By Dan Rubin
With the NFL Draft beginning Thursday, let’s put the labor situation on the shelf and get back to actual football talk. Let’s take a look at some positions as our beloved New England Patriots get set to stock their roster and try to make a run at league supremacy. For our rankings of best available, we’re using the rankings by Rivals.com. We start today with Quarterbacks, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers:
Depth Chart: Tom Brady (starter), Brian Hoyer
Best Available: Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Cam Newton (Auburn), Jake Locker (Washington), Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Andy Dalton (TCU), Christian Ponder (Florida State), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), TJ Yates (North Carolina).
Who’s On the Radar: The Patriots have six picks in the first three rounds. Odds are they’ll move at least two of them for future picks or current players. But they have to remember that Brady is 33 years old. If there’s no football this year and with his birthday in August, he wouldn’t play again until he’s 35. Now is the time to start planning for the unthinkable of life after Brady. Gabbert, Newton, and Locker will be off the board by the time New England can even think about a draft pick. Having seen Ponder over the past few seasons, he’s the prospect most like Brady. Ponder never really had a full grasp on the starting job at FSU, and even when he did, a lot of people doubted him. He’s also similar in body type to Brady, and the knocks on him are very similar. He’s a dink-and-dunk passer who can’t go deep, and but he’s tough, intelligent, and competitive. He’d look great taking over in the offense after learning it for three or four seasons. He would just have to be okay with being drafted under the understanding that he’s not playing for three years until Brady retires.
I don’t really like Kaepernick because he played in Nevada’s Pistol offense, and Dalton only really had the one season as a starter. Mallett and Yates are works in progress, and I wouldn’t take either of them, especially Yates, who threw more dying quails than a shooting range. If the Patriots don’t take a QB in the first four rounds, they’re probably not going to get one, unless they decide to sign Greg McElroy (Alabama) as an undrafted free agent. Honestly, they still have a couple of years, so I’m not giving the position too much thought. Whoever plays isn’t going to be a starter until Brady retires, and 99% of the Patriots’ fan base doesn’t want to see that day. The other 1% wants Brady to leave before he pierces his ears, starts calling himself “Tomas,” and becomes an acclaimed mariachi musician in Brazil.
Depth Chart: BenJarvis Green-Ellis (starter), Danny Woodhead, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk
Best Available: Mark Ingram (Alabama), Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech), Dion Lewis (Pittsburgh), Daniel Thomas (Kansas State), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Mikel Leshoure (Illinois), Shane Vereen (California), Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State), Delone Carter (Syracuse), Jordan Todman (Connecticut)
Who’s On the Radar: Patriots fans love their running backs. The Law Firm gave them their first 1,000 yard rusher since Corey Dillon, and Woodhead became the most beloved member of the backfield since Moses Tatupu. We still love Faulk, even though the Patriots proved they could live without him, and they extricated themselves from the steaming pile of running back dung known as Lawrence Maroney. Taylor’s just kind of there, and I’m not sure, but Sammy Morris might still be kicking around somewhere.
But we’re also not stupid. We love Green-Ellis as the starter, but there are doubts he can replicate his season from a year ago. He’s a savage runner, loves to hit and be hit, and he’s probably the toughest guy on the field. He’s not afraid of taking a linebacker on if it means getting that one extra yard, which was Maroney’s biggest issue and why he played himself right out of Foxboro. We just don’t know if he’s got the talent to do what he did a year ago, since defenses figured out how to stop him (see also: Ryan, Rob and Ryan, Rex). Likewise, Woodhead’s a great story, and we love him to pieces. But he’s a Honda Accord compared to the NASCAR engines around him. He did great on third downs to be the next Faulk, but they’re an injury to Green-Ellis away from having him in on every down. And yes, Woodhead’s good, but he’s not that good.
So that makes the running game one of the bigger focal points for fans going into the draft. There’s a very good chance that Ingram is on the board when the Patriots pick at both #17 and #28. Ingram is the man we want because he has the body and pedigree to play for the Pats. His father, Mark Ingram, Sr. played for the Giants during their Super Bowl heyday. That means the family knows Belichick. He’s a Nick Saban guy, who is a Belichick guy. That counts for something.
Body-wise, Ingram makes his best move at the line. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he has an initial burst that can crush through opposing defensive lines. Think about what The Law Firm does, then dial it up a notch. He rarely fumbled in college, and he’s small enough at 5-10 to be shifty at the line. This is a guy that would fit perfectly in the Patriots system. Then again, we said the same thing about Maroney.
I don’t think the Patriots pick him with their first pick because I think Anthony Costanzo will be there as a tackle, and New England desperately needs to repair their offensive line with the departures of Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur. But I think if Ingram is around at pick #28, he will be wearing blue and silver as a rookie. That’s not to say it’s a guarantee because Belichick is more likely to trade the pick than actually draft in it, but what this guy brings to the table makes him suited for this team.
After Ingram, there’s a major drop-off in talent, too. Williams, the next best running back, is most likely a third round pick. Maybe the Pats take Todman late, since he’s a local product who was dominant at UConn, but he’s 5-9, 190, and one midget on the roster is enough.
Depth Chart: Deion Branch (starter), Wes Welker (starter), Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Rob Gronkowski (tight end), Aaron Hernandez (tight end)
Best Available: A.J. Green (Georgia), Julio Jones (Alabama), Randall Cobb (Kentucky), Greg Little (North Carolina), Titus Young (Boise State), Torrey Smith (Maryland), Jerrel Jernigan (Troy), Kyle Rudolph (tight end – Notre Dame), Lance Kendricks (tight end – Wisconsin), Virgil Green (tight end – Nevada).
Who’s On the Radar: The Patriots’ receiving corps is one of the most underrated enigmas of the offseason. They pretty much rebuilt it on the fly last year, dealing Randy Moss for a bag of kicking tees to Minnesota, then orchestrating a trade to bring back Branch. Welker is a mutant, coming back from tearing everything in his knee after tearing it at the end of the 2009 season. Even though his brain will resemble split-pea soup by the time he’s 45, he’s the toughest and most consistent wide out in the NFL. Gronkowski and Hernandez were revelations are rookies, even though they’re tight ends. They’re phenomenal in open space.
That leaves us to look at Tate, Edelman, and Price. Edelman took three massive steps back this year as a receiver, even though he’s going to stay on the roster because he’s a great return specialist. Tate and Price, meanwhile, are incompletes. Tate has breakaway speed, maybe better than Moss in his prime, but he doesn’t know how to run a pass pattern. And Price was inactive or hurt for most of the season, so he’s starting to resemble Chad Jackson.
The Patriots historically don’t take receivers in the first round. Then again, nobody other than Al Davis usually does. They’re a dime a dozen, and with the exception of Green and Jones, the rest all fall into the same group. When you start getting back into the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, maybe then you start grabbing a wide receiver along the lines of Cobb or Little. Maybe they take Rudolph, who is in the same mold as Gronkowski and Hernandez. But really, how many pass-catching tight ends does one team need?
Instead, I’m going to throw this one out there as a crazy but maybe solution. I don’t think the Patriots take a wide receiver at all this draft to give Tate and Price one last chance to showcase themselves. If they do anything, it’ll be to orchestrate the Randy Moss Trade, Part 2. The Patriots have been very open about the fact that they have a number of picks in the first rounds, and therefore, they’d be willing to deal them. Chad Ochocinco has pretty much been lobbying to be traded to New England. He’s very open to coming here, and maybe, just maybe, the Patriots decide to trade for him, much like they did for Moss.
Stay tuned to Noontime Sports for your full draft coverage as we get set for all the action from Radio City Music Hall.