A poster that I respect posted this on another board. I asked to use it and it stimulated a lot of conversation there. Perhaps it will do so here too.
The position that many of us identified as a big need to replace was DE/OLB, specifically the spot that Willie McGinest played on the strong side. This spot is for the athletic freaks. The main responsibility for the SSOLB (strong-side OLB) is to read what the TE is doing on that side of the ball and determine the course of action as a result. Willie's job was to figure out if the TE was runblocking, passblocking, or going out on a route. As a result, that guy has to have the skill to stay with TEs underneath, take on TEs/RTs on runblocking plays, and also rush the passer. As a result, you need a player with great intelligence, size, speed, and strength. The ideal size is 6-5, 275, with good power rushing skills. Speed is important, but size and strength are necessities.
McGinest was not the fastest guy ever, but he had great instincts, size, and strength. Many people were looking to take Lawson at 21 instead of Maroney. The thing about your 1st pick in the draft is that he should not just be a talented player, but he should also fit the prototypical size and athleticism for your system at the position you are going to play him. Look at all our 1st rounders- Seymour is the prototypical 3-4 DE, Graham the prototypical TE, Warren the prototypical 3-4 DE, Wilfork the prototypical 3-4 NT, etc. etc. Maroney, at 5'11, 215 (and the frame to grow) has that protypical RB body frame and athleticism you look for with your 1st round pick. Ernie Sims might've been a great player, but he lacks the body to fit in our system; even if he fell to us it would not be wise to try to fit a square peg in a round hole, even if that square peg is a great player in general.
Lawson, while a freak athletically, does not fit that SSOLB/"Elephant OLB" role that we need. If we were looking to replace Rosie Colvin at the other OLB spot, he'd have been perfect. The fact is, though, he lacked the size to play SSOLB for us- even by bulking up, he's never going to be a good run defense OLB, and he's never going to have the strength to beat overwhelming RTs. Like I said, in the 1st you take guys with great athleticism AND the right body frame for the role you are drafting him for.
So why does Belichick like to wait around forever to draft LBs?? Because he likes to use former undersized DEs to play OLB. Colvin, Bruschi, Vrabel, and McGinest were all former DEs who converted to LB, and only McGinest was a high pick. The thing is that you can find really athletic DE 'tweeners' late in the draft because they are great talents, but lack the body frame to be drafted early (see earlier where I talk about how the 1st round picks are ahtletic freaks AND have great body frames).
Other than the fact that guys who fit our body type for OLB slip due to the stigma of being 'undersized' in traditional 4-3 systems, the added benefit of drafting OLBs late is that you can let them develop slowly. Like I noted earlier, the SSOLB has many physical and mental responsibilities, and it takes a long time for even a veteran to learn all them. Late round picks can take time to develop on the practice field, and since they are late picks, you don't have to pay them much while they are learning, and if they don't pan out it isn't a big bust (whereas a flop in round 1 can really screw your franchise for years- see Detroit's problem with Harrington).
So in summation, the Patriot's system in the 3-4 requires that the strong-side OLB (aka- elephant OLB) have the size to take on blockers, and the intelligence to read plays very well. The former ruled out Lawson; at 245, he lacks the frame to grow into that elephant OLB spot. As for the latter, low round picks tend to work out because there is not a need at their cost to play them right away. They are allowed to develop slowly, while 1st rounders are put right in the fire.
At OLB, a rookie would get killed with all their responsibilities. While it's frustrating to have to wait around, the good news is we have a guy waiting in the wings named Tully Banta Cain to fill in. With good size at 260 pounds and the time to grow into the role, he is ready to start. It's not sexy, but he has been given an open spot to fill in, and I think he has as good an opportunity to play well at OLB than any OLB we could have drafted, including Lawson.
I thought I'd write this though to be able to show to people WHY we didn't take Lawson, and why we took Maroney over Williams. Maroney and Williams are both supreme athletes, but Maroney has the prototypical size to play here. While some had Williams higher, Maroney was not very far behind for those people, and Maroney's classic size for our system overwhelms any slight talent discrepancy.
While there is no one exact mold for a player, in the 1st round you want to take a guy who 1) has great athletic numbers and 2) has prototypical size for the position you are drafting him at. Laurence Maroney for RB, unlike DeAngelo Williams for RB or Manny Lawson for OLB, had BOTH those qualities- athleticism AND size. Say what you want about him, but Maroney has the size, athleticism, and production to be coveted. Lawson had the athleticism and production, but not the size. Just because he is a tweener does not mean he is the right size for our OLBs, especially McGinest's.
As you move further and further down the draft, you are willing to slide away from those rigid qualities you look for. You can look for great size or great athleticism or great production, but you start to allow things to slide. For Chad Jackson, there were no questions about the athleticism or the size, but the production was not there from year to year (mostly due to multiple system changes, from being recruited by Spurrier to Zook to Meyer). For Thomas, there was the great production but only good size and average athleticism. So and so on, until the late round picks where you just take the best you can get from a pure athletic standpoint.
