by Scott Benson
The Saturday morning sun is peaking up over the hills of Central Maine, revealing a flawless blue sky, which today can only mean one thing: I’m staying inside all day to watch TV!
The NFL Draft is finally here, an oasis in the middle of a long off-season for 24-7 football fans. For Pats partisans, it’s a chance to move forward with hope after weeks of often-bitter reflection and regret.
I know it’s the prevailing wisdom of casual fans to dismiss draft weekend as overwrought and overhyped, but today is a day to proudly let your geek flag fly, my brothers and sisters. And with that, I humbly offer a few of my favorite NFL Draft things.
The Draft on the NFL Network – I love the NFL, so I love its network. I think. Frankly, it seems to be killing NFL Films, which isn’t good for anybody, and the whole shortwave game broadcast thing has been less than stellar. Actually, the programming kind of stinks most of the time too. Oh, let’s face it, the damn thing is irredeemable, except……for its draft coverage. The best thing about the NFL Network’s draft coverage is that its not ESPN. The fact that at least a few of us can watch the draft in peace justifies the entire enterprise. And we might even see some selections made, while on ESPN, Andrea Kramer interviews a roundtable of current players in ill-fitting dress shirts before kicking it over to Boomer for some standup. Have I mentioned how much I hate ESPN? I hate them. No, I really do. Which is the biggest reason, along with adept anchor Rich Eisen and analyst Mike Mayock, that I like the NFL Network. Call your local cable provider, dammit.
NFL.com – I’ve told the story a hundred times; I first started following the draft via Gil Santos on-the-half-hour-cut-ins on WBZ radio. Often, I hadn’t even heard of the Pats picks until Gil intoned their names. So imagine my continuing amazement at how much information is available us today, and that’s no better typified by the nfl.com draft website. Especially the draft tracker feature, which allows fans to read extensive profiles on each player as well as see a short video package for most. I mean, when I can watch Jacob Hester’s highlight reel at the drop of a mouse, you know we’ve really evolved as a society. This stuff is…..oh, how do I put this?…….awesome. Added feature: in no way connected to ESPN.
Reiss’s Pieces – If anything is happening with the Patriots today, especially behind the scenes, this is the first place you’ll learn about it. And you’ll learn about it in the straightforward, earnest manner of a guy that loves football just as much as we do. Novel concept, huh? Unfortunately, yes. And in not wholly unrelated news, no member of the Patriots working media has ever enjoyed more trust and respect from his readers. If checking Reiss’s Pieces is not part of your daily routine, then you’re probably not a Patriots fan. Mike will deliver the goods again this weekend. Keep him busy with your clicks.
Pro Football Talk – This is a love-hate thing for me, as I think Mike Florio is only slightly less crazy than Mike Greenberg, the Jets fan masquerading as an ESPN “personality.” And there’s times when Florio deserves a slap for the rapt conjecture he passes off as rumor. See his Friday night Matt Walsh entry as an example. He probably had been drinking, but that’s no excuse. The fact is, though, when it comes to league news of any type, you usually see it here first, and this weekend will be no exception. As long as you believe only about an eighth of what he posts, you should be fine.
Patriots Daily – If you’re looking for ill-informed, knee-jerk analysis of the non-Florio variety this weekend, this is the place. Hey, if we link our own page here, what happens? Do we pass through a portal in the universe? Time travel, maybe? Good. First thing I’m going to do is make sure Robert Kraft hires Bill Belichick the minute Parcells leaves for the Jets. Anyway, we’ll be around with periodic updates all weekend, putting the monkey-typewriter theory to the test.
The boys have gathered at the ol’ PDHQ in anticipation of today’s events, so let’s hear their thoughts. First, our own College Scout Greg Doyle, who offers his own Pats mock draft:
Here is my stab at a Patriots mock draft now that the day is here. I’ll assume no trades, since its hard enough as it is to try to pick this even knowing the picks they’ll have.
Round 1(7)-Keith Rivers, LB, USC-Just a solid player with versatility to play inside or out. Didn’t really play in a Patriots-type system, but it should be easier for a linebacker with his skills to convert than others. Good speed to get to the corners. Has been a defensive leader for the Trojans on a team loaded with talent and has even excelled on special teams, showing his commitment to winning. Thought to be of good character, tough and smart. Sounds like a perfect Patriot to me.
Round 2 (63)-DaJuan Morgan, S, North Carolina State-This could be a real steal. Somewhat under the radar due to the fact he only started one year at NC State (coming out after his junior year). Has a great size and speed combination and one of the hardest hitting safeties in college football. Good in coverage as well. Very hard working guy reportedly who loves football. Has played both safety spots. Also great on special teams with some blocked kicks. With Rodney Harrison getting near the end, this would be a great pick.
Round 3 (69)-Cliff Avril, LB, Purdue-Perfect size/speed guy to play outside in a 3-4. May be able to swing to inside linebacker as well. Good pass rusher and productive player.
