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Ask PFW: Meet the rookies

With the NFL Draft now being long gone, which rookie or rookies do you see having the biggest impact? Who of the current players will give us a good pass rush? Finally, what are the biggest remaining needs for the Pats?
Mel Buford

I think Rob Gronkowski will be the biggest impact rookie on offense. I think he's the total package at tight end, so he should see plenty of early action in a variety of packages as both a blocker and a receiver. With his soft hands and seemingly effortless route running I think he'll quickly turn into a Tom Brady favorite. And those guys catch passes. I also think that Brandon Spikes could be an early impact rookie on defense. He may not start from Day 1, but I expect him to be in the ILB mix for playing time in September and he'll be a contributor to the overall defense.

The pass rush question isn't as easy for me. To answer the final question, I think it remains the team's biggest need, by far. Tully Banta-Cain should continue to contribute coming off his 10-sack season. My guess is that Rob Ninkovich (1 sack in 15 games of reserve action) will get increased opportunities and that should increase his production a bit. The big wild card (unless the team adds a veteran to the mix, something that I think could happen) is Jermaine Cunningham. Depending on how quickly he picks up the scheme and his varied roles in it, I think there is a chance the second-round pick could help out on the edge. But the bottom line is there have been no additions to the roster that have sure-fire pass rush help written on them. The pass rush is a work in progress and probably will be all season long.
Andy Hart

I would rather have TE Gresham, than Gronkowski and Hernandez. I am amazed how BB hopes for the right player to slip down to 22 (second year in a row), and then when he does not, he trades down.
F. Besett

First, how do you know what BB is doing and thinking on draft weekend? Second, Gresham went off the board at 21 to the Bengals, so you have to deal with that reality and react to it. Third, I love Gronkowski and actually had him ranked as my top TE in my pre-draft work. He's the total package as both a blocker and receiver. If healthy – an admitted big if given his back injury a year ago – I will be stunned if he's not a top-end starter and potential star. I also really like the way that Gronkowski and Hernandez could potentially complement each other given their individual skill sets. Even if Belichick wanted Gresham, what would you have wanted him to do? Trade up to get him even if it may not be good value? Sit at 22 and just take the next player available? Or react in a way focused on getting maximum value at that point? I know value is a word that some Patriots fans have grown to hate, but would you rather be a fan of the Jaguars or Broncos and have to watch your team reach to overdraft a player in the first round? Would you? Just asking.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, keep up the great work. Thanks for the updates and the great links. Is Buddy Farnham this year's Terrance Nunn? I recall last year Terrance Nunn impressed us enough to make the practice squad do you see the same thing happening with Farnham?
Stephen Smith

The two players are a bit different. Nunn came from a top-notch program at Nebraska, but for some reason didn't get a shot as a rookie despite a productive college career. Farnham was ultra-productive, but at a much lower level of football at Brown. Both are smaller, quicker type players. I liked what I saw from Farnham in a short viewing in rookie mini-camp, but I'm not ready to really put him in the receiver mix yet. Nunn flourished throughout the summer catching the football in practice and probably had a little more big-play ability. That allowed him to stick around for a while and got him a shot in Tampa Bay. I'm intrigued by Farnham as a developmental type, but not ready to anoint him the chose one in that role just yet. He'll have to impress all summer and on special teams to earn that consideration.
Andy Hart

You seem to be in love with our new rookie TEs. I would love too, but I see them as the riskiest players in this draft. Gronkowski is a "physical specimen" who like Jackson can become a bust, and Hernandez has to deal with a drug addiction. Please convince me otherwise.
Josh B.

Can't any player be a potential bust? As I said earlier, I think Gronkowski could be a star in the making. He has all the tools and produced at a high level in college. The one question is probably his back injury, not the fact that he's a "physical specimen" who could become a bust. Busts, like Jackson, happen. That's just the reality. I just don't think you can allow one bust to scare you off from ever drafting another player. Why can't Gronkowski be a physical specimen with all the tools like, say, Jerod Mayo? The linebacker took the hype, ran with it and is now a centerpiece of the defense. As for Hernandez, I think the phrase "drug addiction" is utterly inaccurate and unfair. He's admitted to his transgressions in that area in college. He didn't fail a test at the Combine. He convinced Belichick that he's worth the risk, especially as a fourth-round pick with supposed talent that would warrant a much higher pick than that. By the way, how many collegiate athletes, or pro athletes for that matter, do you think have dabbled in marijuana in their careers? I'd guess the percentage is pretty high. Many of those guys are your heroes and produce at a high level for their teams. They just didn't/don't get caught. Hernandez deserves a fresh start at the pro level. Belichick is willing to give it to him. So am I.
Andy Hart

At the Patriots games their is a group of people dressed in colonial garb that fires guns after a touchdown. Who are they?
Kirk A.

