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Ask PFW: Perusing the prospects

The NFL Draft is still more than a month away and free agency has been a bit slow in Patriots Nation, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to talk about. With New England holding a top-10 pick in next month’s selection party fans are as excited as ever looking forward to Draft weekend.

I am a BIG Patriots fan and all, but the offensive line is starting to fall apart. In the Super Bowl the line practically let the Giants in to sack Brady. I think the draft needs to be devoted to a better line.Zachary Huston

Even if you think the group is a little overrated, it's a little much to say an offensive line that boasts three Pro Bowl representatives is "starting to fall apart." They had a terrible Super Bowl. No one can argue that. But it's still a young, relatively talented group that had way more good days last season than bad. Is it possible the team could look to solidify the unit with a right tackle with the No. 7 pick? Sure, anything is possible. Some believe Boise State's Ryan Clady could not only be a great right tackle, but that he could be a franchise NFL left tackle. I actually think he will have a better professional career than Michigan's Jake Long. If Bill Belichick and Co. feel the same way maybe New England takes Clady and moves Matt Light to the right side. Or maybe Clady plays the right side to start his career. Or maybe the team drafts a right tackle in the later rounds to compete with Nick Kaczur on the right side. And let's not leave out the possibility of drafting a guard to fill in for or down the line even replace oft-injured right guard Stephen Neal. It's all possible and I virtually guarantee the Patriots will take at least one offensive lineman on draft weekend. But I certainly don't think the entire group needs to be overhauled, as you suggested.
Andy Hart

I know everybody thinks the Pats will trade down the draft day, but I was wondering if there's a chance they trade up and take Chris Long. He seems to be the OLB the Pats have been waiting for. What's your opinion? Keep the great job; I do love your sense of humor.Sergio Lopez

If Chris Long is available do you think the Patriots will draft him and have him play as OLB?Dude Person

Long is generally considered one of the truly elite prospects in the draft. But I have my questions about his abilities at the next level. He played 3-4 end for most of his career at Virginia. He's not big enough – he's not close to a guy like Richard Seymour – to play that position in the NFL. So he's either going to have to convert to OLB in a 3-4 scheme or get used to playing end in a four-man front. Either way he's a projection. I'm also not sure he's an elite athlete. He's a very good one, but side-by-side with a guy like Vernon Gholston, Long gets blown away. He was a very determined player in college and that brought him great success. I think he's going to be a good pro at whatever position he ends up playing, but I'm not sure he's going to end up an All-Pro which is what you are looking for in a top-five pick or top-seven pick. I don't think the Patriots would trade up to get Long, especially considering the increased contract that would come with moving up even further from a spot at No. 7 that already has the team slotted to guarantee somewhere around $18 million. But if Long did slip to No. 7, meaning Gholston is almost assuredly already off the board, I do think the Patriots would see value in his services at that spot. He comes from Al Groh's system, which would likely make for a smooth transition to New England. And my guess is he'd have a good-to-great career playing for Belichick, the ultimate coach at maximizing his players' talents. Don't get me wrong, I don't think he's a Long-shot. (Pun intended. How ya like my sense of humor now, Sergio? And for the record, are you a short, tall, fat, skinny kind of guy?) I just wonder if he'll ever be a superstar, and that's what I'm looking for at that high point in the draft.
Andy Hart

Hi, I think we should start Brandon Meriweather at corner, and James Sanders at FS, then get Kenny Phillips/Tom Zbikowski in the draft as a back up behind Sanders. Meriweather is physical, and has the size. I think he can be a great corner. James Sanders showed us what he can do last season and I think he has potential to be an elite FS in the league. I know BB & Capers have great plans for '08 and would build an amazing defense. What do you guys think?
Ian Moe

