Hi guys! I'm a new poster here (I frequent another message board and happened to find this one when I was googling when draft credentials might be coming out since I applied) and was so impressed by the graphical prowess and the seemingly friendly environment that I decided to join! Anyway, I'm an aspiring journalist (or sports management person possibly) who is currently a college freshman and I just finished a double blog-post on the Patriots past draft trends. I thought that you might like reading it, so enjoy! If you like it, you should definitely keep posted for some of my other stuff. ***************************************** Some people see the NFL Draft as a totally random phenomenon, an event that is almost impossible to predict. When it comes to the Patriots, many people think that it is even harder to gain any insight into their draft musings given the team's reputation for secrecy and covertness. I was recently approached by a poster in a football forum that I frequent with this question; why do we bother constructing mock drafts for the Patriots when, usually, they'll end up picking someone who is seemingly a completely random player that no one has ever heard of? I mean, who would have thought that Sebsatian Vollmer would be a second round pick? Logan Mankins at 32? Ellis Hobbs in the early third round when there was a LOT more value available with the pick? Over the years, the Patriots have made some, frankly, bewildering selections with their draft picks that could lead some to believe that they cannot be figured out by outsiders. So, why do we make mock drafts and try to project what might happen in the offseason if it seems like an impossible dream? Well, for me, the answer is quite simple. It is NOT an impossible dream. Too often, analysts seek to base draft postulations on the here and now rather than looking to history for inspiration. It is definitely extremely informative to look at interviews and current events to glean a better understanding of who a team might target. However, at the end of the day, the visits are not completely accurate. There is a lot of posturing involved; in Patriot Reign, a must-read for fans of the team, it is admitted that the Patriots sometimes bring in top prospects for personal workouts even though they already know that the player in question will not end up in Foxboro come April. They do it to confuse other teams (and, probably, the media as well) rather than for their own benefit. Visits can be inflated and manipulated. However, the pure numbers of the players in questioned cannot be changed. I took the last ten years of Patriots draft picks and rookie free agents and looked to see if there were any thresholds that the team, seemingly, would not cross. Sure enough, at many positions, the divide between Patriot rookies and other rookies seem to be quite large. Using these past numbers, it becomes a lot easier to break down the draft and, possibly, gain a keener insight into what may be going through the heads of the brain trust in Foxboro come April 22nd. I will break it down position by position. I will address offense in this post and defense in an upcoming installment that will be posted either later tonight or tomorrow to make for easier reading. Please enjoy! QUARTERBACKS The Patriots have, of course, had the luxury of a franchise quarterback for most of Coach Belichick's tenure. However, that does not necessarily suggest that quarterback is seen as a throwaway position by the front office. Since 2000, the Patriots have drafted five quarterbacks, a relatively large number over such a span. They also signed two rookie free agents, Matt Gutierrez and Brian Hoyer, who ended up making the team's final roster as rookies. The Patriots seem to like their quarterbacks big; they have not drafted nor signed a rookie quarterback under 6 foot 4 since Rohan Davey became a Pat in 2002. Davey, of course, barely played in New England, though he did have a good deal of NFL Europe success. They also seem to value mobility, as all of their quarterback selections (except, arguably, Brady) were touted for their mobility coming out of college. The quarterback position is one of the more difficult ones to predict since there does not seem to be an incredibly strong trend in any direction. However, this historical context could have ramifications for one popular possible Patriot; Tim Tebow. The Gator QB is 6 foot 3, an inch below the hypothetical threshold that the Patriots have not crossed since Rohan Davey. I personally do not think an inch will throw them off if they really want Tebow to come to New England, but I also do not believe that the Patriots would take him early in the draft. More reasonable options for the Patriots may be Troy quarterback Levi Brown and Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith. Both of these guys meet the height threshold and seem to be mobile enough to be nice developmental prospects for Brady down the