They're a group of volunteer reenactors, or historical interpreters, known as the End Zone Militia. They dress in revolutionary attire and shoot off muskets from that era after the scores. Like everyone else in the world these days, they actually have their own web site. For more info on them, go to www.endzonemilitia.com.
Andy Hart

So with the draft done with I find it interesting that the Patriots did not draft a running back at all. Sorry, but L. Maroney is the most frustrating person I have ever seen. He has a lot of talent but doesn't put it together. I truly feel the running back position is our weakest position heading into training camp. However, I can't complain about our draft because I find we did a nice job on it. My one question mark is Jermaine Cunningham. What do you feel about him? As you said you really could not tell during this rookie camp but as a college player how was he?
Don C.

How can you argue that the position of running back – with guys like Maroney, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk and Benjarvus Green-Ellis who've all had varying degrees of proven NFL success – is a weaker position than outside linebacker? I just don't see it. You may have something against Maroney, but the overall backfield committee has proven it can get the job done when called upon over the last few years. That's not really something you can say about the OLBs and pass rush. As for Cunningham, I think he has a chance to develop into a good player. He has all the physical tools to fill out the OLB spot in Belichick's 3-4. Over the last two years his sack numbers at Florida weren't all that far off his more-hyped teammate Carlos Dunlap – and Cunningham had more tackles for a loss, more QB hits and more forced fumbles last fall. Cunningham may be a more potentially versatile two-way defender than Dunlap. But that doesn't mean he's necessarily the answer to the OLB hole or pass rusher problems right away. I like his potential, but he may take a while to reach it.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, kind of a random question here. Do you know of any players who played for the Patriots and are in the Hall of Fame, but not the Patriots Hall of Fame? Junior Seau is a name that came to mind, but he's not in the Hall of Fame just yet. Thanks and keep up the great work!
David Gilmore

I don't believe there are any player that fit your criteria. (Of course if I'm wrong, I'll be bombarded with emails!) There could be some candidates in the future, including Seau and maybe even Randy Moss, although I'm guessing the latter will end up in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Patriots Hall of Fame. Maybe Torry Holt or Corey Dillon. Just throwing a couple names out there.
Andy Hart

Seems Tom Hanks thinks Zoltan will be BIG for the Pats. Oh wait, that was Zoltar, never mind.
Hermey The Great

I have absolutely no idea what Hermey's joke means. But I figure he went through the trouble of sending it in, and someone, somewhere might get it.
Andy Hart

Hey guys. Great job with the draft coverage. I think BB did a good job drafting but I would still like a proven WR. Patrick Crayton is requesting a trade, would you do it and what would you be willing to give Dallas? Thanks.
Keith Henderson

Would the pats trade for Patrick Crayton and do you think this year they might run 4 wide receiver sets?Jesse Marquis

I don't have a ton of interest in Crayton. He's been pretty durable, but has had only one season with more than 39 catches. He's always good for a couple big plays. He's a solid, depth guy. But based on the depth chart right now, the Patriots are looking to young players to fill out the depth roles. That's where guys like Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate and Taylor Price fit in. I'm not sure Crayton would be good for that mix in that he might hinder the development of the young players. He's a solid pro, so I'd probably take him for free. But I wouldn't give up too much to get him. I do think the Patriots will use four WR sets this year. Some will be filled out by actual wideouts, but others will include running backs and tight ends. But spread formations with four and five guys will always be a part of this offense, even if the personnel in those sets isn't always as talented as you might respect.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, I really enjoy reading your insights. I was just wondering what you think of a possible trade for [Shawne] Merriman and how much would we have to give to get him? If his sub par performance last year was due to him coming off knee surgery and that he can return somewhere near to where he used to be surely he's worth considering?
Ben Trout

Ben, like most Patriots fans you are always fishing for veteran NFL talent. I wouldn't give up much to get Merriman, because the injury is a big concern. He just didn't look like the same player after surgery. He had only four sacks. Plus, I'm not sure he's the all-around fit the Patriots like at outside linebacker. He's at his best when he's getting after the quarterback all the time. I've seen the Patriots take him out of that role over the years. I also think he still wants to be paid with a long-term deal. Like Crayton, if Merriman were free I'd take him to camp. But I wouldn't give up much to get him. There are just too many issues/questions at this point.
Andy Hart

