This week's mailbag is filled with various draft possibilities, from selecting specific players to considering various trades. That is part of what makes this time on the NFL calendar so enjoyable. The possibilities are endless.
With that in mind, let's get right to the questions.
Q: Hi Mike, as the draft approaches I think we're all trying to figure out what BB & Co. are going to do over that three-day period. What I've been wondering is if you think the Patriots have any plans for cashing in one of their 2011 first-round picks early? Given the depth of this draft it could be good to move one of those picks in favor of a second and third/fourth (or maybe a player) this year. Maybe a team like the 49ers, who sport two first-round picks already, would be interested? Or maybe Oakland might be willing to make an offer to get their pick back next year? -- Jon (Middletown, R.I)
A: Jon, I don't have any inside information on the Patriots' plans in terms of those 2011 first-round draft choices. But if I had to make an educated prediction, I don't think they have any plans to part ways with either of those picks. I can't recall too many times, if at all, that the Patriots have traded a future draft pick away during that year's draft. I don't think Bill Belichick believes in that.
Q: Let's pretend the 2011 draft has scaled rookie salaries and Oakland has the worst record now that Donovan McNabb is in Washington. Does Bill Belichick draft Jake Locker as Brady's replacement or stick to his bread & butter and snag a stud defensive lineman? Odds are he'd trade it, but I'm wondering if that thought has any impact on his draft this season. Perhaps he'd focus on a certain position where there's depth this season as opposed to next season? -- Mark (Melrose, Mass.)
A: Mark, I don't think Locker would be the pick, which assumes good health for Tom Brady at this time next year. I don't see those 2011 first-rounders having a major impact on what the Patriots do this year, although I have considered whether they might have some effect at running back. The Patriots have three players entering the final year of their contracts at the position -- Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk -- and I've wondered if they think they can go with that group in 2010 and then add more explosive firepower in 2011 with one of those first-rounders. I'm probably stretching it with that thought, but it did cross the mind.
Q: Good teams draft based on who's the best available rather than what the team needs most. That being said, the best available at 22 would be Maurkice Pouncey, the center from Florida. It will give New England depth and youth at the interior line, and perhaps starting duties at center in the future. New England needs help at outside linebacker and defensive end. At 44, would you project either: A) An outside linebacker that can pressure the quarterback, or B) A defensive end that can take up blockers, so the back 8 can make plays? -- Alvin (Deerfield, Mass.)
A: Alvin, it is my belief that Pouncey is the safest pick in the mid to late part of the first round. I would endorse that pick if he's still available. Pouncey would also provide insurance at guard if Logan Mankins' contract situation becomes a big issue. If he was indeed the pick, I think you could go DE, OLB or TE/WR with the next three selections, assuming the right players are there.
Q: Mike, do I understand correctly that under your philosophy the Patriots have zero true outside linebackers that fit our scheme? Tully Banta-Cain is a sub rusher. Derrick Burgess, assuming he returns, is a sub rusher. Pierre Woods is atrocious (1 sack in four seasons and "his primary contributions come on special teams"). Who am I leaving out here? Other than Adalius Thomas, the player who can apparently play anything from safety to nose tackle but is more of a "blitzer" than a "pass-rusher," we don't have anyone who can line up for three downs. With that said, how is there any question that the Patriots will either draft an OLB with their first-round pick or make an eye-popping trade? -- ECF (D.C.)
A: It's the biggest question mark on the roster in my view. I'd add Shawn Crable and Rob Ninkovich into the mix as well, but still, the Patriots need to add some players here. I don't think it necessarily has to be a first-round pick, but with the high number of conversion-type players available in this draft, a solid player should be available in the second round that could help.
Q: The more I look at past Belichick drafts, my hope of seeing Brandon Graham in a Patriots uniform seems unlikely. I have a feeling that if available, which I think he will be, the team will select Jared Odrick. Seymour, Warren and Wilfork -- all first-rounders. Plus with this draft being deep with outside pass-rushers, Odrick seems he should be a lock at 22. Also, do you see Jerry Hughes being available at the time the Pats pick in the second round? -- Nick (Hartford, Conn.)
A: Nick, there are mixed opinions among some scouts as to whether Odrick projects to 3-4 defensive end. He played defensive tackle in Penn State's 4-3, and while his frame looks like the right fit to play end in the 3-4, some have noted that he struggled when asked to engage and shed at the Senior Bowl. Here is a link that has more detail on Odrick from Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. As for Hughes, I don't think he will be there at 44.
Q: Mike, 12 picks seems like too many. How many will BB ultimately make this year? I don't see him wisely acquiring more for 2010 by trading down, so my guess is he trades some for players or some into next year. Your thoughts? -- Crazy Fan in CT (Greenwich, Conn.)
