>\n\nWorst to First: 22. New England Patriots \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 22. New England Patriots

Written by Ben Morgan on 04/17/2010

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the Team of the last decade, The New England Patriots. And as a Steelers fan you have no idea how much it hurts to say that! But it's true. So how will the Patriots fare in this decade? Well as you can see below from the 2011 Potential Free Agents they have some big decisions to make and probably some big contracts to pay out. As is becoming customary with the Patriots they also have a tonne of draft picks, including 4 in the first 2 rounds of the draft alone. With 12 picks in total I'd expect the Pats to shift some, perhaps getting some sucker teams's first rounder in exchange for one of their second rounders this year. Why teams do that I will never know. As we'll see this isn't a team without holes, and they may even opt to use all their round 1 and 2 picks on themselves for once. But you never really know with the Pats, they're generally only predictable in their unpredictability on draft day. I don't expect 2010 to be any different. So let's go through the roster and figure out what they need and what they'll do. Then we can compare the actual draft and see how wrong I got it!
2010 Free Agent Losses 2010 Free Agent Additions
Chris Baker TE (Seahawks,UFA-cut), Jarvis Green DE (Broncos,UFA), Benjamin Watson TE (Browns,UFA)

Alge Crumpler TE (Titans,UFA), Damione Lewis DT (Panthers,UFA-cut), Marques Murrell LB (Jets,RFA)
2010 Unsigned Free Agents 2011 Potential Free Agents
Derrick Burgess OLB (UFA), Stephen Gostkowski K (RFA), Chris Hanson P (UFA), Logan Mankins G (RFA), Junior Seau LB (UFA), Chris Taylor RB (RFA), Pierre Woods OLB (RFA)

Eric Alexander LB (UFA), Kyle Arrington DB (RFA), Tom Brady QB (UFA), Randy Moss WR (UFA), David Patten WR (UFA), Fred Taylor RB (UFA), Sammy Morris RB (UFA), Laurence Maroney RB (UFA), Kevin Faulk RB (UFA), BenJarvus Green-Ellis RB (RFA), Gary Guyton LB (RFA),  Damione Lewis DE (UFA), Matt Light OT (UFA), Bret Lockett DB (XRFA), Brandon McGowan DB (UFA)

Quarterbacks Minor Need
You may notice that unlike many teams, the Pats don't have too many potential free agents in 2011. The difference here is the quality of the impending free agents. Brady and Moss. Ouch. I think it's foolish to even entertain the idea that Tom Brady might go somewhere else. Moss may be another matter but we'll address that later. So we all know everything there is to know about Brady. But what about what's behind him on the depth chart? Well unless you're related to Brian Hoyer or Jeff Rowe, chances are you don't know the first thing about them. Which begs the question would the Patriots draft one? Well I would say probably. At some point. Who might it be? Well they have been strongly linked to Tim Tebow but I don't know how much of that is genuine interest and how much is smokescreen designed to make some other team draft him in the Top 20 before the Patriots pick. With Belichick and Tebow's coach being friends I'm just not sure. Should they be interested? Well, yes probably. Tebow has well publicised flaws to his game and if he's to succeed in the NFL he needs time to learn and a great coach. He'd get both in New England. And with 3 second round picks the Pats could just say what the hell and take a risk with one of them. I'm still leaning more towards smokescreen, and I expect New England to package some of those second rounders to move up or yet again, offer them up for future picks. With the picks they currently have they'd probably have to use the first rounder on Tebow. I see this as a Minor Need because of unknown quantities behind Brady but I'm leaning more towards a later round pick.

