by Chris Warner
(Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to officially welcome Chris Warner to the PD staff this morning. Chris will handle our game re-caps this fall, but as a warm-up, he’s assembled this two-parter on how the Patriots may approach next weekend’s NFL Draft. Welcome, Chris.)
Though I was thinking of comparing the NFL draft to a holiday, it seems more akin to my birthday: I’m getting excited and making plans, yet few people seem as involved as I am. And, by the end of the weekend, another year will have gone by with only minimal progress.
To start off PDDW (Patriots Daily Draft Week – copyright pending!) let’s review the types of horses Coach Belichick and Co. tend to bring to the Foxboro ranch.
Quarterback – No thanks, we’re good… Seriously, though, New England could use a backup who doesn’t make fans reach for their heart medication at the thought of him playing. No rookie will instill complete confidence, but going by the Brady outline, I’ll say they’ll start looking on Day Two for someone who’s efficient, smart, and cute as a button.
Candidates: Josh Johnson, San Diego (most efficient college QB in the country last year); Dennis Dixon, Oregon (Heisman candidate until hurting his knee); Ricky Santos, UNH (Walter Payton Award winner, plus, he’s from Norwood!).
Running Back – Let’s go back to the 1990 Giants: get a big back (O. J. Anderson at 6-2, 220, which is still pretty sizable) to get first downs and keep the clock running. They have two decent-sized backs and two bigger backups, but now that the Pats pass the ball all over the place, size isn’t as important. Could be time for a Kevin Faulk backup.
Wide Receiver – As with Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Troy Brown, if you don’t have great size, just have some wiggle and get open. When looking at combine numbers, eschew the 40 and look at the 20-yard shuttle and the three-cone drill. If the former’s 4.2 and the latter’s 6.75, take note.
Tight End – They have their guy in Benjamin Watson, although he’s a level below ideal expectations in both receiving and blocking. David Thomas is a golden-gloved receiver with bronze-medal blocking skills. Like any team, they could use what Watson flashes to be: a big, strong, fast guy with great hands and quickness. No non-blockers apply.
Offensive Line – With the 6-7, 330 Ryan O’Callaghan the one quite noticeable exception, Patriots lineman are quick-footed 300-pounders with decent (6-5) length. While New England found great success in early rounds with Matt Light and Logan Mankins, they have groomed technicians like Dan Koppen (5th round) and athletes like Stephen Neal (undrafted). Versatility is also key (don’t forget: Koppen was a guard alongside Damien Woody until taking over at center).
Defensive End – Okay, I’ll admit it: I was skeptical of the Richard Seymour choice in 2001, and the Ty Warren pick didn’t exactly wow me in 2003, either. Oh, how I’ve learned. Long arms, leverage and athleticism remain key, as the DE has to shut down runs to his side of the line and/or pester the QB on any given play.
Nose Tackle – Ted Washington is still in the NFL at 40 years old because he’s 6-5, 375. All 3-4 nose tackles like to get in the way. It helps if, like Vince Wilfork, your NT moves with surprising agility, clogging up running lanes and freeing up linebackers. Another tough find, which is why the Pats covet Wilfork.
Inside Linebacker – The biggest difference between 3-4 inside linebackers and 4-3 ILBs is size. Look at Carolina LB Adam Seward, one-time object of New England flirting. He’s listed as 6-2, 248. The guy he backs up, Jon Beason, is 6-foot, 237. Historically, these guys have been run stoppers who take on offensive behemoths (think Ted Johnson), but these days they need more quickness to cover backs out of the backfield. Not an easy combination to find.
Outside Linebacker – Mike Vrabel, Adalius Thomas, Rosevelt Colvin and Willie McGinest all have one thing in common (well, more than one thing, because they worked together): they all played defensive end in college. We’re looking at 6-5, at least 255, with the ability to cover tight ends. Lots to choose from next week, although there seems to be a two- to three-year conversion period from college DE to Pats OLB.
Cornerback – Yes, speed rules much of football (and sports in general. Take the 100-meter dash: seriously, speed means everything in that). Still, eye-popping 40 times don’t mean as much as reaction skills. Asante Samuel or Ellis Hobbs: who’s faster? Now, whom would you rather have on your team? (Excuse me as I gag a little bit.)
Safety – Hitters who can cover. Unlike corners, whose tackle totals might tell you that they’re getting picked on, safeties’ big stats demonstrate run support. There needs to be a balance between being aggressive and staying in control, as epitomized by players like Rodney Harrison (Ha, ha. Heh. Yeah. If by “staying in control” you mean “going batguano in tense moments”).
Tomorrow, we look for late-round and undrafted Pats possibilities.