April 24, 2004
Value Rules Over Need Once Again
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- So there were the Patriots, unable to believe the good fortune of Vince Wilfork slipping to 21, sending their fan base into outer space with perhaps the most well received pick of the Bill Belichick Era.
Yet at day's end, the Patriots left everyone scratching their heads and saying to themselves "Calm down, these guys are champs who know what they're doing!"
On the one hand, the Patriots plucked the true successor to Ted Washington, and set the stage for perhaps the best defensive line in the NFL for many years to come. In Wilfork, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour, the Patriots would boast a D-line of all first round picks. The Miami lineman gives away about 30 pounds to Keith Traylor and Washington, but is well suited for the one-gap and can eventually anchor the center of the defensive line like a true nose tackle must be able to do.
Ignoring other needy areas, the Patriots spent their next two picks on Georgia tight end Ben Watson (R1, 32) and LSU defensive end Marquise Hill (R2, 63). The Patriots then went for a reach with Florida safety Guss Scott, a projected seventh rounder whom the Patriots grabbed at the end of the third round. Defensive back was an area of some need, but Scott wasn't on anyone's radar screen.
The first impression one might get is that the Patriots seemed to be going for depth right away in round one as opposed to going for offensive line, linebacker or defensive back help. When a championship team is able to do this, these picks are called "luxuries". The only question is whether need or luxury was the correct tack to take on Saturday.
ESPN could not praise the Patriots enough for drafting smart players who will make a great team even greater. For those folks who follow the Patriots a bit closer than these television "experts" do, there was more skepticism than praise. It seemed that the euphoria over the Wilfork pick was completely gone by the end of the second round, as Belichick and Pioli went after areas that really needed no attention at all.
This is not to say that Watson and Hill were bad choices. This is only to say that these two men don't fill need areas, and despite being a deep championship team, there are some need areas on the Patriots that exist. It's just that more defensive linemen and tight ends aren't at all what the team needs at this time. As for Scott, Belichick might see something in this guy that nobody does, one can only assume.
Naturally, Patriot Nation has to think back to February 3, 2004, and that lovely victory parade in downtown Boston. There was Pioli and Belichick right up front, clutching not one but two Vinces. Moral of the story: These guys know what they are doing, and the Nation has no clue. Bill and Scott put a winner on the field, and it is the job of the Nation to buy tickets and cheer, nothing else.
That's what they think. Here's to free speech.
Ignoring needs on the offensive line and linebacker, the Patriots took two defensive ends, a tight end and a low-rated safety. This likely means that Belichick likes Russ Hochstein and Tom Ashworth as offensive line starters, unless free agents are in the offing. This also could mean that Ty Law will be in the starting lineup against the Colts when the teams kick off the 2004 regular season.
Not addressing the offensive line on Saturday may prove to be inconsequential. But BC guard Chris Snee was available at 32, yet Belichick chose to go with still another tight end. Snee went two picks later to the Giants (Snee's girlfriend is Tom Coughlin's daughter, and the couple are parents as well). The Patriots passed on Florida tackle Max Starks in the second round (he went to Pittsburgh twelve picks later), and could have had Purdue tackle Kelly Butler in the third round (Butler is still on the board going into Day Two). Belichick's pattern on the offensive line is to go veteran free agent, though draftees Matt Light and Dan Koppen have done very well.
What Belichick has to consider at some point is how thin the Patriots are at guard. After Hochstein and Joe Andruzzi, what do the Patriots have (and remember to hold your tongue when it wants to spit out "Damien Woody")? Wilbert Brown? Stephen Neal? If healthy, everyone needs to remember that the former CSUB wrestler Neal is a project and not a proven commodity. And don't forget that at least one free agent lineman Belichick brings into camp in August per year winds up retiring before camp is over.
Not drafting an outside linebacker says that Rosevelt Colvin will be back in 2004. But inside help was likely in order due to the age of Roman Phifer and Ted Johnson. Auburn's Dontarrious Thomas, Georgia Tech's Daryl Smith and Notre Dame's Courtney Watson were all available at 32, but all were gone by the end of the second round. The highest rated inside backer still on the board is Purdue's Niko Koutouvides.
Instead of Scott at safety, Belichick had some attractive choices at 32. Iowa's Bob Sanders (a popular first round pick by some draftniks), Georgia' Sean Jones and Purdue's Stewart Schweigert were all there for the taking, but like the linebackers, all three of these men went in the second round and were not available at 63. Any of these men could have sent Eugene Wilson back to cornerback, and cleared the way for Law to be dealt for a king's ransom.
To be fair, Belichick would have had to make a tough choice among which of these positions to draft at 32. Instead, Belichick went with his "draft value, not need" philosophy and took Watson at 32 and Hill at 63. Both men are quality at their position; ESPN had Hill a top 15 prospect in 2005 had he returned to LSU for his senior year.
So, instead of taking areas of need, where do these new guys fit in?
Despite the presence of the aging Traylor, Wilfork was simply too good to pass up. Whereas Traylor has never played in a 3-4, Wilfork can do it. He may begin the year as an understudy to Traylor, and either step in along the way or spend the year as a backup much like Warren did.
The Patriots don't need a tight end at all. Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria are a good tandem, and can be for a few years hence. But Fauria could turn out to be a cap casualty, and Watson has a huge upside which fans who wanted other areas addressed might quickly ignore. Watson has wideout speed (4.45 in the 40), and has tremendous blocking skills. In a two-TE set, he and Graham could make lots of hay for Corey Dillon, especially in the red zone. He could line up as a fullback, or he could go deep and outrun or outleap many smaller cornerbacks. He provides Tom Brady with an intriguing new weapon, someone who brings lots of brains to the table (his Wonderlic score was 41).
Hill gives the Patriots more depth at an already loaded position. Drafting Hill probably means that Bobby Hamilton is gone, and if Dan Klecko returns, he will be tried out at linebacker (which would help explain why ILB was ignored on Day One). It is obvious that Belichick's good friend, LSU head coach Nick Saban, provided the key reference for this pick. What this might also portray is the possibility that the Patriots may switch back to a 4-3 defense and go with a line of Warren, Traylor, Wilfork and Seymour, with Jarvis Green, Rodney Bailey and Hill backing up (and Willie McGinest concentrating more on OLB). This is a dizzying prospect, but unlikely as Belichick seems to favour the 3-4.
As for Scott, he was the 20th rated safety by The Sporting News. Safety was a need position, but going for someone so low rated as Scott means that Belichick sees something no one else does. If there was ever a case of Belichick taking a player with weaknesses and putting him out there to only bring our his strengths, this is it.
The Patriots have four picks remaining on Sunday. 2003 showed us that these aren't picks to take lightly. Bring on the value, but here's hoping that Belichick brings on the need picks as well.
Stated another way, Wilfork can't throw a block. But Seymour can teach him how, at least.
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