Thanks to some help from our friends from Phins Phocus, we were able to get in touch with a special guest analyst who helped us break down the Patriots’ NFL Draft, their needs in free agency, and their standing in the AFC East. Our guest today is NFL Network and FOX analyst, Charles Davis. Davis was a great defensive back in college for Tennessee, making All-SEC in 1986. Now he's continuing his work in football as an analyst, which he as been doing since 2007. We at Foxboro Blog would like to thank Mr. Davis for taking time out of his busy schedule to spend 15-20 minutes with us to talk Patriots’ football.
You can follow Charles on Twitter: @CFD22
1. How do you think the Patriots fared in the NFL Draft? What letter grade would you give them?
I am not one who gives out grades, but I think they did well in the draft. I like the Nate Solder pick in the 1st Round. He is a guy who has an opportunity to get stronger with the Patriots and can make an impact right away. In the second round, they got a first round talent in Ras-I Dowling from Virginia to add to their depth in the secondary. In terms of their running backs, Shane Vereen from California is a good change-up back, similar to another running back that went to California in Jahvid Best. Steven Ridley, out of LSU, is a guy who can eat carries in the backfield similar to a pitcher in baseball who can give you 5-7 innings.
In the fifth round, they got a steal in TCU’s Marcus Cannon. He is a player who might have to move to tackle in the NFL, but he can contribute right away if his health checks out okay. Tight end Lee Smith out of Marshall can be used as both a tight end, and if he gains an extra 25-30 pounds, he can be used as a left tackle. The major steal that everyone is talking about is Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett in the 3rd round. He is a good fit to either succeed Tom Brady at quarterback or help out the Patriots in terms of his trade value. If he can’t fix his character issues with the Patriots, then he won’t fix it anywhere in all likelihood. Overall, I think the Patriots had another good draft. However, we say that about every team this time of year.
2. What is the main position the Patriots need to address once free agency begins?
The outside linebacker position is still a spot they have to address, but they have young talent there to mature over time. The wide receiver spot is a position where they can use more speed to be able to stretch the field. Possibly, offensive tackle could be a position of need depending on who wants to stay a Patriot, and who they keep in free agency.
3. What kind of wide receiver do the Patriots need to get at the free agent market? If you are Bill Belichick, would you take a chance on Plaxico Burress?
They need a wide receiver that can run very fast. They need someone who can stretch the field out wide and has great speed, similar to what Randy Moss did in his time with the Patriots. However, there are not a lot of guys like that out there on the open market. Steve Smith has some speed, but not the kind of speed the Patriots would be looking for. Terrell Owens is bordering on 40 years old. As far as the Plaxico Burress situation is concerned, Plaxico did make a bad decision bringing the loaded gun into the nightclub, but he is not a trouble guy that would make Coach Belichick not want to take a look at him. Nevertheless, he wasn’t a speed threat when he was with the Giants and being out of football for almost two years doesn’t exactly help you gain that explosiveness. Look for New England to make a deal or pick up a receiver who somebody cuts to strengthen that position.
4. Even with the lockout, how much do you expect the defense to improve in the 2011 season?
They still have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball with Vince Wilfork being the anchor of the defensive line. They still could use a 5-technique player on that defensive line. We had talked during the draft about guys who fit those needs, whether it was Wisconsin DE J.J Watt or the kid from California, Cameron Jordan. You can never have enough defensive backs as well. However, this is a team that went 14-2 last season. Stats do not matter. It is just like the old Peanuts comic strip where Lucy says a bunch of statistics about how Charlie Brown can’t play football. Charlie Brown ends up telling her to shut up with the statistics. The record speaks for itself, and when you have a great defensive mind in Belichick, the defense should be able to improve.
They also have great play at the safety position. When Brandon Merriweather was coming into the league, I said he would be better off as a safety than a cornerback. It is one of the things I got right over the course of my analyst career. They have found a good fit for him. They are doing things right with the defense up in New England.
5. I live in New York so I hear every day about Rex Ryan guaranteeing the Jets will win a Super Bowl every year. Are the Patriots still the team to beat in the AFC East once the lockout is over?
Yes, in order to win the AFC East, you still have to go through New England. As long as Tom Brady is pulling the trigger in Foxboro, they are a tough out. Mark Sanchez has made progress, but he seems to play better in the postseason than he does in the regular season. I bet the Jets would like to have a playoff game at home, even though you have to give Rex Ryan a ton of credit for getting his team to back-to-back AFC Championship games. You love a coach who predicts Super Bowls every year, but as it gets old, it can turn people off. It is similar to another New Yorker you are familiar with, Ricky, in Patrick Ewing. Ewing predicted the Knicks would win numerous times, but in the end, he did not get his championship ring.
6. One of the key players who was a sparkplug for the Patriots last year was RB Danny Woodhead, With the Patriots drafting Vereen and Ridley, is Danny Woodhead’s playing time due for a decrease in 2011?
The running backs the Patriots brought in will have to beat Woodhead out for the job. The organization likes what he brings to the table in terms of his catching out of the backfield and his running ability. You watched Hard Knocks and saw the talent he brings to a football team. Rex Ryan still is regretting that decision because they wanted to keep their draft pick out of USC in Joe McKnight. That being seed, Vereen and Ridley will have to really impress the coaching staff to jump ahead of him on the depth chart. When they kick off, Woodhead should get the starts. Shane Vereen will be a guy to watch however, as he plays like Kevin Faulk. Keep an eye on his dual-threat ability. The Patriots do a great job in choosing the best player that fits their team rather than protecting their draft choices. It reminds me of former Patriot GM Scott Pioli giving 4th year DE Wallace Gilberry more playing time over Tyson Jackson, who was the 3rd pick in the draft three seasons ago.