I think Meriweather will likely end up playing corner, or some variation of a nickel back role, this fall. He took mostly corner reps last summer when he was learning the New England system while Asante Samuel was missing from training camp. Now with Samuel gone for good, I'm pretty sure Meriweather will get more time at corner. I don't know if Meriweather is suited to be an NFL corner in the long term, but considering the team's needs and his versatile skills I think that's where he's going to be this coming summer and fall. The one think I have to disagree with you on is what Sanders' future holds. I, like you, think he's a budding star. But I think his real future is at strong safety. He's a great tackler and I think he could be a bigger force at the LOS with blitzing and playing the run in the box if given more opportunities. He's done an admirable job playing free safety next to Rodney Harrison (even though Belichick doesn't really use the free and strong labels and just considers both spots simply safeties with roles to fill), but I don't think coverage and range down the field are really his strengths. Sometime in the future I think you'll see him playing more like the role Harrison has filled out over his career. And while I'm not saying Sanders will be as productive as Harrison, I think he will be a very good player in that spot.
As for the two prospects, both Philips and Zbikowski were more highly rated prior to last season. Phillips had somewhat of a down year but is still considered the top safety in the draft, a free safety type. I don't see the Patriots going for that position early on draft weekend for the second straight year, which is what it would take to get Phillips another Miami product. As for Zbikowski, he's more of a strong safety, despite his impressive speed that aided him as a punt returner for the Irish. He's projected by as a potential third-round pick. But considering the Patriots decent depth at safety and other needs to address, I'm not sure he makes for a good fit right now.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, I'm a huge B.C. fan, so is their any possibility of them getting either Jamie Silva or DeJuan Tribble in the draft as a second day choice? Tribble could also be an option to return kicks.Dan DiSchino

I am a former Cape Codder now living just south of Savannah, Ga. Some of the trades I see posted really make me wonder if anyone knows what they are doing. What I would like to know is where in the draft would you put Jamie Silva of B.C. & do you think he could fit the Pats System. He impressed me watching B.C. play in the ACC. He seems to have a nose for the ball as well as being an exceptional special teams player.Charlie B.

I actually like both former Eagles in terms of potential late-round picks. Tribble is a smaller corner who says he plays bigger than he is. And after watching his tape, I have to agree with him. He seems to have knack for finding the ball and making plays. He doesn't have elite speed, but makes decent breaks on the ball.
As for Silva, I think his NFL ceiling is as a backup defensive back and special teams guy. His speed is a little questionable and I'm not sure he's a great athlete, but his playmaking ability and instincts help him out. I think he's the kind of hearty player who can make an immediate impact as a special teams guy and could carve out a role for himself in that area. But I just don't ever see him being a starting-caliber safety in the NFL. Maybe he'll prove me wrong, as he's the type of guy that seems to like proving people wrong.
Andy Hart

What is with the Patriots hiring retread, never-won-anything Dom [doesn't know when to call it a career] Capers ???!!! This much is for sure: he has his work cut out for himself in attempting to rebuild a secondary in shambles.
Chip Heard

When Dom Capers was named as the new Secondary Coach, do you see the possibility of Capers having a helping hand or a voice that can be heard along with Pees and Belichick when it comes to the defensive schemes this season? Also, with Capers having an "Aggressive" defensive philosophy, can/should we expect the '08 defense to still have Belichick's fingerprints on it but a defense nonetheless that will contain more exotic schemes and blitzes that are somewhat similar to Baltimore's 3-4 defensive style. As opposed to trying to just sit in the 3-4 and try to confuse the offense into mistakes?Brandon Andrews

First, I think Chip is being (as he is consistently with just about every topic in his frequent Ask PFW emails) overly negative when it comes to Capers. He wasn't hired as a head coach, merely a very experienced assistant. Get off his back and let him do his job as he does have a pretty impressive resume on the defensive side of the ball.
We should all keep in mind that Capers' official title is "Special Assistant/Secondary." So I do think he'll have a voice in the defense as a whole, not just on the defensive backfield. He does have a reputation for having an aggressive defensive philosophy with plenty of zone blitzing from the 3-4 front. I think you will at least see hints of that next season in New England. I'm not sure exactly how it will all play out, but not using the input of a guy like Capers would be a waste in my mind. Belichick was well aware of Capers' experience and philosophies when he hired him, so that tells me he is very interested in what the veteran coach can bring to the mix for the Patriots. His first job will be working with the DBs, a job that will be taxing as he tries to replace an All-Pro corner and a pair of key backups. He'll have to get Ellis Hobbs to become a better player, work with Meriweather in his development as a versatile defensive back and will have to blend in a number of new faces and likely key rookies into the mix. Personally, I'm excited to see what Capers can do both with the secondary as well as what his influence on the defense as a whole might be.
Andy Hart

