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Archive for February, 2012

Damien Jarrett’s Mock Draft Picks 17-32 V1

Check out the first 1-16 picks of my mock draft V1 here.

17. Cincinnati Bengals (via Oakland Raiders) (9-7)

Chris Polk, RB, Washington

Cedric Benson’s contract is up and, whilst I think he’ll be re-signed, he was lacking in the average yards per carry area this year. A running back like Polk would be the perfect compliment in the backfield. They could definitely use an interior lineman and if one like Cory Glenn or David DeCastro present themselves here, they could be the answer to help regenerate the Cincinnati rushing attack. Polk really elevated himself during the Senior Bowl and established himself in the return game also, raising his stock to a potential first rounder. He has excellent patience and burst, hits the holes well and could be a nice acquisition at this stage in the draft.

18. San Diego Chargers (8-8)

Devon Still, DT, Penn State

The Chargers have some questions¬†hanging¬†over their usually solid defense. They could do with shoring it up with a couple of their early picks and a DE such as Melvin Ingram or Nick Perry would be the more attractive choice to fans. However, I feel they go with a big, physical DT who can hold up the line of scrimmage and take up those¬†double¬†teams that the Charger sorely need to pave way for their Linebackers in the 3-4. Still is more than capable and¬†has¬†the tools to be a 2-gap DE. He drew a lot of double teams in College and seemed to deal with them adequately. He would free up lanes for the Chargers’¬†Linebackers¬†to make plays.

19. Chicago Bears (8-8)

Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Roy Williams wasn’t the answer last season and is the wrong side of 30 whilst Earl Bennett doesn’t wow you and Devin Hester will likely never be a true threat at the position. If DeCastro or Glenn fell this far, what with moving OL coach Mike Tice to coordinator, it might be worth taking a shot at a Guard at this spot however, all those that provide value int he first round are gone. Cutler needs a play maker and Floyd gives you that. A physical athlete who,¬†whilst¬†being a little inconsistent with his hands, can go up and snag a ball and be the play maker that Cutler so sorely lacks. His physicality will suit the Bears’ style well who will look to utilise Matt Forte coming off of a career year. Potential off-field issues could turn some teams off of Floyd but I don’t realistically see him falling further than the Bears.

20. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Not many see Kendall Wright falling this far so, despite the need for a pass rush which ranked extremely low last season, the Titans can’t turn down a new weapon for future Quarterback Jake Locker. Kendall Wright would compliment Kenny Britt nicely. There is a potential need at both DE/OLB and DB so do not be surprised with a deep WR class to see the Titans shore up their defense with their top pick.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)

Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

The Bengals, having already added to their Running Back corps with a nice commodity in Chris Polk who will help them run on the aggressive defenses of the AFC North, add a stud Center with the versatility to play across the Offensive Line to pave the way for him and protect their franchise QB. The Bengals will be happy with where their defense is at but will look for a potential Corner/Safety also so could potentially use this pick here. However, with some of the top interior linemen already off of the board, this pick will be hard to turn down.

22. Cleveland Browns (via Atlanta Falcons) (4-12)

Alshon Jefferey, WR, South Carolina

The Browns have already given their QB Colt McCoy a stud RB to take some of the pressure away from him and now they look to give him a big weapon at WR. Jefferey¬†possesses elite size/build and insane ball skills with great hands and the ability to adjust his body well to the ball. There are some question marks about his route running ability coming out of South Carolina where he wasn’t renowned for¬†running¬†the most complex NFL routes, however he won’t be asked to do too much for McCoy who is still developing. He doesn’t possess elite speed but can use his physicality to gain separation well.

