Most Patriot fans are looking ahead to the NFL Draft. Patriot offensive lineman Matt Light is probably not.
For most NFL fans, now is a time of confusion and dread towards labor agreement talks. What better way to forget about this impasse than to speculate on the upcoming NFL Draft?
More specifically, what approach will one of the National Football League's most consistent teams take?
The New England Patriots–under Bill Belichick–have developed a reputation during the Draft to trade down-and-away for future picks. This has worked incredibly well for the organization, especially in recent years.
The Patriots' draft class from 2010 is largely considered to have been the most rewarding throughout the league, at least immediately. Budding stars Devin McCourty (27th overall), Rob Gronkowski (42nd overall), Brandon Spikes (62nd overall) and Aaron Hernandez (113th overall) all played key roles on last year's team.
With similar tactics and Belichick's ever-keen sense of talent, the Patriots can only improve their overall worth.
Let's take a look at what we can expect from the three-time Super Bowl Champions in this year's draft.
The one team that is synonymous with Draft-day trades has to be the New England Patriots. It is almost a given that Bill Belichick will reach for the horn to get someone–anyone–on the line for a trade. And when he does, he does it well.
- In 2004, Belichick sent a second-round pick to Cincinnati for running back Corey Dillon.
- In 2006, Belichick "lost" wide receiver Deion Branch to Seattle for a 2007 first-round pick, which he used on defensive back Brandon Meriweather. The Patriots were then able to preserve their natural 2007 first-round pick to trade with San Francisco, from whom they received a 2008 first-rounder, which was eventually used on All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo.
- In 2007, Belichick sent Oakland a fourth-round pick for a future Hall of Fame wide receiver in Randy Moss.
- In that same year, Belichick also sent second- and seventh-round draft picks for a lesser-known receiver in Wes Welker. We all know how that has turned out.
The number of picks the Patriots have in the early rounds is frightening to other organizations. Listed below are all nine picks possessed by the Patriots:
- Round 1, Pick 17 (17)
- Round 1, Pick 28 (28)
- Round 2, Pick 1 (33)
- Round 2, Pick 28 (60)
- Round 3, Pick 10 (74)
- Round 3, Pick 28 (92)
- Round 4, Pick 28 (125)
- Round 5, Pick 28 (159)
- Round 6, Pick 28 (193)
The Patriots are no strangers when it comes to letting go staple-names and big talents–Randy Moss, Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel, to name a few.
We might see something similar come directly from events in this year's draft. If the Patriots exhaust their top picks on at least one offensive lineman, it might mean the Patriots plan to say goodbye to Dan Koppen, Matt Light and/or Logan Mankins, all of whom the Patriots have financial dealings with over the next year.
And if, as previously mentioned, the Patriots opt to select a wide receiver with a top pick, Wes Welker and/or Deion Branch might find their seat a little warm.
Former Mississippi State offensive tackle, Derek Sherrod (right)
The Patriots need some serious help on the offensive line. Stephen Neal has retired. Logan Mankins' relationship with the Patriots is on shaky ground. Dan Koppen and Matt Light are near the end of their respective contracts.
The Patriots' offensive line has done a decent job protecting quarterback Tom Brady. But, maybe it is more Brady's pocket presence than the offensive line.
Listed below are the number of sacks given up by the Patriots since 2001:
- 2001, 46 sacks given up
- 2002, 31 sacks given up
- 2003, 32 sacks given up
- 2004, 26 sacks given up
- 2005, 28 sacks given up
- 2006, 29 sacks given up
- 2007, 21 sacks given up
- 2008, 48 sacks given up
- 2009, 18 sacks given up
- 2010, 25 sacks given up
Is it pure coincidence that the two years with the most sacks given up were Tom Brady's first year as a starter ('01) and Matt Cassel's first year as a starter ('08)? The offensive line might continually be given a pass if Brady can always escape pressure. But this doesn't help the running back position and that is where the Draft can help.
The Patriots need a better push off the line on first down, so don't be surprised to see either a tackle or an interior guy selected early.
Some names to keep in mind:
- Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
- John Moffit, OL, Wisconsin
- Clint Boling, OL, Georgia
Former Arizona defensive end, Brooks Reed
The Patriots' top priority entering the postseason seemed to be glaring. New England has no pass rushing force.
If we look at the Patriots' three Super Bowl winning seasons, they averaged 42 sacks through the regular season. Their average over the past three seasons was barely above 32.
It is no mystery that the Patriots miss the Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel of old. This problem needs to be addressed.
Listed below are several players–from the defensive end position–that are on the Patriots' radar:
- Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
- Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
- Cameron Jordan, California
- Brooks Reed, Arizona
- Aldon Smith, Missouri
Former Oklahoma State running back, Kendall Hunter
While this is fine and dandy with most NFL fans, anyone who wants the Patriots to win another Super Bowl knows that Bill Belichick's squad needs to grind it out on the ground.
The Patriots have seen quiet success through a running-back-by-committee approach the past few years, placing in the top 12 in the NFL in rushing yards per game each of the past three seasons. But how long will this last? Both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have played well enough to stick on the roster, but the Patriots could really use a solidified three-down back.
The Patriots have already had a visit with former Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure, and multiple reports have listed the Patriots as interested in former Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
Listed below are a few other players the Patriots could potentially take a chance on with one of their second-round picks. Each had glamorous points to their college careers:
- Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
- Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
- Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
Former Bosie State wide receiver Titus Young
At first thought, it would not seem that one of the Patriots' needs would be the wide receiver position. But with the Randy Moss fiasco, Wes Welker entering the final year of his contract and the inconsistency that is Brandon Tate, it might make sense to draft a speedster for the long-run.
