With 11 picks, Patriots in commanding position

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
If you dislike the New England Patriots, then you really must be dreading what they can accomplish this weekend.

The Patriots hold 11 selections in the draft. Four of them are among the first 58. Six of them are in the top 97.

The New York Jets, by comparison, own six picks in the whole 256-slot shooting match.

Seems unfair, doesn't it? When you consider how well the Patriots evaluate prospects -- they've selected eight All-Pros through Bill Belichick's nine drafts -- this year's holdings must seem borderline obscene to opposing fans.

"You're talking about the best 100 players," ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Herm Edwards said. "Regardless of how you have them graded, you're doing pretty good if you have a chance to get two of them. Now you have a chance to get six of them? Well, a lot of things are sitting on your plate."

While the rest of the AFC East has dealt with humility off and on for the past decade, the Patriots work the system to remain perennial Super Bowl contenders.

The Patriots won 11 games last year without all-everything quarterback Tom Brady. He's on his way back, making his services the NFL's greatest offseason acquisition. The Patriots also found enough room to add running back Fred Taylor, tight end Chris Baker and cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs.

Now they have more picks than they can use. There's no way 11 draftees will make the 53-man roster of a team that expects to play in the Super Bowl each winter.

Maybe the St. Louis Rams could accommodate 11 rookies. Not the Patriots.

So what will the Patriots do with their precious assets?

Almost certainly, they will trade some of their picks. They will either move up to pounce on a player they want, spin them off into 2010 or both.

"If Belichick trades three or four picks, he still has eight guys coming out of the draft," retired NFL executive Ken Herock said. "That's pretty damn good. And it's probably the eight he wants."

Here's the rundown of where New England's picks are slotted and how they obtained the extras:

  • First round: 23rd overall.

  • Second round: 34th (from the Kansas City Chiefs for quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel), 47th (from the San Diego Chargers at last year's draft) and 58th.

  • Third round: 89th and 97th (compensatory).

  • Fourth round: 124th.

  • Fifth round: 170th (compensatory).

  • Sixth round: 199th and 207th (compensatory).

  • Seventh round: 234th.

So many selections will affect the Patriots in multiple ways.

Their roster has the chance to get appreciably younger, and youth is critical in helping a front office manage the salary cap. Their developmental players should get better. Their special teams should improve, especially since those units are populated with young defensive players, and the Patriots carry mobile 3-4 linebackers and extra defensive backs.

More importantly, that kind of stockpile affords the Patriots considerable flexibility this weekend. Their first appointment is scheduled 2 1/2 hours after the draft begins at 4 p.m. But they won't have to wait for the 23rd choice if they don't want to.

"You get the opportunity to move up," said Herock, who handled player personnel for the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers before he retired in 2001.

"That's the big thing with all the draft picks. If you really like somebody and you know he can play and you know he fits your system, and he's a guy you want and he's 10 picks away, you can go get him instead of worrying 'Will he last until I pick?' "

"If Belichick wants a player, he's going to go get him, believe me, in this draft."

What helps give the Patriots a commanding outlook this weekend is their roster. They don't have significant needs two years removed from the Super Bowl and coming off an injury-plagued 11-win season.

A more attractive Vrabel replacement at outside linebacker is on the short list. The Patriots reportedly have been interested in trading for Carolina Panthers pass rusher Julius Peppers, and owner Robert Kraft hasn't hidden his adoration of free agent Jason Taylor.

New England, therefore, has the luxury of bolstering any position it chooses with the highest-rated player on the draft board. Needs won't dictate selections as they will for most clubs.

"They're not going to be pressured to do anything," said Edwards, the former Jets and Chiefs head coach. "Other people are going to call them. When they're picking in the second round, teams are going to say 'We've got to get our guy now because if we don't then we'll miss out. Let's trade with New Engla

New England has a proven evaluation system in place, but an important draft accomplice won't be there for the first time in Belichick's tenure. Former vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli left the Patriots to become Kansas City's general manager.

Herock and Edwards suggested Pioli's absence would be virtually undetectable.

"Bill has been a survivor prior to Pioli," Herock said. "When Scott Pioli came in, he was a novice. Where did he get his ultimate training from? From Bill Belichick. So Bill will train the next guy that comes in.

"Bill will see the players. Bill will study them. Bill will know all the players. He goes at it and knows what's going on. The handprint has always been Belichick's."

The Patriots replaced Pioli with Floyd Reese, who drafted three rookies of the year as Tennessee Titans general manager. Reese was named senior football advisor. They also promoted Nick Caserio to director of player personnel.

"Bill knows what he wants on offense and defense," said Edwards, who was fired by Pioli in Kansas City. "They'll be well-organized in their room. Their philosophy is their philosophy, and they'll go after the players they've identified that can play for them."

Edwards sounded convinced it wouldn't matter a smidgeon if Belichick had hired Waylon Smithers to be his new sidekick.

"They drink different water up there than everybody else," Edwards said. "Whatever they give those guys, they end up being pretty good."

Give the Patriots 11 opportunities to fortify their roster, and it's easy to be envious of their continued wealth.