23. Detroit Lions (10-6)

Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Detroit could use some interior Offensive Line help so if a player presents some value at the Guard position, I expect them to lap it up. However, the Lions had a leaky pass defense and with a stellar Defensive Line in the making they need a corner who can really shut down a team’s¬†key¬†receiver. Gilmore played mostly zone in College so will need to prove his worth in man-on-man. He breaks on the ball very well and has excellent instincts and discipline when in zone coverage. There are strength concerns when matching up¬†against¬†bigger NFL receivers. Smart player who can locate the ball well. He will go a long way to helping a secondary which struggled throughout the 2011 season and is one of the main reasons they were unable to make a solid playoff run. His height is a great advantage down field.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

The¬†Steelers¬†could look to shore up a number of positions with this pick. They could use some help at Guard and Tackle and even Linebacker however, they choose to add some youth to an aging defense that saw them struggle in last season’s Wildcard defeat to the Broncos. With Chris Hoke facing potential retirement and Casey Hampton, who has held up the center of LeBeau’s 3-4 for the¬†past¬†decade, will undergo ACL surgery this off-season and is also turning 35. Poe presents a great opportunity for them to groom Hampton’s replacement and he¬†possesses¬†surprising speed and movement which could lead to versatility in 4 man sub package fronts.

25. Denver Broncos (8-8)

Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

The Broncos possess a pair of great edge rushers in Miller and Dumervil but fail to get consistent pressure up the middle. There are some question marks about his ability to stop the run however his explosiveness off of the snap will collapse pockets and create nightmares for opposing Quarterbacks. What he lacks a little in technique he makes up for in strength which will help him shed blocks and play the run. Worthy will help fill a hole which John Fox has been seeking to fill for a while now, help disrupt the pocket and will bring the team a step closer to improving their rushing defense.

26. Houston Texans (10-6)

Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers

The Texans caught a glimpse of what life without Andre Johnson will be like and when he missed 9 games in the 2011 season due to hamstring issues, Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter were unable to get it done. They could seek a 2-gap Defensive Tackle to help add to their much improved defense of last season however they need to urgently address WR and get some youth there with Andre Johnson the wrong side of 30. Sanu provides a smart and versatile player who is able to play inside and out and is a good, crisp route runner. He has issues with his hands and tends to let the ball get too close to his body at times which results in the odd drop but these are issues that can be coached out of him. The fact he transitioned from a Safety to WR so fast in college is a testament to his athleticism and smarts. His elite size and arm length will cause problems for the best corners in the league. Another prospect I would like if he fell to the Patriots in the right spot.

27. New England Patriots (via New Orleans Saints) (13-3)

Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

The Patriots saw veteran free agent additions Mark Anderson and Andre Carter both register double digit sack seasons however their pass rush still had its inconsistencies and Andre Carter’s age, combined with surgery on a Quad injury sustained in the 2011 season, will be a large concern. The Patriots have yet to find that explosive,¬†dominant¬†pass rusher and they find it in Mercilus. The Patriots have turned to a hybrid defense and will likely stick with it as the spread becomes more¬†prominent¬†in the NFL. Mercilus could be an ideal 5-technique DE but may not be an every down player just yet. He needs to add some bulk and improve in defending the run. Cannot question the kid’s motor…great work ethic…someone Bill Belichick would appreciate in his locker room. He will have an impact right away.

28. Green Bay Packers (15-1)

Fletcher Cox, DT/DE, Mississippi State

Despite having Clay Mathews on their side, the Packers ranked 27th in sacks this year in the NFL. They are going to need an explosive DE to help set the edge and pave the way for Green Bay’s Linebackers to make¬†more¬†plays on the Quarterback. Cox could stand to add a little more weight¬†and¬†is capable. He adds a versatility which could see him play in sub packages also.¬†¬†He can command double teams with his explosiveness, ideal for a 3-4 end, however needs to work on his pass rush moves as he is not the most gifted in that area. Either way, Cox will go a long way towards helping the packers solve those defensive issues and make life easier on Aaron Rodgers. The Pack could use some help at OLB so look for Nick Perry to be a potential option; an explosive player projected as a 3-4 OLB, but has big question marks for me over whether or not he can transition to LB or play with his hand in the dirt int eh NFL…not as versatile as some. Offensive Line is something to watch for also, but probably¬†won’t present¬†value for them here.

29. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)

Dont’A Hightower, LB, Alabama

Saban’s defense will really leave a mark in this year’s draft class. Not expected to fall this low, the Ravens will not be able to pass this guy up. Failing Hightower being available in this spot, the next best option at Linebacker will be Vontaze Burfict. Burfict¬†has¬†major off-field issues and could be a liability in the NFL therefore he could drop well into the second round. With Ray Lewis ageing, the Ravens are looking for a guy who can be groomed to make an impact. Hightower has a great deal of versatility to play in 34, 43 and 42 fronts with his hand in the dirt and the Ravens, who mix in a lot of hybrid with their base schemes nowadays, will look to this guy to wreak havoc in Ray Lewis’ place. The team could also do with safety helpo to replace the ageing Ed Reed, and Mark Barron may well still be available in this spot also. Offensive Line help may also be considered here.

30. San Francisco 49ers 13-3

Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Yet another Tackle goes in the first round. The 49ers Offensive Line struggled at times when protecting Alex Smith in 2011 and I expect them to re-sign the free agent Quarterback who did enough to prove himself as a good enough game manager for the team. They could decide to provide him with a new weapon at WR in this spot also, or maybe even take a physical corner to add to their already stellar defense. Protect Alex Smith, give him more time and the former first overall pick will deliver even better in key situations.

31. New England Patriots (13-3)

Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Alfonzo Dennard is a guy I like for the Patriots, but could see him getting snagged up early. This guy does not one thing great, but a lot of things well. He has the size and speed to be¬†physical¬†and keep up with outside receivers and can flourish in zone coverage. He has the potential to rotate to Free Safety with his size and come up and cover a slot receiver or TE. One of the more underrated prospects for me. This guy will help lock down a Patriots secondary which struggled consistently in 2011. Dennard has the ability to be flexible in the team’s new hybrid scheme but I think he has the potential to transition well into a shutdown corner in the NFL. He has the size, aggression and technique combined with speed to keep up with some of the League’s top targets. He brings leadership and energy to a secondary which desperately needs it.

32. New York Giants (9-7)

Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

Stanford and Alabama have really stolen the show in this first round. The Giants lost both their TEs, Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to ACL tears in the Super Bowl, leaving 3rd stringer Bear Pascoe as the lone player at the position. With¬†questions¬†over whether either of these players will now be ready come opening kickoff, this becomes a high priority. The hybrid TE out of Stanford, one of Luck’s favourite targets, is their man. An Aaron Hernandez type player, he will bring a great deal of versatility to their offense and will be able to line up out in the slot and create mismatches for the best cover safeties. This pick will only make Manning better as they join ranks with the teams investing high picks in these versatile players.

That concludes mock draft (version 1). You will notice I have left Nick Perry off of the list; that is because I have concerns over his ability to transition into an effective 3-4 OLB in the NFL and question his versatility. He could slide down the board easily with his undersized frame and less-then-elite length. He has little experience as a 3-4 OB and therefore that could be a tough transition into the NFL. I could see him in a Ninkovich type role potentially somewhere.

Mark Barron is also not on¬†my¬†first¬†round draft board but he will land somewhere…the Jets (16), the Patriots (27 & 31), the Ravens (29) and the Giants (32) could all use safety help. Barron is a the best of a poor class and I do think his talents are a little overrated. If you want another safety who struggles to cover in the slot and TEs, then he’s your man. He will be reached for and taken high if teams feel he is their best option.

UPDATE: Mark Barron underwent¬†double¬†hernia surgery recently and¬†will miss the combine. Could hurt his stock…but he may recover in time to fit in a pro day.

Please feel free to leave your comments and own analysis.

Like what you read? Check out the rest of my blog ’4th & Long’ for more! If you would like to comment and offer your insight into this article, feel free to leave your thoughts! You can follow me on twitter; @DamoJarrett

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Damien Jarrett’s Mock Draft Picks 1-16 V1

Now the dust is finally settling on the Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl 46, it’s time to move on and start forgetting about the 2011 season – which you can bet your bottom dollar that Bill¬†Belichick¬†and the team’s coaching staff will be already doing.

