April 23, 2009
A Less than Enthusiastic Year at the Dart Board; Even Though it's a a Big One
By:  Stan Jaksina
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

Why is this? Maybe it's the fact that they have not high first round pick or that there are no big time stars that everyone is salivating over. It also could be the back drop of a bad economy that has washed a lot of optimism from so many other things. Whatever the reason, I am a lot less enthusiastic as I have been, but I still recognize this as an incredibly important year for them. In fact, with the picks they have, six in the top one hundred, it could be the one that will insure a top notch team for the coming years. It's unusual to not have some outstanding players in the draft, bona fide stars that many are wishing to add to their team, but it's also rare that so many are on a solid and long plateau of being solid and capable players.

This could be a great year for the Patriots as of now, they are a team with no position in need. I know many feel that with Vrabel gone that there is an outside linebacker position in great need. But I think that CoachB has that taken care of either with a player or players on the team, Woods, Banta-Cain, Crable or Redd, or sign someone like JasonT to take that position. In any event, there is no one large need that the team has to fill now, immediately.

With eleven picks overall and six in the first one hounded, they could make a large splash with lots of players, but I doubt that will happen.in the way many dream of. Yes, they will get a bunch of outstanding players, that will really help this team, but they will trade at least three or four picks. They will use these chips to move up and grab a player that has fallen or one who they believe will be snatched up by another team. They will also trade away picks for higher picks year. They could also bundle a few picks and trade them for someone like Peppers, although unlikely. This front office will look at many options and ways to improve the team. There will be many moves they will make to get players, both rooks and vets and they will eventually become stars on this team.

And to throw things into the mix, there are a few vets that might be traded. Besides the before mentioned Peppers, there are also three wide receivers that may be headed to teams for picks. There's Cleveland's Edwards, Arizona's Boldin and the Bengal's Johnson who may be traded to new teams on or before this draft weekend. The Giants and Eagles might be in the running for wide outs. It's also possible that quarterback Quinn could be on the move as well, especially if Mangini and company go for a QB in the draft. There will be more I am sure as the weekend nears.

As for the Patriots, they are in a really good position to get a bunch of players as there is a plateau of many, many stand out players in the first hundred players or so. Usually it tails off, but this year that second tier is quite deep. Having those six picks means that they will have a handful of solid picks, whether they trade one or two of those to go for players that they really see value with.

Among these players, they possibly will have two and among the second group, two more could be added.

The first group includes offensive linemen Britton, Beatty, Mack and Meredith, wide receivers Britt, Harvin, Heyward-Bey, Nicks, Maclin and Tate, running backs DBrown and Moreno, tight end Pettifrew, defensive linemen Gilbert, Hood, TJackson Jerry and MJohnson, linebackers Ayers, Barwin, CBrown, Cushing, Englsih, Laurintis, Mathews, Maualuga, Maybin and Sintim and cornerbacks Butler, Davis and ASmith. It is possible one or more could fall to the next grouping. Add in these players into the mix; wide receivers:Robiskie, DWIlliams and PWhite, tight ends Casey, Cook and Ingram, offensive linemen Cadogan, Levitre, Luigs, Unger and Wood, defensive linemen Brace and Marks, linebackers Ellerbee, Kruger, Palmer and Sidbury, defensive backs Chung, Delmas, RJohnson, DMoore, SSmith and Vaughn. And this is a very fluid situation as many teams have players much higher or lower as the plateau is quite deep.

This may mean that they will draft a few of the above players, but as to who or what position, I think it will really depend on what happens in the picks before them.

Usually, who they pick is a balance between needs on the team and drafting the best player available at that position. Some years, it seems that they will tilt a bit toward the need of the team, just slightly, but in other years, the best player will be one they scoop up instantly. As MikeR has said, it does seem like teams go for need a bit more, but the Patriots are really in a position to lean in the best player available mode, this year. This situation does make it a lot harder to predict who they may take, especially in the top picks. If there is a run on a particular position, some players may be taken higher than expected and a player may fall quite a bit. Vince Wilfork was viewed as a player that would be gone, but with that a run on a position, he fell right into the Patriot's arms. This could happen to the Patriots this year.

