Each week leading up to the draft, the Foxboro Blog crew will spend a week breaking down a position on the Patriots' roster. We'll start with a quick overview and then move onto a discussion involving potential draftees at that spot as well as free-agents that the Patriots may pursue. Up this week are the safeties...
2010 Recap: Perhaps no position had more Patriots fans jumping for joy and also pulling out their hair than saftey last season. Case in point: James Sanders' game-winning interception against the Colts, and Brandon Merriweather running into Devin McCourty, freeing up James Jones for a TD against Green Bay. Even when the safeties weren't playing "safety", they could envoke polar-opposite emotions. For example, Patrick Chung, who elated fans by blocking two kicks against Miami, also botched the fake punt against the Jets in the playoffs. For a threesome that featured a Pro Bowler in Merriweather, a seasoned veteran in Sanders, and the most-improved Patriot from the 2009 rookie class in Patrick Chung, one would have thought we'd have seen more consistency. Yet, all season long we saw the sublime being followed by the stupid.
If you had to choose between the Patriots adding an explosive receiver or running back to the roster, which would you take?
Derek: I think people look at the Patriots' wide receiving corps (Welker, Branch, and then some question marks in Edelman, Tate, and Price) and assume that Brady needs more targets. What they seem to forget is that the Pats have two young tight ends that were, by all accounts, very productive in the passing game as well. Brady doesn't have a "deep" Randy Moss-like target, but he has plenty of talented options to pass to. I loved what BenDanny Wood-Greenhead brought to the table last season, but I really think the Patriots could use a "franchise" runningback for Tom Brady's final stretch, similar to how Terrell Davis was able to compliment John Elway. His past three seasons, Brady has looked terrific, but ultimately ran into the wrong opponent who was able to get pressure and stop him. Yes, shoring up the O-line might help prevent that situation, but I also think that developing a rushing attack that teams truly "fear" would do wonders for New England.
Which 2010 Rookie are you expecting to see a big leap from in 2011?
Jason: To me, the development of Jermaine Cunningham is easily one of the biggest keys not only for the defense, but also for the entire team. If he can develop into an every-down OLB who can set the edge against the run and get after the quarterback on passing downs, that could be the difference between a Super Bowl and another early playoff exit. On the other side of the ball, I'd really like to see what Aaron Hernandez can do in his second year. He caused all kinds of headaches to opposing defenses before he was limited late in the season by injuries. If he develops a little bit more as a receiver and a blocker, he could add yet another dimension to an already-potent offense.
33. New England Patriots -- Brooks Reed, OLB, Arizona
I went out on a very thin limb a few weeks ago by picking Reed to go higher than any mock draft I'd seen so far, but that limb doesn't seem so thin now that Mel Kiper is projecting him to go in the first round (you're late to the party, Mel!). Reed has the prototypical size, character and leadership to fit New England's system perfectly. He did nothing at the Combine to hurt his draft stock, and he likely solidified his place as at least a 2nd round pick.
34. Buffalo Bills -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
35. Cincinnati Bengals -- Mikel LeShoure, RB, Illinois
36. Denver Broncos -- Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa
37. Cleveland Browns -- Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
38. Arizona Cardinals -- Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
39. Tennessee Titans -- Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
40. Dallas Cowboys -- Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA
41. Washington Redskins -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
42. Houston Texans -- Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
43. Minnesota Vikings -- Quinton Carter, FS, Oklahoma
44. Detroit Lions -- Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
45. San Francisco 49ers -- Sam Acho, OLB, Texas
46. Denver Broncos -- Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
47. St. Louis Rams -- Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
48. Oakland Raiders -- Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU
49. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Greg Jones, MLB, Michigan State
50. San Diego Chargers -- Rodney Hudson, G, Florida State
51. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Orlando Franklin, OT, Miami
52. New York Giants -- Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
53. Indianapolis Colts -- Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina
54. Philadelphia Eagles -- Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh
55. Kansas City Chiefs -- Allen Bailey, DE, Miami
56. New Orleans Saints -- Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech
57. Seattle Seahawks -- Stefan Wisniewski, OG, Penn State
58. Baltimore Ravens -- Randall Cobb, WR, Kentucky
59. Atlanta Falcons -- Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
60. New England Patriots -- Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Dowling pulled a hamstring during the Combine, but it happened while he was in the process of running a 4.4 40. He has struggled a bit with injuries during his college career, which is one of the few reasons he won't be a first round pick. I expect some team to take a chance on him a bit earlier that this, so this pick could easily end up being used to draft another offensive lineman or defensive playmaker.