A: I think he'll make 10 to 11, although I didn't think he'd make 12 last year, either. One thing to keep in mind is that four of them are compensatory selections that have to be made this year, because those can't be traded.
Q: Alex Brown (Bears) seems like a solid character guy and a type of player the Pats would have snagged up a few years ago. Agree? -- Ryan (Plymouth, Mass.)
A: Ryan, in my view, a player like Brown would duplicate what Derrick Burgess did last year. I think they'd be better off developing a younger option. At 260 pounds, Brown would be a sub rusher or outside linebacker in the base 3-4 in this system.
Q: Hey Mike. I've been calling for a switch to more of a one-gap defense for quite a while now, as I feel it is better suited for today's NFL. So my question is do you think Belichick is considering a change in scheme to a more penetrating, attacking, one-gap defense? He's brought in guys like Damione Lewis, Darryl Richard, Myron Pryor, and has been looking at guys like Brian Price in the pre-draft evaluations. All of these guys are more of penetrating linemen. I would love to see us armed with a more aggressive attack in 2010, and I think Belichick is smart enough to realize that maybe the two-gap defense is a little outdated in the modern NFL. What are your thoughts? -- BossMagglio (NY)
A: I pondered that thought, specifically with the Lewis signing, wondering if we might be seeing some kind of change related to this. I don't think we will see a dramatic overhaul, but I do think there will be tweaks in certain situations. One of the things I've learned over time is that it's a lot more than just one-gap versus two-gap, and a two-gap defense can still be an attacking unit, but it just attacks differently than a Colts-like, one-gap type of scheme. The reason I don't think we'll see wholesale changes is that it would run counter to what scouts have been trained to look for in players, thus making a major part of the player evaluation process moot. One prospect who visited the Patriots this year was quizzed on the team's system and it was all still two-gap talk, which has me thinking we won't see major changes.
Q: Mike, what do you think of Mike Wright in terms of his role going forward? I thought he was much improved last year, especially as a pass-rusher and even making plays in pursuit. I know he's been mostly a sub-package player but do you think he could hold up against the run as the starting right end in the Patriots 3-4? That would be huge and would allow the team to focus on other needs in the draft. Thanks. -- Pat (Boston, Mass.)
A: Pat, I think Wright is the type of player who would wear down as a full-time starter at right defensive end. A player like that, to me, is most effective as a sub or pinch-hit starter who could get you through a stretch of games in which the starter was out.
A: Jack, both McKenzie and Tate are full participants in the offseason program. They will compete for a roster spot/playing time at inside linebacker and receiver, respectively. I think the coaching staff is high on both players, but the true test will come once the pads are on in training camp and preseason.
Q: Do you really believe we will trade any of the second-round picks to move up in the first round, or that we will waste a second-rounder on Tim Tebow? I just can't see BB doing either of these moves. I believe a glaring need is to build this team for 2011 and on and to stay competitive. I see Brady winning another 2 rings between 34-38 years old! -- Jdubs12 (N.Y.)
A: I lean toward your line of thinking. I don't see Belichick trading away a second-rounder this year to move into the first round, because that would require additional compensation that he wouldn't want to part with. I also don't see Tebow coming to the Patriots.
Q: Hi Mike, It appears Tim Tebow is pretty certain he can be a QB in the NFL. Don't you think if the Patriots pick him in the second or third round that he would be disappointed? He would know he's coming to the Patriots as a TE/H-back type player. Why would the Patriots want to deal with the possible angst from a player who is put into a position he doesn't want to play? I think only QB-needy teams should look in his direction. Your thoughts? -- Matt (Far East)
A: In the end, Matt, I don't think it will be an issue for the Patriots. After hearing several respected NFL head coaches and executives at the owners meetings last month, I am now thinking that Tebow will go in the first round. I also don't believe he will be a consideration for the Patriots in the opening round, assuming he hasn't been taken by the No. 22 pick.
Q: I think the Patriots need at running back is a huge concern. Any chance they take Toby Gerhart with one of their second-round picks? I think he is the kind of workhorse they need at the position. Or try to get one of the Bills' tandem, Marshawn Lynch or Fred Jackson? -- Ryan (Manchester, N.H.)
A: Ryan, I know Tedy Bruschi thinks very highly of Gerhart and would like to see the Patriots draft him. I don't feel as strongly about picking a player at that position because it's almost a luxury based on the other needs elsewhere on the roster. I don't think the Patriots would have interest in Lynch because of off-field concerns, while I'd be surprised if the Bills would deal Jackson.
