LONGSHOTS: NFL Draft winds blow through Foxboro this week
by Dave Long
The NFL draft comes our way this week over three days for the first time beginning on Thursday. This one is particularly interesting because the pressure is on Coach B after seeing the gap between his team and others in the AFC East close quite a bit in the last month. That is if there even was one at year’s end.
The close-but-no-cigar Dolphins just traded for Brandon Marshall, who, while a head case, is the only other NFL receiver to have three straight 100-catch seasons besides the injured-until-November Wes Welker. A big addition to a team with a strong running game and an improving young quarterback who picked apart the Patriots defense in a Miami win last December. The Jets — who were clearly a better team by year’s end, going deep into the playoffs — took it even farther in both the talent and the risk department. While dangerous Santonio Holmes is not quite Randy Moss, the Jets got him for a song (a fifth pick) when Pittsburgh wanted to dump him, like Oakland did when Moss came for a fourth pick in 2007. They also got a cover corner to go with Darrelle Revis to let them do what they really want — go after the quarterback at every opportunity after the Chargers tired of an off-field act from Antonio Cromartie that makes Tiger Woods look like an evangelical monk.
True teams can look good on paper in spring and not pan out in October, especially when taking risky players, but Moss and Corey Dillon worked here, so we’ve seen it work firsthand. Throw in the horrendous playoff loss to the Ravens and blown fourth-quarter leads vs. Denver, Miami, Indianapolis and Houston, and let’s just say there are holes to be filled. And while there probably is a plan, as there always seems to be with Bill Belichick, to date it looks like this off-season the emperor’s fiddling as Rome burns.
That all can change if he’s productive this week, as he was in 2002 when they got Daniel Graham (1), Deion Branch (2), Jarvis Green (4) and David Givens (7), or a year later when Ty Warren (1), Eugene Wilson (2), Asante Samuel (4), Dan Klecko (4), Dan Koppen (5) and Tully Banta-Cain (7) came walking through that door. BUT, while all contributed to winning the last two Super Bowl wins, life is different now. They were acquired after the infrastructure of stars (Brady, Vrabel, Bruschi, Law and Seymour) was in place and they only were needed to fill secondary roles to get better. This year they need defensive play-makers, and you don’t need to be Mel Kiper Jr. to know those types are rarely found below round one when immediate help is the issue.
So here are some thoughts to consider as you await the opening bell:
Needs: The most glaring is a play-making pass-rushing linebacker. I actually think they need three linebackers to put with Mayo and allow Banta-Cain and Gary Guyton to be what they are, situational players. Next is a running back they can count on to be healthy all year, make plays and get it on third and short. Third is a D-lineman. Mike Wright is a good, versatile player and a great fourth lineman, but he’s no Richard Seymour (not that many are). Fourth is a wide out opposite Moss, and beyond that it’s rebuilding the depth on the line and at tight end since they don’t have any.
Recent History: Putting aside last year, it’s not real good. That’s based on how many A or B level players they got from them — with Brady or Seymour being an A, and B being a Koppen or Givens type. All they have to show in those categories from 2006 to 2008 is Jerod Mayo, Brandon Meriweather and Steve Gostkowski. Laurence Maroney also came in 2006, but I give him a C at best. The last good draft was 2005, when they got Logan Mankins, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kaczur, James Sanders and Matt Cassel. Clearly he must do better this week.
The Window is Closing: Brady will be 33 when the season starts. That means they’ve probably got him for five more years. So do they want to waste two of them working to rebuild the defense? While 10-6 and a first-round playoff visit would be nirvana in Detroit, that’s not the case here. So if they want to stay in the mix they need talent that, to (sorry, Fox News Nitwork) quote Hillary Clinton, “is ready on day one.” Not draft picks who show promise. If they wanted that they should have kept Cassel and got the mother lode for Brady instead of getting a measly second-round pick for him — which is a complaint for another day.
The 2009 Draft: The best was tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who will be a starter this year. Darius Butler can play at DB and Julian Edelman was a find in the seventh round. The mini Welker will be mucho important with the real Welker gone until mid-year at best. Pat Chung and Myron Pryor showed glimpses while number-two pick Ron Brace was awful. Others were injured and inconclusive.
Trading Down: Maneuvering can be good or bad depending on what side you’re on. Everyone likes extra picks, BUT who came out better in 1985 when the Pats got a second-round pick (Ben Thomas) to drop from 18 to 28 where they took center Trevor Matich and the 49ers took Jerry Rice at 18? Last year they dropped out of 23 when they clearly needed help at linebacker when Clay Matthews, who went to the Pro Bowl, was still on the board before going at 25. A major faux pas in my book.
Trading Up: Yes, early picks are expensive. But Belichick’s picked in the top 10 twice when both Seymour and Mayo were home runs. No matter what they say, this is where you’re most likely to find the immediate-impact talent they need. So if a pass rusher is there, do a deal.
The George Allen Approach: George hated draft picks like I hate the stat geek’s approach to baseball. The draft can be used two ways. Build through it as the Pats did early in the Belichick era. Or how it was used in 2007. At face value it looks like they only have Brandon Merriweather to show for it. But they used a two for Welker and a four for Moss to give them one of the great passing games of all time overnight as they nearly pulled off the undefeated season. A two for Dillon in ’04 made a similar difference to the running game. Ditto in ’03 when they traded for Ted Washington and signed Rodney Harrison, which helped a 9-7 team go to 14-2 and win the Super Bowl. Easier said than done — but that’s what they should do.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.