Runningbacks Minor Need
Some teams operate a Runningback by Committee approach. New England it's more like Runningback by Congregation. With 4 guys capable of getting the majority of carries on any given Sunday they seem set. Except that their entire stable of RBs are free agents in 2011. 3 of them are well into their 30s and the other one had fumbling problems and a sub 4ypc average last year. So this backfield is crowded with not much room for a rookie. Were they to draft a rookie though they could probably get rid of any one of the 4 guys currently under contract to make way. So definitely don't rule RB out. Of the player visits I could find they've had Montario Hardesty (possibly late second rounder) and Charles Scott (think mid rounds) in. So I have to start looking at this as at least a Minor Need because of age, health and performance problems, but ultimately they may just choose to start clean next year and address it then. Oh and you can add BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the list of 2011 free agents as well.

Wide Receivers Minor Need
Randy Moss - 83rec 1264yds 13TDs 1 Year left on his contract. Wes Welker - 123rec 1348yds 4TDs, 3 Tears (1 ACL, 1 MCL, 1 Rotator Cuff). Them;s the numbers from 2009. Impressive and worrying in equal measure. Moss has worries about being extended by the Patriots. They don't like to pay huge money. It's why they typically trade away high draft picks. So the chances of Moss being back in 2011 seem somewhat slim. Maybe not as slim as the chances of Welker seeing the field before Halloween though. Asking Julian Edelman to fill in for Welker's production is asking a lot. There'll definitely be a drop off there but 10 catches for 103 yards in the Pats last game of the season has a distinctly Welkerlike look to it. Sam AIken caught 20 balls and showed some deep ability. Even so with long development times for WRs, the lack of any demonstrable pass catching ability underneath the top 4, Welker's injury and Moss' possible departure in 2011... You'd probably expect me to be looking at this as Major Need, and I must admit, I'm very tempted. But the Patriots were winning titles before Moss by spreading the ball around a bunch of mediocre WRs and running the ball more. If they lose Moss, I'd expect them to go back to that. In Welker, Edelman, Brandon Tate and Sam Aiken they may have 4 guys who fit the bill, though we really don't know much about Tate. Adding Moss to the list and you start to run out of roster spots for a rookie. Whilst I'm tempted to start thinking about Dez Bryant to the Patriots in a draft day tumble, it's not realistic so earliest they might look is round 2. In which Marshwan Gilyard might be a good fit.

Tight Ends Major Need
Time was Brady loved his Tight Ends and the Patriots would draft one, pretty much every year. It's been a few years now but they still usually had a nice stash of TEs. But with Chris Baker and Ben Watson moving on to pastures new and only Alge Crumpler looking a lock to make the roster there is very definite scope to add a TE here. And Jermaine Gresham could fit snugly into their #22 pick. But the Patriots are well known for going their own way with their draft picks which makes them very very hard to predict. Talk about the rich getting richer if they did get Gresham though. Or Rob Gronkowski for that matter. This is a Major Need position, just don't expect the Pats to pick the TE you're thinking of. Or even one at all...
Offensive Line Minor Need
Relatively unheralded second round rookie Seabastien Vollmer was nothing short of a revelation last year. Matt Light went down injured and couldn't get his LT position back from the rookie. That clouds what happens with Light this year. If there was a salary cap he'd almost certainly be a cap cut. With it being an uncapped year the Pats may very well keep hold of him. The Right Tackle situation wasn't so great though so perhaps they can work some way of having both Vollmer and Light on the field. It may make the Left side weaker putting Light there but the combination would probably be preferable to playing Nick Kaczur and/or Mark LeVoir at RT again. There is definitely depth there at Tackle however so I'd be surprised if the Pats drafted a pure Tackle prospect. Inside Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal and Dan Koppen are still strong performers but Neal is 33 (and probably in his final year) and Mankins could be an unrestricted free agent next season. But the Patriots also used 2 mid round picks on Guards last season as well. And looking at the Offensive Linemen they've had talks or workouts with, the only one who stands out is Maurkice Pouncey who will probably not even be around when they pick at #22. It looks to me as if the Pats are mostly happy with what they have on the OL and whilst they'll need one of Rich Ohrnberger or George Bussey to step up, if they do make a pick on the OL this year I think it would more likely be for a RT with possible Guard ability. The Pats tend to prefer the lighter, more nimble type of Linemen too. Someone like Rodger Saffold or Jared Veldheer in round 2 perhaps?

