In my previous two installments of the “2010 Infusion of Youth” series I highlighted possible 3-4 outside linebackers and wide receivers that the Patriots could consider within the first two rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft. In this third and final installment, I will consider the remaining team needs that the Patriots have (inside linebacker, offensive line, defensive line, tight end, and quarterback) and highlight some players that Belichick and company may consider.
Let’s face it, Gary Guyton is a great story but he’s not a great linebacker. Guyton was an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of Georgia Tech. He defied all odds by becoming a starter on the 2009 Patriots. Sadly, his production on the field was not at the level that it needs to be in order for him to be considered as a full time player at inside linebacker. Jerod Mayo is a stud, and placing a young, talented player beside him up the middle, accompanied by Wilfork swallowing offensive linemen in the trenches, would make for one hell of a rush defense.
A lot of you might be questioning my proclamation that offensive line is a major need for the New England Patriots. When you really think about it, within the next year or two, the Pats’ line could be in complete disarray. After the 2007 season in which Matt Light was one of the better offensive tackles in the game, his game has quickly diminished. It even got to a point last year where he was splitting time with rookie German import Sebastian Vollmer. Light’s production has dipped to a point where he is now expendable. He is due $4.5 million dollars this upcoming season, the last year he is under contract with the Pats, and they could look to find his replacement early in this draft. Nick Kaczur’s play on the right side has been as inconsistent as any member of the Pats’ team. Kaczur is known as a pretty productive run blocker, but struggles at time in the passing game. Volmer is looking like the replacement for one of the two tackles, it’s just a matter of which one gets the boot first. Stephen Neal just resigned with the Patriots for two seasons, although he still aspires to pursue a career in MMA soon after his football playing days are over. Neal has been solid for the Pats, but he turns 34 next October, and his desire to continue playing is being questioned. Dan Koppen and Logan Mankins are the two most solid and consistent players on the line. Mankins has shown the ability to be a perennial pro-bowler, while Koppen is a great anchor up the middle. Sadly, Mankins’ contract situation is still up in the air, although there is no doubt in my mind that he and the Patriots will get a deal done in the near future.
One of the most under the radar moves of this entire off-season was Jarvis Green signing a 4 year, $20 million deal with the Denver Broncos. This leaves a huge hole at one of the 3-4 defensive end spots for the Pats. Myron Pryor seems to be the next guy in line to fill that spot, and although he showed some glimpses of talent last season, I personally don’t think that he is ready to be an every-down player on this defense. The end spots in the 3-4 are probably the second most important position for the effectiveness of the defense, behind nose tackle. Without an end that can eat up blockers and hold up for run defense, your 3-4 defense scheme is useless.
If you get a chance, wander over to the Patriots’ official team depth chart and take a look at the tight end position. Yes, Alge Crumpler is now a member of the team, and yes, that is the only tight end worthwhile of a jersey on the team. Believe me when I tell you that I was one of the biggest advocates of the Crumpler signing around. But he is there solely for a veteran presence that can block, and occasionally slip out on a pass pattern. Alge isn’t going to be running the seam and grabbing 60 balls for 800 yards like he was for Mike Vick and the Falcons. A pass catching tight end, although heavily underutilized in Belicheck’s offensive, adds another dimension to the passing game and would be a key element for the Patriots to produce offensively while Welker is sidelined.
I don’t know if I really have to say this, but Tom Brady is a very special player. He is arguably (definitely in my opinion) one of the five greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. But, contrary to popular belief, he will be unable to play forever. Brian Hoyer is a good backup but that’s as far as it goes (granted, who thought Matt Cassell would turn out to be a decent player, although in my opinion he is one of the most overrated quarterbacks in the game). As much as all of you Patriots fans don’t want to hear this, it may be time to start looking for Tim Tebow…Oh wait, I mean Brady’s replacement.
Brandon Spikes, ILB Florida
As much as I love Rolando McClain, there is no way that he falls all the way to pick 22. If he does and the Pats don’t draft him then I may have to rethink what team I give my allegiance to. Spikes has been catching a lot of heat lately about his 40 time at his pro day (around 5.01), which is completely justified. But, watch some tape of Spikes actually playing football (contrary to what many believe these guys actually have played before, they do not just workout for scouts all the time) and he is a beast. He is a big dude at 6’3” 250 lbs, and, in my opinion, is the best 3-4 inside linebacker prospect in this draft (McClain strikes me as a better 4-3 guy considering his ineffectiveness when trying to shed blocks). Because of his horrific 40 time, Spikes may still be around when the Pats jump on the clock with pick number 44.
