles back is clearly limited. I think the addition of a veteran like Cedric Benson or even Joseph Addai could take some pressure off of the other ball carriers. 

    The Patriots have almost always employed a veteran in the backfield, so it would jive with what they've done in the past. 

Re-Up on the Matt Cassel Trade?

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    Tyler Cameron asks: Why the heck didn't Miami jump on Brian Hoyer for a just a second-round pick? It really could've helped both teams out.

    In the Dolphins' defense, the other 30 teams passed on the deal as well. Hoyer was tendered at the second-round level this offseason and could have been signed by any team for the cost of that second-rounder. 

    Alas, New England received no such offers, and Hoyer signed his $1.92 million tender. As an undrafted player who hasn't seen the field much in his pro career, it's not surprising that teams weren't willing to give up that much for him.

    Clearly, the Patriots value him more than the rest of the league does, but the same was the case with Tom Brady, Matt Cassel and now Ryan Mallett.

    Hoyer could get showcased this preseason and shipped, but it still appears unlikely to happen.  

Free-Agent Signings on the Horizon?

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    Pat Maillet asks: Which of the available free agents do you see the Patriots pursuing? Maybe that defensive tackle out of Chicago

    Sad news to pass along in that regard. Amobi Okoye signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, agreeing to a one-year, $2 million deal, according to the Associated Press via ESPN.

    New England had some interest in him, but it likely wasn't offering nearly that much money, considering some of the other contracts that have been signed this offseason.

    Other than Yeremiah Bell, there are no other other free agents that the Patriots are known to be actively targeting. 

    Andre Carter and Dan Koppen remain question remarks as well at this stage, but the Patriots seem to have solid shots at them both.