December 6, 2016

Stacking the Board with First Day Quarterbacks and Running Backs

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff

picIf you’re anything like me you tend to glaze over when the subject turns to first day quarterback and running back prospects in next weekend’s draft. For Patriots fans, that’s when we shell a peanut.

After all, those are two of the team’s four strongest positions, along with defensive line (contracts notwithstanding) and wide receiver. Why spend a lot of time thinking about prospects the Patriots won’t end up drafting?

They’re not going to take a quarterback in the first two rounds – not when they have one of the best on the planet backed up by a guy they just spent a third round pick on last year. Most people I know expect the Pats to draft a quarterback this year, but not on the first day. Better that pick should come later, when the reward has a better chance of outweighing the risk.

They’re not going to take a first day runner either – not when they have Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor signed for the next two seasons. The team may be contemplating a future without Kevin Faulk, who plays out his contract this year, but that seems like more of a day two job, given their needs and the draft landscape itself.

So why spend a lot of time thinking about prospects the Patriots won’t end up drafting?

Because they’re the Patriots. And they might.

Early First Day (trade up)

I cannot imagine the maelstrom if the Pats trade up to get a running back or quarterback in the top 20 of this draft. It’s one thing to draft a good football player – regardless of position – if he drops to you. Trading up – in exchange for one or more of your high-value second-round picks, even in the face of more immediate defensive needs – is another.

Mid First Day (picks 23 and 34)

I’ve been saying for some time that RB Knowshon Moreno is the most Patriot-like running back in the draft. I like that he can carry the mail between the tackles and threaten the perimeter as both a runner and receiver. I like his balance and vision when running the football and his athleticism and quick burst in tight quarters, and to the outside. I like that he has a good feel for the passing game, and especially that he attacks pass-blocking and blitz pickup with relish. I like that he has off-the-charts intangibles when it comes to character and competitiveness. I like that even as a junior, he leaves behind a legacy of consistency and productivity as a collegian. All this far outweighs concern that he lacks true breakaway speed.

Even though the Pats would have at least three players ahead of him for the time being, only a fool would leave a versatile, productive character guy like Moreno off his board. Even if he re-ups after this season, Faulk will soon enough be approaching the twilight of his career. Taylor and Morris are both over 30 and Maroney is one lingering shoulder injury away from a ticket out of here.

Speaking of productivity (you kind of have to go back a paragraph on this particular segue, but believe me, we talked about it and damn it, it relates to this sentence), few can match RB Donald Brown of Connecticut, who posted 2,000 yards in 2008.

I’m not as pumped about Brown as I am Moreno, but that two grand and this highlight reel give pause. On the tape we see Brown is roughly the same size as Moreno (who played in the same New Jersey high school league as the Connecticut star), but Brown seems to run with a lower center of gravity (it’s almost like he’s hovering). You have to be impressed with that vision and those quick bursts that take him into the open field, and often, to the end zone. I think that’s a testament to his instincts, agility and balance as a runner. Everything about him says good kid and hard worker, which is nice. Couple of things – like Moreno, he lacks the desired ‘breakaway speed”, he wasn’t asked to do much blocking or pass receiving in college, and his skills at both are considered marginal. You can’t get on the field in New England by being marginal in the passing game.

Brown has been projected to sneak up as high as late first round, but most feel he’ll be on the board if the Patriots keep that 34th selection. I wonder, though, whether I would have even listed him here if Bill Belichick hadn’t shown such interest in the U Conn pro day.

That’s all, folks. There wasn’t another first day back – including Chris Wells, the big, fast Buckeye with the iffy makeup – that left us wanting more. This is may be the point where the Pats ought to shell a peanut or two.

So now we’ve covered all the position groups from first day and second day perspectives. On Friday, we’ll offer our final Patriots Daily Draft Boards in downloadable PDF form, suitable for framing.

Scott Benson can be reached at [email protected]

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