61. Chicago Bears -- Benjamin Ijalana, OG, Villanova
62. San Diego Chargers -- Jason Pinkston, OT, Pittsburgh
63. Pittsburgh Steelers -- James Carpenter, OT, Alabama
64. Green Bay Packers -- Clint Boling, OG, Georgia
As we close in on April and the 2011 Draft, we thought it would be a good idea to touch base with Bloguin's top football scouting blog, Optimum Scouting, and pick their brains regarding potential Patriots prospects. Below is our Q&A session with the site's lead writer, Eric Galko.
1. What are the Patriots' biggest need in the draft in your opinion?
First and formost, they need to address that defense. They've added a lot of pieces to the secondary, and with McCourty, Meriweather, Chung and some depth, they should be okay there for the future. However, the outside linebackers on their roster currently only generated 12 sacks from last year, so a pass rusher or two should be high on their list. Also, Gerrard Warren is on the downslope of his career, and they since trading Seymour, they have had a need there as well. Also, Matt Light is getting up there in years at LT, and the whole OL could use depth. Finally, Green-Ellis and Woodhead aren't a running back crop to build around for the future.
By now I'm sure you've seen the "scandalous" footage of Tom Brady busting a move at Carnivale in Brazil. The media is having a field day with this at the moment, partly because, A. There's nothing else NFL-related to talk about, B. Brady, who is great a putting his best foot forward in public, does look pretty awkward in the video, and C. the media in general are a bunch of haters who love to rag on Brady and Belichick, and they're starving for some dirt after a 2010 campaign in which the duo arguably both had career years.
To all of you chugging the Haterade this morning, I have this to say...
#1 - Brady is wearing a boot from his recent foot surgery. Don't judge a man's dance moves when he's got one foot in a protective boot.
#2 - It's not the most manly of moves, but it's still better than this...
#3 - Just remember who Brady went home with after the party. Does your significant other look like that? No? Then stop talking.
Dance moves or no dance moves, is there really any argument?
After the departure of Randy Moss, the Patriots offensive numbers actually increased. However, even with a blend of Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Brandon Tate/Julian Edelman, it was clear the receiving corps was missing a true No. 1 receiver.
While not everyone views this as a major need, the playoff game against the Jets proved there is a way to stop this offense. With a deep receiver class in this year’s draft, I would not be opposed to the Pats taking a big, speedy receiver in the draft’s first three rounds.
Georgia’s A.J. Green is a lock to be a top-8 pick, but here are some other options in the first two rounds assuming the Pats don’t trade up for Green.
1. Julio Jones, Alabama: If Green is 1A, then Jones may just be 1B. The former Crimson Tide star brings size (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and physicality to the field. While he doesn’t have the most reliable hands or route-running skills compared to Green, he tested better in almost every drill at the combine. He draws comparisons to T.O. for his combination of size, speed and after-the-catch ability. Jones is a top-15 pick, so the Pats would have to trade up from 17 to get him.
2. Leonard Hankerson, Miami: For the last 20 years “The U” has produced top-notch NFL receivers like Michael Irvin, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson. Hankerson has a chance to be the next Hurricane to make the transition to the pros. He has good size at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds with good speed (4.40). He put together a great senior campaign, catching 72 passes for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns. Hankerson could be a target with the No. 33 pick. no comments
Randy Moss (TEN)
It would be a bit of a surprise (to me, at least) if Moss found his way back to New England, but the move could make sense under the right circumstances. He would have to be willing to accept a reasonably cheap deal and a reduced role. He has very few options on the table, which may be part of the reason why Moss made his love for the organization known during his postgame press conference after he faced the Patriots last year. He remains a possibility after feasting on a healthy portion of humble pie last year.