Defensive Tackles No Need
Vince Wilfork is one of the top Nose Tackles in the NFL and the Patriots just gave him a long term deal reflecting that. Effectively choosing him over Richard Seymour. But as insurance against not being able to re-sign Wilfork they used one of their 2nd round picks on Boston College NT Ron Brace, so they're seemingly set at the position. I figure Brace will work some at 3-4DE as well as back up Wilfork at the Nose. When Wilfork was hurt last year the Pats run D didn't fare so well but let's be fair to the rookie, shifting to the 3-4 takes time. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Though there is some doubt as just just how good Brace was in college and how much of his good play was due to being next to B.J. Raji. We'll have to watch Brace's development closely.

Defensive Ends Major Need
Having traded away All World 3-4DE Richard Seymour last season and lost Jarvis Green to the Broncos this season things look slim at DE. They still have the excellent Ty Warren to nail down one side but the other's a little open to question. Mike Wright would probably start if the season began now and he had a nice season last year, not one that's likely to make you forget Seymour in a hurry but nice nonetheless. He's good depth, and versatile, but I'm not sure he's who I'd ideally want starting for me. They added Damione Lewis, a free agent pickup from the Panthers. That probably doesn't excite too much, and it really shouldn't. The Panthers DTs were a mess last year and they play a 4-3 front. I thought Lewis would make for a good 3-4DE coming out of college, it's just that was the best part of a decade ago. Asking a lifelong 4-3 DT to instantly switch to the 3-4 front isn't the best solution and I think we may mostly see him used in 4 man fronts, if he even makes the final roster. Which still leaves a hole to fill at one of the DE slots. It's worth noting that the Pats also drafted 2 late round guys who figure to be 3-4DEs last year. Both are still on the roster too. Myron Pryor and  Darryl Richard. Pryor saw some work last year and was even playing ahead of Ron Brace at times, which bodes well for his making the roster this year but neither are a lock. To me they're still short of a definite starter at End, but finding a kid in the draft who can start (and be effective) straight away is hard. There's almost certainly going to be some development time but the Pats have often used early picks on their DL and this year could be no exception. Seymour, Warren and Wilfork were all 1st round selections. This year perhaps only Jared Odrick fits in as a 1st rounder but Patriots draft picks often look like reaches to draftniks so don't rule out a guy like Tyson Alualu or Alex Carrington either. With the number of 3-4 defenses starting up around the league guys like this could be somewhat undervalued by draft sites but much more highly prized by NFL Teams. Guys like Alualu and Carrington may be second (or even third) rounders in many people's eyes but that tends to be looking at them as 4-3DT prospects. As 3-4DEs they should have much higher value. 

Linebackers Major Need
Jerod Mayo was supposed to be the nest beast at ILB following on from a very impressive rookie year but an injury in early season seemed to cost him a bit of speed and movement. You have to figure with a full offseason's rest he should be 100% and ready to forget 2009. Gary Guyton is a nice surprise as an undrafted free agent. He's played well and whilst he probably won't be attending too many pro bowls he's a solid contributor. Tyrone McKenzie, a 3rd rounder last year tore up his ACL a year ago and missed his rookie season. He's could challenge Guyton for a starters berth. Replacing Tedy Burschi is a tall order but these guys are going to get first shot at it and I doubt they look for anyone other than a depth project type at ILB. At Outside LB is another story. Tully Banta-Cain finally delivered the season he once promised out of college and he's been re-upped to a nice deal. He'll start at one OLB slot. Adalius Thomas is still on the roster but he's been a big disappointment for the Patriots and will probably be cut or traded during or after the draft. So they are definitely in the market for someone outside. They had Jerry Hughes of TCU in for a visit, along with Michigan's Brandon Graham. Graham should be gone by the 22nd pick but the Patriots have the ammunition to move up a long way in round 1 with 2 second round picks. Should they want to. Which they usually don't. Still, with some teams undergoing rebuilding exercises, getting an extra 2 second rounders and dropping to 22nd would be very appealing. So Hughes is probably the better pick at #22 if they want to use up the first rounder on a 3-4 OLB. They've also had off season contact with several other OLB types including Sergio Kindle and Jason Pierre-Paul and as there's little pass rushing depth as well if they keep ahold of all their picks they could definitely add more than 1 3-4OLB in this draft.

