A lot of fans have been disappointed in how the New England Patriots have spent the past few drafts. The team has spent most of its time either trading away or trading down its picks, leaving some high quality players on the board in favor of some above average quality players (and, yes, some elite players too). Everyone's been wondering- when will this trading pay off in the draft?
I say next year.
But first, let's look at the recent activities. So what have the Patriots been doing?
The Patriots used a handful of their 2007 picks on Brandon Meriweather, Wes Welker and Randy Moss- all three who are still contributing starters (when healthy).
In 2008, the Patriots drafted Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Wilhite, picked up special teams ace Sam Aiken and resigned players like Randy Moss and Mike Wright to long term deals. Draftees Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Crable and Matthew Slater are all still on the roster.
In 2009, the Patriots lost defensive veterans Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour. In Free Agency, they grabbed Leigh Bodden, Tully Banta-Cain, Shawn Springs, Fred Taylor and Brandon McGowan. In the draft, the Patriots picked up Pat Chung, Ron Brace, Darius Butler, Sebastian Vollmer, Tyrone McKenzie, Brandon Tate, Jake Ingram, Myron Pryor and Julian Edelman.
And now, in 2010, the Patriots have managed to resign Vince Wilfork and Leigh Bodden to long term deals, while retaining other veterans as well. They've grabbed Torry Holt, Alge Crumpler and many defensive line veterans in free agency. In the draft, the Patriots have selected Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes, Taylor Price, Aaron Hernandez and Zoltan Mesko.
But what does this all mean?
Let's look at a skeleton version of the Roster.
QB: The Patriots have Tom Brady, who should be around for another half decade.
RB: The Patriots don't have any running backs signed to long term deals- but Kevin Faulk will be around until he can't play football.
WR: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Torry Holt and Taylor Price
TE: Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez
O-Line: Sebastian Vollmer, Nick Kaczur, Ted Larsen, Dan Koppen, Rich Orhnberger, etc (hopefully Logan Mankins)
D-Line: Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, Mike Wright
OLBs: Tully Banta-Cain, Jermaine Cunningham, Shawn Crable
ILBs: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton, Tyrone McKenzie
CBs: Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty, Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite
Ss: Brandon Meriweather, Pat Chung, James Sanders, Brandon McGowan
So what does this roster mean?
Look at the mix of players.
There's Tom Brady alone at Quarterback, which means that any quarterback brought in will learn from a veteran.
The way the running back position works, there's less of a need for veteran grooming and more of a need for veteran leadership- and Kevin Faulk provides plenty of leadership.
Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Torry Holt have plenty of experience to help teach, and they've been known to teach, the younger players.
Alge Crumpler was brought in for a reason.
Offensive Line Coach Dante Scarneccia can teach a scarecrow to be a lineman, so, like the running back position, there's more of a need for leadership- and Koppen (and maybe Matt Light?) should be around to provide it.
The Defensive line is led by Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren- and there are young guys to learn from them.
**Our OLB position is lacking both veteran leadership and proven players
At ILB, we have a young leader in Jerod Mayo, who was already taught by Tedy Bruschi. He'll help the young players around him to grow.
Our CB position is all set with Bodden, McCourty and Butler signed to long term deals.
So is our Safety position with Meriweather and Chung.
But so what? What does this mean? It means that the franchise has been grooming the team for the future- at all the right positions. For the next two years, there's no need to grab a QB, WR, TE, ILB, CB or S. That means there's a need at RB, O-Line, OLB and, arguably, DE.
The Patriots have 4 draft picks in the first two round next year.
Look for the Patriots to draft in the following order:
1stA) Defensive End - Yes, there's a Pryor and Brace on the roster. However, unless a player emerges as a true starter, look for the Patriots to try and grab a real RDE of the future. Free Agency was filled with one year defensive end rentals, which means the front office doesn't believe any of their defensive ends has asserted himself as a true starter. I believe that Pryor can fill the Jarvis Green role, while Brace provide solid nose tackle depth- I just don't think either are good enough all around players to fill the position Richard Seymour left vacant.
1stB) Running Back - I don't think Laurence Maroney scared away the Patriots from taking running backs in the first round- I think it may have shifted their value of addressing the running back position on the field. The Patriots won't be drafting a player like Maroney. They'll take a player who can run hard between the tackles. One who can catch the ball. They'll take an all-around player and they'll use him as an all-around player. Look for a shift away from the 4 RB committee, back to the 3 RB committee. Instead of having 3 running backs with the same basic skill set and Kevin Faulk, look for the Patriots to have 2 running backs with different skill sets (think Leon Washington/Thomas Jones or Darren Sproles/LaDainian Tomlinson) and Kevin Faulk, plus a depth player.
2ndA) Offensive Tackle - The Patriots need another tackle of the future to bookend with Sebastian Vollmer. Hopefully Logan Mankins will be signed to a long term deal and that a player amongst Dan Connolly, Rich Ohrnberger and, maybe, Nick Kaczur emerge as a leader for a right guard spot. I think the Patriots believe that Ted Larsen is the answer at center. That means the Patriots need one OT to replace Matt Light as our starter for the future.
2ndB) OLB - As a fan, I don't trust a position headlined by Tully Banta-Cain- who had half his sacks against the Buffalo Bills, and has "depth" in an unproven, constantly injured Shawn Crable, a let down in Pierre Woods and a rookie in Jermaine Cunningham. Look for the Patriots to still not splurge on a first round OLB (although I wouldn't be surprised if they drafted the OLB in the 1st and the RB in the 2nd), but still to grab a solid prospect in the 2nd. I wouldn't be surprised if they brought in a veteran OLB in free agency, with players like PIT's LaMarr Woodley, KC's Tamba Hali and SF's Manny Lawson, or even KC's Mike Vrabel and (young) Andy Studebaker. Look for this position to be upgraded again.
So never fear, Patriots fans. If you've been concerned about the Patriots never utilizing their draft picks, hold on one more year...
The dividends will be paid.