road. Regardless, I hope that the Patriots do not go quarterback early this year; there are other needs to fill. RUNNING BACKS Ah, and here's one of those needs. The Patriots could definitely use some youth at the running back position. Laurence Maroney is a good player, but he cannot carry the load all by himself, nor does he strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. And behind him there is almost no young depth save for BenJarvus Green Ellis, who is slower than molasses. So, there is a major dearth of talent at the position that needs to be filled. Some think that C.J. Spiller or Jahvid Best could be just what the doctor ordered on offense, as they both would provide an infusion of speed that would serve to diversify the Patriots' offensive sets. However, neither seems to be a likely possibility. The Patriots have not drafted a running back who has weighed in at less than 200 pounds in the past ten years. The lightest was Laurence Maroney at 205, and he is now upwards of 220. They seem to not value single-down greyhound scatbacks as highly as guys who can ground the ball out for plays at a time and wear down the defense. That has also been apparent in their free agent signings at the position; Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon are not exactly sprinters. Fred Taylor WAS fastâ€¦but not anymore. Last year, he was no faster than the Law Firm (Green-Ellis.) So, who could the team be looking at to supplement their ground attack? If they decide to go running back in the first round (which I doubt) they could do much worse than Ryan Mathews, who is probably the best three-down running back in this year's draft. He ran a 4.37 40 and, at 6 feet, 218 pounds, is the perfect size for the Patriots offense. I think they could jump on him early; his athleticism and projectability as a complete player may be too much for Belichick to pass on. They will not go for CJ Spiller or Jahvid Best though; you can probably count on that. Ben Tate also seems like a possibility in the second round, and if the team decides to tarry even longer, Joique Bell of Wayne State could find his way into the picture. Tate ran well at the Combine and has a lot of great game tape on him as a runner in the tough SEC, and Bell impressed against lesser competition. The most intriguing option for the Patriots, however, may be Deji Karim of Southern Illinois, a 5 foot 10, 210 pounder who blazed a 4.40 40 and could provide that ever so elusive size-speed combination teams look for. He may be an intriguing flyer to watch in the fourth to seventh rounds. WIDE RECEIVERS This is the hardest position to project for the Patriots over the past ten years. They have run the gambit with receiving prospects, from long, lanky sprinters to small, compact route-runners. The Patriots have had a pretty good record of drafting (or trading draft picks for) wide receivers in the last decade. From Randy Moss to Wes Welker to Deion Branch to David Givens, there has been no shortage of great pass catchers to grace Gillette Stadium. Even more interesting is the diverse body types that the Patriots have brought in at the position. The Patriots have only had five rookie wide receivers over the past decade that have measured in at under six feet tall, yet Branch was a Super Bowl MVP and Julian Edelman has the potential to be a future star. Amazingly, they also have only drafted two wide receivers over six feet tall; Chad Jackson, an athletic freak that they traded up for, and late-round project P.K. Sam. So, the six foot range seems to be a nice baseline for them. Looking at possible receiver prospects for the Patriots it is impossible to not mention Damian Williams, who is as crisp a route-runner as there is in the class and reminds me a lot of Reggie Wayne. I think he could put up 2004 Givens-esque numbers as a rookie and only improve from there. Other possibilities include Taylor Price from Ohio, Cincinnati Bearcat Mardy Gilyard and SMU sleeper Emmanuel Sanders. Any of them would provide a nice dynamic prospect who could play opposite Moss. However, given Belichick's past history with wide receivers, I would not be surprised at all if he traded up for one in the early second round, possibly Arrelious Benn should he slip. And, of course, if Dez Bryant slips to 22, the Pats will have to take a long, hard look at him. Wide receiver is probably the most fluid position for the Patriots, and it will be interesting to see what happens with it come draft day. TIGHT ENDS Tight end is kind of a forgotten position when it comes to discussing the Patriots, but they certainly value it very highly. They spent first round picks on tight ends twice in the past decade and drafted/signed 11 overall, a pretty large number all things considered. The tight end is not a major part of the Patriots offense, but it still seems to be a crucial spot for the brain trust to fill. They also are looking for a certain breed of tight end; at least 6 foot 3 