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Join Date: Sep 2004
Re: Football Outsiders -- Draft Review of AFC East
New England Patriots
Following a season of firsts, it was only fitting that the Patriots would have a draft of firsts as well. For the first time since 2001, New England had a pick in the top ten. For the first time ever, Bill Belichick used a first-round pick on a linebacker. For the first time in a while, the Pats didn’t seem to be a step ahead of the rest of the league. It started before the Pats were even on the clock. There were multiple rumors that the team was interested in moving ahead of the Jets to secure Ohio State pass rusher Vernon Gholston, but when Glenn Dorsey unexpectedly became available, the Chiefs proved unwilling trade partners. Unhappy to be picking seventh in what was generally perceived to be a six-player draft, the Pats traded down with New Orleans, then stayed put at ten and selected Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo. Mayo, a first-team All-SEC performer, was making a late move up the boards, but not many people would have guessed he would end up in the top ten. He played outside for three years before moving inside his senior season, so he has the kind of versatility Belichick prefers, but he’s undersized for any of the 3-4 linebacker spots.
Cornerback was a screaming need, and general manager Scott Pioli addressed it in the second round by selecting Colorado’s Terrence Wheatley, an Ellis Hobbs clone who had a lot of trouble staying healthy, and then again in the fourth round with the selection of Auburn’s Jonathan Wilhite. There were higher rated corners available, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder in the middle rounds, as the question of how a player fits a system generally trumps raw ability. Continuing with the overhaul of the back seven, Pioli selected Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable in the third round and Nebraska’s Bo Ruud in the seventh. Crable has ideal size to play on the outside, and nearly a third of his recorded tackles went for losses, so he’s comfortable playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Rudd is the brother of Tampa’s Barrett Ruud, but if he’s going to stick on an NFL roster, it will be for his special teams ability.
The two offensive selections were both head-scratchers. Kevin O’Connell is an intriguing quarterback prospect with some upside; the Patriots do have the reigning NFL MVP lining up under center, however, so there’s not much chance that this third-round pick will see the field in the next few seasons. It’s the kind of pick that could pay off big down the road, but O’Connell will need to demonstrate that he is significantly better than players like Erik Ainge or Andre’ Woodson, who were taken in the fifth and sixth rounds, if he is to justify the use of such a high pick. New England traded up in the fifth to make sure they got UCLA receiver Matthew Slater. Slater is the son of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, so clearly the Patriots were banking on bloodlines with their later round picks, but it was still surprising to see them trade up for a receiver who has spent most of his college career playing on the defensive side of the ball and who didn’t seem to be a guy that other teams were targeting at that point in the draft. Slater’s primary value is as a kick return man, and the pick was probably made with that in mind.
While the two corners should help restore some depth, the lack of size at the position could end up being a real problem. Young blood at strong safety is also a must, as Rodney Harrison is getting old enough to require carbon dating. After the Giants soundly whipped the New England offensive line in the Super Bowl, there was some thinking that the team might add a lineman or two to compete on the right side, but it would have been more luxury than necessity. More young bodies at receiver, at running back and at linebacker would be welcome, but again, there’s no reason to feel uncomfortable with what is on the roster now. (The team did go 18-1, after all.)
Undrafted Free Agents
Center Ryan Wendell is the latest product of the pipeline from Pat Hill and Fresno State to New England. Wendell was a four-year starter at both center and guard, so if he sticks he could provide depth at two positions. Chris Gould, the younger brother of Bears kicker Robbie Gould, was signed to give Stephen Gotkowski some competition in camp (and so the Patriots could cover all their bases in the acquisition of relatives of current or former NFL players). Linebacker Vincent Redd started off playing for Al Groh at Virginia before being dismissed from the team for undisclosed reasons, so he transferred to Liberty College. At 6-5, 263 pounds, he’s got terrific size to go along with 4.6 speed, so whatever bad things Groh had to say about Redd weren’t likely to dissuade the Patriots from having a look-see.
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