If the #1 priority in the early rounds, was to shore up the D with pass rushers, that was a failure. McCourty, by the scouts, was rated 9th best corner, ( Wilson,#1), and could have been gotten, in round 3, after getting a proven pass rusher like Odrick, at #1 instead. Cunningham, will be converting from D lineman, to OLB. Spikes is an ILB. The D front line remains without any proven pass rushers, however, BB says he "solved that problem", by signing someone named Gerard Warren that no one ever heard of, have you?? He has to be joking.
John Connors

Speaking of joking, if I hadn't read your laughably negative, reactionary emails in the past, I might think you were joking, John. Unfortunately, I know you are not. Where did you see McCourty as the ninth- best corner? Pretty much everyone I saw had him right in line with Wilson as one of the top four corners in the draft. If you want to check my big board on the PFW blog, I had McCourty as just missing out on my top 20 overall players, regardless of position. You can hate the pick for a lack of need, but McCourty is a solid prospect. Get the facts right. I've also never heard Belichick say he "solved that problem" with any move he's made. I don't think he has or ever would say that about any position, any signing or any need. I'm not saying Warren is the answer to anything, but as a football fan you should have heard of him. He was picked three spots ahead of Richard Seymour in the 2001 draft. He's started more than 120 games in the NFL for three teams. He's had a decent career, even if he's a bust as the No. 3 overall pick. As I said earlier, the pass rush remains a major issue and work in progress. But there is no need for the type of negativity and factual inaccuracy brought forth in this email.
Andy Hart

Value, value, value. It's all we hear around here. Don't get me wrong, value is great. If I can get a 3rd round talent in the 6th round, or a quality starter for role player money, great! But at some point, isn't worth paying a little higher than the value to get a stud? We can trade down, get more picks and some starter and role players, but isn't it ever worth trading up to get a superstar (Our last top-15 picks: Seymour, Warren, Mayo), even if it's a little pricey? Otherwise, you can only ever hope that someone develops into a star (Asante), which you shouldn't bank on. We don't ever really add star players (Adalius = fail, but that was the only recent major signing), just retain them (Randy, Wilfork, Brady). I'm not asking to overpay some big name, but maybe outbid somebody for a star player sometime, or trade up for a stud.
Mark Zimmerman

On one level, I agree with the sentiment of this email. I'm all for targeting elite talents and going to get them, regardless of cost. Or, evenoverpaying a guy like Asante Samuel in order to keep an All-Pro playmaker at a key position on your team. But there is also something to be said for the way Belichick works the draft. He added extra players this year, as well as a No. 2 pick next year. We all love looking ahead at the draft when Belichick has extra picks in the first two rounds, but that would never be the case if he didn't use his value-based trade strategy. I also happen to think he got four solid players in the first two rounds this year and a good prospect in the third, in part due to his value-based trading. Beyond that, I'd argue that of the three top-15 picks you mentioned only Seymour was a star. Warren is a good player, but not nearly a star. And Mayo is an incomplete at this point. This is a big year for him in that regard. Is he just a solid tackle machine in the middle of the defense or can he take the next step and become a playmaker? So not all that's come at the top of the draft, or when Belichick traded up for guys like Daniel Graham or Chad Jackson, has been roses. The bottom line is that Belichick's personnel philosophy has been the same for a long time and it's based on value. When it works we rave about his success and ability to work the draft board or find free agent diamonds. When it doesn't, we criticize him. You can't really have it both ways. If anything, he's the one who's always been consistent over the years and the fans/media are the ones who've change their views on his philosophy.
Andy Hart

How well is Welker's rehab coming? I assume he has had the operation or operations that he needed to repair his leg. Will he be able to play again? Thanks.Bernie Weldon

Welker did in fact have surgery to repair his knee this winter. The last we heard/saw from him was that he was on the field at UCLA throwing the ball around with Tom Brady. What exactly was he doing? Bruins head coach (of the college football team, not the hockey squad that's on an exciting role right now) Rich Neuheisel's Twitter tweet didn't offer the specifics. Welker will certainly play again. The ACL injury isn't the devastating injury it once was. What exactly will he look like when he first comes back, or even well into his return? No one can answer that. My guess is that we won't see him on the game field until midway through the 2010 season and won't see him back to his old self until 2011. But that's just a guess.
Andy Hart

I do hope that the Patriots will be having many QBs try out, because they have the room for opportunities for some new QBs. Also, I'm not optimistic enough to believe that Tom Brady is going to have an awesome '10 season, and I would not be surprised if Tom Brady ends up having the worst season of his total playing career, during the upcoming season. There must be plenty of other QBs that the Pats should be keeping serious eyes on, just in case Tom Brady has trouble in the near future.John Moore

