As tomorrow's deadline approaches for underclassmen to declare eligibility for this April's draft the talent pool becomes deeper with each announcement.
With the Patriots holding multiple selections in the first, fourth and fifth rounds of the draft, each underclassmen that chooses to come out early increases the team's chances of selecting quality players. As a team with numerous needs across the board on both offense and defense as well as an overall need to get younger in a hurry, the Patriots greatly benefit from each early entry.
Underclassmen have until tomorrow, Jan. 15, to make themselves eligible for the April 26-27 2002 NFL Draft. Many positions, including possible Patriots need areas as wide receiver, running back and defensive line, hinge greatly on underclass entries. With 10 total picks in the draft and very few areas that would be considered need-free, the aging New England roster may benefit as much as any with each recent and upcoming early entry announcement.
The Patriots have two first round selections, number 14 and number 19 overall. The 14th selection comes thanks to last draft's day-two trade of quarterback Drew Bledsoe to the Buffalo Bills. New England then has single selections in the second and third rounds of the process, before doubling up again in the fourth round. The Patriots own the Packers fourth round selection as part of last offseason's trade of Terry Glenn to Green Bay, as well as their own pick. New England then owns an extra fifth round selection from the Dallas Cowboys as part of a draft weekend trade last April. Single picks in the sixth and seventh round will close out the Patriots infusion of youth this April.
To date a number of top college junior and sophomore stars have made themselves eligible for selection. Some of the biggest names include Michigan State wide receiver Charlie Rogers, Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs, Oregon running back Onterrio Smith, Colorado running back Chris Brown, Miami wide receiver Andre Johnson and injured Miami running back Willis McGahee.
McGahee could be the wild card of the draft as he announced his entry on Monday even though he is recovering from multiple ligament tears suffered in the national championship game against Ohio State. McGahee had surgery to repair the injury and could potentially be ready to play sometime next season. Before the injury McGahee was a lock to be a top-10 pick, but now the explosive runner who rushed for 1,753 yards and 28 touchdowns this season as a sophomore could slip to the middle rounds of the draft.
Check back to Patriots.com for a more complete list of draft eligible underclassmen when it is finalized following Wednesday's deadline.