I find huge comfort after such a deflating defeat in scouting out the NFL’s future talent and have spent the last few days going back over my rankings and other team’s draft needs in order to¬†compile¬†my first mock draft.

Over the course of the off season leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, I will update my mocks and write about prospects I feel will fit the Patriots’ system in 2012. Now to start things off, do not buy the mediot hype; the Patriots do not run a sole 4-3 or 3-4 defense. They never did this season and they likely never will in the near future. It’s a hybrid, typically a 3-3 personnel, and it is becoming favoured more and more in today’s modern game due to it’s versatility, a versatility I believe will¬†reflect¬†in the players that Belichick¬†chooses¬†to draft this season. In the off season I will be writing about the hybrid and what it does for you but, in short, it allows you to play a number of looks without having to really substitiute your players on the field…it’s an ideal formation to counter the spread offenses which are being used predominantly in High School and College, and that are now filtering through to the NFL. It produced mixed results in the team’s first real year of using it and I think that, with the right acquisitions, we will see this defense come along leaps and bounds.

However, enough talk of that, that’s for another time. Here is my 2012 Mock Darft V1 to start off the New England Patriots’ off season:

1. Indianapolis Colts (2-14)

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

This is a no brainer pick. The Colts have revamped their Front Office and their coaching staff and, with a new offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians who did a tremendous job with¬†Ben¬†Roethlisberger, they’ll look to give him a new developmental challenge. Considered to be the most NFL ready Quarterback to enter the draft since their very own Peyton Manning, it makes sense to look past their future Hall of Fame QB and move on with a new era. The free cap space will help them rebuild, as there are more areas of need than just this position.

2. St. Louis Rams (2-14)

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Sam Bradford has yet to be given a true play maker to help with his development after a strong rookie campaign which saw the traditional sophomore¬†slump¬†undermine it. With the loss of McDaniels and likely Brandon Lloyd to Fee Agency, he will need a down field threat to play with and help free up some of the pressure on Steven Jackson in the ground game. They could also seek some Offensive Line help at Tackle if they wish to keep their franchise healthy; the WR position is deep and they could seek to tackle this area elsewhere in the draft. Look for the Rams to¬†trade¬†out of this spot also…teams courting Robert Griffin III may wish to trade up into a higher position and the team may have an opportunity to cement further picks to rebuild their team with.

3. Minnesota Vikings (3-13)

Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Vikings saw nice potential in 2011 second round pick Christian Ponder when they put the rookie Quarterback in in place of Donovan McNabb almost midway through the NFL season. However, when pressured (wich turned out to be quite often) he looked like a deer in the headlights, finishing the season with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He found himself injured also which leads me to believe that Matt Kalil of USC would be the perfect pick to help protect their future franchise QB. The team may also look at a WR at this stage in the draft to give their young prospect some weapons and may also seek to trade out of this spot to teams interested in bringing in a QB for themselves.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Trent Richardson is a much more complete Running Back then his predecessor out of Alabama, Mark Ingram, who was drafted in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. With questions over whether or not Peyton Hillis will be returning, RB has become a need for a team which really lacks weapons on offense. Don’t be surprised to see a WR drafted in this spot either. Some may link RG3 to this team however I feel that McCoy needs to be given one more season with some weapons at his disposal. If Peyton Hillis does return, then you could see a two back approach implemented here…the same two back approach which can make the Giants running¬†attack¬†so prolific at times.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)

Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

LSU appears to be a prime source for NFL caliber Corners right now and Claiborne makes the perfect sense for a team who could very well lose Ronde Barber this off season; a free agent who is 36 and has put his best year behind him. Claiborne would really help solidify a secondary and would compliment Aqib Talib over on the other side quite nicely. Another team picking high with a young QB in Freeman, you may see them seek to add to his arsenal of weapons which already boasts promising WR Mike Williams. If Trent Richardson falls to them, you’d be hard pushed to imagine them passing him over, complimenting LeGarrette Blount nicely in a two back¬†approach¬†discussed above (if you¬†haven’t¬†guessed already, I’m a massive fan of it).

