By: Derek Havens
On Tuesday, I participated in a debate with Bleacher Report’s AFC East writer Erik Frenz. Erik and I spent awhile debating which position the Patriots need to add depth to in this April’s draft. Check out the conversation below. –
Erik: The New England Patriots don’t need to make a lot of major adjustments to their roster, yet the 2012 NFL Draft will allow them to make improvements in some ways. This is a team that was a play or two away from winning Super Bowl XLVI, so what’s the best way to improve?
That’s what the draft is all about for the Patriots. They don’t usually look for guys who can contribute right away, but instead find guys who can be developed into their type of player and work their way up the totem pole.
But exactly which positions are in the most need of depth?
Since you’re the guest, I’ll let you lead us off.
Derek: Thanks for having me, Erik. For starters, I agree. The Patriots are a great football team, but there are some holes to fill on the roster.
From my perspective, positions in need of some young talent would be wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and safety. While I believe the defense needs to be the priority in the upcoming NFL Draft, I would say the offensive line is the biggest position in need of young talent.
As the draft approaches, the offensive line seems to be more of a need than many people originally thought and it would be in New England’s best interest to add some young offensive lineman this April.
Erik: Your list of five positions makes perfect sense, but I’d put safety square at the top of the list right ahead of offensive line.
The Patriots already added Steve Gregory, so you’d think it isn’t as big of a need anymore, but injuries always take their toll. If you take away either Gregory or Patrick Chung, the Patriots are right back where they were last year at the safety position.
On the offensive line, the Patriots at least have some semblance of depth with the likes of Ryan Wendell (25), Nick McDonald (24) and Marcus Cannon (23). All have shown the ability to contribute on some level, and Dante Scarnecchia has worked with less. Eventually, some will have to step in for the likes of Dan Koppen, Brian Waters and Matt Light (who could retire this year), but the Patriots have a program in place that churns out talented offensive linemen.
Behind Chung and Gregory, the safeties consist of Sergio Brown (23), Ross Ventrone (25) and Josh Barrett (28). Never mind the ages, which are also indicative of a need for youth, but just look at the names. None of those guys make me feel good about the depth at safety.
The Patriots gave up over eight yards per attempt through the air in 2011; it was one the worst pass defenses from a statistical standpoint to ever make the Super Bowl, and though they were just a play or two short of winning it all, more depth at safety would give them an even better chance to do so.
Derek: Well, I am certainly not going to argue that the pass defense doesn’t need help. Yes, Gregory was added, but he has been a average player at best throughout his career. I would argue the depth is at safety, and what the team really needs is a reliable, starting caliber player at that position. Unfortunately, Chung cannot stay on the field for a whole season and Gregory is ideally your third safety for depth and certain defensive packages.
Matt Light’s potential retirement could make the offensive line a higher need than originally thought. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
On the offensive line, it’s almost the opposite. Light, Mankins, Connolly, Waters and Solder are all very solid starters, although Light will most likely retire and with Connolly replacing Koppen, the domino effect is your best reserve lineman is now starting at the start of the season. Waters could retire, but I believe he stays around for another year. Robert Gallery was brought in and should provide a high level of value with Waters in question as well as Mankins recovering from last season’s ACL tear.
I just look at the young, developmental lineman Scarnecchia has to work with and don’t see a lot of potential outside of Marcus Cannon. Wendell is awful and he was benched last year. I don’t believe the team needs to invest high on the offensive line, but I believe they should add two young prospects this April; specifically on the interior of the line.
Erik: My thought on it is that if the Patriots are faced with picking either a safety or an offensive linemen in the second or third round, safety should take precedence. Wendell may have been benched, but so was Sergio Brown…in favor of a special teams ace.
The thing about the offensive line is that Scarnecchia has made his reputation on turning no-name prospects like Steve Neal and Dan Koppen into stars. I trust his coaching in that area, and there are enough solid swing men available on the roster. I agree that safety is in need of a starter but the way those starters are discovered is usually by someone working their way up the depth chart. Unless Mark Barron falls to the Patriots at 27, I highly doubt the Patriots will draft a safety who could get on the field as a starter over Gregory, who started 22 games in the past two years.
There are arguments to be made on both sides, but the need for added talent at safety outweighs the offensive line.
Derek: I definitely would be in favor of Mark Barron coming to New England, but after Barron and Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith, the talent level really drops off in this year’s draft. The offensive line, however, is very strong and deep so a quality developmental project could be found in the middle rounds.
The argument can be made for both sides—and I think we would agree that both positions need depth—but we disagree on the priority. In any case, Bill Belichick and New England’s front office has some work to be done this April. Hopefully, the team can address these needs and once again, make a title run next season.
Erik: Looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, Derek, and with that, another great AFC East debate has drawn to a close. I’d like to thank you once again for joining me, and I welcome you back any time for another spirited debate over a Patriots topic.