The 2011 NFL Draft is upon us, which means Noontime Sports is ready for the first round to begin on Thursday. So, with that being said, here is our conversation with Mike Dussault (Pats Propaganda) about the Draft itself, as well as the NFL Lockout and New England Patriots.
Matt Noonan: What would you say is the biggest and most important item the Patriots need to address in the NFL Draft?
Mike Dussault: The biggest item that needs to be addressed has to be improving the 32nd ranked 3rd down defense and that begins with adding a three-down player to the defensive front seven. While outside linebacker may be the biggest position in need of a talent upgrade, this years draft class isn’t great for that particular position, especially in the mid-to-late first round. However the draft is extremely rich in defensive ends who fit the Pats system. Guys like Cameron Jordan (CAL) and JJ Watt (Wisconsin) would bring immediate impacts in both the run and pass games.
The Pats should be able to add an outside linebacker project or two in the later rounds, but early on look for them to address defensive end and offensive line. The interior offensive line could also use a talent upgrade and there are some great prospects like Danny Watkins (Baylor), Derrick Sherrod (Mississippi State) or Clint Boling (Georgia) who could solidify multiple positions.
There are also a fair number of developmental tackles who could be groomed to take a starting spot on the left or right side depending on how Sebastian Vollmer projects and what happens with Matt Light‘s free agency status. Nate Solder (Colorado) is one in particular that would make a great bookend of the future with Vollmer.
MN: Going into the draft, which Patriots unit could be considered the weakest? Which one is the strongest? Also, how can the weaker unit be improved, if not through the Draft?
MD: It doesn’t take a Patriots uber-blogger like me to tell you it’s pass rush, pass rush, pass rush! Of course this could be oversimplifying matters a bit, but with the return of Leigh Bodden and the continued development of Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and hopefully Brandon Meriweather, it looks like the back end of the pass defense is promising.
The main problem was that opposing teams converted 47% of their third downs against the Pats, which is bad enough for worst in the league (the best teams are around 30%). This problem was compounded by the losses of interior rushers Mike Wright and Myron Pryor to injury, along with Tully Banta-Cain‘s return to earth following a 10 sack season in 2009. So whether it’s interior rushers or edge rushers the Pats need to add some talent who can, at the very least, get quarterbacks off the spot and out of their comfort zone.
The Patriots offense has been a great strength over the past four seasons, despite different quarterbacks (Matt Cassel in ’08) and going from a spread, vertical attack to more of a two tight end horizontal attack in 2010. As long as the Tom Brady gets the protection and time he needs the Pats offense should continue to roll in 2011.
Not to say they are without needs. Stabilizing the offensive line for the twilight of Brady’s career is priority number one on that side of the ball, and the Pats look to be in prime position to do so in this draft. They could also use another running back to go with Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, one who could compliment their games. While some say wide receiver, and specifically a deep threat, is a need, I believe they’ll allow Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, and Taylor Price another year to develop in the system.
MN: Out of all the college players who are entering the draft this year, which will have the most promising career?
MD: As always predicting the draft is somewhat of a crapshoot, but I believe that Marcel Dareus (DL, Alabama), AJ Green (WR, Georgia) and JJ Watt (DE, Wisonsin) look like the three safest, can’t-miss prospects this year. All are supremely talented, check out off the field, and bring the professional attitude required to be successful at the next level.
MN: Yes, the Judge lifted the NFL Lockout ban on Monday, but still, so much has to occur before players can actually work out and return to their day-to-day roles with the organization. How much has this current off-season downgraded the NFL as a whole and in your opinion, will there be a season come September? Yes or No? Why?
MD: While the NFL hasn’t lost the diehards like myself just yet, the lockout, and perhaps most importantly the rhetoric thrown back and forth between the two sides has absolutely had an impact on the game, whether they want to admit it or not. Interest in the draft is down this year, as are the the number of visitors to NFL.com. The longer we go without a new CBA the more harmful that impact will be.
To be honest I really don’t know what will happen this fall. We could start on time. We could miss three games (and still manage a full 16-game slate because the NFL designed the schedule to accommodate), or we could miss the entire season. What I do know is that the debate will be tied up in the courts well into the summer.
What needs to happen is the two sides have to get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a new CBA. Either side winning outright would be bad for the game, so it needs to be a compromise that maintains the competitive balances the NFL has established, but also takes care of the players both during and after their careers.
My rough prediction? Games will be missed.
MN:How much would not having a NFL season hurt the league, players and fans? Would college football then dominate the football world? Would football fans flock to the NHL or MLB instead?
MD: The NHL is still trying to recover from their lost season in 2004, not to say they were as big as the NFL, but the impact of a lost season cannot be understated. As Vince Wilfork said on Tuesday, he might consider retirement if there’s no football in 2011. I’m sure other players might do the same. Players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the stars of the NFL, would lose one of the last few seasons of their primes, and who knows what kind of effect a full year off would have on the quality of the product on the field.
MN: Finally, assuming that there is a season, which Patriots game on the schedule will be one of those “can’t miss games?”
MD: In week four, Rex Ryan and the New York Jets will return to Foxboro and while the Patriots would never admit to looking past week one, it’s surely a game that is circled in their minds. There’s also the annual Brady-Manning game, as well as a return to the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. These three games will likely be the defining ones of the season.
Follow Mike Dussault on Twitter (@PatsPropaganda)