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Depth charge

Patriots understand draft choices don’t need to make an immediate impact

The Patriots aren't rebuilding this offseason, but that doesn't lessen the importance of Saturday's NFL Draft.

While it is quite likely no 2005 starter will come from this weekend's shopping spree, finding contributors - whether they do so immediately or down the road - is vital to the success of the franchise.

As well-respected as the Patriots' staff is for the job it has done in putting together winning schemes, remember: You have to get 'em before you can coach 'em.

There are no major holes on the roster - almost every loss was countered in some way by an addition. It is even arguable that coach Bill Belichick would feel comfortable (for next season, anyway) entering the season having to choose only from the 66 players under contract.

But the players the team adds through the 2005 draft need to be more than just gravy for the upcoming season, as they will be called on to one day be the Patriots' steak and potatoes.

While linebacker, defensive back (particularly cornerback), and offensive tackle are areas of need, the Patriots have shown a willingness to draft the best player on the board, regardless of position. That won't change this weekend.

Starter: Tom Brady
Backups: Rohan Davey, Chris Redman

It doesn't get much better than two-time Super Bowl MVP Brady - he sings and dances (see his ``Saturday Night Live'' performance) and throws touchdowns. So the Patriots aren't looking for a starter. Reserve help, however, is not out of the question. Brady is durable - 71 straight starts, including playoffs - but Davey is in his fourth season, has thrown just 19 passes in his career, and hasn't shown he can take over for an extended period should Brady go down. Of course, Brady had thrown only 13 passes before he took over in 2001. Redman, a new addition, was out of football last season. As far as the draft, a mid- or late-round pick on a quarterback isn't out of the question.

Starters: Corey Dillon, Patrick Pass
Backups: Kevin Faulk, Cedric Cobbs, Kory Chapman

Dillon earned every nickel of his incentive-laden contract a year ago, rushing for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns - both career highs. The Patriots reworked his contract, virtually guaranteeing him a roster spot for several years to come. Faulk, who matched Dillon in yards per carry (4.7), and Cobbs, who barely played as a rookie, are capable backups for the 30-year-old Dillon. Belichick likes young players to contribute by their second season, so Cobbs will get every opportunity to play. Pass will likely be the lone fullback on the roster. There is no pressing need at this position in the draft. Cobbs should be better than any mid-round pick.

Starters: Deion Branch, David Givens
Backups: David Terrell, Tim Dwight, Bethel Johnson, Cedric James, P.K. Sam, Ricky Bryant, Mark Bartosic, Jake Schifino

The competition could yield one of the more productive units in the league, particularly if free agent signee Terrell performs up to his potential and fellow newcomer Dwight remains healthy. Givens led the team in receptions (56) and receiving yards (874) and should be even better in his fourth season. Branch (35 receptions for 454 yards) may no longer be unsung after being named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX. If Johnson is consistent, there may be no cracks in this group. The additions of Terrell and Dwight, replacing David Patten and Troy Brown, make receiver a fairly low draft priority. And there is a possibility Brown could re-sign with the team.

Starter: Daniel Graham
Backups: Christian Fauria, Ben Watson, Jed Weaver, Joel Jacobs

With two first-round draft picks in the last three years - Graham (2002) and Watson (2004) - this spot should be taken care of for some time. Graham had a hot start last season, with 18 of his 30 receptions coming in the first six games. He started every game he played, and tied for the team lead with seven receiving TDs. Watson was a preseason star, but a knee injury curtailed his rookie campaign. Eleven-year veteran Fauria had another solid season and Weaver got into the mix in special situations. The Patriots have drafted five tight ends in five drafts under Belichick, but don't expect another one this season.

Starters: Matt Light, Russ Hochstein, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Brandon Gorin
Backups: Tom Ashworth, Gene Mruczkowski, Lance Nimmo, Jeff Roehl, Billy Yates

The loss of Joe Andruzzi (free agent signee with Cleveland) will be felt. But he can't be replaced immediately in the draft, and the team hasn't drafted a guard or tackle since 2001. Retaining free agents Neal, Gorin, and Ashworth will ease the pressure, but an addition or two could be made in the late rounds. After hardly losing a beat despite several injuries in 2004, the depth may not be as good unless Belichick finds a steal, like getting center Koppen with the 164th pick in 2003.

Starters: Richard Seymour, Keith Traylor, Ty Warren
Backups: Jarvis Green, Vince Wilfork, Marquise Hill, Ethan Kelley, Rodney Bailey, Dan Klecko

No reason to look for help here; this unit has been well stocked in recent drafts. Seymour (2001), Warren (2003), and Wilfork (2004) were the team's first pick in their respective draft years. Seymour earned a third consecutive Pro Bowl nod at defensive end. Warren's play in his second season hints at future Pro Bowls. And Wilfork showed steady improvement in his first year. Green, a fourth-round choice in 2002, has performed well. Veteran Traylor, who started 10 games in his 13th NFL season, will be back for one more season at nose tackle.

Starters: Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel
Backups: Rosevelt Colvin, Matt Chatham, Don Davis, Tully Banta-Cain, Larry Izzo, Eric Alexander, Monty Beisel, Wesly Mallard, Grant Steen

The team remains tight-lipped about Bruschi's situation amid speculation he will sit out the 2005 season. The signing of Beisel helps, as the former Kansas City Chief appears primed to earn a starting role. The Patriots have to address this position in the draft. Inside linebacker Johnson is entering his 11th season, Roman Phifer was released, and Beisel is the only inside linebacker under 30. On the outside, Vrabel, McGinest, and Colvin are an above-average trio. Izzo and Davis will be back as solid reserves, with an emphasis on special teams.

Starters: Duane Starks, Asante Samuel, Rodney Harrison, Eugene Wilson
Backups: Randall Gay, Tyrone Poole, Guss Scott, Hank Poteat, Dexter Reid, Ike Charlton

Ty Law is out and Starks is in. Not necessarily an even trade in terms of name recognition or size, but Starks was a starter on one of the most feared defenses in NFL history: the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. And the Patriots won the Super Bowl with 2003 fourth-round pick Samuel and undrafted rookie free agent Gay starting on the corners. Each should be more confident because of experience. If Poole (knee) regains the starting spot opposite Samuel, and Gay provides depth, an incoming rookie would not be pressed into action, as Gay was last season. The Patriots may focus their first pick on a cornerback. A safety could be in the mix in the middle rounds, though Harrison and Wilson form a top veteran tandem, with Reid and Scott as reserves.

SPECIAL TEAMS: kicker Adam Vinatieri, punter Josh Miller, long-snapper Lonie Paxton, kick returners Johnson, Faulk, punt returner Dwight

There will be no significant change, as Vinatieri and Miller each return following stellar seasons. Vinatieri led the league in scoring (141 points) and Miller had his best season since 2001 (42 yards per punt) in his first year with the Patriots. Johnson is a threat on kickoff returns, and the punt return game got a serious boost with the addition of Dwight. Ability to play special teams is a consideration in making late-round draft picks.

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