and 245 pounds. The only tight end from the past decade who was below that threshold was Garrett Mills, and I think the team drafted him as a fullback rather than as a classic big man. Early round tight ends, especially, seem to have a similar build. All three tight ends taken in the first three rounds over the past decade by the Patriots (Daniel Graham, Ben Watson and David Thomas) were 6 foot 3 and between 245 and 250. Given the Patriots need at the position this year (the only TE on their roster at the moment is Alge Crumpler) I think we can expect a player with those parameters to get a long look. Who could fill the void for the Patriots? The answer may surprise some; Aaron Hernandez of Florida. He is not a traditional fit for the Patriots system, but neither were Watson nor Thomas coming out of college. He is already 6 foot 3/245, so he fills the body requirement. He is a great pass catcher and a willing blocker. I think that he could be a very interesting pick in the fourth round of the draft; many "experts" have him falling to that point. Other possibilities are Tony Moeaki of Iowa, Dennis Pitta of BYU and Garrett Graham of Wisconsin. Pitta deviates a bit from my statistics due to his height, but he has the hands and intelligence to be tempting later in the draft. I think, if he slips, he could end up in Foxboro. OFFENSIVE LINEMEN I am going to lump all of the offensive linemen together because, at some positions, there are not enough observations to really make a clear decision as to what the decade's trend could be. The Patriots definitely have their own brand of offensive lineman though, and it is pretty obvious what they like. They want intelligent guys who can block the sun and know where to place their hands. Size matters to an extent but it certainly is not a deal breaker. The Patriots do tend to view 6 foot 4 as a baseline for tackles and 6 foot 2 as a boundary for guards and centers; anything upwards seems to work for them. However, what is more important to them seems to be value. If they see an offensive lineman that they really like, they will try their darndest to get him. They basically traded Ellis Hobbs, a proven cornerback, for Rich Ohrnburger, a guard who some teams did not even see as a draftable prospect. They drafted Logan Mankins in the first round of a draft when most analysts saw him as a third round pick at best. They drafted Sebastian Vollmer a full three rounds earlier than some projections. It always seems to work out for them in the end. So, who could be joining the ranks of the Patriots after this draft? I have already gushed enough over Indiana tackle Rodger Saffold in my blog posts; his hand placement, intelligence and strength make him an ideal Patriot offensive lineman, and his fulfillment of their size-weight criteria merely serve to corroborate that fact. One tackle who has not gotten a ton of press as a possible Patriot candidate is Ed Wang of Virginia Tech, though he also seems to fit the bill. He is athletic, smart, and devastating as a run blocker. Guard and center wise, Jon Asamoah of Illinois and J.D. Walton from Baylor seem to be obvious targets. However, I have a sleeper for you to keep an eye on; Andrew Lewis of Oklahoma State. He fits the prototype at 6 foot 5 and 298 pounds and he is absolutely devastating at the point of attack. He reminds me a lot of Logan Mankins, and I think that he could be a major steal should the Patriots try to snag him with one of their compensatory seventh-round picks. The Patriots also could pick up a "bellcow" offensive tackle like Charles Brown or Jared Veldheer early, but I think Saffold may be their man. DEFENSIVE END The Patriots were one of the first teams in the NFL to convert to the now en-vogue 3-4 defense. On the backs of large defensive linemen like Anthony Pleasant and Bobby Hamilton, they started their dynasty based on their nasty defense. Since then, a funny trend has occurred; in the past decade, each year that they drafted a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft (Richard Seymour in 2001, Ty Warren in 2003 and Vince Wilfork in 2004) they have won a Super Bowl. That's a trend that could continue this year should the Patriots take a new 3-4 defensive end to replace Jarvis Green, who is now a Denver Bronco. The Patriots value 3-4 defensive ends similar to other teams that run the scheme. They look for big players, usually in the 6 foot 4 range, who weigh about 300 pounds. They look for guys who focus on stopping the run more than rushing the passer. The Patriots value 3-4 defensive ends highly, so it would be no surprise if they took one early in the draft. The two top candidates for such a selection are Jared Odrick of Penn State and Tyson Alualu of California. Alualu reportedly has earned a lot of accolades from coaches for his mental toughness and production on the field, and Odrick fits the Richard Seymour mold of a penetrating 3-4 defensive end who can also hold his own against