New England Patriots NFL Draft: 7 Key Questions for the Pats

Samer IsmailAnalyst IIApril 26, 2012

New England Patriots NFL Draft: 7 Key Questions for the Pats

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    The Patriots are about to enter the 2012 NFL draft with a relatively modest total of six picks—but they are the only team in the NFL entering the draft with four picks in the first two rounds.

    In all, they have:

    • New Orleans' first-round pick, No. 27
    • Their own first-round pick, No. 31
    • Oakland's second-round pick, No. 48
    • Their own second-round pick, No. 62
    • Their own third-round pick, No. 93
    • Their own fourth-round pick, No. 126

    How the Patriots use those picks will depend on the answers to a number of questions.

When Will the Patriots Make Their Seemingly Inevitable Trades?

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    Since 2006, the Patriots have not made it through even the first round of the draft without making at least one trade, and sometimes two.

    Will the Patriots see enough value to stay put and make both picks?

    As I've argued here on B/R, probably not.

    Look for either No. 27 or No. 31 to be moved so a team can grab Brandon Weeden and/or Coby Fleener.

    Or, perhaps, the New Orleans Saints, reeling from yet more accusations of wrongdoing and are awaiting word on the sanctions against their players for Bountygate, may decide to cash in some of their remaining 2013 draft picks early.

Do the Patriots See Any of This Year's LBs as Three-Down Players?

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    In Michael Holley's War Room, he discusses the Patriots' draft-day tendencies.

    In general, the Patriots tend to use first-round picks only for players that they view as being able to contribute on first, second and third downs, although possibly not as rookies. For example, they brought safety Brandon Meriweather along slowly his rookie year.

    So Patriots fans hoping that this year will finally be the year that Bill Belichick spends a first-round pick on improving the pass rush will have to hope that one of the players available late in the first fits his bill.

    The good news for Patriots fans is that there's always a first time. On the other hand, history suggests that once again Belichick will find reasons to cross those players off his list.

Do the Patriots See Devin McCourty as a Corner or a Safety?

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    Devin McCourty made the Pro Bowl in 2010 as a rookie cornerback.

    In part because of the awful state of the safeties (especially without Patrick Chung in the lineup), McCourty struggled at times. In sub-packages, the Patriots sometimes played McCourty at safety.

    The Patriots need help in the secondary, and basically have two options:

    1. Draft a safety, perhaps higher than they may like.
    2. Draft a cornerback, and move McCourty (or perhaps Ras-I Dowling) to safety full time.

    Given that most draft analysts feel the cornerback class offers a lot more talent than the safety class, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Pats choose the second option.

Do the Patriots See Marcus Cannon as a Guard or a Tackle?

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    The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine cost Marcus Cannon money, but it may have saved his life.

    Medical tests conducted there led to his diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In the 2011 draft, Cannon fell to the fifth round, where the Patriots made the 6'5", 358-pound Cannon the heaviest player they have ever drafted.

    Given his size, many Patriots fans and analysts—myself included—have thought that Cannon's most natural role would be as a guard, rather than as a tackle.

    That said, at Texas Christian University, he admirably protected Andy Dalton's blind side at left tackle. And it appears that the Patriots view Cannon's primary position as tackle, not guard—as Ian Rapoport reported in February for the Boston Herald.

    If the Patriots do see Cannon as a tackle, then the Patriots may need to draft someone to groom as a replacement for Brian Waters at right guard; if they see Cannon as a guard, then they will likely need to draft an extra tackle to develop behind projected starters Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.

Will a Team Come Calling for Backup QB Brian Hoyer?

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    The Patriots put a second-round restricted free-agent tender on QB Brian Hoyer. No team was willing to pony up a second-rounder during the RFA signing period.

    It's at least possible that a team might offer the Patriots a good enough deal for them to part ways with Hoyer.

    If they do, look for the Patriots to draft a quarterback to groom during the last few rounds of the draft.

Will New England Add to the Logjam at Wide Receiver?

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    The Patriots roster already has 10 players listed as receivers.

    That said, the Patriots do not have a single receiver who is under the age of 30, has at least 20 regular-season catches and is under contract for 2013.

    Thus it's certainly possible that if the Patriots see value in a wide receiver, that they'll draft one, even with all of the ones on the roster.

    And if they don't draft one, look for at least one or two undrafted receivers to be signed. Wide receiver will definitely be one of the key position battles this summer.

How Many Players Will the Patriots Draft?

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    On the one hand, the Patriots need more talent on defense; ideally, they should draft at least one player at each level of the defense (DL, LB, secondary).

    On the other hand, they've already drafted 33 players in the last three seasons, and have signed as many free agents as any team in the league.

    Thus, having another mega-draft as in 2009 or 2010 will almost certainly result in the Patriots drafting a number of players who will end up on other teams.

    Their current total of six picks seems about right: I expect the Patriots will draft six to eight players.