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April 19, 2003
Draft Weekend Turning Into Huge Mystery
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

Who knows. Maybe Bill Belichick will take two tight ends in the first round.

The Patriots have 13 picks in next Saturday's draft. Everyone on the planet who swears some allegiance to football has made up mock drafts (in some cases, draftniks are on their fourth or fifth revision). Trying to predict who will take whom has taken on an importance that is right up there with the Academy Awards, Super Bowl grids, and which date in 2004 Bill Parcells will want to break away from Jerry Jones.

Belichick held what can best be described as a mockery of a news conference on Wednesday. As is his custom, he spoke lots but said basically nothing. It's not real important that we the fans know what he wants to do next Saturday, but it would be nice if the media's time weren't so wasted every time this coach holds a press conference.

If there be one consensus amongst the Nation, and perhaps the Patriot brain trust also shares in this opinion, it is that the Patriots will go defensive line with at least one of their first round picks. They pick 14th and 19th, with the former coming from Buffalo as the Drew Bledsoe pick. They total seven Day One picks in all (5 of the first 80 picks), with two picks in the third round thanks to a swap with the Redskins and the trade of Tebucky Jones to New Orleans, and an extra fourth round pick thanks to the Terry Glenn trade to Green Bay.

Will they use all 13 picks? Logic and reason say no, because it would be next to impossible to sign all 13 and stay under the salary cap. Several draft strategists have the Patriots trading up in their pursuit of the defensive lineman of their dreams.

The big question remains which positions will Belichick and Scott Pioli target. Going into the offseason, it seemed clear-cut. At present, free agent signings and the Jones trade have changed the dynamics of whom (and where) the Patriots go after. Belichick will target only players who fit the system (versus BAA). It basically comes down to position needs which can be analyzed across the Nation.

The initial opinion of this column was to use picks 14 and 19 on defensive linemen. Draft one whose specialty is run stoppage (nose guard), and then take a terrific pass rusher with the other. The signing of Roosevelt Colvin modified this strategy a bit, in that Colvin looks to be a bookend pass rusher along with Willie McGinest, harkening back to the halcyon days of Chris Slade. The prospect of the Patriots going to a 3-4 alignment next year also plays a factor in draft strategy.

Here is how the Patriot defensive line looks for 2003 as of right now. McGinest and Richard Seymour will likely be the defensive ends. Seymour's speed will be better utilized in an end position rather than a nose tackle position down low. Two draft options here would be Kentucky's Dewayne Robertson (for whom the Patriots would have to trade up into the top 5 to have a shot at) or Seymour's former linemate at Georgia, Johnathan Sullivan (who likely would be available at 14). Penn State's Jimmy Kennedy, who also would need to be grabbed in the top ten, is likely not in Belichick's gunsights for now as it is perceived that Robertson fits Belichick's defensive scheme better.

So, if the Patriots go to a base 3-4, this would set the starting defensive line. Colvin could then play in an outside linebacker position with either Roman Phifer or Mike Vrabel on the other outside position. Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson would handle the middle. McGinest could even be rotated into a linebacker position, with Bobby Hamilton, Anthony Pleasant or Jarvis Green rotated into the other end spot. Adding Colvin and a draftee to the front seven gives great help to what was otherwise an aging and thin corps of defenders. Hamilton, Pleasant and Phifer are graybeards, so perhaps a little more depth added in rounds 3 or 4 (or possibly Day Two) might be in order.

After this position is taken care of, two major issues will come up: secondary depth and running back. The trade of Jones, coupled with the sub-par year of Antowain Smith is causing many sleepless nights for the Patriot brain trust, especially the latter.

The departure of Jones leaves the Patriots without a bona fide starting free safety, unless Victor Green is retained. Rodney Harrison is a natural strong safety, not a free safety. If the Patriots plan to convert him to the free spot, they should be advised that his cover skills are not anywhere near Jones', and likely as poor as Lawyer Milloy's. A high pick used on a free safety might not be a smart move, but this position might need to be addressed at some time on Saturday.

As for running back, all attention is focused on a phenom in south Florida who sustained a horrific knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl in January. Miami running back Willis McGahee had "top five" written all over him until he blew his knee out against Ohio State. This injury has upset a lot of draft plans for NFL teams, and any team willing to take a chance on him at this time faces many caveats, few of them good.

Where to begin? Will McGahee be the same when/if he heals up? If McGahee is drafted far lower than he would have been if healthy and thus is in line to make far less money, would he blow that team off and sit out the year, rehab and enter the draft again in 2004, meaning that the team that took him in '03 wasted a pick on him? If McGahee is somehow ready to play in '03, what percent capacity is he at, and are you risking a more serious injury if he is rushed back too soon?

Like it or not, Belichick is interested in McGahee, as are some other teams as well. The Patriots took an IR back last year (Virginia's Antoine Womack), so they'd be repeating the same tack once again if they nibble on McGahee. Taking a gamble on a potential star like McGahee is as enticing as having one of the Worcester Coors Light twins ask you out on a date. But unlike Red Auerbach drafting Larry Bird a year early in 1978, McGahee is damaged goods right now and probably won't be satisfied until he's able to be a top five pick someday and thus be paid top five money.

Next week, we'll reveal our projections as to which position (as opposed to whom) the Patriots should take in the draft. Given all the Patriot needs at the moment, along with which positions have already been addressed, and what Belichick is saying (and not saying), seven more days to think things over isn't that bad an idea.

Whatever Belichick decides on, they had better be good picks. He still has a slew of busts in Cleveland (and a few here) to live down. The prospects of getting back to the Super Bowl someday may be decided next Saturday. As everyone found out last year, repeating as champs was a lot tougher than anyone ever imagined.

You can rest assured that Belichick won't mind seven more days either.


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