6. Washington Redskins (5-11)

Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Mike Shanahan spent much of the 2011 season juggling the Quarterback position between John Beck and Rex Grossman. With Grossman also due to be an unrestricted free agent, Quarterback is a glaring need for the the American Capital’s team. If they are unable to get the guy they want at QB, you could expect them to take a corner such as Kirkpatrick, or even help shore up their offensive line with someone such as Reiff. I feel they have seen enough at RB to warrant not wasting a high pick on someone like Richardson if he fell. ¬†Tannehill is a guy I like, with an NFL caliber arm and, if both Luck and RG3 are off the board, they could reach for this guy high up.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)

Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Yet another team with a young QB in Blaine Gabbert. The second year Quarterback needs a good supporting cast around him and it starts with the Offensive Line. Iowa and Kirk Ferentz are¬†renowned for producing solid NFL caliber players on the line and Reiff would be perfect to protect Gabbert and make him more comfortable in the pocket.¬†¬†Whilst they could certainly do with a DE and play maker on defense, it really wasn’t their biggest issue. Look for the Jags to also entertain the idea of a WR in order to help out their second year QB and take some pressure off of Jones-Drew.

8. Carolina Panthers (6-10)

Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Panthers were forced to start two rookie Defensive Tackles during last season to due injuries and you can’t argue¬†against¬†a move to draft in a DE/DT to beef up their line however, the Panthers got themselves caught playing¬†catch-up¬†more often than not and a shut down corner is what they need to help keep the score down and¬†make¬†things easier for¬†second¬†year QB Cam Newton. Kirkpatrick is their man. If the team were to go down the DL route, Quinton Coples would be perfect to rush off of the edge and wreak havoc on that Carolina defense….something they have lacked since Julius Peppers parted ways with¬†them. However, with his elite height and good size and length, Kirkpatrick¬†has¬†the ability to be that shut down corner in man so many teams desire.

9. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

The Dolphins are another team in need of a potential QB, but not so much so that it warrants this high a pick. I expect them to re-sign Chad Henne and keep Matt Moore in the system, who performed pretty well in Henne’s absence. They need to shore up both the tackle and guard position as well as find themselves a DE who can disrupt the oppositions passing attack. They are rumoured to be making the switch from 3-4 to 4-3 therefore need someone who can go opposite to Cameron Wake. Coples’ style suits this perfectly and a strong showing at the Senior Bowl only helped his stock further.

10. Buffalo Bills (6-10)

Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

This sees the 3rd Alabama player come off of the board. The Bills registered a lowly 29 sacks in the 2011 season and are in dire need of someone who can come in and make an immediate impact. The explosiveness and versatility that Upshaw brings is perfect. He is able to play as an OLB in the 3-4 or play with his hand down in sub packages. The Bills moved away a little from the 3-4 and mixed in a little more 4-3 and sub, however I expect them to revert back with this pick.

11. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)

Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

With both Barry Richardson and Ryan O’Callaghan, their 1-2 tandem at tackle, both becoming free agents in 2012, OT becomes a glaring need and one which they must address quickly. Jonathan Martin helped protect Andrew Luck’s blind side whilst at Stanford which could be a positive or work against him…great QBs often make their linemen look better. Most scouts project Martin to be best suited on the right size and believe he has the strength and brain to do so. RB is also a glaring need for this team so don’t be amazed to see one picked up, especially if Trent Richardson is still available; Thomas Jones isn’t getting any younger and Jamaal Charles is coming off of major knee surgery…there is a huge question mark over the running game of the Chiefs.

12. Seattle Seahawks (7-9)

Michael Brockers, DT/DE, LSU

The Seahawks have free agent concerns on the Defensive Line (primarily DE) and will look to bolster it high in the draft. Brockers is raw in some areas when it comes to rushing the passer but his elite size, frame and strength will bring him up the draft board and his versatility to play inside and outside of the defensive line will attract teams. The Seahawks are not set at QB, but Tannehill will be a reach this high after his foot injury and, after reasonable success in the regular season, need to make moves which can make them get better right now. A QB could be a target in free agency.

13. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

With Deuce Lutui being a free agent, David DeCastro could come right in and start at guard and would also be an immediate upgrade over Rex Hadnot. The Cardinals’ rushing attack was a mediocre 24th in the NFL and they¬†will¬†look to potentially resign Chester Taylor and have him and Beanie Wells run behind their brand new Guard. They could also do with a WR to compliment Fitzgerald on the opposite side and Kendall Wright would be the perfect fit.

14. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

The secondary of Dallas was a glaring weak spot in the 2011 season and they need a corner who they can trust whilst Rob Ryan gets creative with his blitzes. Jenkins makes up for what he lacks in height with his aggressiveness and quickness and is ideal to prevent those big plays that killed the team so often. They have other needs along the Offensive Line and could be in the market for a guard like DeCastro if he fell to them. DE could also be a potential need to help pave the way for Ware.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)

Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

The Eagles struggled to stop the run immensely in the 2011 season and Kuechly should land to them on a plate with them licking their lips. Whilst not the most athletic LB to come out into the draft, he is a tackle machine and has more tackles than any college Linebacker in the country…he’s coming out as a Junior I should add. He has won every award you can think of and is touted as one of the most productive and NFL ready Linebackers to come into the draft in a long time. He can come in and have an impact right away. No brainer pick. With question marks hanging over DeSean Jackson, they may be in the¬†market¬†for a WR like Kendall Wright, but their need on defense takes over anything else.

16. New York Jets (8-8)

Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia

The Jets have serious question marks hanging over Offensive Guard and with David DeCastro already off of the board, Cordy Glenn gets taken slightly sooner than anticipated. He has excellent size, long arms and a good anchor which enables him to take on pass blockers extremely well. He surprisingly athletic for his size which can enable him to pull effectively and get into the second level. The Jets run game declined heavily last season however Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight will be adequate enough behind a better offensive line which should also give Sanchez the extra time he needs to be an adequate NFL Quarterback.

I haven’t included any trades in the first half of my mock draft and nor will I in the second. The Rams and Vikings¬†will¬†certainly entertain trade offers from teams searching for a QB however, unless Miami feel a decisive need, I don’t see it. I expect the Browns to stick with McCoy and that will allow the Redskins to pick up Robert Griffin III. Tannehill will fall most likely to the second round after his foot injury, although a team may reach into the late first round if needs must.

Check out the second half of my mock draft, and feel free to comment and debate my choices!

Like what you read? Check out the rest of my blog ’4th & Long’ for more! If you would like to comment and offer your insight into this article, feel free to leave your thoughts! You can follow me on twitter; @DamoJarrett

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Should the Patriots Trade Wes Welker?

I understand that most Patriots fans are going to look at the title of this post and immediately jump straight on me, but hear me out first.

The Patriots are known for their business like approach and have never been afraid to cut ties with someone they feel could have long term negative implications on the cap. Look at former Patriots Lawyer Milloy and Richard Seymour as examples over the years of fan favorites that head coach Bill Belichick has cut or traded without even batting an eyelid during his tenure here. He is constantly thinking three, sometimes four years down the line and it is the reason the Patriots have been able to sustain their success and beat the newly devised, modern NFL system on a consistent basis.

Here is where I sweeten the pot for you…and this is the only situation in which I would ever entertain the thought of letting Wes Welker go…in his place, the¬†team¬†signs Mario Williams. Williams is likely to walk as a free agent and¬†with¬†the Houston Texans unable to afford the cap hit from the Franchise Tag, it’s nearly impossible that they can afford to pay him even a “home town” discount and bring him back in 2012. Williams missed eleven¬†games¬†with a torn pectoral muscle in 2011, which may concern some, yet the team didn’t seem to skip a beat in defense. You could argue they steadily improved further without him as the season wore on; Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin did a fine job rushing the passer and J.J. Watt had a solid rookie campaign at DE. Over his five year career, Williams has racked up 53.0 sacks and 241 tackles.


