April 26, 2004
Criticize This Draft? How Dare You?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
There is no truth to the rumour that Las Vegas has a line as to who flakes out first, Corey Dillon or Cedric Cobbs.
Let's hope that, if that happens, one or both of them don't start making with "I ain't got nobody blocking for me!" comments. Maybe that will never come to pass, as Dillon was able to put up some great numbers with Bengals blocking for him for many years.
The Patriots now have the personnel to run a revolutionary 7-0-4 defense, and can always use one of their tight ends in the backfield if both Dillon and Cobbs go nutty at the same time. But if anything happens to Russ Hochstein or Joe Andruzzi, they may have to pull Richard Seymour out of the backfield and make him the next Chuck Bednarik. Given how versatile some of these Patriots are, the Patriot brain trust might actually be able to get away with stuff like this.
Come June 1st, everyone who is scared to death that the Patriot offensive line peaked in Super Bowl XXXVIII and is already beginning its downslide may finally begin to settle down when cap casualties start to hit the open market. Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli, for reasons known only to themselves, chose to go value all the way and totally ignore their biggest area of need in the Dillon Era. And this is no surprise whatsoever; Belichick will tell you flat out that they will draft value over need any day.
Of course, time has proven Belichick and Pioli to be more correct than all these draftniks and pidgin experts who think they know everything about putting a winning team together. Shame on the Patriots for passing on David Terrell in 2001 and selecting Seymour. What demonic force overcame Belichick and caused him to pick Daniel Graham over Napoleon Harris in 2002? Belichick will show you his 2003 Draft Board, then show you his two shiny silver trophies, and tell you to shut up and go away.
Okay, fine. But sooner than you can say "Show me a veteran OL pickup and I'll show you a sudden August retirement!", someone will have to remind Belichick that he has a paper thin offensive line going into camp unless he is able to go out and get some depth from some men who aren't getting fitted for pipes and slippers. Even if he goes with the same five which manhandled the vaunted Carolina defensive line back in February, what happens if one of them gets injured? Both Damien Woody and Mike Compton left as free agents. Stephen Neal and Adrian Klemm are more injury issues than prospects. You'll have a tougher time spelling Mruczkowski than figuring out if Gene can help this club in 2004.
This is why the Patriots may have spit the bit in the draft, despite taking some "typical Patriot" players. Setting aside the one sure-shot pick (Vince Wilfork), the Patriots took players which only increases their depth, but may not do much to help the Patriots repeat as champions. The Boston Globe ran a story on Sunday which suggested that the 2004 draft means that the Patriots blew the previous two drafts, but that same writer did a 180-degree turnabout on Monday. This draft is nothing about an indictment of Graham or Ty Warren, but it is instead a curious expose on stockpiling value while leaving key areas of the team exposed.
Rumours abound that the only offensive lineman Belichick cared only one slight iota about was Vernon Carey. When he went to Miami at 19, Belichick likely gave up any will to try and draft an offensive lineman. Though Chris Snee and Justin Smiley were available at 32, Belichick instead opted for the sixth tight end of his tenure as Patriot GM (Spencer Nead, Dave Stachelski, Arther Love, Jabari Holloway, the names just roll right off your tongue) and chose a very talented player named Ben Watson. He figures to jump right in and add several new dimensions to the offense, and perhaps blocks better than Wilbert Brown or Brandon Gorin. And his first name is Ben, never a bad sign.
By the time the 63rd pick rolled around, Belichick probably thought that the best offensive lineman out there couldn't carry Dan Klecko's jock. So, Belichick tags his second favorite position after tight end, that being defensive line (the ninth selection at this position since 2000 -- whoops, maybe this position is really his favorite), and selects a Nick Saban protégé named Marquise Hill. Perhaps the Patriots are headed towards a 4-3 defense sometime soon, but in a 3-4 set, the Patriots may be hard pressed to find playing time for so many good men.
At least the Patriots did address one area of need, that being the secondary. But instead of going for someone like Bob Sanders or Sean Jones, Belichick grabbed Guss Scott, Dexter Reid and Christian Morton. All of these guys were panned in various draft analyses as being bottom end prospects, and Scott projects as a special teams prospect. It isn't very often that third round picks are spent on potential special teams players, and the Patriots spent this high a pick seemingly trying to get the next Antwan Harris or the next Chris Akins. Even if Scott is the next Larry Whigham, it is still too expensive a pick for the job. Eugene Wilson likely gave the recommendation for Morton, his former teammate at Illinois.
Cobbs comes to the Patriots with some baggage, much like Dillon. The Patriots did their homework on Cobbs, and not just Dillon. They came to the conclusion that Cobbs' brushes with the law in college (Arkansas) were an aberration and unrelated to his persona today. If this is the one reason why Cobbs' stock went down, the Patriots may have gotten a bargain here, as well as youthful insurance in case Dillon still loves to complain incessantly.
This year's Tully Banta-Cain is P.K. Sam, a tall wideout from Florida State taken in the fifth round. Everyone is hailing this guy much the same way they hailed TBC last year, that being the "steal of the draft". Despite the presence of Watson and his wide receiver speed, this guy can be the big guy the Patriots have tried to get over the years.
Time will tell if the Patriots erred greatly by ignoring the offensive line and not going for a higher rated safety. The record shows that Belichick and Pioli know pretty darned well what they are doing, and several folks think that these guys deserve an A for this weekend. Figuring that one of their second rounders went for Dillon, the Patriots did address their biggest need (running back), and addressed it pretty well.
But remembering their ignorance of linebacker in 2002 which led to a 9-7 record and no playoffs, the Patriots have to hope that ignoring the offensive line doesn't throw the offense into a total funk which the defense cannot bail them out of. The real test of Belichick as a personnel guru is whether or not he can overcome being the defending champs again and put up two winners back to back. Maybe what Belichick did this weekend is to ensure that the Patriots will put up three winners in a row, who knows.
So, why criticize the draft? It's like telling Bill Gates that his product is a miserable failure. These guys have the jack and you don't. End of story.
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