There are plenty of other QBs on the planet. Just not too many – maybe only one, and he plays in Indy – that's are better than Brady. I'm all for looking into a veteran backup if the opportunity presents itself, but why on Earth are you convinced Brady is going to have the worst year of his career in 2010? He's a year removed from knee surgery. If/when Welker returns he may actually have a better all-around group of receivers than he did last season when he didn't have a reliable third option, never mind a fourth or fifth read. He's not yet old, even if he is closer to the end than the beginning. And my guess is that his embarrassing effort in the loss to the Ravens will have him burning to redeem himself. Why – please give me some specifics – should I expect Brady to fall on his face this fall?
Andy Hart

When Thomas was released, do the Patriots continue to pay his contract for the remaining time left? If he signs with another team do they pick up the tab? How does that all work out?
Joseph Glaude

The Patriots will not pay Thomas another dime. He's already been paid his bonus money, and technically the prorated portion of that "dead" money will be on the books this year. But that's just for accounting purposes in the NFL. Thomas received his last paycheck from Patriots last winter. If he signs with a new team, that will have no bearing one way or the other on New England. Thomas would be paid by his new team, and that team only. Glaude I could help you out with this answer.
Andy Hart

I am starting to feel bad for Pats fans. How is it possible that they can go two years of passing on talent at OLB in free agency and pass on such great talent at OLB in two draft classes. Their draft is depressing to watch, and even more so when missing out on Cushing, Matthews, Hughes, and Kindle. Your fans can only hope Hughes and Kindle don't make the Pro Bowl in their rookie season like the other two. How much longer before I have to worry about you guys picking up an OLB that I will have to worry about? Are you waiting until next year AGAIN (who will be there next year)? What quality ones are out there playing that you could get your hands on? And, are you really counting on the 3rd to last linebacker taken in the 2003 draft, Mr. Tully? I eat meals that scare me more than him. It will be too much to ask your young DBs to cover the WRs in this division without a pass rush so again my man crush, Sanchize, will have all the time in the world to pick you apart. I wonder if BB would like to kiss my futuristic ring now or the real deal later? In the mean time we will keep gobbling up Brady like I gobble up McDonald's super sized meals.
Rex Ryan

It was a slow week for emails and this one made me laugh. Plus, Ryan makes a few good points, even if they are a bit biased. Thanks for reading, Rex. And please, regardless of how much weight you lose after your recent surgery, keep your shirt on. The only thing more uncomfortable than seeing a fat guy with his shirt off is seeing a formerly fat guy with all that extra flabby skin flapping around with his shirt off.
Andy Hart

In the latest addition of Ask PFW you responded to a comment about our past SB wins having very few stars, you said "So Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Ted Johnson, Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillon, Lawyer Milloy, Deion Branch, David Givens and countless others weren't stars? The answer is no, they weren't in fact they were all no names basically until 2001. Tom Brady is a household name, absolutely, but if he doesn't win in 2001 and doesn't become a great QB then he is never heard of again. Same with everyone else on the list except Harrison and Dillon who came from other teams and were very good players while with those teams. The point being made was we don't need to sign a bunch of high profile guys and I agree. I do however disagree with your list of so called Patriot stars, put them on another team that didn't win the SB in 01, 03 and 04 and they would not even be mentioned.
Tommy Raymond

Isn't that how guys become stars, by making big plays for their teams at big times on the way to championships? Few guys reach the star level on bad teams that don't win. Stars are born in the postseason and in Super Bowls. The point is we need guys who develop into stars, whether they are free agent additions or draft picks. If the Patriots become a great secondary and Brandon Meriweather leads the unit by making plays at key times on the way to a championship he'll become a star. If not, he'll be a middling former first-round pick who once went to a Pro Bowl. What came first, the chicken or the egg? What came first, the championship or the star?
Andy Hart

Gents, Love the column and thanks for keeping those of us deployed outside the US up to date. My question is simple: Why have we not unloaded Maroney? He hasn't lived up to his hype, his draft pick, nor his salary. Do you think he's worth another year to "prove himself". I mean, really, his production and certainly his ability to stay healthy is disappointing.
Brian Grenier

Maroney has not live up to the hype, or his potential. That's not even up for debate. But he has been an OK running back. He's also only set to earn a salary of $825,000 this fall. Not exactly chump change, but not terrible for a guy who led his team in rushing and scored nine touchdowns – a number that was second on the team, trailing only Randy Moss. I agree that Maroney is frustrating to watch, easy to criticize and tough to cheer for. But he's not the total waste of space he's made out to be, either. He played the first 15 games last fall and was more healthy than the likes of Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor. Is he what he was supposed to be? No. But without better, more reliable options at this point I also don't think he's worth simply cutting. Not sure whether he will be proving himself this year or not, but baring any surprising summer moves at the position I think he'll be on the team. Disappointing is accurate. Worthless is wrong.
Andy Hart