Cornerbacks Minor Need
Despite an anaemic pass rush for most of the season the Pats Pass Defense was pretty good, giving up a shade under 210 yards per game. Leigh Bodden looked great but besides him there's not a tremendous amount of proven talent. Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler got plenty of snaps but they're still developing. It looks like Shawn Springs will be back for another season which gives them some depth but I can definitely see a CB being taken with one of those second rounders. There's lots of good guys that should be available then and the Pats have had off season contact with several of them, Kareem Jackson, Devin McCourty and Dominique Franks included. Kyle Wilson would be a good fit for their first round pick too. It's a definite need for them but I think with a decent 4 man rotation they won't have too much need to rush the rookie in. If the pass rush gets better this pass defense could enter the elite even with their current personnel but Springs is on his last legs and finding a replacement for him should be done this year.
Safeties No Need
The Pats are a lot deeper than most at Safety. Brandon Meriweather is the standout player and they get enough out of James Sanders and Brandon McGowan to get by. That's not to say someone like Earl Thomas wouldn't significantly improve the secondary, but they also drafted Pat Chung early in the second round last year. If he can develop as a strong safety it could free the Patriots to use Maeriweather more in a Free Safety role. That could happen this year but with 3 guys with starting experience (1 of whom is probowl calibre) and a second rounder going into his sophomore year I can't see them looking seriously at this position unless there is some extreme value pick to be had.
Specialists Major Need
Gostkowski is one of, if not the best young kicker in the league. On the punting side Chris Hanson looks to be a goner and with only an untried guy currently on the roster there is a big need here. Look for the Pats to add a guy like Zoltan Mesko earlier in the draft than you think...

Return Game No Need
With Brandon Tate expected back and Julian Edelman doing a fair impersonation of Wes Welker expect the Pats to be fine on both kick and punt returns. Once Welker is healthy again they'll be even better.

Dream Day One
 1.22 Jerry Hughes OLB TCU
2.44 Kareem Jackson CB Alabama
 2.48 Rodger Saffold OT Indiana
2.53 Tyson Alualu DE California
Player Visits
Tim Tebow QB Florida
Montario Hardesty RB Tennessee
Charles Scott RB LSU
Dez Bryant WR Oklahoma State
Arrelious Benn WR Illinois
Eric Decker WR Minnesota
Maurkice Pouncey C Florida
Jason Worilds DE/OLB Virginia Tech
Jonathan Dwyer RB Georgia Tech
Damian Williams WR USC
Ryan Matthews RB Fresno State
Dan Williams DT Tennessee
Brian Price DT UCLA
Arthur Jones DT Syracuse
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim DE Washington
Corey Wootton DE Northwestern
Chris McCoy DE Middle Tennessee State
Nate Byham TE Pittsburgh
Dexter McCluster RB Mississippi
Riley Cooper WR Florida
Jermaine Gresham TE Oklahoma

Brandon Graham DE/LB Michigan
Jerry Hughes DE/LB TCU
Jamar Chaney MLB Mississippi State
Kyle Wilson CB Boise State
Devin McCourty CB Rutgers
Robert McClain CB Connecticut
Dekoda Watson LB
Donald Butler ILB Washington
Tyson Alualu DE California
Kurt Coleman S Ohio State

 The excellent NE Patriots Draft has a much more comprehensive list of Patriots Official Visits and Private Workouts

Last Edited: 04/14/2010

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