Ladies and gentlemen, we are quickly approaching my favorite time of the year. I enjoy this spectacle more than the World Series, Super Bowl, and even March Madness. The 2010 NFL Draft is officially 24 days away, and quite frankly, I’m pumped. There is nothing I love more than the infusion of young talent onto an NFL team. The excitement of a high draft pick and the expectations that come along with that. The possibility of a first round bust, or a late round gem. Filling team needs with young players that have nothing but upside. All of these things keep drawing me in to the NFL Draft. But, aside from my excitement in regards to the Draft as a whole, I want to take a more in depth look at the Patriots’ team needs for this year’s NFL Draft.
The most glaring need is at outside linebacker. As I mentioned in a previous post, Julius Peppers and Aaron Kampman (both free agents this offseason) just didn’t seem to me to be a good fit on this Patriots’ team. They resigned Tully Banta-Cain, which as sad as it sounds, was a crucial move considering he led the team in sacks in the 2009 season. But, the Adalius Thomas experiment has yet to pan out and it seems as though by the beginning of the 2010 season he will no longer be a member of the New England Patriots. Therefore, the Patriots have a hole to fill. They drafted Shawn Crable in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft. According to inside sources that I have, Crable has dedicated himself to the weight and film rooms, and has looked good in the practices he has been able to participate in. Sadly, Crable has been unable to stay healthy long enough to get viable playing time, and therefore his ability to become a starter seems to be remote. Then there is Pierre Woods. Woods has been a member of the Patriots since 2006 when he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan (remember the pattern that is being established here: both Crable and Woods played linebacker/defensive end at Michigan). He has played sparingly, showing the ability to fill in as a rush linebacker when needed, but he has yet to show the physical ability or consistency to be considered as a possible candidate to become a full-time starter. Considering the Patriots’ lack of talent at the outside (rush) linebacker position on the current roster, it seems to me that they will look to draft a player at this position early in the 2010 NFL Draft. Here are some possible players that could fit the position:
Brandon Graham, DE/OLB Michigan
Graham, who played DE at Michigan (senior season: 64 tackles, 10 sacks), is arguably the best hybrid DE/OLB in the 2010 Draft. At 6’1” 270lbs, Graham posted an impressive 4.72 40-yard dash, accompanied with 31 repetitions at the 225lb bench press. Throughout the 2009 college football season, and at the 2010 NFL Combine, Graham displayed the ability to take on, and shed, offensive lineman as well as the ability to drop back in coverage and display fluidity in his hip movements. I believe that Graham is the most plausible selection for the New England Patriots with the 22nd pick.
Sergio Kindle, DE/OLB Texas
Kindle did not become a fixture at the DE position for Texas until the 2009 season, where he moved there to replace Brian Orakpo (13th overall pick of the Washington Redskins in 2009). In my eyes, Kindle failed to establish himself as a dominant enough pass-rusher to warrant a top 20 pick in the draft (compiling only 55 tackles and 6 sacks for the Longhorns). Kindle posted a 4.71 at the combine accompanied by 25 bench press reps, and at 6’3” 250lbs, he was not very effective in pass coverage drills. I think that Kindle is the “Brandon Graham back-up plan.”
Jerry Hughes, DE/OLB TCU
Hughes, in my opinion, is a high risk, high reward type of prospect. He was one of the dominant defensive ends in college football for the last couple of years. The problem with Hughes is that he has yet to play linebacker in a game. Unlike Kindle, who played both linebacker and end at Texas, Hughes has never taken his hand off the ground. But, even as an undersized end at 6’2” and 250 lbs, he has consistently shown the ability to get to the quarterback. Whether or not he has the ability to drop into pass coverage are where the questions lie.
In my next installment I’ll highlight some other positions and players that the Patriots could look at drafting with the 22nd pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.