Jacoby Jones (HOU)
Last year was supposed to be a breakout campaign for Jones, but he struggled early in the season. He has very good speed and could help fill Moss's role in taking the top off the defense. However, he is not solely a deep threat; he has demonstrated an ability to get open against #2 corners opposite Andre Johnson. He is most likely to re-sign with the Texans, but he could make sense for the Patriots if the price is right.
Lance Moore (NO)
Moore compares to a young Deion Branch in terms of speed, route-running ability and physical make-up. He is a fan favorite in New Orleans and will be an offseason priority for the Saints, but if he slips through the cracks, he will be one of the most underrated prizes of the free agent season. He lacks the top-end speed and athleticism to be a prototypical #1 receiver, but he brings excellent intangibles and work ethic to the table.
James Jones (GB)
His awful drops in the Super Bowl notwithstanding, Jones is an emerging young star at the position. He has all of the physical traits of a borderline #1 WR, but he has been overshadowed by Greg Jennings and the other talented receiving options in Green Bay. He's still young, and if he puts it all together, his potential is very intriguing.
Malcolm Floyd (SD)
Floyd burst onto the scene as the top wideout for the Chargers in the absence of Vincent Jackson, and he performed admirably for half the year before he was hobbled by injuries. He is a bit unproven, but he looked good in limited action. He would provide a physical downfield threat for a team that lacked that dimension in the passing game in the playoff loss to the Jets.
Each week leading up to the draft, the Foxboro Blog crew will spend a week breaking down a position on the Patriots' roster. We'll start with a quick overview and then move onto a discussion involving potential draftees at that spot as well as free-agents that the Patriots may pursue. Up this week are the wide receivers...
2010 Recap: It's not often that an offense loses it's #1 wide receiver and ends up becoming even more potent in his absence. Yet that's exactly what happened when the Patriots traded Randy Moss back to the Minnesota Vikings after Week 4. The tumultuous wideout mananged to wear out his welcome early on in the year. While nothing we ever officially made public, there was rumblings that Moss was unhappy with his contract situation and the playcalling, and even had a heated confrontation with coach Bill O'Brien after the team's Monday Night victory in Miami.
With Moss, the Patriots managed to put together some impressive scoring performances against Cincinatti, Buffalo, and Miami, but without him they turned into a nearly unstoppable force. While the tight ends and running backs, certainly contributed to the offense that routinely put up 30+ points each game, the recievers were no slackers either. Bill Belichick brought back former Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch in a trade with Seattle, and he and Tom Brady quickly recaptured their magic connection. Welker continued to look stronger as the weeks went on and he gaind distance from his recovery from a torn ACL. Brandon Tate, while not necessarily a major producer in the passing game, had some key kickoff returns that he took to the house. Unfortunately, all the positive momentum came to a jolting halt in the playoffs against the Jets. New York's corners were able to play some tight defense and shut down the passing game. With Brady's targets locked up, the offense sputtered and, well, we all know what happened...
Overall, the Patriots offense shredded defenses by utilizing a number of different looks and keeping the opposition on their toes. It truly was a "team" effort with all facets of the offense contributing. However, it's safe to say that the passing attack looked as good as it had since the legendary 2007 year.
If you could only sign: A) Logan Mankins for $8 million/year or more for 6 years, or B) Matt Light for $4 million/year or less for 2 years, which contract would you choose?
Stephen: This is a tough call - Mankins is easily the Patriots' best offensive lineman, and is a top-3 guard in the league. However, it is simply too cost prohibitive to sign him for left tackle-type money at $8 million or more a year. Light is still a serviceable player who should come back for a manageable salary. If they let Mankins go, they absolutely need to invest at least one, if not two, high draft picks on an interior lineman. Light could be a holdover while the team grooms another tackle for the future - whether it be Sebastian Vollmer going to the left side or an early-round draft pick.