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Ask PFW: Draft talk dominates

An abbreviated mailbag this week as PFW tackles the owners meetings in New Orleans.

First off I wanted to say thank you to PFW. You always give good insight and good answers to my questions, making my Tuesdays more interesting. Now to the point. Seeing that RBs may be a potential need in the draft, what would you think of using a later round pick to draft Jacquizz Rodgers. He would be good to fit into our system of multiple backs and has potential to be a sleeper kind of like Tom Brady was for us on a smaller scale.
Jacob Mattson

What New England needs is a feature back. Not another committee member. What the Patriots need is a stud, every-down ball carrier. They already have enough "sleepers" with the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Rodgers is a good player, but the Patriots already have someone with his abilities in the aforementioned Woodhead. They need an elite back. Problem is, there are few, if any, in this year's crop, so they might be forced to draft a complementary player for the running back position.
Erik Scalavino

I hate how everyone wants New England to select a RB in the first round. If we need anything at all at that position, it is a bench warmer. Honestly, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead are great. BJGE hit 1,000 this year and did not play all 16 games and is still growing. What's the point of flooding the backfield with talent, when I would say we have a top 10 RB. No need to have a 3rd downer because of Woodhead. Remember NE is a passing team, so on other teams, BJGE could have hit 1,000 probably quicker. Why is their thought on wasting our pick on [Mark] Ingram.
Shawn Sandhu

OK, starting from the top… "Everyone" doesn't want New England to draft a running back in the first round. In fact, almost no one has suggested this in any recent mock drafts. Yes, there was some premature talk about Mark Ingram be a good fit for the Patriots, but that has long since died down when clear-headed, logical observers realized that pass rush is still this team's top priority.

Second, just a point of fact, Green-Ellis did appear in all 16 games last year. He just didn't start them all. But he did play in every game, which is how he managed to accumulate his 1,000-plus yards. He's a solid, dependable player, but he should not be mistaken for a top 10 back, as you categorized him, Shawn.

I'm not a huge Ingram fan, but if he happens to slip to 28 or (unrealistically) 33 and the Patriots already took a pass rusher (hopefully Robert Quinn), then I'd be OK with their taking him. As I said, this isn't a great year for backs, so, if you're going to take one high, it better be a proven one, at least.
Erik Scalavino

The lack of a clear #1 overall pick in this draft and the fact that they don't pick again until 65 make me believe that Carolina will most likely trade down and probably try to get a first- and second-rounder in 2011 and another pick in 2012. What team do you think would be interested in moving up that high? Would it be a viable option for the Patriots?
Jonathan Collin

I don't necessarily agree that Carolina is destined to trade out, particularly with what's expected to be a rookie salary cap in place, limiting the outrageous contracts that top picks usually receive. That might work as an incentive for teams to keep their lofty perches. However, I could also see a scenario where lower-seeded teams try to flood those top 10 teams with trade offers, making it too good a prospect to pass up.

If that's the case, I could see New England trying to make a move up to the 8-12 range if, say, Robert Quinn is still on the board. Other than that, my guess is they'll stay put at 17 and 28 and take the best players available. No trading down this year. Their area of need (pass rusher) is the deepest it's been in years and the deepest of any position in this draft.
Erik Scalavino

I was wondering about how the players work out together as a team during a lockout? I know I've heard that a lot of them are, but do the coaches get involved? How do they work on getting back into the playbook?Derek Dueker

They certainly can work out together if they choose, but only players are allowed at such sessions. Coaches are not allowed to join or have any contact with them under the terms of the lockout. Nor is sending players playbooks allowed. All the players can do is lift weights, run, and train or rehab anywhere but at the teams' facilities. Playbooks are turned in at the end of each year, so, for instance, if QBs and wide receivers want to work on pass patterns together, they must do so with what they already know from their offensive schemes from seasons past.
Erik Scalavino

With so many quality receivers available in free agency (whenever it happens), do you think it's possible that Patriots would rather snatch a wideout off the open market than draft someone? Landing James Jones, Mike Sims-Walker, or Steve Smith (NYG), or maybe even guys like Antonio Bryant or Plaxico Burress, wouldn't cost top dollar. Think they give any of those guys a look?
Sam Frankel

Hey guys, I just read the Debate Friday [on] and actually agreed with Erik. I think everyone is too worried about that loss to the Jets in the playoffs. If New England had any type of a pass rush, they would have won by at least a touchdown. [Randy] Moss isn't anywhere near the player he was in 07 and it won't take long for him to become a disruption. As for my question, are there any elite WR's that can be signed or traded for (assuming football resumes)? I keep hearing [Larry] Fitzgerald here in Utah, but I don't know where the rumors started. Thanks.
Monty Borrowman

Sam's question first… I do like the free-agent route if it's for a player like Sidney Rice of Minnesota. I think he has the best combination of youth, experience, and playmaking ability to fit New England's offense. However, as Sam stated, we don't know when free agency will happen this year, so, it's more practical to select a receiver in the draft, if you really want one. Then, you could augment your corps by looking for a free agent later, if that's how the timing ends up working out.

Now to Monty… The Fitzgerald rumors started during the playoffs, actually right before the Super Bowl, because he's a great player in his prime in an offense with no talent at quarterback. Fitzgerald would command a high price in a trade, as we've indicated in previous editions of Ask PFW (check the archives for details), but it would be worth it, in my opinion, if the Cardinals were willing to do business. He's the best receiver in the game today. Pairing him with Tom Brady would make New England's offense more potent than ever. Problem is, they'd have to part with their key first-round picks to get him, which would limit their ability to get the pass rusher they so need.
Erik Scalavino

Hey, now I understand that we need a pass rusher and Bill [Belichick] will most likely chase after defensive picks with our two first round picks, but do you see Bill going after wide receiver A.J Green? Because we need a reliable deep threat and he seems very capable of being that for us.Kris Slater

Green should be a top-10 pick. Which means, if New England wanted him, they'd a) have to think that WR is their top priority, and b) would need to trade up to get him. He's no doubt the best player at his position in this year's draft, and I wouldn't be unhappy if the Patriots acquired Green, but the need on defense is just too great. They've relied on their offense for too long and must address the glaring weaknesses on the other side of the ball, which will only help the offense in the long run.
Erik Scalavino

Hey guys, just wanted your thoughts on Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes? Both of these guys seem like natural run-stoppers, how much impact did you think they had in a run defense that was better than the previous season, and what's the future long term? I think Cunningham needs to improve his pass-rush abilities to be an every down guy.
*Anthony Pearson, Australia *

Spikes, an inside 'backer, was certainly a factor in the run game. It's his strength, in fact. Cunningham, however, even though he was the second fiddle pass rusher at the University of Florida, was brought here to get to the quarterback first and foremost. Stopping the run would be a beneficial by-product of his presence on the field. And you're right, he definitely needs to improve in getting pressure on the quarterback, which, as an outside linebacker, he's expected to do.
Erik Scalavino

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