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Ask PFW: Draft prospects

This is the year the Pats will take their two first rounders and trade up: there is a clear talent drop-off after the top third of round 1; they have the cap room; they have many pics for later rounds for stockpiling back-ups. How high can they reach? Houston's 10th pick, or higher? Figure I am right, and give me one or two players they might trade both 1st round pics to get if that player is still on the board.John K.

I have no problem figuring that you're right. It's probably as plausible as any other draft day scenario at this point. Based on the widely referenced draft value chart developed by Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys the Patriots two picks (24 and 28) total 1,400 points. That means New England could theoretically trade up to the eighth pick in the draft (also 1,400 points) currently held by the Falcons. While the exact way the first seven picks unfolded would clearly directly affect the Patriots selection in this scenario two guys I'd like to throw out there as perfect Pats early in the first round are LaRon Landry and Patrick Willis. Landry is widely considered the best safety in the draft, an instant impact pro and projected playmaking NFL star. Willis is the top linebacker, recently ran a 4.37 40 at his pro day, has the size and instincts to make plays as a middle/inside linebacker and is also considered a top-level prospect off the field. I'd love to see either in a Patriots uniform and gracing the cover of the post draft Patriots Football Weekly in the first week of May.
Andy Hart

On their most recent mock drafts, both Vic Carucci ( and Mel Kiper have the Patriots landing both Patrick Willis and Reggie Nelson in the 1st round. If Mel's prognostication is truly as perfect as his hair-do, could you imagine a better scenario? Also, is the coaching staff pretty much set for next year or might there be defections in the weeks to come? I think continuity in that department for the first time in 3 years would be another reason for optimism heading into next year.Tom Simpson

As I said in the previous answer, I think Willis would be a perfect fit for the Patriots. To get him at 24 would be an absolute steal. I think Nelson is more of a second-tier, first-round prospect but also would be a very nice value at 28. He was a consistent playmaker for Florida with the ability to make plays in the run while displaying solid coverage ability. I don't think there's any chance in the world that Willis and Nelson are available at 24 and 28 respectively, but if they are I couldn't draft them fast enough. Fifteen minutes allotted for first-round picks? It wouldn't take me 15 seconds combined to take those two guys at those spots.
I think the coaching staff is set for this season. The loss of Brian Daboll as the receivers coach isn't the same as losing a coordinator, although I do think he did a really nice job with the receivers over the last few seasons. Beyond that I think the staff should only be better than a year ago as Josh McDaniels and Dean Pees get even more comfortable in their roles at coordinator. Experience can't be faked and that should help the staff improve in 2007.
Andy Hart

I have two questions for you and I guess that you are the best ones to ask about them. First at linebacker. Didn't it take Bruschi a few years to learn to be a middle and outside linebacker? So why would someone suggest that the Pats take Anthony Spencer in the first round to convert him to middle linebacker when Bruschi is probably not going to be around long enough for him to learn and become effective at that position? Aren't there any good quality middle linebackers available in this year's draft? I know BB likes to train the bigger ends to play but is there enough time? Second, you wrote that there should be a second HB in the mix for Maroney (I agree, especially with everyone going to the rotation system). What do you think about the man Brain Leonard? He seems like the Pats type of player and can fill in at all aspects of the position. Thanks.Nick Motzny

Bruschi converted from college defensive tackle to NFL outside linebacker and then inside linebacker. He became a full-time starter in his fourth season in New England in 1999. Spencer is a college defensive end, not a huge difference, but his skills have some people believing he could make the transition to outside linebacker in the pros. I personally think he might struggle a bit in the transition, at least initially. Either way, if the Patriots do draft a tweener-type it would most likely be to play outside linebacker. Bruschi's transition path to the inside, or even Vrabel's for that matter, isn't exactly typical or easily projected. So if the team wants to develop an inside linebacker to replace Bruschi in the near future, it will likely come via a college linebacker with the makeup to play the position inside in the 3-4 in New England.
I do think the Patriots will consider drafting a potential backup running back in the draft. Leonard is a very versatile player (fullback, tailback, receiver, special teams, pass catcher), is a team-first guy and will likely have a successful pro career doing a lot of different things for whichever team drafts him. That said he's likely going to get called a bit earlier than I think he should on draft weekend. If you can get a guy like Leonard in the third round I love the pick. Much earlier than that on the first day of the draft and I think it's too high for the type of versatile but not starting caliber pro that I believe he's going to be.
Andy Hart

