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With the 21st pick in the 2006 NFL Draft ...

... the New England Patriots select:

LenDale White.

That's right, the guy dropping deep on everyone's draft board is the guy I think New England needs.

I know that would be a very unpopular pick, and probably a very unlikely pick, but we'll find out in the next hour or so.

The fact is: New England needs a running back, and a very good one, more than they need a very good player in any other position.

I know what you're saying, "What about the defensive secondary, where New England was so weak last year? What about receiver where the Patriots took a beating in free agency? What about linebacker -- you know they lost Willie McGinest? What about tight end where they like to keep a stable of three and Christian Fauria skipped town?"

Yeah, yeah. I know there are lots of holes. But all those positions, with the possible exception of linebacker, are at least solid from top to bottom with the personnel that exist -- if you don't account for injuries. And no one -- no one plans their season or selects personnel planning for injuries.

That said, I was tempted to take a linebacker or possibly a defensive back in the first round. White may slip to the second round, but I doubt he'll end up slipping to No. 42.

Looks at New England's running back situation. Start with Corey Dillon.

Two years ago, Corey Dillon had a career year, rushing for a career-high 1,635 yards (by exactly 200 yards 5 years earlier), a career-high 4.7 yards per carry (4.6, same year), a career-high 345 carries (5 more than 4 years before) and career highs in touchdowns (12) and first downs (81).

Last year, a year riddled with injury and constant haranguing by the press, Dillon had career lows in almost every category, including yards per carry (3.5 -- 3.9 twice before) and only his second season under 1,000 yards (733 vs. 541 in his last limited season with Cincinnati).

Who do they have behind Dillon? Same as last year. Kevin Faulk, who we all know and love but have to admit isn't an every down back, and fullbacks Patrick Pass, who had a great year last year, and Heath Evans, who had one nice game against his former team.

You don't plan for injuries, as I said, but you have to wonder about Dillon's durability and his age. Last season, I thought the media dogged Dillon, but the questions are legitimate (if unnecessarily beaten to death), and the bigger question is: Can the Patriots afford another season like last?

Your question to me might be: If you do take a running back, who gets bumped? I think the obvious answer is Evans. He hasn't shown anything special, the other three backs seem to gel together nicely, and if you have three excellent running backs, you only need one fullback. And if anything ever happens to Pass, Evans will probably be sitting at home by the phone.

If you don't need an immediate replacement for Dillon, who will turn 32 about midway through the season, you're going to need one soon. Faulk is barely two years younger.

The future problem, if they Patriots don't act now, is that Dillon himself and his predecessor (Antowain Smith), proved that a great running back (as opposed to a simply serviceable back) makes the offense's job infinitely easier, and you can't count on great backs being available either in the draft, in free agency or on the trade block. We all know Dillon was a steal from the Bengals.

White is -- or, according to many people, he until recently was -- an all-around great back. Good size. Good vision. Good hands. North-South runner who's hard to bring down. Great in goal-line situations. Reliable receiver. Maybe not particularly fast.

But he's been uncooperative and has been labeled as having "character issues."

Remind you of anyone? Say, someone wearing No. 28, who had character issues when Cincinnati basically mothballed him?

Who would be a better mentor for LenDale White than Corey Dillon?

OK, I've made my argument. Now I'll tell you why there's no chance White will be the 21st pick.

First, there's an outside chance someone else will take White before the Patriots have a chance. Not likely, but obviously possible.

But history shows us that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli are more than reluctant to take a running back early in the draft (Of course, who of any note has been available when they've had an early pick -- and after trading for Dillon, who have they needed?). Belichick and Pioli are certainly defensively minded, and New England certainly has defensive needs.

And if history tells us anything else, it's that Belichick is a football historian, and, despite his usual bravado of "last week doesn't matter," he and Pioli will listen to the ghosts of the past and do what historically they've always done and what historically made them successful: pick defense.

That makes popular picks linebacker Bobby Carpenter or cornerback Antonio Cromartie more likely picks.

Of course, history also tells us that the Patriots are completely unpredictable, almost always pick someone (with the exception of Richard Seymour -- thanks Drew Bledsoe and your 5-11 season) no one expects.

LenDale White? Bobby Carpenter? Antonio Cromartie? Another rabbit from the hat? We'll find out reaaaaaaaaal soon.