The offseason should be interesting for Patriots receiver Wes Welker. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

So let’s just say we entertain the thought of moving on from Welker and then bringing a defensive play maker like Williams in. The first question and easily¬†the¬†most important is this: can you replace the production left by Welker leaving? The 2011 All-Pro Wide Receiver caught over 100 balls for the fourth time in his five year¬†career¬†as a New England Patriot for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. That’s a lot of production. My answer, however, is yes we can. Someone rightfully pointed out to me on Twitter that the 2009 Baltimore playoff loss showed us what life without Welker could look like. However, this is a different team thanks to the emergence of the tight end position here in New England.

Welker is playing more of a traditional split end for the Patriots right now than he is slot receiver, which isn’t ideal for his 5’9″, 185lb frame. I have often wondered whether this has actually hurt the Patriots against more aggressive defenses, and one of my biggest criticisms of the receiver is his struggles against press coverage. To beat the Patriots right now all you really need to do is clog the middle and bump Welker to¬†throw¬†the timing off of his routes with Brady. Once you’ve done that, if your front three or four is good enough, you can feel comfortable with keeping up with this team’s high powered offense. This is why we have seen the emregence of a real need for a deep threat who can go down the field and not just over the middle.

So who lines up in the slot? Namely Hernandez, Gronkowski and Edelman when called upon. The Patriots do like to use Welker in motion to get him lined up in the slot, but it’s not an every down¬†occurrence. I feel that Hernandez, who caught 79 balls for 910 yards and seven touchdowns, could work well with Edelman who, when called upon, has seemed to fill Welker’s shoes more than adequately. He was arguably our best player against Baltimore in in the 2009 playoffs filling in for the injured Wes Welker. Slot receivers aren’t hard to replace, however, it isn’t easy to find that elite split end who can open up the field for you. They haven’t had much luck in developing that position, which has been shown by the team’s inability to draft an effective down field threat.

The Patriots could tag Welker, however the cap hit would be $9.4 million of the estimated $20¬†million¬†that the Patriots will have free at the start of the year. You could argue he is worth that for one more year, but does the team want to swallow it? The Patriots must put aside $5 million for rookie salaries and sign other key free agents also. They have to ask themselves a similar question as to the above and think about long term cap implications of signing him to a big,¬†lucrative¬†deal. “Is he worth the money? – and – “Can we replace him?” They could sign a front heavy deal of three or four years, however, when talking about the cap you have to consider other factors.

The team has Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins and Tom Brady all signed up in long term deals and, with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both due pay days before free agency in 2014, you have to think about signing these two very young prospects as well. Would it be good to have so much money tied up in just your offense?

If the Patriots can indeed fill the void, then believe they must potentially tag Welker and then seek a trade. It’s also a case of “get what you can while you still can”. Right now you could get value picks for a trade involving Welker, but in a couple of years you will¬†struggle¬†to get much more than a fourth rounder…if that. If the team can make up the production then it seems logical to think towards the future even further by adding to the abundance of draft picks they already possess. I will even argue that Welker has been a product of the system (feel free to jump on me now) in which the Patriots have managed to get a lot of receivers to thrive out of. After all, it has had its failures, but what team hasn’t? The team has an elite quarterback who can get these guys the ball and a potential future replacement who needs younger weapons developed for him and soon.

The wide receiver position is already a need in the draft and free agency, so to wait to fill the void could eventually make that need become even greater. I don’t think there has ever been a ¬†better time to try and move on from your ageing, leading receiver. The free agent market is full of receivers who could become perfect fits in the Patriots system and the draft has huge depth in this class also. There are three names that stand out to me: Robert Meachem, Brandon Lloyd, and Reggie Wayne are in the free agent market. Granted Wayne is older than Welker, but he would be a cheaper option and could fit in right away after so many successful -and durable – years in the¬†Indianapolis¬†Colts’ intricate offensive system under Peyton Manning. My favorite by far is Meachem at 27 years old, 6’2″ and 212 lbs. He has the elite height and speed in order to spread the field perfectly for the team at split end. In the draft I would look at either Mohamed Sanu or even Juron Criner who are two less speedy receivers but guys who run precise,¬†crisp¬†routes and¬†possess¬†good hands and football knowledge with good size.

