image via funscrape.com Would more weapons, or more possessions, make this the new TFB meme?
I am continuing my mini-series looking at some of the decisions facing the Patriots, and how they should approach the upcoming draft.
As I've said before, I plan on laying out two competing philosophies, giving reasons for and against them, and then making my case for one of them at the end, and hopefully having some good interaction in the comments. We are running under the presumption that the 2013 team entering the draft, will be the same as the 2012 team, because until we know how FA pans out, we'll stick with the team we already know.
Now this one might seem crazy to some people, but read on, and hopefully you will see it isn't as bonkers as it first appears.
So Draft Decision #2 - Should the Patriots prioritise upgrading their offense or defense in the 2013 NFL Draft?
View 1: Create an Immovable Defense
Well it's easy right? Just ask anyone, "What side of the ball are the Patriots worst at?" The answer for anyone that hasn't been in a coma since before 2007, is the defense. Whether it is stats, or more importantly the eye test, the Pats defense doesn't perform that well. Trailing near the bottom of the league in yards, middle of the pack in points and trailblazing a whole new high in heart-stopping fear when on the pitch, even at 3rd and 20, no-one argues that the Patriots have a good defense. The simple solution? Spend some high picks on the D. Doesn't matter where, every single position could be upgraded.
DT? This isn't like Madden, where you can have two Wilforks on the pitch at once, and not have to worry about their workload.
DE? Sorry, how many sacks did we get this year again?
LB? Superbowl XLVIII, 12 seconds left; 4th and goal from the 7; Pat's lead the 49ers by 4; Kaepernick drops back, and he throws towards Vernon Davis, which linebacker are you hoping is in coverage?
S? BTW, S stands for Safety, not Sieve, contrary to prevailing opinion in New England.
CB? The New Patriot Way: If we can't be a second slow in coverage, then we'll be a second early.
So it's the D, Simples!
But wait, we have the youngest defense in the league. A defense who are steadily improving, and with players only recently playing together, while slotted into their best positions. McCourty at FS, Arrington in the slot, and Talib and Dennard as outside CBs, we have a secondary that is changed at pretty much every spot, and for the better. Then Tavon Wilson is improving, and Ras-IR Dowling has looked good, and if he gets a bit of luck with his health, could be a starting calibre corner.
Then on the front end, we have the pre-injury DROY frontrunner, in Chandler. A guy who was tipped as raw, but who would potentially become the best defensive player from the draft in two years. If he was that good in his first few games, I can't wait to see how he develops. Then, with playmaker extraordinary Nink, and impressive UDFA Francis we have quality pieces, as well as a shed load of depth. On the interior we have Big Vince, who is showing no sign of decline, and bossing O-linemen the league over. We've added Armstead, the most desirable FA from outside the league, and have the promising Forston, who after his college career that was a struggle due to injuries, has stayed healthy, and had a chance to develop his mental and technical game, to match his promising physical talent.
As for our 'backers, SEC Baby! Hard hitting, physical, young and improving. Add Dane Fletcher after his injury return, and we have another good option in coverage.
Our defense has already turned the corner, let's not mess with it too much, maybe just add some more experience to mentor the young future studs. Oh, and don't forget the turnovers!
View 2: Build up an Unstoppable Offense
We could spend another two whole drafts on our defense, and it still might not be any good. But spend a good amount on our offense, and it could become completely indefensible, and injury-proof (slight hyperbole alert!). Take a couple of new WRs, and another athletic tackle, upgrade Connelly at RG, and who could stop the Patriots offense? Maybe the 2012 First Team All-Pro defense, but only because they would have twelve men on the field.
Our defense can normally hold opponents to less than 30, so if our offense could always score 40, we'd be away. I think there's a good case for the proposition, that it is better to be totally elite at something, rather than good at everything. At the moment our offense is elite in a league wide sense, we have a great ground game, a GOAT-contender at QB, TEs and slippery slot receivers that give us a between the numbers passing game second to none. What we don't have, is a reliable outside the numbers passing option, an Anquan Boldin type, who will fight for the ball, and reliably beat press-man coverage. We also don't have a deep threat, anyone to require extra caution from the safeties, and force double-teams on the outside. So we are elite at two, of the four, main ways to attack a defense. If we can make that 3 out of 4, watch out, and 4 out of 4, then it's bye bye 2007 nostalgia!
And while our O-line is superb, we could do with upgrading at RG, and with Vollmer's injury history, some more insurance at Tackle wouldn't go amiss. Protecting Brady must remain our number one priority, and talking of Brady, we mustn't forget that the sky is falling, and he is as good as washed up already. And therefore our window is getting smaller than a ships porthole. We must upgrade for him now! Argh!
Do you know how hard it is to draft a receiver to constantly draw double teams? Julio Jones, AJ Green, Randy Moss and the Johnson brothers, Andre and Calvin, are rare beasts. Rare beasts that, major character concerns aside, leave the board in the top 5. As for an Anquan Boldin type of receiver, well there's a reason we call it after him. He is the prototype, the one guy we associate with a whole style of play, we can add Larry Fitzgerald to that list, but oh wait, he's another top 5 pick.