What about Randy Moss? We know the Patriots need help at the wideout position. Do you think they could trade one of the first rounders for him, and could BB get his act together?Sean Payne

I don't think the Patriots would trade a first-round pick for Moss. I also don't think it would take that high of a pick to get him at this point in his career. New England could still target a receiver in the draft, but I tend to think it's added its quota of veteran receivers this offseason.
As for Belichick, I think he's done as good a job as any coach in the game during his time in New England. Not sure Bill could do much more to "get his act together." Boy Sean, you must be a tough grader. I think Belichick could be on the doorstep of becoming, as my long lost cousin Bret Hart would say, "The best there is. The best there was. And the best there ever will be." Belichick's execution has been pretty excellent, too.
Andy Hart

Thanks PFW for all your "inside information." As a transplanted New Englander, (and one who often can't see regular season games), your feedback is much appreciated. My question involves the highly active approach the Patriots took to free agency signings this year. I am excited by them, but wonder if this represents a "turnaround" in policy from Coach Belichick & Scott Pioli's past philosophy. I haven't seen any of the actual contract numbers, but it seems like the Pats lost Deion Branch due to an unwillingness to dig deep into the $$$ vault, and this year seems much different. Your thoughts?
Robert Kelaghan

I think the Belichick and Pioli regime has always done what it thought was in the best interests of the team. That means they analyze each and every decision on an individual basis every year. That led to the departure of guy like Branch, David Givens and Adam Vinatieri. It also led to additions over the years like Rodney Harrison, Rosevelt Colvin, Corey Dillon, Adalius Thomas and many other decisions both good and bad. The financial landscape of this spring combined with the players available and the Patriots needs led New England to be an early and active player on the open market. It definitely played out a little different than it has in past years. But in the end the goal is the same this spring as it is every year – short and long term stability and overall success for the team.
Andy Hart

When does the 2007 schedule come out? Are the home dates at least set yet? If so, what are they? Thank you!Doug Neil

The NFL usually announces the schedule early in April. I believe that will be the case again this year, although no exact date has been set by the league. We do now know that the Patriots will not be playing against the Colts on opening night (the NFL went for a Saints at Indy matchup instead). New England will also not be playing on Thanksgiving Day as the NFL chose the Jets rather than the Patriots to play the Cowboys in Dallas for that Turkey Day game. So we have a better idea when the Patriots won't be playing, now in a week or two we'll find out all the exact times and dates when the team will be playing.
Andy Hart

Were any specific reasons ever given as to why Doug Gabriel was cut so soon after trading a fifth round pick to get him? He brought size, experience, good hands and a knack for getting open at a time when the Patriots didn't have anyone better.Bruno Sizemore

No specific reason was ever given for Gabriel's release just months after the team had traded a fifth-round pick for the receiver. After letting Gabriel go Belichick would only say "unfortunately, the way the whole thing came down, it just didn't work out. I don't know if that's anybody's fault, that's just the way it was." Asked if it was strictly an on-field issue, Belichick simply said, "Absolutely."
Andy Hart

I really dig each and every free agent we signed this year, however I'm puzzled as to where we're gonna go in the draft now. I read this Chris Houston CB from Arkansas is good player. What do you think? Houston, Hobbs, Samuel...3 sick corners!!!! I like the move myself.Fred Barrett

Cornerback is definitely one of the prime possibilities for New England's early draft picks. Houston is a very impressive player. The one concern I have is that he was primarily a man-to-man cover corner for the Razorbacks. He was matched up opponents' top target each week. So he doesn't have as much experience in a lot of the different coverages that he's going to have to master at the next level. That said I think he has the talent to be a very good cornerback in the NFL and would provide insurance if the Asante Samuel negotiations don't end in a long-term deal for him in New England. More immediately, Houston would be a very good nickel cornerback at the outset of his transition to the pro game.
Andy Hart