As a Patriots fan myself, I have extreme confidence in having Julian Edelman replace Wes Welker if need be. (Before you interject, please remember that Edelman had arguably the best day of any Patriot in New England's 2010 Wild Card loss to the Baltimore Ravens.)
But do not be surprised! The Patriots have already expressed interest in former Maryland receiver Torrey Smith and what a story he is. In fact, he seems like the perfect Patriot.
Some other receivers to keep your eye on:
- Jamel Hamler, Fresno State
- Niles Paul, Nebraska
- Austin Pettis, Boise State
- Titus Young, Boise State
Punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Stephen Gostkowski
There are a few Draft-day tendencies akin to the New England Patriots.
The Patriots rarely draft a running back in the early rounds. More specifically, Bill Belichick rarely drafts a running back early. In all 11 years as the Patriots' head coach, Belichick has selected just one running backs in the first round and just six total. Will we see a break in tendency later this month?
Bill Belichick has selected six quarterbacks during Tom Brady's days as a starter. Some people would wonder why you would waste a draft pick on a position when there is no need. Well, that's just how Belichick's mind works: plan for the worst, prepare for the future. Could we see a late-round selection on a quarterback? If we do, it will most likely be one of the following:
- Nathan Enderle, Idaho
- Greg McElroy, Alabama
- Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
- Taylor Yates, North Carolina
Possibly the most noticeable tendency has to be the Patriots drafting of special teams players and more often than not, sooner than expected. Which brings me to my next slide...
As previously noted, Bill Belichick loves drafting for special teams needs. Time and time again, Belichick has noted the importance of a strong special teams and he drafts accordingly.
- In 2003, wide receiver Bethel Johnson was selected with the 45th overall selection out of Texas A&M. Johnson was moved to kick returning duties quickly and is considered a bust at the receiving position.
- In 2006, the Patriots selected kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He was injured last year, but due to the success he has seen, the Patriots did not release him.
- In 2008, the Patriots selected UCLA wide receiver Matt Slater in the 5th round. Slater has become a perennial special teams guy.
- In 2009, Hawaii center Jake Ingram was selected by the Patriots with the 198th overall pick, solely for longsnapping duties. This pick proved to be moot, seeing as Ingram is currently on the Titans' roster.
- In that same draft, two wide receivers were selected by the Patriots with strong special teams ties: Brandon Tate of North Carolina and Julian Edelman of Kent State. Edelman was Kent State's starting quarterback, but the Patriots saw a probable translation to kick and punt returning.
- In 2010, the Patriots selected Devin McCourty with the 27th overall selection. While they expected McCourty to primarily play cornerback, the Patriots also drafted him based on his return skills.
- Also in 2010, the Patriots took a chance on Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko with the 150th overall pick. The selection of Mesko has so far proved to be worth the pick.
As of right now, there are no immediate issues within special teams. But I guarantee you that Bill Belichick would love to have a solidified punt returner instead of switching between Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, both of whom will most likely take on a larger role in the receiving game next year.
Patriot Logan Mankins
Who will be New England's surprise draft pick this year? Every team usually has at least one.
- In 2005, it was OG Logan Mankins from Fresno State.
- In 2006, it was K Stephen Gostkowski from Memphis.
- In 2007, it was OT Clint Oldenburg from Colorado State.
- In 2008, it was both ILB Jerod Mayo from Tennessee and QB Kevin O'Connell from San Diego State.
- In 2009, it was LS Jake Ingram from Hawaii.
- In 2010, it was CB Devin McCourty, and three Florida selections (OLB Jermaine Cunningham, ILB Brandon Spikes, TE Aaron Hernandez).
Though the pick may not prove to be extremely valuable, the Patriots went against the mold to draft someone they thought would prove useful. More times than not, the player has been a great addition to the team.
Listed below are a few possible selections that might come as a surprise to anyone outside New England's organization:
- Greg McElroy, QB Alabama. McElroy is far from the most talented quarterback in this year's draft, but he has an incredible mind, a clear passion for the game and he has seen success. Plus, Tom Brady won't be in Foxboro for much longer.
- Jordan Todman, RB Connecticut. Former UConn running back Donald Brown still has to prove his worth, but seems to have been a good selection for the Colts. Todman might be able to keep the theme going. Todamn was considered undersized going into college and, hailing from Massachusetts, his toughness was criticized. A few great years later and he might find himself drafted. Plus, the Patriots have a thing for undersized running backs.
- Bilal Powell, RB Louisville. Powell had a breakout season last year and is climbing charts. The Patriots have expressed interest in him, so don't be surprised to see New England's fourth-round pick next to his name.
- Jamel Hamler, WR Fresno State. If the Patriots wait [at all] until the later rounds for a wide receiver, it shouldn't be alarming to see a fifth- or sixth-round pick used on a Pat Hill player.
- Casey Matthews, LB Oregon. A silent killer, brother of All-Pro Clay Matthews, Casey might be able to sneak into the middle rounds. The older Matthews was criticized for being selected so high with such little experience. How has that worked out?
Free agent and former New York Jet, Vernon Gholston
Vernon Gholston, anyone? The Patriots might have shown sincere interest in Gholston during the 2008 NFL Draft, but we'll never know. Either way, it doesn't matter. The Jets jumped the gun and selected him with the prior pick. Gholston is now a free agent, having recorded zero sacks along the way. The Patriots selected Jerod Mayo with their pick in the aforementioned Draft.
The "smoke and mirrors" line is thrown out a few times each draft, especially in the first two rounds. The Patriots' needs are obvious: a pass rushing defensive end or outside linebacker hybrid. With six picks through the first three rounds, is it out of the realm of possibility that the Patriots actually trade up?
I wouldn't be surprised. If I've learned one thing from following Bill Belichick, it's to expect the unexpected.