The next issue with bringing in fresh receivers is can you make up for the relationship that Welker shares with Brady? Again, I think the answer is “yes” and that lies in Deion Branch. Branch¬†caught¬†51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 and has¬†showed¬†since returning that he still has the route running capability and chemistry with Brady that he possessed prior to being traded away in 2006. He would be that veteran who teaches whichever rookie the Patriots might choose to draft. Ultimately, in this situation, I think it would be the end of Chad Ochocinco, Johnson or whatever you want to call him nowadays. Branch would be signed to a veteran’s minimum (with a little bit added on potentially) and if they got a similar production out of him, it would be deemed a big success.

Now let’s talk about Mario Williams. Despite his injury, at 27 years old he should heal up pretty well and be good to go for the long term future. The Patriots really lack a playmaker/disruptive defensive lineman who can take their defense up a notch. Williams has shown he can fit the team’s versatile new hybrid scheme by moving from a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB under Wade Philips’ regime in Houston and he has the size, speed and ability to become the best in the league, if he isn’t there already.

The cons are that he’s going to demand top money for his position. You may convince him to take a little less with the chance of a ring but ultimately you have to expect to be paying him in the range of at¬†least¬†$10 million. It’s pretty impossible to sign both he and Welker, so you’ve got to make do with one and I would¬†argue¬†that while we can fill the void and survive on offense without #83, the defense desperately needs the boost Williams would provide. It would make this team massively better without a doubt and we could see a shift back to the early dynasty days where our defense was feared by everyone.

A big signing like this would still take up a lot of cap room, cap room which the team may not see justifiable for a soon-to-be 31 year old receiver. So again the team needs to ask itself if it can handle the hit, justify the signing financially and still sign other important free agents coming off of your team. I believe you can. Under the new CBA you are allowed to carry over the remaining cap space you had from the previous season with no catch what-so-ever. The only requirement is the owner must state exactly how much and sign for it no later than 14 days prior to the start of the season, meaning that requests must be submitted by 28th February this year. The Patriots have $6.7 million free in which they can carry over to 2012 if they wish to.

The advantage to signing Williams would potentially prevent you from needing to sign a defensive end high which would enable you to hit skill positions such as receover at #27 or #31 in the first round. He solves the need long term and, if he is able to walk freely from Houston, would not require wasting a draft pick and therefore you can address other key needs such as receiver, cornerback or safety.

So to sum up the scenario; tag Welker, trade him away, sign Mario Williams long term and shore up that defensive front for the next three to four years with an additional draft pick. Make up for Welker by resigning Branch and bringing in an experienced free agent with a draft acquisition high and using the Tight Ends as we have done for the past two years.

I think we can replace Wes Welker. The tight ends will fit in fine over the middle and Edelman can fill a role if need be while bringing in a player like Lloyd, Wayne or Meachem will give the team that down the field threat which Welker doesn’t bring to the table as a split end. A further draft pick would solidify the future of the position with a hit in the first round of the draft who would benefit greatly from the experience of someone like Deon Branch. Signing Williams would be an instant upgrade on defense which is easily the team’s major concern right now, whereas I believe they can move on on offense without Welker.

It would be a tough,¬†business-like¬†decision¬†to trade Welker away but not one that would surprise me. The Patriots could opt to re-sign Welker, however I don’t feel it would be practical for a long term lucrative deal to be offered. It would certainly be beneficial to the offense if they were to be able to sign him to a home town discount which isn’t out of the realm of possibility. What you have to look at is not the production of last season, but potential production down the line. Just how many more hits can Welker take and how long can he line up outside as he gets older?

These are all questions that need to be asked and it isn’t as straight forward a business decision as some may think, however easy it may seem with your hearts.

Like what you read? Check out the rest of my blog ’4th & Long’ for more! If you would like to comment and offer your insight into this article, feel free to leave your thoughts! You can follow me on twitter; @DamoJarrett

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