What's the book on Jonathan Goff, Vanderbilt? Just from the Combine numbers he looks impressive: good speed, good bench press. And no one seems to be paying him much attention.Andy Lewis

There is plenty of talk about Goff and whether he might be a good mid-round pick at inside linebacker for the Patriots. He's just not considered an elite guy. He had an impressive Combine but people still question his athleticism and change of direction. They are the same questions that dog many inside linebacker prospects as they look to make the jump to the NFL. He was very productive in college. I think he has many of the tools needed to be an inside linebacker in the Patriots scheme. He's not a blue-chip prospect like the freakish Patrick Willis a year ago, but Goff can be a solid playmaker on the inside. Many question whether he is a three-down player in the NFL. But three-down inside linebackers aren't exactly growing on trees these days, and I think as a mid-round prospect I'd like to see what Goff could do in New England.
Andy Hart

Hi guys. As we're rolling along toward the draft, more questions seem to keep popping up. I was wondering whether you think it would be better to draft a DB in the first-round, as the talent in that area seems to drop off a lot faster than it does at LB and those DE/LB hybrids?Jayant Bhambhani

I totally disagree. I think the talent drop at DE/OLB is greater than with the corners. I think Vernon Gholston is the best of the hybrid group, with Chris Long also impressive. After that I have my questions about guys like Florida's Derrick Harvey (I happen to think he's a pure 4-3 end, not a 3-4 fit) and Auburn's Quentin Groves. At corner, on the other hand, I think there is a good chance that the depth at the spot leaves some very good corners to be had in the second and third rounds. I have my doubts about some of the supposed top guys like the small-school prospects in Troy's Leodis McKelvin and Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They both scare me, especially early in the first round. I really don't like Kansas' Aqib Talib. I haven't seen enough of South Florida's Mike Jenkins, but I'm not sold that he's an elite NFL corner. I actually agree with PFW's resident draft blowhard, Tom Casale, in that Arizona's Antoine Cason is probably the top corner in the draft. And I certainly think he's the safest pick in the group. He might not be a No. 7 guy, but I think he's going to have a very good pro career. But I also am of the belief that Oklahoma's Reggie Smith, USC's Terrell Thomas and Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers are going to be productive in the NFL. That's a lot of corners to choose from. You just have to pick the right one. But in my mind, unlike at outside linebacker, I think the right cornerback could be had in the second or maybe even the third round if a team plays its cards right. That's just not the case in terms of playmaking outside linebackers. I think you have to get one of those early or not at all.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, love everything you put out. I had a quick question about the ranking of corners. You have Cason, Jenkins, DRC, and McKelvin at the top. I've seen those guys in pretty much any possible combination of 1-4, so what to you makes Cason #1? And which do you think would be the best fit for the Pats if they do go corner in the first round? Personally, I like Talib, but not at 7. My dream situation would be to trade down to late 1st (as most of the sane Pats nation seems to be saying) and grab him, a high second (project player) and a fourth to hopefully grab an lb). Thanks, and go Pats.Rob Antoniak