the run. I do not think that the Patriots would go for a more project-oriented end like Alex Carrington or Corey Wootton simply because they don't take many guys under 300 pounds. Later in the draft, the Patriots may look for a pass-rushing defensive end to bring in as a rotational guy for Ty Warren, so keep an eye on Kade Weston from Georgia. He may be a steal, and reminds me a bit of Jarvis Green with his penetrating ability. DEFENSIVE TACKLE This position is one that I do not think the Patriots need to address, especially after wrapping up Vince Wilfork to a huge contract extension. However, it deserves discussion since the two players on this team who seem to have the most opposite of trajectories share this position. On one hand, there is Ron Brace. He was a second round pick and was supposed to come in right away and help keep Vince Wilfork fresh. By all accounts, he was lackluster and underperformed. On the other hand, Myron Pryor looks to be every bit a steal out of the sixth round. He shows great penetrating ability and, if the Patriots do not take a 3-4 defensive end, might be moved to the starting position. I actually think he would be best suited as a 4-3 undertackle, but he could also be a Jay Ratliff-type penetrating nose in the NFL. The Patriots, looking at nose tackles, are all over the map. One thing they appreciate, though, is leverage. They do not draft guys over 6 foot 3, but then again there are not a lot of teams in the NFL that do so either. The Patriots also seem to have a nice range of weights and heights at this position, from the gargantuan Wilfork to the small Dan Klecko, who became a Gillette Stadium darling before he was cut. Even though this would seem to be a bit unpredictable, there are some intriguing fits here who could serve as the fourth man in a nose-tackle quartet. Wilfork or Brace would play on run downs while Pryor and a rookie would serve as interior pass rushers. I also could see some more 4-3 alignments with the picks I have in mind. One ideal fit would be Lamarr Houston, a former Longhorn who burst onto the scene with a stellar Combine performance. He has the motor and the strength to be a factor in the NFL, and I think he could be a change-of-pace nose. Another possibility is Torell Troup from Central Florida, a really athletic guy who is a natural plugger. Belichick worked him out in person, so who knows, maybe there is something there. Later in the draft, Aleric Mullins of North Carolina and Andre Neblett of Temple could be interesting projects. INSIDE LINEBACKER Inside linebacker is, by far, the easiest position to translate to at the professional level. You can do an adequate job as an inside linebacker by basically being able to run laterally and make a tackle. The Patriots had not taken an inside linebacker on the first day of the draft until 2007, when they picked Jerod Mayo. Next to him, Gary Guyton is a serviceable starter, and Tyrone McKenzie still has upside despite missing the past season with injury. Regardless, depth is still an issue at this position. Many people project bigger guys to the Patriots assuming that they need to find the perfect TED thumper-type like Ted Johnson to make their core complete. I disagree with this thought process. The Patriots, at least on the inside, have looked for smaller linebackers in this decade. They have only drafted two middle linebackers over 245 pounds, and both of those were seventh-round projects who did not even make the team. This year, there are some talented middle linebackers who could make an impact for the Patriots. Jamar Chaney of Mississippi State, I think, is an ideal match. He is extremely explosive and has speed like no one else in this clbutt. 3-4 linebackers are best when they can get upfield to make plays, and with the Wilfork wall in front of him Chaney could thrive in the Patriots system. Other talented early round possibilities are Eric Norwood of South Carolina and Daryl Washington of TCU. Washington, especially, reminds me of Ray Lewis in regards to how he flies at the ballcarrier and brings him down with authority. Later in the draft, Micah Johnson from Kentucky or Vincent Rey of Duke could be interesting selections. One guy I do not think the Patriots will take is Brandon Spikes. Whenever you run a 5.00+ 40 as an inside linebacker, you will not be drafted highly. It happened to Kai Parham, and it will happen again to Spikes. That is just how the NFL works. OUTSIDE LINEBACKER The most famous Patriot necessity of all is the "tall 3-4 outside linebacker." While Bill Belichick does not like the huge, Willie McGinest-type elephants as his mentor, Bill Parcells, so craves (you heard it here first: Carlos Dunlap will be a Dolphin with the 12th pick of the NFL Draft), he still is a fan of big-bodied outside linebackers with enough speed to get to the cornerback. However, the 6 foot 4 inch myth is absolute bollocks. As a matter of fact, the top sacker for the Patriots last