In the Ask PFW on March 20, 2007 Mr. Noble (last question) asked about BOTH the D line and the O line for the early selections of the draft. You answered his question regarding the D Line but not regarding the O line. I believe that Dante Scarnecchia (help with my spelling please) is probably the best O line coach in the NFL. He gets more out of his players than anyone in the game. However, in spite of his great job I believe that a big part of the teams difficulties on offense last year were because of the O line. They needed to give Brady another half second, and even more so, they needed to seal better in the running game. Maroney and Dillon's troubles up the middle (except at the goal line when a lead blocker was used) had more to do with the O Line than a problem with the backs. I would like to see them give Dante more talent to apply his magic with. What do you think?David Fogg

I agree that Scar (what the players call him and a far easier name to type) is one of the best offensive line coaches in the game. He's turned some very raw players into starting offensive linemen that have helped teams to Super Bowl titles. He can't be praised enough for that. But his line did perform too inconsistently last season despite having arguably its most talented overall group in years. I think the team is set for the foreseeable future on the inside with Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal at guard and Dan Koppen at center. But tackle isn't as fixed. Matt Light is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, but also remains inconsistent at times in pass protection especially against speed rushers. At right tackle, Nick Kaczur regained his job from rookie Ryan O'Callaghan when the second-year player reached full health. But neither player, third and fifth round picks respectively, has what could be considered a hold on the right tackle spot.
Would I be surprised to see the Patriots select an offensive lineman, specifically a tackle, early in the draft? A little, but it wouldn't be a stunner. The Patriots offensive line is young, made up mostly of New England draft picks and under contract for the next few years. But it could also play better and be more consistent, so adding talent and depth there can't be out of the question even with the team's seemingly more pressing needs in other areas.
Andy Hart

I think that most of the comments and questions overlook the aspect of special teams. Bill B certainly doesn't and I think both Welker and Thomas could make what is already a quality unit(s) that much better. People often pay lip service to special teams but it is often the difference in games. Welker's value has been constantly questioned on PFW but I believe he is being examined only as a receiver. Once we get to see him on special teams along with Adalius and Larry and Lonie (I never screw up a snap) I believe all this negativity will dissipate. I would like to hear your opinion on this and if you believe as I do that the Patriots could not only have one of the most potent defenses and offenses in the league but also the best special teams punting the only big question?Ed Simkin

Anyone who isn't considering Welker's special teams value has never watched him play. We all know a huge part of his value will come on special teams. That's not the question. What we have questioned here at PFW is whether his overall play (offense and special teams) will ever warrant the draft picks (second and seventh) and money (reportedly as much as $18 million) that the Patriots gave up to get him. As I have said, though, that's all in the past. Welker is a Patriot now and will help this team. Belichick will get the most out of him on offense and special teams. That's a fact. As for Thomas, I'm not sure he'll have as big a role on special teams. While he was once a Pro Bowler there, he's now a Pro Bowl defensive player and brings far more value to a team in that area. He was brought to the Patriots to make an instant impact on defense. He will probably play some special teams, as many New England starters do, but he'll earn the bulk of his money on defense.
Andy Hart

Is there any reason to think that Corey Mays, Pierre Woods or Eric Alexander could blossom into a regular linebacker in the rotation? I would like to see the Pats address the secondary with both the first round picks (corner and safety). But they would have to believe that one of those guys is progressing fast enough to work into the rotation this year.Mike Duggan

I'm not sure there is a reason to believe Mays, Woods or Alexander could be in the regular rotation, especially with the addition of Adalius Thomas. But there isn't that much to prove that they aren't ready either. Alexander has been impressive in his opportunities over the last two preseasons. He struggled in his first career start in the AFC title game. I hope he can rebound from that in terms of his confidence. As his being put in that role in New England's most important game shows, he's probably the closest of the three to playing on defense with any regularity, his reps coming on the inside. I would say Woods might be next in line as a potential backup/rotational guy on the outside, but he might still be a year away from that in his development. I'm not sure Mays has much of a future on defense. I tend to think he's a guy whose greatest contributions might come in the kicking game. With all that said, I still think the Patriots need to draft a young, talented linebacker to add to the mix on the first day of the draft. While Thomas, Bruschi, Vrabel and Colvin form a pretty good starting lineup they are all going to be past the age of 30 when the season starts and there isn't a lot behind them on the depth chart.
Andy Hart

