He traded down two times, and on both of those occasions Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews were available. Matthews and Maualuga were two of the five highest rated linebackers coming into the draft.
When New England drafted Patrick Chung with their 34th pick, Maualuga was still available! This tells me one thing: The New England Patriots were not high on the linebacking class of 2009, otherwise they would not have passed up on Maualuga or Matthews, let alone both.
Belichick did express that he thinks very highly of Shawn Crable, and that he has a lot of potential. Crable was injured last season, however the organization believes that he has a very high upside.
So, should we worry that New England did not address what seemed to be their most pressing need in the offseason? No, because they did. I had previously said that the Pats needed to draft front seven players, because their linebacking core was aging, and Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork were both entering contract seasons.
The Pats drafted Ron Brace, a DT from Boston College who will terrorize offensive lines which have been exhausted by Vince Wilfork, while giving Wilfork the opportunity to rest. Jerod Mayo is a stud, and Adalius Thomas is a spectacular player and will be for the next couple of seasons.
Tedy Bruschi is aging, and is not nearly as effective as he used to be, but he is a solid player and will be given chances to rush the passer with Wilfork and Brace opening holes for him. The only real question in terms of linebacker was who would fill Mike Vrabel’s vacancy.
Clearly, if the Pats wanted Clay Matthews, they would have taken him, as they had the opportunity to draft him. I think that Shawn Crable will do a very good job filling in for Vrabel, and Belichick would not have passed up on Matthews if he did not think so highly of the young ‘backer.
This shows the Pats need another linebacker in terms of depth, or somebody to fill in for Shawn Crable or Adalius Thomas, somebody to essentially complement Pierre Woods at this point. The Pats have compiled picks in the 3rd round, and will have plenty of opportunities to draft low cost players who can be effective at the next level.
If you are skeptical about Ron Brace, remember how successful Bill has been selecting defensive linemen: Warren, Seymour and Wilfork. If you are skeptical about Sebastian Vollmer, look at how successful BB has been with his O Line picks: Logan Mankins, Matt Light, Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur.
Here are my thoughts on each individual pick:
Chung was a great player for Oregon, and is a hard hitting safety who was battle-tested and very durable throughout his college career. He will mots likely fill the role of Rodney Harrison.
The Pats needed somebody to intimidate wide outs when they ventured across the middle of the field, and Chung can be that guy.
Brandon Meriweather is more of a coverage safety, while James Sanders is a consistent player who makes the necessary plays, so Chung will give the position more intimidation and run stuffing abilities.
I think this was a very solid pick for New England, because they needed somebody to set the tone on defense, and make New England’s physical presence shown early, something thta Chung can do.
I think this was a great pick, because Brace is an extremely underrated player due to the shadow that B.J. Raji cast over him. Brace is someone who can give Wilfork a rest while still serving as a threat for defenses.
Also, when the Pats throw out their 4-3 package to stop the run during 3rd and short situations, Brace will be much more of a factor than Mike Wright, who previously filled in for Wilfork. Ron is very adept at moving his massive frame, so he can also threaten the QB.
Mike Wright will also be given the opportunity to be the back up to Richard Seymour, where he can me much more effective as a pass rusher coming off the edge of the line. Wright was never able to draw double teams when he played as the nose tackle, so Brace will turn what was a weakness of the defense, into a strength.
To me, Butler was a steal this late in the second round. He was projected to be a first round pick, maybe early second round. He is not a big corner, but has a 43″ vertical leap, so you know he can cover the deep ball against bigger receivers, something that has been a problem for New England over the past 4 years, even with Asante Samuels.
Butler played some receiver in college, so you know that if an opportunity strikes, he will be able to intercept the ball as opposed to drop the pick. I think that the combination of Butler and Chung turns the Pats’ secondary into a strength, after being a weakness the last two years.
Now, they are deeper than they have been, and Wheatley and Wilhite are both players with great upsides and have solid skillsets to work with. Hobbs is an average corner, while Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden are both great DB’s.
Not only do they have the speed and coverage skills to keep up with the Ted Ginn Jr.’s, but they also have the ability to pound receivers and keep them off the middle of the field.
Vollmer is a huge player who can open some holes for our running backs, and while he may not have been the best O lineman available, BB has had success drafting players who other people have hated, especially along the offensive line.
Logan Mankins, one of the elite guards in the NFL, was very low among most mock drafts in the league, but Bill Belichick clearly knew what he was doing when he drafted him.
Despite being big, Volmmer is also a player who can move his massive frame. By playing as a 3rd stringer, the older linemen on the team will have the chance to mentor Sebastian and turn him into a successful player.
Overall, the Patriots had a very successful draft, because they turned their secondary into a strength, made their defensive line an absolute terror to play against, and gave their O line some more depth and a more powerful run blocking line.
Their offense is set for 2009 (barring any major injury issues similar to last year) and have made their defense more complete. I think Shawn Crable is a very good tackler, who plays instictively and smart, and will be very successful next year.
In Bill we Trust!