As I just said, I hate Talib. I think he's stiff. Not a stiff, but stiff in his hips and the way he plays. He didn't impress during drills at the Combine. I didn't like his game tape as I saw people throw at him consistently and complete passes on him with scary consistency. I still go with Cason as the corner most likely to have a productive NFL career. I like Cason because I think he's the most fundamentally sound corner in the draft. He doesn't get beat too often. He has solid footwork and plays with a strong base underneath him most of the time allowing him to stay balanced and react well to receivers. He also seems very comfortable playing a lot of zone. He appears to have good instincts and makes plays on the ball when it's in the air. I think he's the most complete corner in the draft with the least amount of risk of the top handful of prospects. I think DRC has a huge upside. I'm just a little scared of his downside.
Andy Hart

Everyone keeps talking about the PATS trading out of the 7th overall pick this year. What about them trading up for Jake Long? The bottom line is that we have a lot invested in our QB -- Light is a solid tackle but struggles against the speed rushers. My feeling is that I don't think we will be in a position to get a player of this caliber in the foreseeable future so why not make the move. We will be able to pick up a solid linebacker in later rounds. Not to mention in future drafts middle linebackers and corners are attainable in the late first round -- bookend OTs are not.Mike Anderson

I don't like Long and I definitely wouldn't trade up to get him. He told us at the Combine that he actually really likes watching Light play and sort of models his game after Light's. I agree that Light is only solid and an upgrade – despite his recent ascension to All-Pro status – wouldn't be out of the question. But I don't think Long is an upgrade. Mel Kiper told me a long time ago that he projects Long as better suited for right tackle in the NFL. You don't draft right tackles in the top-five and you certainly don't trade up to get a right tackle. Long struggled with Ohio State's Vernon Gholston in college, so there is a good chance that like Light he's going to struggle with the elite athletes he's going to face a lot more often in the NFL. So would I replace Light with Long? Heck no, and I'm certainly not the biggest Light fan in New England. I just think that at his best Long will end up being Light, and my guess is he might not end up even being as good as Light is.
Andy Hart

Hello team. With the addition of Fernando Bryant today, what do you guys think the team will do with the draft at Corner. Is Bryant already a projected starter? Maybe. I think the Pats will take an outside LB with the 7th pick, especially with the questions about Junior Seau. Also, what do you think the chances are that we would pick up Shaun Alexander? I know its a long shot, but he is a solid runner and although he has below average blocking and hands, we have Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk who have established themselves to fit those roles. Thanks Guys, and keep up the good work.Nate Dibble

I do think, as of right now, you pencil in Bryant as the starter at corner opposite Ellis Hobbs. I also believe the team will draft a cornerback in the first two rounds of the draft. So there is plenty of competition yet to unfold in the coming months at cornerback before the depth chart at the position is anywhere near set. And the spot will likely be a fluid one well into the 2008 season.
As of right now, Alexander has yet to be cut by Seattle. If/when the former NFL MVP does get his walking papers, I don't see him ending up in New England. There have been rumors percolating since last fall that the Patriots would have interest in Alexander when he hit the market, but I don't know where they come from. He's clearly not the runner he once was. The team has a solid, willing backup in Sammy Morris assuming the veteran returns to health as expected. My guess is Alexander will get some decent money somewhere from a team that still thinks he can be a franchise-type back. I think his best days are well behind him, but I'm not sure he's willing to be a committee-type guy yet. And that's all he could possibly be in New England and that's certainly how he'd be paid if the team did have any interest in him. I just don't see it happening.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys, there have been reports that Pacman himself would like to play for the Pats. I personally do not think it's a bad idea for the Patriots. He's scheduled to only make 1.3 million dollars next year and Pacman knows that if he messes up one more time he will be gone from the NFL so it's a win-win for both sides. What do you guys think?Derek Rego

I think if Pacman Jones can be had for cheap (late 3rd rounder or less), the Patriots should make a play for him. Tennessee will have to cover a major part of his contract, so he'll be playing for peanuts. Because of that, the Patriots can institute a "no-strikes" policy, where if Pacman tries again to "make it rain" or something, he can be cut with little repercussions. Why not throw him into the mix with Bryant, Webster, and the whole lot and see if he can play? If he can't get it together (on or off the field), kick him to the curb. If he realizes that performing for a high-level organization and keeping quiet off the field could really repair his image, Pacman could be another classic Patriot reclamation steal (not to mention an electrifying corner/return man!).Prasad Patil