Let's say Michael Bush slips into the third round and lasts up until the Patriots pick. What do you think are the chances that the Patriots would take a chance with him? I like the guy and the only thing I am concerned about is his health. I know that is really a big part to drafting someone, but if he falls all the way to the Patriots in the third round I don't see why not specially since Dillon is gone.
Michael Hobbs

Bush is an intriguing prospect. Before the broken leg that halted his senior season in the first game Bush would have been top first-round prospect. But he's not healing too quickly from the injury, recently had surgery to replace a rod in the broken leg and won't be able to run for scouts prior to the draft. That makes him a huge question mark heading into draft weekend. Looking at his body of work he really only had one big season at Louisville, rushing for 1,143 yards and 23 touchdowns in 10 games in 2005. He's never started more than eight games in a college season. Despite his impressive size – 6-2, 243 – Bush doesn't always run like a big, bruising back. In the end the Patriots obviously have a lot more to go on than I do. Bush is now projected as a mid-round pick. He could be the perfect long-term backup/second-option to Maroney or he could be a guy whose career was derailed by injury. In the third-round I'd have to think long and hard before taking Bush. Anything later than that and I think it would be more than worth the risk.
Andy Hart

Is there any word/rumblings on the progress or state of negotiations with Asante Samuel? Do you think the Pats will sign him to the Franchise Tag contract and play out the one year, or will they sign him to a long term contract, but do they really want to give him the money he probably wants (Nate Clements)?Jess Gheys

Aside from Samuel's recent comments in the MetroWest Daily News, there hasn't been much on that front. "I'm not going to talk too much about (the negotiations)," Samuel told the MetroWest Daily News." But they're happy, I'm happy, so everybody else should be happy too."
So right now I guess everyone is happy, although Samuel did admit he and his representatives kept an eye on the huge contract that Clements got on the open market. Samuel certainly hasn't taken the Lance Briggs approach to the franchise tag and isn't trying to shoot his way out of town. He says he's still looking for a long-term deal in New England but reportedly isn't taking part in the team's offseason program. It's possible that there won't be much to report on the negotiations until New England's mandatory veteran mini camp. If Samuel doesn't show up for that it could be the first step toward a potential holdout. Or maybe he'll have a long-term deal by then, a signing that would actually probably lower his cap number for the 2007 season to something less than the $7.79 million franchise tag. Only time will tell, but I do think it's a positive sign that Samuel, his representatives and the Patriots are keeping all negotiations quiet behind closed doors. I'll take that as a good sign for now until there is something more substantive to go on as to whether Samuel will be a happy Patriot in 2007 or not.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, I had a quick question about Chad Jackson's contract. If he winds up on IR and doesn't play a down for the Pats next season, will this upcoming year count as another year on his contract, or would the Patriots be able to retain his rights for an extra season?
Robert Mack

Under the collective bargaining agreement a season spent on injured reserve counts as an accrued season for a player. So even if Jackson spent the entire 2007 season on IR, he would have two years experience under his NFL belt heading into 2008.
Andy Hart

Most mock drafts have the Patriots taking a safety with one of the two first rounders which makes sense. If we do then do you think they would crack the lineup, in which case do you think Eugene Wilson would move to corner? Also, with the contract situations with Stallworth and Samuel and so much cap room being used up, it's going to be pretty much impossible to bring both back for 2008 right?Robbie Mitchnick

The 2007 season will be a big one for Wilson. He's set to become a free agent next spring and as such will be looking for a big year. He's been hampered by injuries and inconsistent play over the last two seasons after a very impressive playmaking start to his NFL career. I think he has the ability to do some things in coverage, but I still think he's more valuable as a versatile free safety. The nice thing about many of the top safeties in this year's draft is that most have versatility similar to Wilson's and could do plenty in coverage or even play some corner. I think Belichick would have fun using Wilson and another versatile young safety.
I don't think it will be impossible to bring Samuel and/or Stallworth back in 2008. If both players have strong years, they will probably be worth the big money it will take to keep them. Stallworth will reportedly get $8 million in bonuses next spring to continue his contract with New England. To me, that's right in line and even a bargain for what a top free agent receiver would get in bonus money on the open market. If Stallworth stays healthy and plays to his ability I'd be more than willing to pay that bonus next spring. And if Samuel has another great year and the team wants to give him a Clements-type deal it might actually lower his cap number from the $7.79 million franchise tag depending on how the contract is structured. So I do think it is possible, although maybe not likely, that both Samuel and Stallworth could be retained past 2007.
Andy Hart

