Draft weekend is all about talent and potential meeting need and opportunity. Teams work to fill their most pressing holes as they maneuver through the many rounds of the draft while trying to avoid bypassing better talent because they were blinded by need. The old debate about drafting need versus the best available player can be a difficult one.
But with one fell swoop of a trade Monday afternoon the Patriots filled their starting running back spot with the addition of three-time Pro Bowler Corey Dillon from the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for a second-round selection in this weekend's draft, number 56 overall. The defending Super Bowl Champions, in the midst of a 15-game winning streak, now head into the draft with as much flexibility as any team. No longer are they a team with a huge hole in the backfield behind Tom Brady. Suddenly the Patriots are a deep, well-rounded team with the ability to improve across the board.
Want to trade up for one of the handful of blue-chip players in the draft? They could do it.
Want to sit tight at 21 and 32 and take the best available player that comes by? They could do it.
Want to take a running back to groom as a replacement to Dillon in a few seasons? They could do it.
Want to make deals for more picks in the coming years, stockpiling ammunition for future trades or infusions of talent? They could do it.
The options are truly endless right now for the defending champs.
No question there are still plenty of areas on the New England depth chart that could be strengthened, but there is no single, glaring need. The team did lose two veteran offensive linemen that entered last season as starters, Damien Woody and Mike Compton, in free agency, but the entire starting line from Super Bowl XXXVIII is returning. Then there is the loss of behemoth nose tackle Ted Washington, one the team tried to fill at least in terms of girth with the addition of veteran free agent Keith Traylor. And who knows how the Ty Law situation might play out in the coming months?
But in the end the Patriots have more options than needs right now. With eight selections this weekend, including two first rounders and four on the first day, the team can truly take the best available talent on the board each time it picks. Aside from using an early selection on a quarterback or maybe a tight end, is there any area that would be a surprise selection come Saturday?
Conversely, all the other spots such as offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, receiver and secondary could be improved both immediately and for the future with the right pick when Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli and Co. are on the clock. And that doesn't even take into account the trades and potential trades that will be thrown around the New England war room this Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
So thanks to the addition of a six-time 1,000-yard rusher, a guy who has averaged more than 260 carries, 1,150 yards and six touchdowns, a team that had as much flexibility as any heading April 24's talent expo now has even more options. New England sits atop the football world coming off its second Super Bowl title in three seasons as the only team with multiple first-round picks on Saturday afternoon and has already filled its most-pressing need. All in all it should be an interesting weekend in Foxboro because, as is the case with every team, no one knows how the draft is going to turn out, but the options in New England are endless. And for the Patriots and their fans that's a good thing.