EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 24, 2009

Pats must swing for the fences

If Pats hit one Day 1 homer, it's a job well done

On Pro Football

FOXBORO — Belt one home run tomorrow, Bill.

A 2-for-4 with a couple singles might be nice for some teams in Saturday's opening two rounds of the NFL draft. But this is the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick dynasty era in New England Patriots history.

Singles come easy off the salary-slash scrap heap for this regime.

The Pats need a bomb tomorrow, an absolute impactful game-breaker.

From where will it come?

"When you are picking 23 or picking down in the late teens and 20s, there are so many things that can happen in front of you," said Belichick in his annual smokescreen/pre-draft press conference.

"The best we can do is be prepared. I don't know who is going to be there at 23. I don't know who is going to be there at 34."

A year ago, Belichick startled some in New England when he tabbed linebacker Jerod Mayo, a linebacker out of Tennessee, with the 10th pick overall.

Belichick, to that point, had drafted as many linebackers in the top three rounds with the Pats as he had kickers.

More than a position, he broke the tradition of low-risk choices. It's a tact Belichick saved for veterans — see the Randy Moss deal — not rookies.

Tomorrow, New England craves more of the same.

Whatever the move, up from No. 23 to get Rey Maualuga of USC or his teammate Clay Matthews Jr., Belichick will be gunning for greatness.

Look at the numbers defensively with this crew in 2008: 31 sacks, 14 interceptions and 8 fumbles, one of 13 NFL teams to go without a defensive touchdown.

Compare that to 2007, the 16-0 season, in which the Pats hit the quarterback 84 times for 47 sacks. New England forced 29 turnovers (19 picks, 10 fumbles) and scored six defensive TDs.

How about the Super Bowl years of 2003 and 2004? In '04, 46 sacks, 36 turnovers forced and four scores on defense. And in '03, 41 sacks, 41 turnovers and six more TDs.

Offensively, Moss' years here are whittling down, too. He can't run 50-yard sprints all day forever.

A home run, dinger, tater, gopher ... Belichick has four chances, picks 47 and 58 to go with the aforementioned pair. He must go yard, or this team — the Vegas favorite at 5-to-2 to win the AFC and 5-to-1 to win it all — is merely the class of the AFC going into 2009, not everybody's odds-on choice.

You have to figure when the dust settles late Saturday night that the Pats will have their hot, ball-hawking assassin at linebacker, a potential game-changing defensive back, and Moss' heir at the lead receiver spot.

Matthews Jr.'s fit here is almost too perfect. If anyone understands Matthews' intricacies, it's Belichick, who, of course, coached his dad at Cleveland.

From there, either early in the second or late in the first should the Pats feel the need, things could get spicy.

About a month ago, Belichick sent out the Pat White ripple, which the NFL media obviously took and ran with. The West Virginia quarterback/utility man might just be too long a stretch for the Pats, who've hit on one of three Round 2 receivers in Belichick's time here.

Anyone who watched Florida's Percy Harvin emaciate Oklahoma in the national championship game had to love the kid's toughness, versatility and blazing speed. Surely, Belichick has summoned old ally Urban Meyer for the inside on Harvin's reported non-football related transgressions. If the kid is a player, the Pats know it, and the silence emanating from Gillette Stadium on the subject is deafening.

Might the Pats two-step into the late first with a 34/47 package? Don't be shocked.

Harvin can't be another Jabar Gaffney or Reche Caldwell, much worse Chad Jackson — that is, yet another overblown, underproductive Florida receiver.

You stick Harvin in the slot with Moss, opposite Wes Welker and Joey Galloway, and Brady's knee might not matter. OK, that's a grotesque overstatement, but you can expect production that could mirror '07 and make you forget Ellis Hobbs' penchant for misplacing receivers 30 yards downfield.

Mayo, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year, paid even greater dividends than the most ardent Belichick backer could have sought. But he was a top 10 guy.

Belichick has four Day 1 shots. Expect him to again swing for the fences.