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Take five on Patriots' draft

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 3, 2011 03:09 PM

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Now that we've had a couple of days to digest and dissect the NFL Draft here are five thoughts on the Patriots' work:

1. In no rush -- Before the draft, Patriots coach Bill Belichick went on Sirius radio and said that he thought this draft would ultimately come down to how teams evaluated the front seven players. It must say something then that Belichick didn't pick any until the sixth round. Either the Patriots didn't like any of the outside linebackers in this draft, or they didn't like them enough to move up and make sure they got one. The same goes for defensive ends. I never understood the Cameron Jordan buzz. At 287-pounds, he was a tweener for the Patriots' 3-4 system, too big for linebacker and not big enough to hold up at defensive end.

The Patriots have high hopes for second-year outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, he of one career NFL sack. (Let's not mention that Cunningham's teammate at Florida, Carlos Dunlap, taken by the Bengals one pick later, had 9.5 sacks in 12 games last season.) Maybe, they have a poor man's Cameron Wake in UFL refugee Eric Moore. We can only hope.

Belichick told an excellent story at the draft about picking the best player on the board, regardless of positional need. He recalled how the Giants were excoriated in 1984 for drafting Carl Banks with the No. 3 pick when they already had five-time Pro Bowler Brad Van Pelt and Lawrence Taylor at outside linebacker.

But it also illustrated that outside of Mike Vrabel, the difference-making outside linebackers that Belichick has coached have been top 5 picks -- LT (No. 2 in 1981), Banks and Willie McGinest (No. 4 pick in 1994). That would indicate that sooner or later to get a player that meets his lofty standards at the position he's going to have to go up and get him.

2. On the run -- That Belichick used second- (Shane Vereen) and third-round (Stevan Ridley) picks on running backs should dispel the notion that the Patriots had the second-coming of Jim Brown in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I felt running back was an area the Patriots could upgrade. Belichick agreed. That's not an indictment of Green-Ellis or helmeted folk hero Danny Woodhead. But too many people fixated on the fact that the eminently likable Green-Ellis ran for 1,000 yards last season (1,008). Subtract the games when he fattened up on Buffalo's league-worst run defense for 202 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and he averaged 56 yards a game.

Teams didn't fear the Patriots running game and found it preferential to Tom Brady taking to the air because it lacked a home run threat. New England didn't have single run longer than 36 yards last season. Giving Brady a potential breakaway back would prevent defenses from flooding the field with defensive backs with impunity. Green-Ellis is an excellent short-yardage runner with a nose for the end zone (13 touchdowns), but he is not a bellwether back. The real question is not whether the Patriots should have picked a running back, but whether they took the right one? They passed on Mark Ingram, who was taken with No. 28, a pick the Patriots traded to the Saints, and took Vereen over Mikel Leshoure, who went one pick later.

3. Oh, Ryan -- The Patriots using a high-round pick to take a QB made sense, and I thought it might happen. The only thing stronger than the rumors of Ryan Mallett's misdeeds is his Howitzer-arm. Mallett could be this year's Aaron Hernandez. Like Mallett, Hernandez was a first-round talent who dropped in the draft due to off-field behavioral issues. Mallett is the same kind of gamble as Hernandez, with an even bigger potential payoff.

Mallett does represent a risk, as there have been rumblings of drug use. Then there's his unusual behavior on at least two of his pre-draft visits, where he missed meetings with teams and claimed he was sick. In the case of the Carolina visit, there were reports he was out late the night before, which Mallett and his agent denied. Still, Mallett was excellent value in the third round, and it's understandable for the Patriots to at least try to start searching for Brady's successor.

4. Cornering the market -- Defensive back has become the new tight end for Belichick. For the fifth year in a row, the Patriots selected a corner in the first two rounds, taking Virginia's Ras-I Dowling with the first pick of the second round. In 2007 they drafted Brandon Meriweather in the first round to play corner before shifting him back to safety. In 2008, they took second-rounder Terrence Wheatley. In '09 Darius Butler went in Round 2. Last year, they finally got it right, drafting Pro Bowler Devin McCourty in the first round.

In today's air raid NFL it's a great advantage if you have three guys who can cover. Look at the Green Bay Packers with Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and rookie Sam Shields. The slot corner or "star" position was a real weakness for the Patriots last season. They had to shift safety Patrick Chung inside to try to cover and the results were mixed to be generous. Dowling is more of an outside corner, but either McCourty or Leigh Bodden could shift inside to man the "star." Plus, the Patriots still have Kyle Arrington. Good pick.

5. Buying Solder -- If history holds then left tackle Nate Solder, the Patriots ' first-round pick, should have an excellent NFL career. He won't be a bust. Solder, taken 17th, is the fourth player the Patriots have drafted in the top 20 during the Bill Belichick era. The others are Richard Seymour (No. 6 in 2001), Jerod Mayo (No. 10 in 2008) and Ty Warren (No. 13 in 2003). Those are all Pro Bowl-caliber players. Incredibly, Solder is the highest-selected offensive player Belichick has taken with the Patriots. Belichick doesn't miss with top 20 picks, yet another reason for the team to move up more often.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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