A Look at the SBNation Mock Draft First Round
Patriots Picks: Eric Weddle, Ben Grubbs
Let's talk about this mock draft of ours ("ours" = SB Nation).
First, if you want to keep up, Sean has a pick-by-pick table over at Pride of Detroit. Last I checked, we're about three-quarters through the second round. New England's next and final pick is about 35 picks away.
I drew considerable flack for my first first-rounder, safety Eric Weddle of the University of Utah. The argument is that I could have traded way down to the bottom of the second round and still gotten Weddle, that there were more highly rated safeties available, and that New England really should have been drafting a linebacker, since that's what all the "experts" say.
Let me get back to those points. A couple other problems some people had with the pick included Utah playing an easy schedule and still having the 78th-ranked pass defense. This criticism I don't get at all. I guess it's like saying Tom Brady isn't a very good quarterback because New England was 12th in the league in passing last year.
Another critique from the same writer: Not many safeties are considered first-round talents. OK. "Not many" doesn't mean "none," and two other safeties were taken ealier, one with the No. 8 pick.
Finally, since the Patriots had another selection three picks later, why not use the first pick on the "best available talent" and use the second pick on Weddle or trade down and select him later (which ties us back to the original questions)? Let's say this: What the "experts" consider the "best available talent" and what I consider the "best available talent" and what Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli and the rest of the Patriots player personnel staff considers the "best available talent" are very likely three different things.
Prior to the 2006 draft, the "experts" were screaming that the Patriots had no alternative but to draft a linebacker to augment their aging linebacking corps or a defensive back because Rodney Harrison is getting old and often injured, and the rest of these guys (including Asante Samuel) really aren't that good. I said, "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."
Everyone thought I was crazy. "Who needs two feature running backs?" they said. New England picked Laurence Maroney. "Oh, great pick!" they said. "Belichick and Pioli really know talent."
So the Patriots didn't select what the experts said was the best available talent. They took "their guy" (which I'm told is 'always bad draft strategy') who filled what they (and not the experts) considered a pressing need. After all, they probably could have traded down and still gotten Maroney.
What Is "Best Available Talent"?
So, what about this other "best available talent"?
Let's look at safety. For argument sake, in our mock draft, Atlanta took LaRon Landry of LSU; Carolina took Reggie Nelson of Florida. If either of them had fallen to No. 24 (some mock drafts have predicted Nelson will be there) I would have taken one of them. No question. But they weren't available.
Brandon Meriweather and Michael Griffin were available. I wouldn't take Meriweather if he were the only defensive back in the draft, and I don't think Pioli/Belichick would either. He might be the "best available talent," but when they needed a receiver, New England didn't go after Terrell Owens or Randy Moss. Meriweather was running around the field trying to stomp on players from Florida International University because he felt he "needed to defend his teammates."
Griffin, I considered. I weighed Griffin vs. Weddle for a while. Griffin is a sold player, but I just don't see the upside in a complex Belichick defensive scheme that others apparently do. He might be a better athletic talent, but he sounds two-dimensional. With the multiple uncertainties and a deeper layer of complexity in the Patriots defenisve backfield, I want someone who can learn, understand and play more than one position. Weddle is a proven commodity in that field.
Potential Linebacker Picks
Now let's look at linebacker. Several other mock drafts have New England taking LBs Patrick Willis or Paul Posluszny or DE Jarvis Moss (New England likes converting defensive linemen to linebackers, like they did with Tedy Bruschi) at No. 24. Were they available, they would have received significant consideration as well. But they weren't.
Jon Beason and Lawrence Timmons were still on the board, and I gave these guys a lot of thought, too. But as I explained when I selected Auburn guard Ben Grubbs at No. 28, these guys have been playing outside linebacker, and the Patriots don't need an outside linebacker. And I don't see either of them moving (and succeeding) inside in a Belichick scheme, unless the Patriots suddenly switch to a 4-3 defense, and I don't see that happening either.
New England has had enough injury problems over the last few years, so while the Patriots worked him out privately, that ruled him out for me. Timmons's stock has been dropping and word is that he doesn't have a knack for complexity. How is he going to replace Tedy Bruschi in a few years?
I also considered Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer, who, like Moss, could easily be converted to linebacker. Here, I think about the AFC Championship. New England needed someone to cover Colts TE Dallas Clark, and they went to Eric Alexander. That wasn't pretty, and I don't think Spencer could have done it better.
The fact is: New England likes linebackers with experience. They have not, in the Belichick/Piolo Era, drafted a linebacker and stuck him in the starting lineup, and I don't think you draft a backup linebacker in the first round.
Trade Down .. To Where?
OK, so what about the biggest gripe: Why not trade down?
My reply to this short-sighted criticism is: Trade down to what? New England has one pick in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, four in the sixth, and another in the seventh, three of which are compensatory and cannot be traded. So, what kind of compensation am I going to get for this first-rounder?
Keep in mind that our mock draft is three rounds. I'm not going to take a second-, a fourth- and a sixth-rounder (not that I need them anyway). No one in a three-round mock draft is going to take all my later round picks for a higher one, and that's not my goal anyway. And I'm not trading for 2008 picks -- my job essentially is to tell you what I think the Patriots need. (Also, this was Easter weekend. Pretty sure if they want to trade, Belichick/Pioli aren't going to run into that problem.) So if I need a second-round pick for Weddle, what am I going to get in a three-round draft for the No. 24 or No. 28 pick?
Ya. That's what I thought.
Pick No. 28: Ben Grubbs, G, Auburn
Of the seven votes cast on the Grubbs pick, no one thought it was a great pick, one thought it was good, three thought it was OK, one thought it was not good, and two thought it was terrible. However, no one said why either way.
I think the offensive line has been pretty solid the last couple years, but there have been injuries, and Brady has taken the occasional unnecessary beating. Any team can always use solid help on the line, and Grubbs might make a great bookend to Logan Mankins. Grubbs has never missed a game due to injury.
While Grubbs changed positions twice (from defensive tackle to blocking tight end to guard), his progression at his latest assignment has been rapid and impressive. He's already "that good" and scouts expect continued improvement. If he lives up to his potential, there's virtually no down side.