As for our O-line, yes we don't feature five All-Pros, with Pro Bowl backups, but we have two All-Pros, with a young tackle who could join them as one of the best in the game. Then we have a centre that rocked in his first starting season, and should continue to improve. Next is Dan Connolly, who the brain trust like enough to give a 3 year, $9m contract, then Donald Thomas as an über-solid backup. And that is forgetting the little matter of Dante Scarnecchia, who, if position coaches were as valuable as head coaches, would be a future HOFer.
Also, we tend to overplay our offenses struggles in the last couple of years of post-season play, due to one bad game from Brady, and two Gronkless performances. Maybe injury free is all we need; it seemed to power last years Superbowl Champs, and the default winners from the year before.
So, after setting up an either or dichotomy, I am going to cop out slightly and say a mix of the two would be best. We have a serious need for at least one big WR on offense, and could do with a late developmental lineman, ideally a tackle at some point.
But the defense is the pressing concern. We've seen much improvement, but know it's currently only an injury or too from falling apart. We need more pass rush, ideally from the interior; we could do with an ex-safety linebacker, to bolster the coverage in the middle. Then we could definitely do with another press-man cornerback and another safety prospect to further bolster our secondary.
So I am hoping for a mixed draft, with a slightly bigger focus on the defense.
I said at the start of this article, if you can remember that far back, that this wasn't as silly a question as you may think. I said that because after the 2010 season, everyone was crying out for an improved defense. The Patriots entered the draft loaded with picks, and hope was high that we'd take a quality pass rusher or two, some safety help, maybe another CB, and a big ugly or two up front. We ended up taking only Ras-IR Dowling high, and a couple of punts late. That was an investment of 25% of our expended draft capital that year. Belichick took a beating in the press for it, but he said that our D was young, and he didn't want to mess with it too much (he also got some fantastic players to set up our O nicely, but he didn't tell the dumb media that. He just left it there for the 'Maybe the future HOF coach, knows more than me, the mighty Ivy league educated Journalist' Moment).
Last year though, we spent a whopping 99.9% of our draft capital on D, a decision that brought much joy to our fanbase, and good improvement on the field.
Why this trip down memory lane? Because I think it shows us a bit how BB drafts, in that he considers the current experience, chemistry and future needs on both sides of the ball, as well as any current holes; and with a BPA mindset, drafts accordingly. With that in mind, I expect a return to a more balanced, but defensively biased draft, as in 2010. Where the split was 64.4% on the D and 34.1% on O, with that last pesky 0.4% giving us Mesko.
Here is all the data I have compiled on our last three drafts. It should be fairly self-explanatory, once you know that TVP stands for Trade Value Points, which are taken from the Trade Chart, that although old and flawed, is better than just using the pick number. Also, Defensive players are in bold, and Offensive players in italics.
|Year||Rnd||TVP||- - - - - - - Name - - - - - - -||Pos||- | -||- - - - - Points Spent - - - - -|
|2012||1||800.0||Chandler Jones||DE||- | -||2012 Total||2098.5|
|1||720.0||Dont'a Hightower||ILB||- | -||D Total||2096.6|
|2||420.0||Tavon Wilson||FS||- | -||O Total||1.9|
|3||140.0||Jake Bequette||DE||- | -|
|6||13.6||Nate Ebner||DB||- | -||D Relative||99.9%|
|7||3.0||Alfonzo Dennard||CB||- | -||O Relative||00.1%|
|7||1.9||Jeremy Ebert||WR||- | -|
|Year||Rnd||TVP||- - - - - - - Name - - - - - - -||Pos||- | -||- - - - - Points Spent - - - - -
|2011||1||950.0||Nate Solder||OL||- | -||2011 Total||2400.4|
|2||580.0||Ras-I Dowling||DB||- | -||D Total||599.6|
|2||340.0||Shane Vereen||RB||- | -||O Total||1800.8|
|3||225.0||Stevan Ridley||RB||- | -|
|3||220.0||Ryan Mallett||QB||- | -||D Relative||25.0%|
|5||37.0||Marcus Cannon||OL||- | -||O Relative||75.0%|
|5||28.8||Lee Smith||TE||- | -|
|6||14.8||Markell Carter||LB||- | -|
|7||4.8||Malcolm Williams||DB||- | -|
|Year||Rnd||TVP||- - - - - - - Name - - - - - - -||Pos||- | -||- - - - - Points Spent - - - - -
|2010||1||680.0||Devin McCourty||DB||- | -||2010 Total||2075.4|
|2||480.0||Rob Gronkowski||TE||- | -||D Total||1335.7|
|2||370.0||Jermaine Cunningham||LB||- | -||O Total||708.3|
|2||284.0||Brandon Spikes||LB||- | -||S Total||31.4|
|3||140.0||Taylor Price||WR||- | -|
|4||68.0||Aaron Hernandez||TE||- | -||D Relative||64.4%|
|5||31.4||Zoltan Mesko||P||- | -||O Relative||34.1%|
|6||10.4||Ted Larsen||C||- | -||S Relative||01.5%|
|7||9.2||Thomas Welch||T||- | -|
|7||0.9||Brandon Deaderick||DE||- | -|
|7||0.8||Kade Weston||DT||- | -|
|7||0.7||Zac Robinson||QB||- | -|
|- - - -
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||- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
|- - - Points Spent - - -|
So what do you think?
PS: I have a few more ideas already lined up for this series, but if you have any that you'd like to be featured, whack me an email, or leave them in the comments.