Q: How do you see our WR corps shaping up this season as of right now? Moss is obviously the clear cut No. 1, but it gets a little confusing after that. Edelman No. 2? Tate No. 3? Does David Patten make the squad? How would you think a rookie like Demaryius Thomas or Golden Tate work out in a Pats uniform? -- Anthony (North Andover, Mass.)
A: I think you nailed it, Anthony. This is very much a work in progress, but those would be the three players I'd put atop the depth chart -- Randy Moss, Julian Edelman and Tate. I do think we'll see at least one more addition to the group between now and the start of training camp and that could alter the picture. I'm not familiar enough with Thomas to have an informed opinion as to how he would fit, but I think Tate would be a solid addition. Patten faces longer odds at this point, but he's a competitor and will get his chance.
Q: Have not heard anything about Isaiah Stanback this offseason. Do you think he figures into their plans at all? -- Ron
A: Ron, the biggest thing to me with Stanback is position-based -- quarterback or receiver? I believe he is locked in at receiver and this is the first NFL offseason that he hasn't been hindered by any injuries. So I think he'll be in the mix for a spot, and based on the competitiveness he's shown, it wouldn't surprise me if he's in the team's plans. Right now, I'd put him on the roster bubble.
Q: Mike, when the Pats bring in prospects to work them out, who are the ones who play the other positions? Is it a job for the practice team members? Is it a lower ranking coach? Do roster players do it? Also, did any of our receivers meet with Tebow or watch him throw, and if so, would it be for input? -- JJ (Upper Valley)
A: JJ, when the Patriots bring a player to Gillette Stadium, a workout is not allowed. Those visits are only meet-and-greets. The workouts come on college campuses and they aren't in pads. So many of the drills don't require an extra person to effectively evaluate a player. If they do, sometimes it can be another player from that school. On Tebow, it would have been against the rules for Patriots players to watch him throw. No throwing was allowed on that visit.
Q: I think the Cassel/Vrabel trade looks pretty good now after seeing what the Eagles got for Donovan McNabb. What do you think? -- Dave (Ottawa, Canada)
A: It's a good topic to revisit, Dave. I posted something similar on Twitter, because if I recall, there was a sizable portion of Patriots followers who were irate that the Patriots couldn't get more for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel than the 34th overall draft pick. In the end, market conditions dictated that price. Most would probably think McNabb would generate much better compensation, but he yielded the 37th overall draft pick and a 2011 third- or fourth-round pick. Not a major difference. While I think Vrabel could have helped the Patriots on early downs in 2009, he wasn't a major on-field factor in Kansas City. So looking back, and applying the McNabb trade, the compensation seemed fair.
Q: Mike, I was reading something today on ProFootballTalk about the Chicago TE situation and think maybe we have been thinking about the wrong Bears TE as a Pats target. What about Desmond Clark? As the posting points out, he is more likely to be the odd man out in Chicago? Does Clark's skill set match what the Pats would want from a TE? Would bringing in a Clark allow the Pats to take a chance on a higher upside TE like Graham from Miami? -- ScrappE (Orlando, Fla.)
A: Given the Patriots' situation at tight end, I think Clark would be worth a look, although the main concern would be that his style would seem to duplicate what you already have in Alge Crumpler. Both players are also at the same point in their careers -- closer to the end -- so that would also be something that wouldn't be ideal.
Q: Hi Mike, I've heard some recent buzz about Jameson Konz, the utility player from Kent State, because of his athletic ability. What's your opinion of him? Do you know if the Patriots have expressed any interest in him? -- Jim (Boston, Mass.)
A: Jim, the only thing I've heard of Konz was from this article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I'm not sure if the Patriots have expressed any interest in him, but I know for certain that they have evaluated him and are aware of him.
Q: Hey Mike, didn't the Pats have some players on military reserve or something like that? Can you explain how that process works? -- Chains18 (Cambridge, Mass.)
A: The straight-forward answer on this one is that the Patriots signed players who have military commitments. When the players have met their commitments, their rights would be owned by the Patriots. Those players are running back Eric Kettani and wide receivers Tyree Barnes and Shun White, and they remain on the reserve/military list at this time.
Q: As a longtime season ticket holder (34 years), I want to thank you and the panel for the great job on Saturday night. My son and I go to the Pats draft party every year, but this year's was just outstanding. We sat in the front row and have to say that the Krafts outdid themselves again. Looking forward to the draft with all the information that we were given. -- Gary Carter (Holbrook, Mass.)
A: Thank you for the thoughts, Gary. That was a blast to be a part of, and it made me feel good that ESPN Boston was a presenting sponsor (video of the event will be posted on the site later this week). Any time you are sharing the stage with Tedy Bruschi, it's a privilege, and I think we all saw in the room how special he is. I also agree with you about the Krafts. As we were leaving, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay made the point that a night like that is a reflection of committed ownership.