It would not surprise me if they looked ahead a bit, with no real immediate need. Drafting a big lineman would not surprise me as there are some players whose contracts are coming up in time and finding large linemen is usually extremely hard later in the draft. They could similarly find a really big offensive lineman early. While many still see linebacker as the early focus, I could see other positions being taken care of and no linebacker drafted until the later rounds. That is really what makes this draft day so interesting.

There are two players in the draft that could be smoke screens. One is linebacker/tight end Connor Barwin. For a long time he has been viewed as a possible Mike Vrabel type player, that could play tight end, linebacker and special teams. Is he the real deal or not even a shadow of MikeV? That is the large question that comes to mind. If he's the latter and just one whose intangibles look good, they would definitely pass on him, but if not, he might be a versatile and strong pick in the draft. Another player that has this intrigue is quarterback Pat White. He's a bit small for a QB, but has the athleticism to play wide receiver or running back as well. He knows the game and could also add a Wildcat situation into the mix. If he can play quarterback, he could be the backup and save a position when looking at the forty five for game time. It is incredibly intriguing and maybe the Patriots would go for him in the first day. Again, this could be a real smokescreen or it could be a real gamble that pays off big time for them.

While they could take players from almost ANY position, I really do not think they will draft a quarterback on day one, unless it's a slash type hybrid. I also do not think they will draft a cornerback unless it is an elite one that falls. All other positions though are up for grabs and those positions that are not covered early will be later, either in later rounds or as undrafted free agents. What this does mean is that there will be a lot of competition in camp and that they will have depth if players are injured. That is so important to have. I will make on prediction as to who they will draft and that is a punter. While they may not be punting all that much, having one that changes the field position would really help the defense a great deal, especially a kicker that more than often pins a team into the last ten yards of the field.

I could see this team with a hard rushing outside linebacker, a tough in the box strong safety, a big stud inside offensive lineman and a tall tight end who could catch and block or a quick wideout who could stretch the field, a tall defensive lineman, an inside linebacker that could plug runners inside and a cornerback that could smother a standout receiver or some combination of these or more. It looks like a promising weekend for the Patriots as this team only gets deeper and stronger.

As the weekend closes in, there are even newer smokescreens that have popped up. One writer claiming the Pats will be going for cornerback Butler, while another being sure it will be a linebacker. And I am sure there will be others that will find a player or a position that the Patriots covet and will go for. Which is true? I frankly doubt any of these will be the right one. Yes, last year with the Pats a bit closer to the dart board, Mayo's name was out on the table a few days before. But with twenty plus slots open, it's going to be a lot harder to predict the throws. It's all just smoke and with it will come other moves by other teams and maybe the Pats will grab that other player in the midst of it all.

And then there are always the negatives about players that come into the headlines as some teams want certain players to fall so that they can have a chance to take them. There are already false reports about drug tests and there will be other such news coming out this week. It always happens and many teams will make a move away from a player based on these false allegations. It's all part of the draft game.

The draft was moved back a few hours last year and another one this year. What happened with that move was that words leaked out on that Saturday and sites like PFT already had the news of the first picks a few hours before they officially happened. That took away all the drama and I would think the NFL would reconsider their late Saturday start. Apparently though, pleasing those on the West Coast is more important than preserving real drama. That was something that never happened when the draft was at noon.

It's looking more and more like the Lions will take quarterback Stafford, but if they take tackle Smith or linebacker Curry, it could change a whole lot down the line. If they take Stafford, the Rams should rake tackle Smith and the Chiefs, linebacker Curry. Then, it will get quite interesting. Whatever happens early, this will be a great two days of football intrigue. I am sure the Pats will have some gems as well as a few moments where many are wondering what CoachB is doing.

After that wave of football players go in the draft, the phones will be ringing and the rush will be on to get the undrafted free agents. That is always interesting as so many are close in talent and have a lot to prove if not drafted.

Let's take a look at the possibilities and evaluate each grouping and add a few possible undrafted free agents. This year it is a bit more fluid and some of these players might be drafted late.

