Friday, April 25, 2008

Patriots Pre-Draft Update (4/25/2008)

Hi all,

I hope you have sufficiently recovered from the Super Bowl loss, and that you are beginning to thaw out from the longish Winter. Time's come around again for the NFL Draft (this Saturday and Sunday). And even with one fewer pick than expected (thank you, Spygate), the Patriots will be heavily involved, choosing seventh the year after they went 16-0 in the regular season.

I don't pay much attention to college football or players, so I can't give you any insight about which specific players the Patriots should choose. But I do have a few thoughts on their off-season thus far and on how they should approach the draft. Here goes:

1. The Patriots most important move of the off-season didn't involve a player; it was the hiring of Dom Capers as their secondary coach. Capers is a long-time NFL coach, with multiple stints at head coach and defensive coordinator. And his resume seems to indicate he is significantly over-qualified to run the secondary for the Patriots. But with his vast football knowledge, at the very least, he should be able to upgrade the play of the secondary. And with Asante Samuel leaving for the Eagles, it's critical that he do so.

However, there's another reason the hiring of Capers was so important. It is a change of habit for head coach Bill Belichick. Over the past few years, we've seen a steady stream of BB clones move up through the system and get promoted into important coaching roles. And the results, frankly, haven't been all that great. The offense hasn't been the same since Charlie Weis left. No slight intended to Josh McDaniels, but he hasn't learned much about the NFL that Belichick didn't teach him. So it wasn't that surprising that he had trouble adjusting to the Giants defense in the Super Bowl. And when BB protégé Eric Mangini replaced Romeo Crennel, the defense got worse, not better. In fact, it didn't start to improve until he left and Dean Pees was brought in from, you guessed it, outside the organization.

The conspiracy theory about hiring Capers goes like this: "They need him in case Belichick gets suspended for Son of Spygate." But I don't buy it. It's healthy to hire qualified people from outside the organization. It's just another way the Patriots are trying to improve their team for next year, and if it becomes a trend in Foxboro, it could be more important than any draft pick or free agent signing.

2. The Patriots spent their $9,000,000/year wisely. Asante Samuel is an above-average cornerback, and he signed with the right team. The Eagles blitz like crazy, and Samuel needs pressure on the QB to cover his short-comings and make all those INTs possible. The Patriots spent the same amount on Randy Moss ($9 million a year) as the Eagles spent on Samuel. There is no doubt that Moss is one of the top five wide receivers in the league. Anyone want to make the case that Samuel is one of the top five cornerbacks? He might be in the to 25, but not exactly a huge difference-maker.

Given the recent rule changes, WRs have a lot more impact on the game than cornerbacks do. The NFL likes offense (and apparently trembles at the sight of Bill Polian). And their re-interpretation of the rules after the 2004 season made it all but impossible for a cornerback to have as much impact on the game as a wideout. So the Patriots made the right call with their $9,000,000/year. The put it down on the horse that can help the most.

3. Aside from the Samuel loss and re-signing Randy Moss, the Patriots have lost a few and added a few of those complimentary players they are famous for. They've got two more linebackers (Victor Hobson and T.J. Slaughter), a tight end (Marcus Pollard), another special teamer (Sam Aiken), and two more defensive backs (Tank Williams and Fernando Bryant). They also signed a punter.

They lost Donte Stallworth, Rosevelt Colvin, Eugene Wilson, Kyle Brady, and Randall Gay. All were contributors last year (some of the more so in past years), but probably only Colvin will be missed. The rest had sub-par years compared to the rest of their careers.

4. Of the three theories in the draft, here is the order the Patriots should follow this year: first choice, trade your high pick for value picks later in the draft; second choice, draft the best player available regardless of position (with the exception of quarterback and kicker); third choice, draft for need.

The draft is supposedly a deep draft without a lot of difference between the top players. So with no consensus #1, and with similarly talented players across the board, if the Pats can get good value for their picks, they can probably get equal players further down in the draft. And they will pay them less money, thus freeing up cash for free agent spending or re-negotiating contracts.

However, if they can't get value in a trade, they should draft the best available player, NOT the best player at a position where they think they have needs. Picking for need means you are picking a lesser player. And when you are as loaded with talent as the Patriots are, those lesser players can't even make the Patriots squad. Less than a year after the 2007 draft, there is only *one player* still with the team. One player -- I mean, are you kidding me???

If they choose the best available player, they are more likely to keep him, and will have quality backups for injuries and players who leave in free agency. In fact, you can make the case that a linebacker injury cost the Patriots a Super Bowl championship in each of the past two years. In 2006, Junior Seau got injured, and backup Eric Alexander couldn't do the job. In 2007, Rosevelt Colvin got injured, and backup Pierre Woods couldn't even secure a fumble (a Giants player ripped it right out of his hands).

So when it comes to draft philosophy, stick with "trade down for value" or "the best available player." Because the best at a specific position might not even make it through training camp.

That's about all for now.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

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