April 30, 2006
Linebacking Help Will Have To Come Later
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
By 2015, the Patriot roster may consist of about 20 tight ends.
Ignoring a need for an inside linebacker, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli instead went for two more tight ends in the 2006 Draft. Before you can say “Arther Love” and “Jabari Holloway”, it must be said that these two tight ends in no way define the draft for the Patriots. It is to further underscore Belichick’s constant fascination for the position in the War Room, as well as his insistence on beefing up the linebacker position with veteran free agents rather than draftees.
Belichick and Pioli did address some key needs over the weekend, make no mistake. They got the annual “steal of the draft” as David Givens’ replacement, they got the heir apparent to Corey Dillon, and they also managed to grab the heir apparent to Adam Vinatieri. In summary, the Patriots gave Tom Brady some extra weapons and added some depth to both lines.
The top pick for the Patriots was Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney. The Patriots took Maroney while passing on USC’s LenDale White and Memphis’ DeAngelo Williams. Passing on White was understandable, as he presented himself incredibly poorly during combine season, but Williams was rated higher on many draft boards. Many people had Maroney as a second rounder.
But Belichick defended his pick, saying he had scouted him for the past year and thought that he fit the system really well. Maroney, who has more yardage gained over a three-year period than any other Big Ten running back other than Ron Dayne, is a bit small for how Belichick would like to use him. Maroney weighs 216 pounds, but the buzz is that the Patriots will try to beef him up another ten or so pounds in the weight room.
So, what of Dillon and Kevin Faulk? By drafting Maroney, Belichick is either telling Dillon that he needs to get back to his 2004 form in a hurry, or he is telling Dillon that Father Time is tapping him on the shoulder. Belichick did mention that the running back position is getting a little long in the tooth, though Faulk is only 29 (but turns 30 in June). The pick makes sense, but whether it should have been addressed this year or this high in the draft might be questioned by some.
If anyone was skeptical about the Maroney pick, that skepticism disappeared in the second round. Some folks thought Belichick would go wideout in the first round, but the player Belichick coveted was available early in the second round. Belichick traded up 16 spots with Green Bay and took Florida wideout Chad Jackson with the fourth pick of the second round. The pick was of great value as Jackson was projected as a first rounder.
What Jackson does is give the Patriots a likely replacement for the departed Givens, who left as a free agent for Tennessee. Jackson is six-foot-one, which bucks the Patriot trend for five-footers at the wideout position. Jackson is more known for his ability to run crisp routes than he is for sheer speed. He won’t match Givens for sheer strength, but will provide a nice second problem for defenses to deal with, and thus prevent defenses from doubling up on Deion Branch.
The final pick on Day One brought still another tight end to Foxborough, a position of really no need other than building depth. Texas tight end David Thomas, one of Vince Young’s favorite targets, comes to Foxborough with impressive credentials. He has terrific hands and has been one of the leading Longhorn receivers over the past few years. But he is smallish for the position, and is not known as a good blocker.
So why take this guy? What Belichick did with this pick is to replace Christian Fauria. Whether or not a third tight end is worth a third round pick is anyone’s guess. But if Daniel Graham remains the chief blocking tight end, and Ben Watson the receiving maven, Thomas becomes a nice option if defenses want to overplay Watson. Even more intriguing is the possibility that Watson may see some action as a wide receiver, which would make the Thomas pick more sensible. Still, drafting for tight end depth in the third round is a little unusual, but some teams with glaring needs up and down their roster wish they could be able to do something like that.
To open Day Two, Belichick confounded his fan base by taking still another tight end. Fourth rounder Garrett Mills, from Tulsa, has somewhat of a distinction from Thomas in that his drafting targets another position other than tight end, that being fullback.
This draft pick might send a message to Patrick Pass, if nothing else. Mills is only six-foot-one and 227, hardly a prototype tight end. But many scouts see Mills as a future fullback in the NFL. What made Mills more attractive to the Patriots was the first word to describe him: smart. If Mills can learn the fullback position, he could present a challenge to Pass (who will be 29 in December). Since the fullback position is not of prime importance to the Patriots, Mills could be a cheaper alternative than Pass. Pass may have to prove his worth to the Patriots on special teams.
Maroney and Jackson will be closely watched by all. But the one draftee which will get the most scrutiny by one and all is the other fourth round pick, kicker Stephen Gostkowski of Memphis. Some experts thought the first kicker taken would have been Jon Scifres of Southwest Missouri State or Josh Huston of Ohio State. But Gostkowski has some good college numbers as he likely prepares to take over for Adam Vinatieri, who signed as a free agent with Indianapolis.
Gostkowski is best known for his long distance kicks. He connected on three field goals of 50 or more yards during his senior year, and was perfect from 40 to 49 yards. The only question on him is his accuracy. He would provide an upgrade to the Patriots in terms of kickoffs, a consistent Vinatieri weakness. But Gostkowski will have to have some guts, as his first miss will be viewed as a catastrophe to many fans.
The other five picks were for mostly depth. California tackle Ryan O’Callaghan, taken in the fifth round, projects as a guard in the NFL. In the sixth round, the Patriots took defensive end Jeremy Mincey from Florida, guard Dan Stevenson of Notre Dame, and defensive tackle LeKevin Smith of Nebraska. The final pick was Willie Andrews, a seventh round cornerback out of Baylor. None of these five players looks to be much more than training camp competition, though Andrews could buck to be the next Givens and make it big out of the seventh round if the cornerback position remains problematic.
Belichick has taken seven total tight ends in all his Patriot drafts, including at least one each year. Only Graham and Watson have proven to be good picks, the others all busts (2000 pick Dave Stachelski didn’t even want to play in the NFL, as it turned out). Belichick continues to be fascinated with the position, but in Thomas, Graham and Watson he may have three players which will make him forget all about the position for several years to come.
All the while, Belichick continues to eschew linebackers on Draft Day. He has taken four linebackers total in all his drafts, with only Tully Banta-Cain (who was a down lineman at California) sticking with the club for any time at all. With Kamerion Wimbley, Chad Greenway and Bobby Carpenter all gone by 21 (it’s assumed that Belichick never intended to trade up high enough to get A.J. Hawk or Ernie Sims), Belichick likely thought that there was no other linebacker out there he would want at all. Besides, Rosevelt Colvin, Mike Vrabel and Monty Beisel were all drafted by someone else. Why would this year be any different for finding linebacker help?
Meanwhile, Tom Brady chills out in San Mateo, grinning from ear to ear over the new toys he has been handed. Linebacker? He’ll tell you to chill out.
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