Sooner or later the owners and players will figure out how to play together, realizing there are more perplexing problems than figuring out how to split up YOUR nine billion dollars. Hoping for sooner, fearing later.
Even while the labor drama unfolds, NFL teams must keep their eye on the ball as they prepare for the upcoming draft. This is the position-by-position status I believe the New England Patriots are looking at as they prepare for the 2011 NFL draft.
Running Backs: So who did you think was going to be the Patriots' top ball carrier in 2010? Laurence Maroney? Fred Taylor? Sammy Morris?
The position looked perilously thin there for awhile. Maroney was traded to Denver after week one, all-time Patriot great Kevin Faulk suffered a career-threatening knee injury in week two, and Taylor (the opening day starter) got banged up and was put on the shelf after week three.
What transpired next was probably something even the most optimistic Pats fan likely didn’t see coming. The Patriots put together one of the NFL’s most balanced offenses as the RB tandem of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and newly signed Danny Woodhead answered the bell.
I thoroughly believe NFL team yardage rankings are vastly overrated, equally over-relied upon, and never definitive when trying to compare franchises. There are far too many contributing factors to take into account when analyzing team production.
Yet it’s hard not to notice that the Patriots ground game actually ranked higher among NFL teams than the Brady-led passing attack finished. For the record, New England finished eighth in total yards while finishing ninth in rushing and eleventh in passing. Were the Patriots a ground team first and foremost? No. But the ground game more than held it’s own.
Green-Ellis became the first Patriot since Corey Dillon in 2004 to break the 1,000-yard barrier while finishing second in the NFL with 13 rushing TDs.
Woodhead, the Chadron State legend, did a freakishly accurate Kevin Faulk impression, contributing as a runner and receiver (while continuing to excel on special teams as well). The fact that Woodhead was a Jets castoff just sweetened the deal for Patriot fans.
Taylor, Sammy Morris, Thomas Clayton and Military list exemption Eric Kettani round out the RB roster.
Position Summary: Green-Ellis showed flashes of promise dating back to 2008 and took his 2010 opportunity and literally ran with it.
As a restricted free agent, he was tendered a contract by New England earlier this month. BJG-E will be 26 years old on opening day. He’s young, productive, and relatively inexpensive and a great bet to continue to be a featured part of the New England offense.
Woodhead did something that perhaps no one in New England believed could be done: He replaced Kevin Faulk. Take Woodhead’s 2010 numbers and insert them into Faulk’s career record and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who could sort them out.
Taylor and Morris are unlikely to return. Taylor reportedly is leaning towards retirement, while Morris perhaps is the victim of numbers, age and cost. Clayton’s future may be tied directly to the health of his competition, while Kettani is something of an unknown.
If there is one inescapably sad part to being a sports fan, it’s watching Father Time chase down our favorite players. It’s inevitable, predictable, and just plain stinks.
Father Time is coming around the turn and closing on Kevin Faulk.
Don’t get me wrong, Faulk continued to be quite productive in his truncated 2010 campaign, and with a little luck and a lot of work, he may be back. However, at best, most of Faulk’s better days are behind him, while at worst, he may be all done.
The consummate teammate, Faulk is a bridge to a group of players like Troy Brown and Tedy Bruschi who, while not necessarily impressing experts with their measurable qualities, often found intangible ways to contribute to victory.
And they did it over, and over, and over again until it eventually became expected and perhaps a little taken for granted.
Kevin Faulk is a champion and will be difficult to replace on many levels, and I’m not afraid to admit I’m not looking forward to watching it happen.
Conclusion: So will the Patriots select a running back in the draft? The sexiest rumor going around is that the Patriots will pursue Alabama RB Mark Ingram. I’m not so sure about that, and it really has nothing to do with my thoughts on Ingram’s potential.
Remember, the key word of the day around Patriotville come draft day is value. My best guess is that the price for Ingram, as far as where he will need to be selected, will be a little steep for Belichick and company.
Instead, don’t be surprised if New England looks to make a value pick a little later on, perhaps in the third round or so. I’m guessing a back or two gets squeezed in the inevitable numbers game, maybe Shane Vereen from California, or perhaps even Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams, though I expect he’s off the board by round two.
Next Week Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
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