year, Tully Banta-Cain, is only 6 foot 2. That would seem to go against the prerequisite, yet he was drafted this decade by Belichick due to his acumen as a pass rusher. So, is the height ideal? Yes. Still, the Patriots will make do for exceptionally talented players. This is definitely a major need for the team as the Patriots have not drafted an outside linebacker in the first two rounds for the whole decade. Still, in 2007 they had never taken an inside linebacker in the first two rounds before, so I am not losing hope. I did a funny thing with the numbers for the outside linebackers; I averaged the heights and weights for OLBs taken by the Patriots this decade. It came out to 6 feet 4 inches and 252 pounds. Those are Ricky Sapp's weigh-in numbers from the Combine. I am not joking. Go, check. This is a sign. Sapp is the type of pass-rusher that the Patriots need, and his athleticism and his ability to stand up as an outside linebacker only add to his value. I am fully on the "Sapp in the first round" bandwagon at this point. Another intriguing option is Koa Misi, the explosive pass rusher from Utah who had exemplary three-cone and shuttle times at the Combine. He is another explosive pass rusher who can stand up and comes close to the Patriots' requirements. A late round sleeper may be Daniel Te'o Nesheim out of Washington. This prospect absolutely lit up his Pro Day, posting sensational times and garnering a personal workout in New England. This is a guy to watch out for; they may even pull a patented reach on him earlier than most expect. One guy I do not think the Patriots will select is Brandon Graham. I think that the interest in him is a smokescreen. He simply is not a fit for the Patriot system and will probably not be considered. I would love to have him, but it is doubtful. I'm also not sure on Sergio Kindle because of his history off the field. I do not think that he is intelligent enough to grasp the Patriot playbook, and I do not think he will be heavily considered with the pick. CORNERBACK There are two sides to the debate about the cornerbacks on this team. One side is that they were really bad last year and were simply unable to make stops when the game was on the line. The other side of the argument is that they would have been a lot better had there been a pass rush to pressure the opposing quarterback a bit more. The best example was in the Miami loss when Chad Henne legitimately had eight seconds to throw on the last drive of the game. That was inexcusable. I happen to think that there is some talent on this side of the ball and, when used properly, Leigh Bodden and Darius Butler could be a great starting tandem. Still, the Patriots like drafting cornerbacks to groom. They have not drafted any cornerbacks over 5 feet 11 inches or 200 pounds in the past decade, both of which are pretty amazing. They like small, quick guys over the behemoths. I am hearing very promising things about the Patriots going after Rutgers corner Devin McCourty, and although I do not think he would be a prudent first round selection I would not mind seeing us snag him at the beginning of the second round. He is extremely fast and agile, and from what I have seen he can play up-man, something very valuable for Belichick cornerbacks. I also think that Walter Thurmond, the Oregon cornerback who was injured this past season, could be a mid round selection a la Brandon Tate from last year. He has a lot of potential and would have been a first round lock if he had not gotten hurt. He is a perfect schematic fit and could be a wise long-term investment with a mid round pick. Alterraun Verner, Walter McFadden and Syd'quan Thompson also could be possible guys for the Patriots to pick up late. We will not go for anyone over six feet though; that is a guarantee. SAFETY Finally, the last position of my review. The safeties. And, in my mind, this is the one area where there is no need. Brandon Meriweather and Pat Chung will be the future starters. James Sanders and Brandon McGowan are capable backups. Everything is wonderful. Famous last words, I know, but I just do not see any way the Patriots select a safety before Round 6 this year. It just would not be prudent with all of the other needs on this team. In case you are curious, we tend to draft safeties who weigh over 200 pounds and are around six feet tall. There are some late round guys worth looking at. Ross Ventrone's brother, Raymond Ventrone, was a long-time special teamer for the Patriots. Maybe he will follow in his footsteps. Matt O'Hanlon is a gritty Cornhusker who loves making big plays. I think that he is a better pro prospect than more-heralded teammate Larry Asante. That is about all I have for you. I just do not think this position is a huge need. There we go. The draft is coming and there is a ton going on. Just try not to get lost in the shuffle; the landscape is perfectly negotiable as long as you use data and common sense as your compbutt.