Laurence Maroney Shuffles Off To Denver: How the Trade Impacts Patriots' Draft

Sean KeaneCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2010

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 27:  Laurence Maroney #39 of the New England Patriots gains yards against Derek Cox #21 of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 27, 2009 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

In the wake of Randy Moss's post-game diatribe and an opening day dismantling of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots' front office made some headlines of its own today.

New England has traded running back Laurence Maroney to the Denver Broncos. The Patriots receive Denver's fourth-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft in exchange for Maroney and their sixth-round pick. 

With this news, Maroney officially joins former tight end Ben Watson as the biggest disappointments of the Belichick era.

The 2006 first round pick played in 45 games for the Patriots, starting 16 of them. He rushed for 2,430 yards and 21 TDs in four seasons.  He was at his best during the 2007 playoffs when he twice rushed for 100+ yards.

When he arrived on the scene in 2006 as the change of pace to Corey Dillon, Maroney showed flashes of real brilliance. 

He continued trending towards stardom in 2007 when he averaged 4.5 yards per carry, breaking off a career-long 59-yard run. But it was all downhill from there.

Maroney developed a maddening habit of stutter-stepping and hesitating behind the line of scrimmage.  He seemed to lose his natural instincts as a runner. 

He wasn't fast enough or shifty enough to make the Barry Sanders "boom or bust" approach work for him and he never regained the physical, explosive style he displayed during his first two seasons.

To make matters worse, he's battled nagging injuries throughout his career.

Patriots fans were fed up long ago, and New England brass finally followed suit, cutting their losses and cashing in on his "potential" to move up two rounds in the 2011 draft.

The trade now gives Belichick and Co. seven, count 'em, seven picks in the first four rounds next April. 2011 is shaping up to be one of the team's most exciting drafts in recent memory. So what does this trade mean for the Patriots' draft next April?

Firstly, I think all signs point to New England landing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram. He is the best running back in the country and the consensus top running back in the draft.

Armed with Oakland's first-rounder, the Patriots could have the top 5 pick needed to scoop him. Even if the Raiders exceed expectations, the Patriots now have so many high picks that they can maneuver and get the great running back they haven't had since Corey Dillon.

One thing the Patriots won't do is take a wide receiver high. They've shown year after year that they don't trust college wideouts enough to draft them early.

They (wisely) passed on David Terrell in 2001, and they passed on superstar-in-the-making Dez Bryant several times this past draft. They simply don't value receivers that highly on their board.

So what else does that leave them with? Well, they could use a premier pass rusher, and last season's NCAA-leading sack man (17) Von Miller out of Texas A&M could be a nice fit late in the first round.

If the Patriots opt not to pursue Ingram early and instead focus on other needs, A.J. Green could step in as the heir apparent to Randy Moss, but as I said earlier, Belichick has shown a major aversion to drafting receivers high. 

Robert Quinn, the defensive end from North Carolina, would make a lot of sense, assuming they pick early enough to land him.

They could also look to bolster their thin secondary by adding a stud corner, maybe Patrick Peterson from LSU or Prince Amukamara. 

If they go for a corner or defensive end first, they absolutely must take a running back with one of their next two picks. If that's the case, Ryan Williams from Virginia Tech should be the guy but he may not fall to them.

Trading Maroney leaves the Pats with a slew of over the hill runners whose contracts expire after this season, so I think Ingram is a virtual lock, meaning they'll likely focus on their pass rush late in the first round and go from there. 

They gain a significant advantage with Denver's fourth-rounder though, they can afford to gamble in the middle rounds on a hit-or-miss talent with character flaws (like Tampa Bay's Mike Williams), or they can stick to the Belichick gameplan and bolster their offensive and defensive lines, which might not be a bad idea considering Light's contract is up after this season and Ty Warren will be recovering from yet another injury. 

They could also take a chance on a guy early and use those mid-rounders to fill the same position as an insurance policy, similar to what they did with Gronkowski and Hernandez.

The Patriots now have more flexibility than any other team heading into the draft and given the way Belichick routinely finds mid to late-round diamonds in the rough like Brady, Edelman, Guyton, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Hernandez, etc...other GM's should be quakin' in their boots.