2002 Draft Preview

Ian Logue
April 19, 2002 at 5:27 am ET

When the NFL Draft kicks off this weekend, there is likely to be quite a bit of drama for the Patriots considering the current situation with quarterback Drew Bledsoe. After losing his job to current starter Tom Brady after suffering internal injuries in a week two collision with Jets linebacker Mo Lewis, Bledsoe is now expected to be traded to whoever is willing to put forward the right offer.
However to this point that hasn’t happened. The Patriots are looking for a number one selection in this weekend’s draft for Bledsoe’s services, and both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills haven’t shown any interest in parting with their #1 pick, so for now, it looks as though Bledsoe may be heading back to Foxboro next season. Head coach Bill Belichick said last week he doubts a deal will be made before or on draft day, and with the ball now in their court it’s up to both the Bills and Bengals to decide if that will be the case.

Knowing Belichick, he’s probably only planning on what to do when the #32 selection is on the clock, and there are certainly some interesting problems he’ll need to face.

If last year’s draft is any indication, Belichick will probably be looking to add another young player to compliment Richard Seymour on New England’s defensive line. Veteran defensive ends Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant have been solid for New England, but neither has provided them with any threat of a pass rush. Dwight Freeney and Dennis Johnson may last until the end of the first round, but it’s tough to say if Belichick would use a first-round pick on a player that isn’t necessarily a sure thing. Another wrinkle is the fact the Patriots worked out wide receiver Josh Reed recently. Belichick acknowledged last week that New England averaged only one offensive touchdown per game during the postseason, and Belichick may instead opt to select Reed in the event he’s still available.

But the biggest need for the team right now may be at linebacker. Depending on what linebacker Roman Phifer decides, whether it’s to be closer to his family by signing with the Oakland Raiders or to return to New England, losing him at linebacker could become a serious problem. As it stands right now the Patriots have Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel as their only real “sure things” heading into next season, and losing Phifer’s 96 tackles would be a big problem. Ted Johnson restructured to stay with the team, and the once-dominant middle linebacker has seen his playing time greatly reduced. Belichick can’t count on Johnson to return to form, nor can he hope that Andy Katzenmoyer will return ready to play after suffering a neck injury that has kept him out the past two seasons. Bruschi was moved to middle linebacker last season, and it doesn’t appear there are many options for an inside linebacker. If they instead keep their #32 pick they could decide to draft LB Napoleon Harris if he’s still available, or they could get him if they’re able to make a trade with Baltimore to move up as was reported Thursday.

Linebacker is a position that will be addressed, whether it’s in the late first or during the middle rounds. Look for New England to draft more than one player for that position.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Patriots did something to improve themselves offensively. With the possibility of running back William Green slipping in the draft the Pats may want to grab him in the event he falls into their lap. J.R.Redmond showed signs of becoming their future third-down guy, but he probably won’t be the guy New England is grooming to replace Antowain Smith in a few years. Belichick may also be aware that should Smith go down with an injury he doesn’t have a legitimate back to step in for him. Kevin Faulk is a great change of pace guy, but neither he nor Smith can be considered to be the future of this team. If you take a look at the Steelers and the Broncos, having more than one quality starting running back isn’t a bad idea.

Wide receiver is another possibility. If the Patriots do move up to the number 24-spot as was earlier mentioned, they would have a better chance of selecting Reed at that spot. As it stands right now New England has Troy Brown, David Patten, and Donald Hayes as their top three receivers (not in any order). After that comes Fred Coleman, Jimmy Farris, and Scott McReady. While Coleman was the only other receiver to contribute last season, the Patriots could use one more wideout in the event any of their starters get injured. Reed is a very good route runner, and though he’s not a big guy (5’11” 205lbs), he’s considered to be one of the most consistent receivers to come out of college in a long time. The Patriots could use just that.

New England may end up taking a defensive back in the later rounds to try and add both depth and add another player who will replace the ageless Otis Smith. It’s likely that Belichick will use the “Best Player Available” approach in the middle rounds and may draft someone to make training camp a bit more interesting.

Offensive Line is another position they could address, whether it’s a guard or tackle. They were able to find two starters in the middle rounds in both Matt Light and Greg Robinson-Randall, and after re-signing Grant Williams they have a decent stable of tackles along with Kenyatta Jones. The big question mark that remains is Adrian Klemm, who has suffered a rash of injuries and doesn’t appear that he’s going to make an impact with the team. Look for Belichick to draft a tackle at some point in the middle rounds and see if he can catch lightning in a bottle for the third straight year.

The safety spot could also be addressed. It appears that Antwan Harris may be one of their future stars along with the emerging Tebucky Jones, but they don’t have a large amount of depth and received a scare when Lawyer Milloy got injured in a game last season. Milloy is the heart and soul of their defense, and they may want to take someone in the middle to late rounds to try and add to their current stable of safeties that currently consists of Rob Kelly, Je’Rod Cherry, and Chris Hayes, none of which could be considered as future starters.

Overall after winning a championship the Patriots find themselves in decent shape heading into this weekend and it will certainly be interesting to see which way the club decides to go. However, it all depends on a Bledsoe trade or the possibility of them moving up which will have a major impact on their 2002 Draft Class.

The drama begins at 12:00pm ET on Saturday.

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