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Draft prospectus: S, CB

With the departure of Tebucky Jones and the additions of 30-year-old safety Rodney Harrison and 31-year-old cornerback Tyrone Poole, the New England secondary went against popular belief and became even older this offseason. Including the new additions and aging veterans Lawyer Milloy and Otis Smith, the youngest significant contributor on the roster is 28-year-old, eight-year veteran Ty Law. And while Law and Milloy are both coming off consecutive Pro Bowls, there is no question that the long term status of the entire secondary is in question.

That said, there is little question the team will dive into the market at cornerback and likely even a later round safety on draft weekend. After Law and Smith, who is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle and will turn 38 years old during the season, New England has been unable to develop a young corner in recent years. Such draft picks as Brock Williams and J'Juan Cherry (a Bobby Grier pick) didn't work out and are no longer with the team. Others like Leonard Myers and Antwan Harris (now more of a safety) are still with the franchise but have yet to prove themselves as legitimate options as starters. Myers for example had a chance to step in for the injured Smith late last season, after recovering from his own groin injury for much of the year, but struggled. Myers, a sixth-round pick in 2001, may be the only young player on the roster with a chance of becoming a significant contributor, although this could be his last chance to do so in New England.

The two other corners currently on the roster, NFLE allocate and practice squad player Dyshod Carter and the oft-injured Ben Kelly, would seem to carry few expectations. Kelly's injuries and struggles in limited playing time work against him, while Carter is more of an unknown commodity.

That being said the question remains what type of talent is available this weekend. While Kansas State's Terence Newman is considered by some to be the best corner prospect in years, he and Washington State cornerback Marcus Trufant could be gone before the Patriots select at number 14. But depending on the how the draft unfolds, either Trufant or Oklahoma's Andre Woolfolk could be around for one of the team's top two picks.

After the top three, the questions surrounding the corners become greater. Oregon State's Dennis Weathersby was projected to go in the second round, but a recent non-life threatening gunshot wound could hurt his stock. Other second to mid-round prospects include Illinois' Eugene Wilson, Bethune Cookman safety/corner Rashean Mathis, Texas A&M's Sammy Davis, SMU's Kevin Garrett, Tennessee safety/corner Julian Battle, Tuskegee's Drayton Florence, Nebraska's DeJuan Groce, Texas' Roderick Babers, UCLA's Ricky Manning Jr. and Colorado's Donald Strickland.

Late round possibilities at corner could include Cal's Nnamdi Asomugha, Pitt's Torrie Cox, Notre Dame's Shane Walton, Louisiana-Lafayette's Charles Tillman, UAB's Chris Brown, Central Florida's Asante Samuel, Mississippi State's Korey Banks, Louisiana-Lafayette's Ivan Taylor, TCU's Jason Goss and Michigan State's Cedric Henry.

Regardless of what may take place on draft weekend, safety is a position that will be very different at Gillette Stadium next season. Gone is Jones' incredible athleticism, albeit inconsistent play, and in is the hard-hitting former Pro Bowler Harrison. And the status of free agent Victor Green remains up in the air as the Patriots have a right to match any offer the veteran may get on the open market, although it is unlikely the team would go much higher than the veteran minimum.

Another newcomer in the mix is former Cleveland Brown Chris Akins. Akins is a possible backup, but has made his career in the league based on his play on special teams. Others on the current roster include another special team specialist in Je'Rod Cherry and the versatile, yet seemingly replaceable Harris.

But even though there is likely a need at safety at some point in the draft, chances are the position and prospect quality won't warrant an early selection. Ohio State's Mike Doss and USC's Troy Polamalu are considered to be the top of the safety class, although either or both may slip into the second round. And from those two, the decline in safeties appears to be swift. Arkansas' Ken Hamlin, N.C. State's Terrence Holt, Utah's Antwoine Sanders and Todd Johnson from Florida are all expected to go in the mid rounds.

Should the Patriots wait until the late rounds of the draft to look for a safety some names that could be a possibility are Penn State's Bryan Scott, Louisville's Anthony Floyd, Notre Dame's Gerome Sapp, Texas A&M's Terrence Kiel, Virginia Tech's Willie Pile, Houston's Hanik Milligan, Iowa's Derek Pagel, Michigan's Cato June, Stanford's Colin Branch and Michigan's Charles Drake.

Tomorrow we will look at the defensive line.

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