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Ask PFW: More draft aftermath

Hey guys, long time listener and with my wife being in the Navy, it's nice to have a place to get my Pats info. Now I know most have been dogging the Pats on their draft for no pass rusher but looking at whom they picked ... namely offensive linemen and one who can play at either guard or tackle, do you think that the Pats pretty much are going to try and trade Logan Mankins for a younger or at least more proven pass rushing end or linebacker?
Michael Rose

First, I don't think most are dogging the Patriots draft. Nationally, many of the so-called experts have given the Patriots very high grades. Nolan Nawrocki, Rick Gosselin, Clifton Brown, Pete Prisco, Peter King, etc. all think the team did quite well. Brown went so far as to give New England and A for its work. As for your trade proposal, it's possible that Belichick has something like that in mind but I'm not sure a team would be willing to give up too much in terms of personnel for Mankins because that team would then have to pay him quite a bit of money. If it were simply Mankins for some pass rusher, then I think it would be possible. But in reality it would have to be Mankins and $50-plus million for some pass rusher. That's what makes it tough. The more likely scenario to me is Mankins plays out the season after sitting out training camp (assuming there is one) and a resolution of some kind is made next offseason. Mankins will start at his left guard spot this year and whatever happens from there is anyone's guess.
Paul Perillo

Dear PFW, Why did the Patriots draft another TE instead of a position of more need? Also what are the chances that Brandon Tate and Taylor Price will emerge or have a better season than they did last year, and is there a legitimate chance of the Pats going after Sidney Rice?
Kebba Robinson

I think Smith was a solid pick at that stage of the draft. You're not necessarily going to be able to fill needs at that point since the players are developmental projects, but Smith is a solid blocker who could potentially fill in for Alge Crumpler somewhere down the road. If he doesn't make the team this year he would likely be a candidate for the practice squad. I'm split on the two wide receivers. I believe Price has some potential while Tate, in my eyes, is a one-trick pony. Tate will turn in some big plays occasionally but from what I've watched in practice during the summer I don't see the route-running skills and consistency necessary to be a relevant part of the offense. Price showed more of that to me during the summer but obviously lacked Tate's explosiveness on kick returns and that's the main reason why he didn't play. But I do feel Price will make a decent jump and work his way into the rotation this season. As for Rice, I'd be shocked. The guy can play and would be a great fit on the outside but targeting a big-money wide receiver via free agency isn't something they've done often. Back in 2007 when they made their receiver overall, the Patriots gave short-term deals to Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington. They signed Wes Welker to a long-term deal but for far less money than it would take to land Rice. It's possible but I'd be surprised if they varied from their past.
Paul Perillo

Actually it is a two part question. A few years back the Pats jumped very quickly trying to get their pass rusher with the (YIKES) of Adalius Thomas. Obviously it did not work out too well. Since the Pats made no solid attempt to pick up a pass rusher during the draft, do you think it's possible that Bill Belichick was doing another quick draw and already had someone lined up prior to the doors being shut? The second part of the question is what did happen to Thomas after he was dumped?
Dana Sullenbury

That was a different time when no such labor restrictions were in place. The teams have operated knowing that free agent signings weren't going to happen in March because of the pending lockout. So, I don't believe Belichick had any such high-profile player at the ready back then and is simply waiting to be able to sign him. Now, it's certainly likely that all teams have targeted players they'll be interested in if and when things get straightened out. Whether or not the Patriots are able to land the guy(s) they want remains to be seen. I'm also not sure there are significant pass rushers available that wouldn't cost a boatload. There are guys like Manny Lawson and Antwan Barnes (I actually like Barnes) who would be affordable but I'm not sure those guys would fix the problems. It will be interesting to see if Belichick opts to bring anyone in as he has recently with Derrick Burgess. As for Thomas, did not play in 2010 and remains unsigned.
Paul Perillo

I heard in the news that Drew Brees had 40 of his teammates together for workouts this past week, and that he even paid for insurance for some of his less compensated teammates. Are any of the Patriots getting together for group practices? I would like to think that we have players who want to win, and clearly, training together as a team, even without coaches, can only help toward that goal. I hope our players know that, and are acting accordingly, but I haven't seen anything to indicate that is happening.
Dave Rosenthal

BenJarvus Green-Ellis was on ESPN last week and mentioned that Jerod Mayo was organizing some informal workouts that members of the team were attending. He did not say where these workouts were taking place or how many players were attending, but at least that's something.
Paul Perillo

Lee Smith being primarily a blocking TE while if he makes will most likely be on the practice squad. I was thinking that Bill may try to convert him to a guard or a tackle I don't think Alge can be replaced since he was voted a captain and he seems to be the mentor to our blue chip TEs in addition to being a leader on the team. I just have a feeling that smith will be brought in as a tackle in strong goal line set he may be a good option.
John Himmelberger

You are not the first person to suggest a move to tackle for Smith. It's something some scouts around the league spoke to him about during the pre-draft process. But Smith said the Patriots intend on using him as a tight end to start and you are probably right that he will be a practice squad candidate assuming everything goes well for the three guys from last year – Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Crumpler. If they're all healthy they likely will remain in their roles. But it is possible that Belichick would use Smith as an extra blocker in short-yardage and goal-line situations, assuming the rookie is as good as advertised in the blocking department.
Paul Perillo

Isn't it obvious by now, after three consecutive drafts where all of us had pass-rushing OLB as THE top need, that Bill Belichick considers mediocre sack numbers to be a by-product of his scheme? I don't know the ins and outs of the system but I know that our defense never produces a 15-sack guy, but we continue to win more games than anyone else. Isn't it possible that BB is perfectly satisfied with Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Tully Banta-Cain and company?
Kenyon Gagne

