Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
We examined each AFC East team's "weak spot" based on its 2008 performance. In this post, we explore the Patriots' outsider linebacker position.
New England has had a terrific offseason. They have navigated free agency, the trade market and draft with ease. I see the Patriots as one of the best two teams in the league right now. But, there is one area of concern: outside linebacker.
It doesn't concern me that Mike Vrabel was shipped off to Kansas City. His play fell off dramatically last season and his presence in Kansas City is to be as a mentor and trend setter of sorts. Also, the Chiefs' roster is not as well stocked as the Patriots and they need every close-to-able body they can get their hands on. I am not so sure Vrabel would have even made the Patriots' final roster this year. So his loss is minimal.
Adalius Thomas hasn't quite lived up to expectations in New England since being added in free agency from the Ravens. He has played in the league now for nine seasons, is coming off an injury plagued season and it is possible that he is beginning to decline. However, I still hold out hope that Thomas can be a similar versatile playmaker as he was in Baltimore, especially if there were a difference maker opposite him at the other outside linebacker position.
There are three young players of interest here in Shawn Crable, Vince Redd and Pierre Woods. Crable or Woods is probably the front runner to start right now with Crable having the more upside of the two former Michigan Wolverines. Still, for a team as strong as New England, this starting spot is not up to par and presents far more questions than answers.
What I have no doubts about is the fact that New England's offense is going to score points. They are going to score in bunches. This should put the Patriots' pass rushers in very favorable situations late in games when New England's opponents are forced to throw. Think Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis coming off the edge when the Colts are ahead in the fourth quarter.
Jason Taylor just signed with divisional rival Miami and while he doesn't look like a player who is ideally suited to play a high number of snaps, he could have been a mentor and bridge to the Patriots' younger outside linebackers and provided a pass rush specialist that New England presently lacks. However, Taylor is not going to remind anyone of Vrabel from a toughness standpoint and may not be a real Bill Belichick type of player. Losing out on Taylor to Miami isn't the end of the world.
Another option could be Julius Peppers, who also isn't a glass eater but clearly would be a more desirable choice than Taylor... or any other available option. Before the draft, Peppers was often linked to the Patriots. Sometimes when there is smoke there is fire in situations like this and obviously New England has a lot of resources at its disposal in the form of selections in the 2010 draft to make something happen. Peppers' inconsistencies worry me, but adding him to this team would turn New England's number one weakness into a potential great strength.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.