Hey Guys, you do a great job. I have a guy you need to watch tape on. South Carolina's Syvelle Newton. This kid is EXTREMLY VERSITALE! He played 22 Games at receiver, 21 at quarterback, and 4 at free safety. He's 6-2 and has great speed. So what do you think about him? Also what do think the Patriots will do on day 2 of the draft? Keep up the Great work, Go Pats!Chris Locke

I really like Newton and think Belichick would have fun using him in a variety of ways all over the field and maybe in all three phases. Talking to Newton at the Combine he seems to have a great attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes at the next level. According to Newton is projected to go in the fifth or sixth round as a receiver. I'd be more than willing to use a sixth on him as an "athlete," especially now that the Patriots have four sixth-round picks. As for the rest of the second day I think it will be about a lot of roster depth and special teams contributors at spots like defensive back, linebacker, wide receiver and maybe a backup nose tackle to develop. One thing to throw out there, I wouldn't be shocked to see the team draft a punter if it sees a day-two value in a guy like Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda. Just a thought.
Andy Hart

I noticed today on ESPN that the Broncos are shopping ILB Al Wilson. What are the chances of him coming via trade? Also I know the Patriots are looking at Hartwell, what is the status on him? Great job guys, thank you.Art

Based on how the reported trade talks between the Broncos and Giants fell apart, it would seem Wilson's health issues might be a major concern. Any time a player has a neck injury and then fails a physical (as Wilson reportedly did in New York), that's a major red flag. Plus Wilson is scheduled to make a healthy $5 million-plus salary next season. So I don't think you'll be likely to see Wilson land in New England any time soon even if the Patriots offensive line would much rather play with him than try to block him.
Hartwell, though, is far more interesting to me. I loved him when he was a free agent a couple years back and actually wanted the Patriots to sign him to play inside linebacker way back then. Since that time he's suffered a major Achilles injury and a couple knee surgeries. He's not the player he used to be, but is reportedly willing to play on a one-year, prove-it contract. If he can pass a physical I'd definitely be interested in bringing him to camp and seeing if he could be a run stuffing linebacker to add to the rotation on the inside. It seems like one of those classic low-risk/high-reward Patriots type signings.
Andy Hart

In your inside linebacker over view you forgot Tim Shaw of Penn State who is moving up in many draft lists and is expected to be a 3rd or 4th round pick (up from 7th to FA). JMC

We didn't miss him. We just don't think he's going to be a very good player. Don't believe me? Just ask self-proclaimed draft expert Tom Casale. He hasn't stopped talking about how unimpressive Shaw's tape was since he stopped watching it.
Andy Hart

Why bring Teddy Bruschi back? We lost the Super Bowl because he can't pass cover anyone anymore. The Colts running backs and tight ends made him look foolish. Teddy was not even in the picture frame on most replay videos of pass coverage. The saddest thing in professional sports is when an athletic stays at the dance to long. Teddy's dance has ended but he still hears the music.Eddie Di Biase

Bruschi has probably "lost a step," understandable for any 33-year-old linebacker, and I think he'd be the first to admit he might not be the player he was a few years ago. But that doesn't mean he can't contribute anymore. He's no longer the great playmaker he once was, but he still led the team in tackles from his inside linebacker spot and there isn't exactly a line of guys waiting in the wings to take over his playing time. Bruschi has slipped some, but the dance isn't over just yet. And until the Patriots find another dancer, Bruschi is still the best they've got inside.
Andy Hart

Did you see Peyton Manning on SNL? I only watched to see if he would mention the Patriots/AFC Championship and it only took 2 minutes before he brought it up! He promised us another butt kicking next year (as he put it). I hope he enjoys his brief time at the top because next year the Pats aren't going to run out of gas. Just for the record, Brady was much funnier when he hosted a few years ago!Mike Bingham

I am kicking myself because I forgot to watch Manning's SNL debut, so I can't comment on the job he did. But I will tell you that based on just about every "objective" viewer I've talked to Manning's appearance was funnier than Brady's. I think a lot of that falls on the material that the show's writers give the host to work with. Lets be honest Manning is a lot easier to make fun of right now than Brady was during his turn on the comedic stage.
Andy Hart

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