QB-There is no need for a quarterback high up, except that slash type hybrid. I do think they could bring in another young one on day two to give Gutierrez a battle. {Liam Coen-University of Mass***Drew Wiley-Buffalo***Chase Patton-Missouri}

RB-A 3rd down back and an outside running back are possibilities, but it is more with a look to the future than what is needed immediately. {RB-Devin Moore-Wyoming***FB--Brannan Southerland-Georgia***RB-Gartrell Johnson-Colorado State***FB-Eddie Williams-Idaho***RB-Chris Ogbonnaya-Texas}

WR-They do need to bring in a few for the future and if one happens to also be a speedy returner, all the better. A starter is not needed, but one that can be groomed to go with the big guys. {Chris Williams-New Mexico State***Brian Hartline-Ohio State***Jamarko Simmons-Western Michigan***Quan Cosby-Texas}

TE-I do think a tight end is needed, as there are a few question marks going into the future past this year. They might not get one day one, but will snag one later on day two. {Devin Frischknecht-Washington State***Dan Gronkowski-Maryland***Branden Ledbetter-Western Michigan}

OL-A big time lineman is needed down the road, more so inside than out. To take a few to challenge the core group will be a big plus to the team and really add a lot of depth and versatility. {G/T-Robert Brewster-Ball State***G/T-Ramon Foster-Tennessee***C-Rob Bruggeman-Iowa***OL-Dallas Reymolds-Brigham Young***G/T-Ryan Stanchek-West Virginia***OT/OG-Ryan Durand-Syracuse}

DL-They are not in need of one now, but if a large stud is available higher up, they may draft for the future. I think they will have at least one draft pick from the D-line. {DL-Mitch King-Iowa***DE-Pierre Walters-Eastern Illinois***DL-Sammie Hill-Stillman (AL)***DT-Darryl Richard-Georgia Tech***DT-John Faletoese-University of California-Davis***DL-Pannel Egboh-Stanford}

LB-This is where many are split on as some think they need to draft more now, while others may wait and see who is available and not to focus just on this position. {ILB-Frantz Joseph-Florida Atlantic***LB-Jason WIlliams-Western Illinois***OLB/DE-Victor Butler-West Virginia***ILB-Stanley Arnoux-Wake Forest***OLB-Lee Robinson--Alcorn State***LB-Reggie Walker-Kansas State}

DB-Safeties are more the focus this year, but a stand out cornerback could be added as well. {S-Anthony Scirrotto-Penn State***CB-Jahi Word-Daniels-Georgia Tech***S/OB-Kevin Ellison-Southern California***DB-Glover Quin-New Mexico***S-Reshard Langford-Vanderbilt***CB/S-Lendy Holmes-Oklahoma}

ST-Will they draft a punter? I think they might, but one will be brought in. The same for a long snapper. {P-Kevin Huber-Cincinatti***LS-Jake Ingram-Hawaii}

Who knows what CoachB will do this year and with the team as strong as it is and the field of players a bit more wide open, this could prove to be a really great weekend for the team!

On another note, there seems to be some good news regarding VinceW. I really hope they get an extension done soon. He is one Patriot that is needed way into the future; maybe the most important one on the D.

I was pleasantly surprised that the new nominees for the Patriots Hall of Fame were all from the 60s. I suggested a year ago that if they nominated three from the same decade, that would take the voting away from only name recognition, and really let others from past decades have a chance to make it into the Hall. I am incredibly pleased that those in charge there, the powers that be, have taken this action. It really makes sense to do that this way. I rarely have any gripes at all with the Patriots organization and the way they do things, but I saw the way the voting was done and it was quite an unfair process. I have to congratulate those at the Hall for making this change.

This year, there are three players from the 1960s; the Boston Patriots era. I saw these players and really all deserve to be in the Hall. Houston Antwine was a fierce defensive tackle that could get to the quarterback or stop a runner cold, in his tracks. Jon Morris was the center for a long time with the Pats and was the quiet engineer of the offensive line. Jim Nance was the burly fullback who powered through the line for many yards. All three are deserving and it's really great to watch film of the three of them.

In this year of the fiftieth anniversary it is great to look back and see all the Patriot players that have worn that uniform and understand that while there were only but a handful of outstanding teams from the past, there were lots of really top notch players. To honor those players is something I am so happy with as it is long overdue. I thank those at the Patriots Hall of Fame for this change in policy and i hope that going forward that those nominations will be in the same decade or time frame so that competition will be on the player on not on name recognition.

Who knows what players they will have in the next week? And all rooks will be in camp in about eight days with this years newcomers. I am looking forward to the many additions to the team as depth and competition are always good things.

 Stan Jaksina
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