Many fans (and even a few local media members) seem to have jumped on the Pacman bandwagon over the last week-plus and I could disagree with it more. I wouldn't touch him for a number of reasons. Sure he's a talented athlete. He was an exciting returner (as he showed the Patriots firsthand on New Year's Eve 2006) and projected to be a very good cornerback. But let's not pretend he was Deion Sanders before he got suspended. He's now missed a year away from football and I'm not of the mind that he's spent that time working ourt and rehabbing his life. He's had plenty of chances and continues to display immature, irresponsible and even allegedly criminal behavior. I think he's more trouble than he's worth. Regardless of how talented a guy might be -- and I'm not even sure Pacman is as talented as everyone tries to make him out to be -- there has to be a line somewhere. In my mind, Pacman is on the wrong side of the line. And as far as calling a third-round pick "on the cheap," I disagree once more. The Patriots got Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick. Moss had less baggage and was a proven star in the league. So a third-round pick isn't cheap, especially in a draft that seems to be decently deep at a few different positions. Patriots fans may have warmed up to the idea of Pacman coming to New England. But I haven't and I never will. And according to a report in today's Boston Globe citing a league source, the Patriots "will not pursue Jones." Glad to hear it.
Andy Hart

Is it me, or do we keep signing washed up cornerbacks? Duane Starks and Chad Scott are just a few names that pop in my head. Now this year it is Fernando Bryant. Do you see him being a factor this season?Ryan Perkins

I think there is a chance Bryant could be a factor. As I said earlier, I think right now you pencil him in as a starter if he's healthy. He's battled injuries over the last few seasons in Detroit. But he has experience working for Capers and has started more than 100 games in the NFL. He's never going to be an All-Pro, especially at his point in his career, but I think he still might be able to fill a starting job. Of course, I thought the same thing about Starks and that never came close to working out here in New England. Bryant isn't a sure thing, but he's atop the list of a suspect New England secondary right now to start opposite Hobbs.
Andy Hart

I'm interested in what you think about Owen Schmitt. After all the discussions about the protection of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, do you think he is worth a look in the draft, maybe in the fourth round? I know the Patriots already have a great FB in Heath Evans, but in my eyes the running back squad needs an upgrade in blocking. Schmitt looks very versatile to me and maybe he can buy Brady the extra second in pass plays.Olli Martin
Munich, Germany

I like Schmitt because I have a soft spot in my heart for old-fashioned fullbacks. He's a guy who loves to block and, as he told me at the Combine, leaves running the ball to the "fast guys." He's not the same type of player as Evans, who was more of a running back in college and has more playmaking versatility. Schmitt likes to block and break face masks. He can play on special teams. He'd likely help Maroney in the running game, but it would take a change in the Patriots philosophy that would call for more two-back sets than has been the case in recent years. His running mates at West Virginia rave about Schmitt's blocking and the fact that they never worried about the first tackler because they knew that their fullback would take him out. That's a nice feeling for a running back but it's not exactly the way New England plays. And I'm not sure Schmitt would help much on passing downs in terms of protecting Brady as he's not much of a third-down or passing-down option. I like his game and would love to see him as a second-day pick, but he would be a different type of player than the Patriots have had since the days when Sam Gash was part of the team's backfield.
Andy Hart

After last season's draft I am unclear why the Patriots have not hired Tom Casale to help them with this year's draft. He nailed it with LaMarr Woodley and many others. Meanwhile the Pats made good trades but went 0-9 with the draft picks they actually used on college players. Why have the Patriots not made this obvious move?Chris Noble

I figured if Mama Casale went through the trouble of writing an email to Ask PFW and coming up with a fake name to sign it with the least I could do was post her work. Hey, she should be proud of her son he's finally made something of his life – he can say he works with the great Andy Hart.
Andy Hart

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