It is certainly possible that is the case. If it is, though, to me it represents a failure to recognize the team's fatal flaw. It is true that the Patriots have never had a 15-sack guy during Belichick's tenure. But you don't need just one guy to get all the sacks and pressures, as long as you're consistently getting sacks and pressures. In 2001, 2003 and 2004 – the three Super Bowl seasons – the Patriots had 41, 41 and 45 sacks. In 2006 when they lost in the AFC title game in the final minute in Indy they had 44. In 2007 when they went undefeated in the regular season and lost the Super Bowl in the final seconds they had 47. Here are the sacks totals in every other year under Belichick – 29 (2000, no playoffs), 34 (2002, no playoffs), 33 (2005, lost divisional round), 31 (2008, no playoffs), 31 (2009, lost wild card), 36 (2010, lost wild card). So while it's true that the need for a 15-sack guy is overrated, the need to consistently pressure the passer is not. The Patriots haven't been able to do it lately and they haven't had any postseason success over the last three years.
Paul Perillo

I know that with the current labor situation free agency is most likely not going to happen anytime soon, but I was just looking at the unofficial list of the possible free agents at wide receiver and I noticed both Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth. What do you think the chances are that we bring both of these guys back since they are both coming off horrible seasons and their price tag wouldn't be very high?
Zack Ross

I'd say possible but not probable. Moss brings such an entirely different set of issues at this point that I'm sure it makes a lot of sense to roll the dice. To me, if you were certain that he could still play at a high level, it would be worth it. Personally, I'm not convinced. He did nothing last year and I felt his consistency was very much in doubt in 2009 (I remember taking a lot of heat for that right here in "Ask PFW" at the time). I'd stay away from the Moss mess at this point. Stallworth was coming back after missing an entire year so it was understandable that he didn't have a great year. He was injured and rusty and basically turned into an occasional big-play threat and little else. Still, he continues to speak highly of the Patriots and wouldn't likely cost much to take a look. I'd be interested.
Paul Perillo

I just thought of something I'd like your input on. We all know how the D spent an inordinate amount of time in sub-formations and we also saw Kyle Arrington playing OLB. I'm wondering if BB is going to be playing some sort of "prowl" in the secondary, using the nickel CBs and safeties to carry more of the pass rush. With guys like Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung, Jerrad Page and Ras-I Dowling (hopefully) who can play multiple positions in the secondary (fast and big), they can "float" around the secondary and rush from different positions. Of course it wouldn't be as much movement as the front seven, but a D like that would do a lot to confuse QBs who might have never seen a D like that before. Is this a D that can be successful or would it potentially leave too many holes and give too much advantage to hurry-up offenses?
Pascal Rawls-Philippe

I'm not exactly sure what defense you're suggesting. It sounds like you want to load up on defensive backs and if that's the case it would make the team susceptible to the run given how small it would be. But there will be times when Belichick opts to send some of those extra DBs on blitzes and I think being aggressive like that is a good thing. I hate the mentality of sitting back and hoping the other team makes a mistake. I'd rather force the mistakes and take my chances that I'll do that more than you'll make a play. In any event, it would seem extra defensive backs would have to be in order this season given the current talent breakdown, but there are still potentially some moves to make.
Paul Perillo

Everyone keeps saying the Pats had a disappointing draft. I would have to disagree. What is says is that BB has faith in our young defense getting better this year. Yes, the third down D was lacking, as were yards allowed and sacks. Where were they ranked in points allowed and takeaways? Are we losing anyone major on D or are we getting injured players back? Everyone preached pass rush, but isn't is scarier to lose two, maybe three starting members of the OL and three out of five RBs? In conclusion, when I look at last year and our playoff loss the issue was not the young defense, but the fact that we couldn't run against the Jets when our passing game was well defended. Our draft addressed that glaring need with almost every pick. You guys always seem to be on top of your game and was curious to see your reaction to my thoughts.
Zach Winderl

I think you make a lot of excellent points. They were eighth in points allowed last year (not great for a 14-2 team) and second in takeways with 38. The latter stat (coupled with a league-low and NFL record 10 giveaways) was the main reason why the team was able to be successful given such poor defensive performance in many other areas. And it's that stat that I'll focus on because takeaways can be quite a mercurial thing. Teams can improve greatly on defense from one year to another and yet see their turnovers created drop. They are a tough thing to rely on. You say the young defense wasn't responsible for the playoff loss. To a certain degree that's true. If the offense played as it had during the season, they would have done what they did quite often in 2010 – win despite the defense's overall mediocre play. When the defense didn't get a turn over last year, it was usually giving up points. The Jets didn't turn the ball over, and the Patriots couldn't come up with a stop as a result. When the game was hanging in the balance in the second half, the Jets went the length of the field for a touchdown to take control.
I have no problem with drafting a tackle in the first round but I would have opted for front seven help in the second round before grabbing a running back. Overall, I liked the draft but I didn't like it as much as the national experts, who are almost all in agreement that it was great.
Paul Perillo

Does the fact that Patriots LB Cunningham had one sack while his Florida teammate Carlos Dunlap, taken a pick later, had 9.5 sacks last season have to do with playing more coverage, or we took a wrong player?
Stan C.

It's probably too early to make the definitive statement on the last part, but I think it's fair to say that Cunningham wasn't asked to exclusively rush the passer last year as often as Dunlap was in Cincy. It's also fair to say that part of Cunningham's lack of production was due to injuries. He missed most of training camp and then was limited early in the season and was inactive for a game late in the year. We'll see how he develops this year but I'd be surprised if he didn't show a marked improvement. Dunlap may in fact continue to be a better pass rusher but it's certainly possible that Cunningham is a better all-around player.
Paul Perillo

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