A few leftovers from the weekly Patriots mailbag:
Rick (Pelham, NH): Mike, I keep reading how the Pats need to draft a certain position early like LB or TE because if a starter goes down, they're in trouble. I understand that, but wouldn't it make more sense to focus on a position we know we need to upgrade? Ryan Wendell was OK last year, and Duron Harmon is far from a lock to be a good safety this year. Wouldn't it make the most sense to draft a player high to fill a need they have now, and not one they may have if a starter can't play? I guess I don't see the point of drafting a LB high to be 4th on the depth chart.
Mike Reiss: Understood, Rick, and I'd start with this thought: I don't think the Patriots need to do anything as there aren't many rookies, if any, that are going to come in and make an immediate impact. A lot of what we're doing now is about projecting the best pick based on the crop of prospects in this year's draft and where the value might fall around the 29th pick. Overall, it comes back to the idea of drafting need vs. best available. I've generally felt that if you force a pick based on need, you'll probably be back in the same position the next year with the need again (e.g. Tavon Wilson in the 2012 second round as one example). So it's a balance. If all things are equal, it's great when the need matches with the best player. For example, if the Patriots view Southern Cal center Marcus Martin as worthy of the No. 29 pick, by all means, go for it. But if a difference-maker like linebacker Ryan Shazier is available at that point, I wouldn't shy away from it based on it not being as pressing of a need because I think he's on a higher level as a player.
Branden G. (Spokane, WA): Has there been any update on how the recovery of Jerod Mayo is going? I felt like he was a huge loss for us last year, and is often an forgot about with all the free agency moves and contract talks this off season.
Reiss: Good one, Branden. Mayo's name came up Tuesday when we spoke with Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who has been training with Mayo. This is what Ninkovich said: "Me and Mayo are in there, he’s a pretty explosive guy, so I try to keep up with [him]. He’s looking good right now. I’ve been training with him for a long time, and it’s always good to have somebody to push you and make you better."
Sam (Florida): Mike, do you think it's a possibility that the Patriots trade up in the draft this year? In my opinion, there is no way that players who can make a significant impact in their first year for the Pats, like Calvin Pryor or Kony Ealy, will fall to 29. What are the chances that BB trades up to grab an impact player?
Reiss: I think both could be there, Sam, but overall I'd say we shouldn't be surprised at any scenario with the Patriots. As 2012 showed us when they traded up for Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in the first round, anything is possible. Still, if I had to guess, I'd say it's more likely they move back in a deep draft than move up.
Steve (Boston): Although we've talked a lot about free agent additions to the offense and defense, one area I feel we may have neglected is the special teams. Specifically, we haven't made any progress on finding a suitable kick returner. The Leon Washington experiment didn't work out last year and with LeGarrette Blount headed to the Steelers, we are pretty thin. Do you see a guy like Matthew Slater taking on the responsibility? What about through the draft and free agency? Looks like Jeff Demps will finally get his chance as well in Tampa.
Reiss: Steve, I'd be surprised if Slater became the primary kickoff returner. If the season started today, we'd probably see speedy receiver Josh Boyce in that role. Free-agent running back Michael Bush would be a candidate if he signs. Similar to Blount, it takes him a little while to get up to full speed but when he does, he's a tough tackle at 245 pounds.