Round 3 (94)-Jonathan Goff, LB, Vanderbilt-Strictly an inside linebacker with the size and strength to take on interior linemen. Stout run defender and excellent 2 down player who’d give the Patriots great depth. From Boston.
Round 4 (129)-Craig Stevens, TE, California-Good blocking tight end with decent speed and hands. With Ben Watson getting closer to contract time and David Thomas injury-prone, a young tight end will almost certainly be taken in this draft. Good work ethic is reported out of Stevens and was a team captain remarkably his last two years. Wasn’t used that much in passing game, but faster than you’d think.
Round 5 (164)-Chevis Jackson, CB, LSU-Good zone corner with tons of experience at a top level of college football. A little thin and not overly fast, but smart and with good instincts. Perfect for a zone scheme like the Patriots. Has returned punts.
Round 6 (197)-Josh Johnson, QB, San Diego-Very athletic quarterback with great tools. Played at a small school, needs a lot of work. But the talent is there and the Patriots worked him out recently. With Matt Cassel a free agent at the end of the year, another young QB needs to be developed.
Round 7 (238)-Andre Callender, RB, Boston College-Good combo running back at BC who caught 70 passes as a senior and ran for nearly 1,000 yards. Surprised scouts when he ran a 4.41/40 at BC’s pro day. Has the pass catching skills the Patriots will like and can return kickoffs as well.
Travis Graham, another PD favorite, has been thinking about the best direction for the Pats this weekend:
In my opinion, there are two needs that the Pats have to fill early in this year’s draft: A pass rushing specialist and a cornerback. I know many Pats fans feel that youth at the ILB position is a need (which it is), but I don’t think it’s worth the risk of a high draft pick. Not many ILB prospects in this draft have the ideal size of 250-270lbs to play 3-4 in the NFL. If teams want to draft a player with that size, they are going to have to pick a smaller lineman and transition him to ILB, which is a risky proposition due to the amount of pass coverage ILBs are responsible for in the NFL. I feel the best way to approach the first round of the draft is minimizing risk. No busts allowed.
So, that brings us to a pass rusher and cornerback. Everyone can agree that the Pats are thin at CB since losing Samuel. The free agent signings have been nice, but let’s face it, on paper they have a lot of JAGs at CB. Should the Pats address the position at pick #7 and be done with it? I don’t think so.
Recently, I’ve been subscribing to former New York Giants general manager George Young’s “Planet Theory”. The theory states,
“There is a finite number of athletic, 300-pound people walking around on planet Earth, and if you have a chance to grab one of those rare human beings in the draft, you’d better take advantage of the opportunity.”
To me, the key word is athletic. There are 300lbers available in the second round, but the quick ones that know how to use proper technique in the trenches are scoffed up early. Therefore, I don’t believe that a CB is worth an early first round pick, especially in the Patriots system where they aren’t asked to make plays- just prevent big ones.
This leads into the Pats need for a pass rusher. If you just watched the Pats first twelve games of the 2007 season, you’d probably buy into the “best DL in the league” mantra that was being thrown around last year. Things changed as the season progressed. The pressure that the DL applied to opposing QBs was reminiscent of the efforts that Henry Thomas and Chad Eaton used to put together in 2000 (one Misssissippi…two…). This is where the Pats need an athletic playmaker, and it just so happens that they have an open roster spot from cutting Colvin. An NFL 3-4 OLB pass rusher is much easier to project from college than a 3-4 ILB. They’re usually DEs in college that are athletic enough to occasionally drop into coverage.
In this year’s draft, there are a few players that would fill this hole for the Pats (ranked by yours truly):
There is a good chance that Gholston and Long will be gone by the 7th pick, and I don’t think it would be worth trading up for them due to the higher salaries and the cost of moving up (especially when the Jets are involved). Harvey should be available at number 7. It might be a little early for him, but if Pats are unable to trade down, I would have no problem taking him at 7. I think of Harvey as a poor man’s Gholston, he doesn’t have the measurables as Vernon, but he was just as productive and many experts believe he has a fuller repertoire of pass rushing moves.
Ideally, a trade down to the middle of the first round would be ideal to pick up Harvey or Groves and an additional pick, but the Pats would need to have the right player (Ellis? Ryan?) fall to them at 7 and the right team (Bangles? Panthers?) wanting to move up. This draft is supposed to be deep at CB, so I would have no problem waiting until round two and possibly moving up a little to grab the right one if necessary, but I can’t see using a high pick on one and missing out on an elite pass rusher because there are only so many of those guys walking the earth.
You get the last word for now, Trav. But, dear readers, there is much more to come throughout the next two days, and Chris Warner will be back on Monday to offer a wrap up of the whole thing. So I’ll talk to you later. In the meantime, you’re encouraged to add your own thoughts in our comments section.