The news was pretty surprising. Spotted in Foxborough, Mass. a week ago was not a second-round hopeful linebacker, or sleeper pick safety, or even late first-round cornerback—you know, those positions the New England Patriots could use improvements in.
Instead, it was LSU standout and defensive tackle Michael Brockers. The news was enough to garner headlines, circulate rumors and build up discussion and analysis—which, in the weeks prior to the NFL draft, is par for the course.
The news of New England's interest in Brockers was surprising for two reasons. For one, Brockers is one of the most highly-touted players in the draft. He's supposed to have top-10 stock, according to Matt Miller's mock draft. That's way before Bill Belichick even begins to pick up the phone and tries to trade out of the first round.
The other puzzling part is Brocker's position. Defensive tackle? Another moose in the middle? Don't the Patriots have enough players who can take up space and occupy blockers in the middle? How about getting someone south of 300 pounds who can get around blockers and attack the quarterback?
Of course, Brockers isn't just a gap-filler. This is a player who, according to his ESPN profile, plays out of a 6'6", 306-pound frame, yet has "cat-quick agility" and an "unmatched combination of size, athleticism (and) strength," or so says a CBS Sports scouting report.
That doesn't sound like your dime-a-dozen mountain in pads. That sounds like someone else who Patriots fans should vividly remember watching for years.
Richard Seymour was that player in New England. He weighed over 300 pounds, but you wouldn't have known it given the way he played. He ran down running backs, pursued quarterbacks and slipped by blockers as easily as he pushed through them. He was either a massive defensive end or an evasive defensive tackle, and he was the best player on the line in either situation.
In other words, he was perfect for Belichick's 3-4 defense. Given the Patriots' supposed interest in Brockers, it's easy to think the LSU standout could be, too.
ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss drew a similar conclusion, but it's hard not to make that connection. Brockers has the frame for the defensive tackle position and the athleticism that exceeds it. That's the kind of player that is drawn up for a 3-4 line, and if Belichick and the Patriots are going back to their staple defensive structure, Brockers would fit seamlessly.
Drafting Brockers would also be the Patriots' attempt to make up for Seymour's departure, rather than trying to work around it. Seymour's absence was glaring in 2009 and '10, and last year, the Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth in the attempt to have two bull-rushers at defensive tackle in a 4-3, rather than finding that hybrid tackle/end for a 3-4.
Seymour's presence was crucial on three Super Bowl winners, and if Brockers were able to be that kind of player, he'd make an impact even on a team that currently has a full house on the defensive line.
Of course, there's still the issue of draft stock. If Brockers falls into the teens or 20s, for whatever reason, great. That would be perfect.
But if Brockers is going as high as expected, this might all be moot. It should be, anyway. Even if Brockers pans out, the package the Patriots would have to put together to move up and take him would almost certainly be too much given their needs elsewhere.
Still, the idea of Brockers in Foxborough is tempting. The Patriots never found another Seymour. This could be the year they stop searching.