I just wanted to point out how important it is in the 1st round not to find just athletic freaks, but freaks who can fit your system. Hence, the Maroney pick and not Lawson. The Pats are just one of many teams to do this, but they do well in general because they do a great job of evaluating the type of guys they want for their system. In specifics, we hold out on drafting OLBs until late to get guys who have slid to us but still have the body we want. 260-270 pound DEs might slip in most 4-3 systems, but they are perfect for our 3-4 SSOLB spot. Thus, the Mincey pick- a fine athlete who's undersized as a DE but perfect as a OLB for us- same as what Tully Banta-Cain was.
Other teams do the same thing- Jacksonville likes taking big receivers early and draft DBs late; Indy drafts undersized speed guys early and takes big nasties like OL and DL later. It's where each team determines value in the market for the style of player they want. It's worked remarkably well for the Patriots, and when people evaluate who and where we take players, they need to factor in our style of play and type of players we look for into account.
I thought this was a Superb Analysis. I wanted Manny Lawson even before the season was over, and before Willie left. But then thought that BB/SP don't gamble with first rounders, so I decided that Bobby Carpenter was a safer and thus more logical choice for them to chose.
But the above analysis persuades me.
With this perspective it now makes sense to draft a Jeremy Mincey. He is more than a throw away 6th round conversion without much pass rush ability.
He is the SSOLB, aka LOLB, aka SOLB, who can stop the power run to the strong side. I think Willie 's job was not to cover the TE or RB if they were going out on a route, as much as to chuck them good and hard, and disrupt the timing. His duty was then to hand them off to the guy who would cover them in thier timing disrupted route.
Mincey should be able to accomplish that.
I guess he is the proverbial 2 down OLB; the equivalent to the 2 down TJ-like running down ILB. They will substitute a pass rusher on passing downs, or leave him as a cleanup stay home end. Situational substitution is what BB specializes in, and he may have decided that is the only creditable way to replace a #4 overall pick like Willie with a 2nd day 6th round pick. BB has been quoted to say "..Don't tell me what he can't do. Tell me what he can do..." Mincey is going to be that SOLB who stops the run and then sits when a guy like TBC comes in for the Pass rush...
Great eval AZ. Now I feel alot better about not getting Lawson. Though those Morony highlite videos had me feeling good about our pick anyway.
Another thing about Willie. He could be a mean SOB if your a QB or RB assigned to go out for screens (Think Marshall Faulk)
Willie would do whatever he thought he could get away with. This makes the opposition wary.
The Mincey highlight films have me feeling good also. The guy is an animal!
Supposedly he has leadership qualities also. I hope it works out.
Good post! I read this article as well and thought it was excellent.
Tremendous instructional, AZ !
This is why we come here to learn.
I have a feeling we will be making Mincey out of the opposing offenses.
sounds like they did ok
seems to me the variable is how TBC makes out this year. i really hope he can win the starter spot, 'cause we know BB won't simply give it to him. if TBC doesn't pan out then there'll be a lot of rotating going on. wilfork will feel a little lonely on his left side with no mcginest.
this is definitely 'move on' time, BUT IMO mcginest is a special player. by the way, he was fast when drafted, like in the 4.5s.
willie ray had to learn how to protect himself from leg and back injuries, and he only started to play like a #6 draft pick until about year 5.
that last-second play in indianapolis is one of my all-time jaw-dropping plays. run it back again and again and i still can't figure out how he got to edgerrin that fast. i know what steps he took, but i don't believe it's possible to get around the OT before ol'peyton even hands off the ball.
only SPECIAL players do that stuff. he only has about 2 years left, but wherever he plays they'll be telling willie ray stories.
i can't see who could come in and step into that position.
it may develop that BB has to let go of the elephant concept fot a while.
maybe a veteran pickup in june.
I was here when the Pats drafted Mincey and went through the roof....HUGE steal in the 6th...of course I was assaulted and castigated by the FF crowd , who were all crying that we didn't take any of the LINEBACKERS way up in the draft.
I posted his measurables and drew the immediate comparison to McG...later on the Florida fans appeared and stated the same thing...post after post..."Chad is a great pick but wait until you see what Mincey brings"...in the midst of all this, thread after thread of "We blew it!!! No linebackers!!!Why???THis is not good!!!" began appearing with frequency.
I'm just glad that things have settled and it's starting to dawn on people that we just may have had the best Patriot draft of the BB/Pioli era.
so they are pretty much similar size wise, minceys a little smaller. Athletically they are about the same, and minceys probably a little quicker than Willie is now. The only questions i have about Mincey is, how good are his instincts and how is him only playing 2 years in college going to effect his growth?
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