For as much as Patriots watchers like to claim Bill Belichick is unpredictable when it comes to his draft day intentions, he's actually becoming easier and easier to read. We may not know exactly where and when, but we can pretty much know for sure every year that a trade will be in the offing. And more often than not, that trade will be a good one for New England.
Belichick and his personnel man Scott Pioli made like Monty Hall once again in 2006, trading second-round picks with Green Bay while giving the Packers the first of their two third-rounders. The move paid immediate dividends when the Patriots were able to pick up Florida wide receiver Chad Jackson, a player that many draft experts had slated as a first-round talent.
Couple that deal with a terrific first-round pick in Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney and the Patriots came away with a terrific start to their 2006 draft. They added Texas tight endDavid Thomas in the third round (86th overall).
Thomas was clearly a value pick with tight end not being a huge need. But Belichick often says that in order to run a two-tight end offense you need at least three serviceable tight ends. WithChristian Fauria lost to free agency, the Patriots needed a third to join Benjamin Watson and Daniel Graham. And with the depth at wide receiver lacking, even with the addition of Jackson, tight ends could be a big part of the offense in 2006.
Another factor to consider is the pending free agency of Graham, who will be unrestricted after the season. If Thomas, who was very productive with the Longhorns, pans out he could give the Patriots leverage in their potential negotiations with Graham.
Time will tell if the Jackson trade works out, but history is on the Patriots side. Their constant maneuvering has netted multiple picks in different years and the team's history with those picks is obviously pretty solid. Matt Light, Vince Wilfork, Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Ty Warren, Graham and Ellis Hobbs were taken with choices that were acquired via draft-related trades. Obviously not every move has worked out, but that's a pretty good corps of talent to build around.
Jackson was the second marquee pick of the day for the Patriots. Maroney and Jackson allowed Belichick to add a great deal of explosiveness to the offense. Some people were surprised to see the Pats focus on that side of the ball, but Tom Brady had to be extremely relieved.
By the end of the 2006 season, Corey Dillon and the Patriots running game had been reduced to rubble. Denver's Pro Bowl safetyJohn Lynch indicated after the Broncos playoff win that their game plan was simply to blitz Brady and forced the Patriots franchise to win the game by himself because Denver simply had no respect for New England's ground game.
Whether the reasons for Dillon's ineffectiveness were injury related or due to the banged up offensive line he was running behind, Belichick obviously felt finding a successor was important. With Maroney, the best-case scenario would have him backing up a rejuvenated Dillon, getting 10 carries a game while keeping the veteran fresh. Worst-case would see him supplanting a still struggling Dillon and quickly becoming the back of the future. Unless Maroney doesn't pan out at all, either scenario would be acceptable.
"He's been a very productive player," Belichick said shortly after taking Maroney. "I think he brings an element of speed and certainly youth to the position. I like the production that we've had fromKevin [Faulk], Patrick [Pass] andCorey, but in terms of experience they are all up there. We feel like it's good to have a young player to work with, but more importantly Laurence was the best value on the board at that point."
So the Patriots got their back of the future, and perhaps even the present, and added even more speed and athleticism with Jackson. The former Gator ran a blistering 4.32 40 at the Combine, which was among the fastest times recorded in Indy.
Plus, he's not one of those speed receivers who's limited exclusively to the home-run ball. Jackson has shown the willingness to go over the middle and make the tough catch in traffic. In other words, he's a Patriots-type receiver and should augment a crop of wideouts that was badly in need of bolstering.
Jackson explained in his conference call that the Patriots coaching staff gave him a page of the playbook during a pre-draft visit down to Gainesville, and then quizzed him on it when Jackson made a trip to Foxborough weeks later. Evidently he passed the test.
And once again at draft time, it looks like the Patriots brain trust did as well.