BYU running back Harvey Unga.
Recently on the PFW Blog, we introduced you to Harvey Unga, a running back with a prolific career at BYU who has entered his name in the NFL's Supplemental Draft (check out that posting for a link to Unga's video highlight reel). New England, it has been widely reported, has been doing its homework on Unga, included having a presence at his workout in Utah this past Thursday.
Each year, players like Unga can enter the Supplemental Draft if they were eligible for the annual NFL Draft in April but didn't make themselves available for it and have since changed their minds, for whatever reason. As we pointed out in the blog, NFL teams don't have to participate at all in the Supplemental Draft if they choose not to, or can bid on just one player or as many as they desire out of the available pool.
Those teams that are interested in a player or players make a silent bid. They indicate to the league office what round they would be willing to take a particular player if an actual draft were taking place. When the bidding process is complete, the team with the highest round wins the player (if there's a tie between two or more teams, the team with the worse record/higher position in the most recent NFL Draft gets the player). That team then forfeits that draft pick in the next NFL Draft.
This year, the Supplemental Draft takes place on Thursday, July 15. So, what better time to argue this question on Debate Friday?
Would you invest a pick in the top three rounds for supplemental draft prospect Harvey Unga?
Read the arguments by the writers of Patriots Football Weekly, then cast your vote in this week's poll.
Paul Perillo says, "No …"
I've been pretty consistent – and pretty alone – on my one-man bandwagon that believes the Patriots don't need a major upgrade at running back. I'm sure Harvey Unga is a solid player and his production at BYU would certainly back that up, but I'm not sure how adding another running back to the current stable will make the Patriots significantly better.
First, unless you have a truly transcendental talent like LaDainian Tomlinson circa 2006, Barry Sanders or someone of that ilk, I believe Bill Belichick's running back-by-committee approach is the way to go. The position is just too fragile to invest significant resources toward one guy.
I didn't like the choice of Laurence Maroney in the first round in 2006 for that very reason. Even when backs pan out, they're usually only at the top of their game for a short period of time. There are exceptions – like Curtis Martin – but generally the production drops as the carries and hits mount. I'd rather spread the carries out and eliminate the chance of a single injury ruining the running game.
Second, I believe there is an approximate number of yards to be gained on the ground and good teams generally land around the same spot every year, regardless of how many backs generate that total. As an example, the 2004 Patriots, led by Corey Dillon's team-record 1,635 yards, picked up 2,134 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Last year's much-maligned committee of Maroney, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis helped the team gain 1,921 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
Not really much of a difference (213 fewer yards on 58 fewer carries with four more touchdowns) even though Dillon more than doubled Maroney's team-leading total of 757 yards. In other words, I don't need to have one "franchise" running back getting all the carries and yards as long as my team is picking up the yards, which for the most part was the case.
Last, the Patriots offense revolves around Tom Brady and the passing game. Therefore, adding another running back and using a top three pick doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I know the team has some extra picks, but why not use them to further bolster the defense, the offensive line or receiving corps next year?
That's the road I'd prefer to travel.
Erik Scalavino says, "Yes …"
I would hesitate to invest a first- or second-round choice in Unga, even though New England has two of each in next year's regular draft. Having researched Unga stats and running style, he seems to me to fall somewhere between Corey Dillon and Heath Evans. Dillon was clearly a first-round talent throughout his NFL career, while Evans was a solid, mid-round kind of player. I think Unga has more speed and athleticism than Evans, but isn't quite in Dillon's category at this point, either.
That's why I'd be comfortable bidding a third-round choice on Unga. The guy has had three, one-thousand-yard-plus seasons against good college competition and could develop into a productive NFL back. Starting-caliber running backs don't need to be drafted high to become superstars in this league (see third-rounder Curtis Martin, as Paul pointed out, and sixth-rounder Terrell Davis, for example).
Now, I'm not predicting that Unga will turn out to be nearly as good as either Martin or Davis, but if the Patriots think he's capable of competing with the stable of ball carriers they currently have, why not take a shot with a third-round choice?
Yes, the current "by-committee" approach has worked for New England, but even if the Patriots feel Unga is only going to be part of that committee at first, if he's better than anyone else in the committee, why wouldn't you want to upgrade the committee? Looking at the current roster, it's not like anyone is untouchable, with the possible exception of Kevin Faulk. I think he'll be on the active roster no matter who else makes the team at running back.
Bottom line, for me, is there's always room for improvement. And Unga looks like a player who might be able to help the Patriots improve at a spot that could use it. Is there a desperate need there? Probably not, but other teams will be interested in Unga (20 teams attended the workout, according to media reports, and Unga's agent told reporters that a half dozen other clubs called to express interest). Which means, there'll be competition for him, most likely. So, the higher the bid, the better. A one or a two is too rich for my blood, however, which is why a third-rounder is as high as I'd go.
Now that you've read the arguments (and hopefully watched Unga's highlights via the PFW Blog), tell us what you think. Cast your vote in this week's Debate Friday poll!