National Football League
July 7, 2008
Draft King Analysis
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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This year brings something new to Draft King: a look at how the picks made in the previous draft will impact each of the 32 NFL franchises. Today we start with the team that is the Vegas favorite to win Super Bowl XLIII (43) -- the New England Patriots.
The accolades for the Pats' front office have poured in for the past few years... and rightfully so. That organization has had an uncanny ability to spot players that fit the team's system, while at the same time filling need spots when possible.
New England tended to go for "character players" for quite awhile, though it seems that they changed their outlook in 2007 with the acquision of WR Randy Moss and the drafting of S Brandon Meriweather (of "Stomping! Stomping!" infamy). Most recently, the arrest of RB Kevin Faulk on marijuana possession charges and the multiple legal incidents involving DE Willie Andrews have embarrassed the organization.
Despite all of this, the Patriots run a model franchise and have flourished this decade in a league that is carefully set up to promote parity. That, in large part, is due to the success that the team has found via the NFL Draft.
Going into the 2008 off-season, it was clear that the Patriots had a major need at inside linebacker. 39-year-old Junior Seau has had an amazing career, but he'll be 40 before Super Bowl XLIII and he's a free agent. 35-year-old Tedy Bruschi signed a new two-year contract to remain with the Patriots, but the clock is running on him, and he has already suffered a stroke, though his comeback from that has been nothing short of amazing.
But, any way you slice it, the big need for New England going into the off-season was ILB. They lost their first round pick as punishment for Spygate, but the Pats held the 49ers' first round selection, which landed at the #7 spot. When the dust settled at the end of the college football season, it seemed that they would have an opportunity to likely choose from two outstanding ILB prospects: USC's Rey Maualuga and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis.
Unfortunately for New England, both Maualuga and Laurinaitis returned to college for their respective senior seasons. That set up an intriguing comparison for the Ohio State at USC game this fall, but that did little to help the Patriots.
So what is a team to do? Trade down, that's what. When USC DT Sedrick Ellis was still on the board at #7, the New Orleans Saints (a team in desperate need of a star defensive tackle) gladly traded up from #10 to #7, allowing the Pats to slide back. Then, at the #10 spot, they took a player who made a very strong late run in the draft pecking order in the form of University of Tennessee junior LB Jerod Mayo.
At 6'1" 242, Mayo has the size to be an impact player at ILB, particularly with so many other members of the front seven being talented enough to likely draw attention away from Mayo. But what makes Mayo so dangerous is his speed. Running a 4.54 40, he set himself apart as a unique talent from the rest of the ILB crop, and he should be very effective against everything from sweeps to screen passes to QB scrambles.
With cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Randall Gay gone via free agency, the Patriots found themselves in need at that position. In typical New England style, the team landed a bargain value player at the end of round two in the form of Colorado CB Terrence Wheatley. His 5'9" height scared some teams away, though there are some who believe that he has NFL-caliber shutdown skills. On top of being a solid defender, Wheatley is a skilled kick returner, which makes him all the more valuable to the Patriots.
|The Patriots think highly of rookie QB Kevin O'Connell. (Icon SMI)
Tom Brady has been able to avoid serious injury for the majority of his career, though many people forget that Brady was knocked out of his first AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh in January 2002 and it was Drew Bledsoe that lead the Patriots to victory in that game. Brady's durability has helped some to overlook a potential problem for New England, the lack of the development of a strong backup QB.
Some believe that the Patriots have solved that problem by their pick of 6'5" San Diego State QB Kevin O'Connell near the end of round three. Time will tell if O'Connell's strong senior year at San Diego State will translate into him being a quality NFL talent, though he certainly has the physical tools to make it happen.
Not to be overlooked is the selection of Michigan OLB Shawn Crable. Crable was part of Michigan's amazing 2006 defensive front seven, and while he wasn't the superstar of that group, he showed that he can hold his own when surrounded by talent.