When it comes to the New England Patriots of the 2000s, they are arguably the greatest dynasty of all time. They have three Super Bowl titles, another Super Bowl appearance, and a 16-0 season.
What makes them so amazing is that they did this in the era of free agency. Teams like the 90s Cowboys, 80s 49ers, 70s Steelers, and 60s Packers did not have to contend with a salary cap that prevented them from keeping all their star players.
The Patriots have lost players to other teams and yet still rank among the best teams year in and year out.
Now, the Patriots have another chance to show how great they are. Dynasties usually go away because front offices have a hard time building the first team and as the players of the first team retire or leave, they fail to find the capable replacement needed to continue the span of excellence.
Well, the Patriots have lost multiple players; especially on defense.
Cornerback Asante Samuel is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, safety Rodney Harrison, wide receiver Troy Brown, and others have retired. Linebacker Mike Vrabel was traded to the Chiefs and cornerback Ty Law is gone as well.
That defensive talent helped them win Super Bowls, and it is up to the front office to replace those men with capable players, and head coach Bill Belichick has to get those players to play at their maximum capabilities.
The Patriots defense was ranked fifth in the league in scoring, but were 12th in passing yards allowed and 13th in rushing yards.
This team needs to improve, and I believe Belichick will figure out a way to do it, but he'll need some new help.
The Patriots have no real direct needs, but running back, wide receiver (Randy Moss may be gone after this year), defensive line, and outside linebacker are definitely positions that can be addressed.
With Dez Bryant already off the board in my mock, I think the Patriots should address defense, and my pick for them is defensive end, Brandon Graham, from Michigan.
Brandon Graham is a guy whose stock has risen due to his very impressive performance in the Senior Bowl. He won MVP honors after recording five tackles, three for losses, two sacks, and forcing a fumble.
This is a guy who obviously can play, but the major question a GM has when drafting men like him is what position is he going to play, and will he be able to play that well at the pro level?
He's only 6'2 and despite that, he can play in a 4-3 defensive line very effectively, particularly against the run. He could convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 and pass rush, but scouts wonder about his ability to play coverage.
New England is one of those teams that can run both 3-4 and a 4-3, so Graham can find himself with that team. He weighs 263 pounds and runs a 4.72 forty and had 31 bench reps of 225 pounds at the combine.
The guy just fits the Patriots like a glove. Furthermore, the Patriots could use younger guys at both defensive end and linebacker.
Ty Warren is 28, Jarvis Green is 30, Tully Banta-Cain is 29, and Adalius Thomas is 32.
Banta-Cain was still very effective last year, recording 10 sacks in the pass rush, but Thomas only had three.
Thomas, to me, is the next guy to be gone. He's old like Brushci and Vrabel were, he's not been playing the greatest football lately, and Graham can provide a great pass rush alongside Banta-Cain.
Even though Warren and Green are still in good shape for a few years, it never hurts to have depth now and spark a competition among the defensive line.
Graham is this great speed rusher. I remember he went up against Bryan Bulaga, a top three offensive line prospect, and it was like Wile E. Coyote vs the Roadrunner. Graham just ran right around him and sacked the quarterback.
He's very explosive. When the ball is snapped, it takes less than a second for him to get moving, and his motor is running to the ball. He's got great hand moves that keep the offensive tackle off of him on his outside rush. He'll rip inside and just power through to the quarterback. His pass rush technique is just tremendous.
He's equally effective against the run as well. He's had 138 tackles during his time at Michigan and 64 this year. 28 career sacks and 10 in both his junior and senior year.
At worst he'll be a solid good player, at best he can be a star player in this league. New England may think that his size is against him, but I think you need to look past that and just realize that he can play football. I'll take a chance on him for sure.