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Ask PFW: Jimmy G and the Draft

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag.

With [QB Tom] Brady's suspension being reinstated, do you think that this puts more emphasis on the need for a RB in the draft, so that the Patriots can lean more on the running game rather than putting a heavier load on Jimmy G[aroppolo]'s shoulders through the first 4 games? 

Anthony Lloyd*

No, I don't. Brady is facing a four-game suspension. Significant? Of course, but not to the point that the team's entire draft strategy must be reexamined. Running back was already a position the Patriots will likely target in the upper rounds, and that remains the case following Monday's news. This development doesn't make it any more or less urgent for New England to acquire a young ball carrier or two later this week.

The Patriots may wind up running the football more in the first four games behind Garoppolo, but their thinking has to be long-term when it comes to drafting, not short-term (that is to say, reactionary). 

Erik Scalavino*

I would love to see Patriots do what they did with Gronk in the [2010] draft – trade up in the 2nd round and get a quality DT, but they will probably stay put waiting for someone to slide all the way to the end of the round, which won't happen. But if they did [trade up], how far can they move up if they trade their 2nd, 3rd and 6th round picks? 

Stan Cohan*

First of all, Stan, it is entirely possible that a "quality DT" could fall to New England at the end of the second round. Stranger things have happened in NFL Draft history.

But with respect to your larger point, I'm assuming that when you say "trade their 2nd-, 3rd-, and 6th-round picks," you mean ALL of those picks? If so, that's six selections: two in the second, a pair in the third, and two more in the sixth [New England has five sixth-rounders, but three are untradeable compensatory picks].

This is certainly plenty of ammunition to trade into the first round, but it's far too much to move that far. You see, no matter how high the Patriots were to acquire a choice in Round 1, if it is earlier than the 29th pick, where they would have selected, the pick gets bumped back down to 29. So, essentially, New England would be giving up six draft picks to get back the 29th overall choice. In all likelihood, they could get to that position by surrendering much less, like, say, both second-rounders.

I wouldn't rule out a deal that lets the Patriots move up in Round 2, but an all-out bid to get back in the first round is something I think unlikely. 

Erik Scalavino*

Hey, I'm a huge Patriots fan and was wondering if you thought a bigger need in the draft was O-line or D-line. I'm leaning towards O-line because to beat Denver, who should be a top team in the AFC again, we need to keep the pass rush from getting to Tom [Brady].

Matt Gilbert*

With the beating that Tom took at Denver and the earlier offensive line confusion, why isn't the offensive line, both guards and tackles, a need... even a priority? 

John Beaton*

The "need" is clearly much greater on defense. Like it or not, the starting five o-line is already on the roster. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are your left and right guards, respectively. Second-year men Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson will vie with newly-acquired Jonathan Cooper for the two guard spots, while I expect a fierce competition between veterans Bryan Stork and David Andrews for the starting center job.

Could the Patriots draft another guard and/or tackle? Sure. But it will be difficult for any rookie to unseat any of these established players.

D-line was already somewhat thin, from a depth perspective, with the departures of Akiem Hicks and Chris Jones, then the team parted ways with first-round bust Dominique Easley, while adding only Chris Long (a good move), Terrance Knighton (solid pickup), and unheralded Frank Kearse in free agency.

The return from retirement of o-line coach Dante Scarnecchia should make this unit much better in 2016, so, clearly the more urgent need is for defensive line help. 

Erik Scalavino*

Thanks for your commitment to helping us Patriots fans get our fill of Patriots news! Long-time fan now living in Sweden here. So, do you think there is a chance to get a first-round pick by using Danny Amendola as trade bait? His skill set is good but not as necessary now with [Chris] Hogan onboard. Maybe a combination of 'Dola and a 6th rounder could be enough to entice a taker? I know we don't often trade up, but another game changer on D would be great, even if this draft class is DL heavy. Thanks! 

Shawn Cordeiro*

No. Amendola and a sixth is not nearly enough to move into Round 1. 

Erik Scalavino*

How important is it to address the secondary in the draft? Will there be any nfl ready corners available at 60-61? In your opinion what is the most important position of need for this defense?

Sean Lynch*

It's imperative, Sean. In fact, cornerback is perhaps the greatest need the Patriots have. We've been saying so all offseason here at PFW. We were hoping the situation would have been addressed in free agency, but it wasn't. So, we're holding out hope for the draft this weekend. A bona fide No. 2 corner to play opposite Malcolm Butler is what this defense needs most. 

Erik Scalavino*

With the amount of tight ends we've actively picked up this offseason, it appears as though we are sitting on 5 total. Do you think this is mainly for training camp and preseason purposes or do you think the coaching staff may re-position  some of them into reserve skill positions, possibly converting one to a big bodied wideout? At this point we have so many potential weapons I'm leaning towards training camp bodies but I thought I'd ask for your thoughts. 

Robert Hayes*

Correct, Robert. Five tight ends at the moment: Gronk, offseason acquisitions Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor, returning vet Michael Williams, and second-year man A.J. Derby, who was on IR all of last season. Gronk, Bennett, and Williams are staying put at the position. It remains to be seen what sort of position versatility Harbor and Derby might have, if any. But that's what spring practices and training camp are all about. It will be interested to see how this area unfolds. 

Erik Scalavino*

I am very excited for this year's draft, especially considering the Patriots hold five picks in the sixth round. I have heard many people ask you guys about who the organization should draft in the early rounds but not as much about all those picks in the sixth round. Do you think that the Patriots could target a punter or returner in the draft? I just don't want to see Edelman or Amendola at risk in the return game and I am really hoping for a returner who can make plays on special teams. That is always a crucial element of the game. Thanks for doing a great job day in and day out! 

Justin Phillips*

The only thing less exciting than a sixth-round pick… is FIVE sixth-round picks. Miracles like Brady going 199 overall don't happen every year. They happen once in a generation. Sometimes longer. Any player drafted after Round 4 has virtually no chance of making this or any other roster. Obviously, you get the likes of Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, even undrafted Malcolm Butler, every now and then, but realistically, selections made that far down in the draft amount to little more than what are known in the business as "camp bodies" – guys who are needed to fill out the 90-man roster during training camp.

And no, New England has no need for a punter. They already have a solid one in Ryan Allen. A return specialist? Perhaps. But anyone you pick up at that point is a long-shot at best. Certainly nothing to get "excited" about, at least not until the player shows something on the field.

Here's hoping to God that Bill Belichick packages as many of those low-round picks as possible to move up and acquire actual talent in the upper rounds. 

Erik Scalavino*

With a now crowded WR crew, what do you think of my name- and playing-number- sake, Chris Harper? He was a nice story last year in camp and survived unlike previous King of Summer Zach Sudfeld. I thought it was quite telling that despite the problems on special teams (the muffed punt), he was brought back after his initial release. I can't imagine that would have happened if they weren't sold on some of his other traits! Is there more than a chance he stays with Amendola looming as a potential cap casualty, [Aaron] Dobson still not being a productive, injury-free player, and the release already of Brian Tyms who missed last year? Thanks.

Sean [Harper] in Swindon, England!*

As you said correctly, Sean, Harper was a feel-good story last summer, in part because of all the attrition at wide receiver. He had a great camp and preseason and earned his spot on the practice squad/active roster. That he was brought back and maintained a job was due more to the fact that the Patriots were so depleted at his position. Assuming most of the wideouts are healthy this summer, it will be difficult for Harper to stay in Foxborough. 

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