April 26, 2009
Patriots Throw A Bone, Draft Turns Out Same
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick said he was certainly going to trade up to 9 or 10. And you believed him.
Well, maybe he did, up until Alabama's Andre Smith was taken at 6 by Cincinnati. As it turned out, Belichick traded out of the first round not once but twice. The combination of a distaste for paying round one money and the dearth of the usual first round talent made such talk of Belichick trading up as disingenuous as some of the whoppers his mentor used to dish out. Many experts thought the Belichick was enamored of Smith, who would have been the heir apparent to Matt Light's job at left tackle, but in the end Patriot Nation had to wait a while before dissecting who it was their team selected in the 2009 Draft this weekend in New York.
There are two elements about any draft that must be taken as givens whenever trying to predict how they will turn out. First, never take what any team official says, especially Belichick, at face value. The last thing any football exec wants to do is to tip their hand as to what their strategy will be, and Belichick is the master at outfoxing other execs. Second, never try and guess what any particular team, especially the Patriots, has on their mind as far as draft strategy goes. Most every Red Sox fan thinks they know the team better than Terry Francona and Theo Epstein do, but in the case of pro football, Belichick really does know more than you, with or without Scott Pioli.
There is actually a third element which isn't talked about enough where drafts are involved. You may think you know exactly how good or bad a player will turn out, but in reality you don't. And in this area, Belichick is right with you on this. Drafting football players is the most inexact science known to mankind. This is a factoid which you have heard a million times, but it usually goes in one ear and out the other.
All this being said, the Patriots took part in a weekend draft where little, if any, splash was made in the six state region of the northeast. Even if Belichick had traded up and landed Smith, if Belichick really was interested at all, all the talk would be about Smith's questionable combine and not about the new impact offensive lineman coming to Foxborough. The Patriots selected a whopping twelve college players, none of whom are household names, drafting some for need and a ton of them for depth.
Most Patriot fans agree that going into the 2009 Draft, the biggest need on the Patriots was at defensive back. The guys out there were getting torched all season long, and it stands as the supreme validation to the dissatisfaction the coaching staff had for the secondary that Ellis Hobbs, the oft-maligned cornerback who will be forever known as the guy who gave up the winning score for the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, was traded to the Eagles for two fifth-round picks on Sunday. Sure enough, two of the top three picks went to defensive back, strong safety Patrick Chung from Oregon and cornerback Darius Butler from UConn, both taken in the second round.
The Patriots wound up with four second round picks, one coming from Green Bay thanks to trading the 26th pick in the first round they received from Baltimore, whom they traded their 23rd selection to just earlier on Saturday. After selecting Chung with pick number 34, they chose BC nose tackle Ron Brace six picks later. Butler came next at 41, then with the 58th pick (their own second round pick), they took Sebastian Vollmer, a massive tackle from Houston who projects as a right tackle.
Brace became an interesting selection, which may have cast some light as to how the Patriots see the negotiations with Vince Wilfork going. Though reports coming out of Foxborough say that negotiations between Wilfork and the Patriots are going well, the drafting of Brace may be a sign of the Patriots protecting themselves if they find out they cannot keep Wilfork around. Despite reports that 2010 will be an uncapped year, which should make signing players like Wilfork more feasible, perhaps Belichick prefers a cheaper alternative at nose tackle. Or maybe there is more than meets the eye with Wilfork, who has made overtures about wanting to make a huge financial score with this next contract.
The Patriots took three defensive linemen overall, and three offensive linemen as well. With twelve picks the Patriots could afford to combine value and depth with their selections. In addition to Brace, the Patriots took Kentucky's Myron Pryor with a sixth round compensatory pick and finished their draft with Georgia Tech's Darryl Richard in the seventh round. If the Patriots do indeed hold on to Ty Warren and Richard Seymour for a few more years, these guys will be vying for backup spots.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots gave Nick Kaczur some possible competition and themselves some protection if Stephen Neal is heading past his prime. The fourth round pick they received from Baltimore as part of dealing the 23rd pick on Saturday yielded Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger. Their fifth round pick, a compensatory selection, yielded Louisville tackle George Bussey. Ohrnberger is small for a guard (297 pounds) and is projected at either guard or tackle, while Bussey might slide over to guard in the NFL.
The Patriots made an interesting pick in the sixth round, taking Hawai'i long snapper Jake Ingram. This pick was laughed at on the NFL Network. With Lonie Paxton bolting to Denver as a free agent, the position of long snapper was vacant on the Patriots. This has been a position of stability for the Patriots over the years; since 1996 the Patriots have had exactly two long snappers, Mike Bartrum and Paxton. Since the Patriots won two of their three Super Bowls with walkoff field goals, maybe Belichick values the position of long snapper more than most other NFL GMs.
The rest of the draft was strictly based on depth. One of the picks received from Green Bay in return for the 26th pick in the first round was a third round pick, used on North Carolina wideout Brandon Tate, who might compete for the kickoff return job made vacant with the trade of Hobbs. The next pick, a third round compensatory pick, went to linebacker Tyrone McKenzie of South Florida. Their first of two seventh round picks was used on Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman, who is more of a utility offensive player rather than a projected replacement for Matt Cassel.
With free agents Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden coming into camp, Butler will have a time trying to crack the starting lineup even with Hobbs gone. Second-year players Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley are also in the mix, but the competition should be keen for the starting cornerback spots on both sides. This is something that Belichick greatly wanted, and while you likely won't see a recreation of the salad days of Ty Law, Otis Smith, Tyrone Poole, Randall Gay and Asante Samuel, it should help the Patriots move up significantly from 26th in the league in pass defense in 2008.
So there. Instead of a top ten pick, twelve new warm bodies thanks to trading down and good value assessment. This is one hundred percent believable.
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