After the release of Adalius Thomas do you see BB picking up a vetrian OLB player like Greg Ellis who achieved in Dallas 3-4 system and is a proven pass rusher (27.5 sacks in the last 3yrs.) or Matt Roth (12s/3yrs) who played in a 3-4 in Miami and Cleveland but is more of a effort guy. Maybe even thinking outside the box and picking up a Adewale Ogunleye (20.5s/3yrs.) or Leonard Little (13s/3yrs.) who have to my knowledge only played as 4-3 DE but moving them to OLB since they all have had good success getting at the QB even though their all a little long in the tooth.Tino Martinez

I think the team needs and could very well pick up a veteran OLB option at some point this summer. Ellis is probably the most productive, proven option. The Patriots supposedly showed some interest when he left Dallas. Roth is a guy that I watched in Miami and always thought might fit here. I'm not as high on the other two options, certainly not Little. I can't tell you the name right now, but I'll be very surprised if the Patriots don't add a veteran to the mix this summer. Not only would he add a veteran presence to a very young spot, but he'd replace the seemingly departed Derrick Burgess.
Andy Hart

With the Pats drafting Spikes, do you think he will be a starter early in the season? If so, does that free up Guyton to move to OLB? With McKenzie and Crable hopefully coming off their injuries, how do you see them contributing at ILB and OLB respectively? Thanks.Phil M.

I do think Spikes could start early in his career and at the very least should be in the mix for playing time on the inside. That should allow Guyton to play more of sub role on passing downs, as I don't think he's a good fit for either inside or outside linebacker on an every-down basis. I am very much intrigued by what McKenzie might be able to offer coming off his torn ACL. But he's never been on an NFL field, so we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. As for Crable, I have given up any hope that he has a future in New England. He's been injured for two years in a row. Even if he's healthy, I'm not sure we know what he has to offer other than the so-called ideal measurables at the position. Maybe he'll surprise me, but I won't count on it. I think there is just as good a chance we never see him play here again.
Andy Hart

I did not see this asked in Paul's draft wrap Q and A of 4/27: How much of an influence did the 2011 2 first rounders have on the 2010 draft selections? Is it possible that a second level need was deferred to 2011 - like RB - rather than use a 2-5 rounder this year?
David Dancause

Anything is possible, and I think the only person who might have a chance at answering this question is Belichick. And he never will, at least not honestly. Belichick always keeps all factors in mind when making all decisions, so I'm sure on some level the 2011 first-round picks were on his radar. But I don't think it would have a huge effect on the decisions he made. They were simply periphery information.
Andy Hart

PFW, Do you think there is a trend on the Patriots to try to draft for value by taking players with an injury history? For example Terrence Wheatley drafted with a reconstructed wrist, ended up on IR with a wrist injury. Brandon Tate drafted with a knee injury, ended up on IR. Rob Gronkowski drafted recovering from a back injury. Jermaine Cunningham coming off shoulder surgery. Do you think this strategy has been successful in delivering value?Ella Sun

Ella, I'll do my best to shine some light on this matter for you. You bring up an interesting trend. I do think, on some level, Belichick sees these injured guys as a good value. How many times did we hear that Tate was "a first-round talent if it weren't for the knee injury?" Same with Gronkowski and his back. But I also think a lot of guys enter the league with some sort of injury or health question, it's a big part of what the Combine is all about. That's why it's important to have a good medical team that the talent evaluators have trust in. Some of the Patriots recent draft picks just happen to be more glaring examples of the injured prospects. I don't think Wheatley has been a disappointment due to his health, though. He simply hasn't been a good enough corner to earn playing time and contribute. The jury is out on the rest of your examples. But it is certainly worth watching in the coming years. It's also worth noting that another potential Patriot, Sergio Kindle who ended up with the Ravens, saw his draft stock fall due to knee concerns. Few prospects enter the league without some sort of questions, maybe Belichick sees the injury questions as less of an issue than others do. The Bills got Willis McGahee because they looked past his knee problems. Injury evaluations are simply part of the process, just look at the Rams and this year's No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford. Anyway, at any point in this rambling response did I come anywhere near answering your question? No? Sorry. I think my injury concern at this point is the lack of a functioning brain. Apparently, it seems, I do not qualify as good value as a writer because of it.
Andy Hart

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