Bryan Bulaga, OT Iowa
Bulaga is flying up draft boards recently so I doubt he’ll be around by pick 22. That being said, this is an exceptionally deep draft at offensive tackle and guys like Russell Okung, Trent Williams, and Anthony Davis could all realistically get taken before Bulaga. As I mentioned earlier, selecting an offensive tackle here would not necessarily address an immediate need, but sure up a tackle position for many years to come.
Trent Williams, OT Oklahoma
Similar to Bulaga, Williams could either get taken within the top 12-15 picks, or fall victim to the exceptional depth at the offensive tackle position in this year’s draft. Williams was very impressive at this year’s combine. At 6’5” and 315 lbs, Williams posted a 4.88 40 yard dash and put up 23 reps on the bench. His combination of athleticism, footwork, and size are very intriguing.
Brian Price, DE/DT UCLA
At 6’1” 303 lbs, many of my esteemed colleagues may say that Price doesn’t have the size to be a great 3-4 defensive end. I beg to differ. It’s not about being 6’6” like Richard Seymour, it’s all about leverage. Playing defensive tackle at UCLA, Price showed the ability to shed centers and guards, and often a combination of two and sometimes even three o-lineman, and the ability to get to the passer and disrupt the running game. Price threw up 34 reps on the bench press at the combine has all of the tools to be a very good 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.
Jared Odrick, DE/DT Penn State
Contrary to Price, Odrick has prototypical 3-4 defensive end size at 6’5” and 305 lbs. Odrick showed the ability to both clog up running lanes and rush the passer in college. Odrick is more likely to be around when the Pats pick at 22, but even if both he and Price are available, Belichick does like size on his d-line and Odrick might be the pick.
Jermaine Gresham, TE Oklahoma
Jermaine Gresham was considered the premiere tight end in college football during the 2008 season. He, along with Sam Bradford, elected to stay in school for the 2009 season and paid the price. Gresham tore some cartilage in his knee and was forced to miss the entire season. This injury really hurt his draft stock, considering some experts were saying he could have been a top 15 pick if he came out after the 2008 season. Although I can’t seem to find a consistent number, it looks as though Gresham, at 6’5” and 260 lbs, ran around a 4.7 40 yard dash and put up 20 reps at 225 lbs on the bench press. His hands are impeccable, he blocks very well for his position, and I believe he would fit wonderfully into the Patriots offense.
Dorin Dickerson, TE Pittsburgh
Dickerson is a wild-card type player in my opinion. He performed exceptionally well throughout his career at Pittsburgh. He showed great production playing both wide receiver and tight end. He is a very versatile player that can stretch the field (4.40 40 yard dash) but there are questions about his size as he came into the combine at 6’4” 226 lbs. Dickerson put up a surprising 24 reps on the bench at the combine, and although he is undersized, he allegedly is a decent run blocker. If the Pats could pick up Dickerson with a 2nd round pick, he would add another element to their offense that would give opposing defensive coordinators fits.
Tim Tebow, QB Florida
A tragic flaw of many individuals that work within the sports industry, particularly on television, seem to continuously make the mistake of attempting to predict what Bill Belichick will do in the draft. It seems as though every year Mel Kiper proclaims the list of needs for the Patriots, and then when their pick arrives they go in the complete opposite direction, baffling Kiper but still receiving praise for their brilliance. Think, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins, Ty Warren, etc. All of these guys were “off the radar” players that Belichick drafted early, but are very good at what they do. Bill Belichick rarely goes out of his way to make statement like this about a player:
“He’s had a great career. There are a lot of positives. I’m sure he’s going to help a team,” Belichick said. “I think he performed very well in the offense he was in. I think he was outstanding. He’s already spent, I think, six weeks, or whatever it’s been, working on some other things and I think you can see the results of that working. He’s worked hard and made some changes, you can see those changes. I think he’ll continue to work hard.”
That was Bill talking about Tim Tebow. Allegedly, last night in Boston, Belichick and Nick Caserio (head of the personnel department) had dinner with Tebow. Maybe Belichick is just throwing up a smoke screen to entice someone to pick Tebow high. Or maybe Bill has a lot of confidence in his good buddy Urban Meyer and is eating up what Meyer is cooking in glorifying Tebow. I think if Tebow is around early in the second round (44th overall pick) the Patriots will scoop him up. Can’t really bash a second round draft pick that was Heisman Trophy winner and two time national champion.
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