Meriweather: Risk or Reward
'Boring' Trades are Good News for 2008
It's going to take a lot of convincing before I'm very comfortable with Brandon Meriweather in a New England Patriots uniform. No doubt Meriweather has all the tools of a potentially great NFL defensive back, but character is a huge issue, and I remain skeptical. He's also a durability question, and that's disconcerting because the Patriots have had more than their fair share of "questionable."
In an interview on ESPN at the end of the first round, New England head coach Bill Belichick said that Patriots scouting personnel spent a lot of time with Meriweather and came to the conclusion that he's not the risk he's been labeled as being. Belichick sounded pretty confident, and he has given Patriots fans little reason to doubt his word or his judgment, so I will be optimistic, too.
Brandon Meriweather, safety
University of Miami
There were certainly several highly-rated players to choose from, many who fell a lot further than most people expected. There were Paul Posluszny, David Harris and Jon Beason. There were offensive linemen Joe Staley and Ben Grubbs. There were cornerbacks and other safeties. A lot of the "experts" said New England's aging linebackers and threats from Asante Samuel compelled New England to pick a linebacker or cornerback.
But the Belichick - Scott Pioli Patriots have never taken a linebacker in the first round, and word is they're confident in signing Samuel. So much for the experts.
The Patriots biggest need was clearly at safety where Rodney Harrison is not going to live forever -- if he's even able to play a complete season -- and Artrell Hawkins, James Sanders and Rashad Baker simply aren't championship caliber safeties without another major talent among them. Best to bring in a promising pupil for aging master Harrison to instruct.
From that perspective, great pick.
Trades Show Promise for 2008
Much as I said during the SB Nation Mock Draft, there just wasn't a lot of really great talent in this draft. Nothing that made you say, "We need this guy." I also said in my draft preview that New England would likely trade one of their first-round picks and look for a high pick in 2008 in return -- hence why I couldn't trade the pick in the mock draft.
So, with all these players the experts said were potentially great players sitting there on the board, New England traded away the No. 28 pick to San Francisco for the 49ers fourth round pick this year (No. 110) and their first-round pick in 2008. I pretty much nailed that one.
With no glaring needs (at the moment) and no spectacular talents on the board, you'd require a brain scan to turn down this offer. Even if San Francisco improves, they're an outside shot at best for the playoffs. So even a worst case scenario, this will be a far better pick than No. 28 and early expectations are for the 2008 draft to be filled with excellent talent, more than this draft.
Best case, for New England, is San Fran returns to their futility of the first half of the decade and this becomes a top 10 or top 5 pick. In the third round, the Patriots again traded their pick -- meaning they have none between No. 24 and 110 (the last team to go so long without a pick was probably New Orleans when Mike Ditka traded the Saints entire draft to get Ricky Williams). New England gave up the 91st pick of 2007 for Oakland's third-rounder in 2008 and the Raiders' seventh-round pick this year (No. 211).
While it may not seem to exciting now, New England is really stocking up for next year. Oakland's 3rd-round pick in 2008 will almost certainly be much better than New England's.
Of course, there is the potential then that New England will package some of these improved picks for even higher picks. And, again, I reiterate that next year's draft class is expected to be better than this year's crop. That's what they say.
More on Meriweather
Belichick said that Meriweather, while primarily a safety, can also play cornerback and nickelback. Don't be surprised to see New England move him around a little, especially if Harrison is healthy early on. They might just see if Meriweather (5-foot-11, 192 pounds) can replace Samuel (5-10, 185). (Meriweather actually played both safety positions as a sophomore, strong safety as a junior, and strong safety and both cornerback positions as a senior.)
Meriweather is said to be speedy with good range and possesses excellent technique, especially in wrap-tackling, an area where New England was weak last season. Meriweather broke Miami's school record for solo tackles (182, old record: 155 by Bennie Blades).
Meriweather did suffer a significant high ankle sprain after playing three games as a freshman in 2002. He had a shoulder injury in 2004 (required minor surgery in winter 2005-6) and a hamstring injury before the start of the 2005 season.
Meriweather started 31 of 52 games. In addition to his solo tackle school record, he also broke the mark for total tackles (239), had 2.5 sacks and 20 tackles for losses, 4 forced fumbles, 7 interceptions, and 25 pass deflections.
Scouts say Meriweather could probably add 10 pounds without sacrificing speed. As it is, he's a punishing, Harrison-style hitter, which probably attracted New England's primary attention. He's also said to be a vocal leader, like Harrison, though that reputation suffered after the Florida International brawl.
Meriweather is said to study film and is pretty good at it, and he has good instincts.
Other than his character issues, Meriweather is a little smaller than some scouts would prefer, and he could have trouble playing in the box against the run in the NFL. Day One tells me that New England is still confident about signing Samuel to a long-term deal and they're comfortable with Tory James holding down the fort with Ellis Hobbs, Chad Scott and Ray Mickens, just in case.
So what about Weddle?
The "experts" said Weddle would last deep into the second or even into the third round. I say again: "So much for the experts." San Diego traded up (a 2nd-, 3rd- and 5th-rounders this year and 3rd next year!) to take Weddle with the 5th pick of the second round. That made him the first safety taken after Brandon Meriweather and the second taken since Reggie Nelson at No. 21.
My pick of Weddle at No. 24 was widely panned as the "Worst Pick" or "Biggest Reach" of the SBN Mock Draft. Doesn't look too bad now, does it?
So does that mean that if the Patriots had passed on Meriweather they would have taken Weddle?
Possibly. But if he was "their guy" and they traded down to pick him up in the middle of the second round -- as so many experts suggested -- he would have been long gone. As it is, Weddle will be wearing a Chargers jersey, so barring a trade this is the last you'll hear me sing his praises.
The New England Patriots draft Day 1 grade is:
This poll is closed
A+: Outstanding! One great pick and two great trades!
A: Excellent! They filled a key position and set themselves up for 2008.
B: Good. Meriweather is OK and there wasn't much else to choose from.
C: Average. Meh. I could have done better.
D: Fair: Not too good. They accomplished nothing.
F: Horrible! The Apocalypse is upon us! (Really. I'm serious this time.)