On Pro Football
FOXBORO — What kind of New England Patriots fan are you?
Do you or yours wear the "Lady Brady," football's version of the pink hat?
Answer affirmative to that, and this weekend is just another welcomed invitation to spring. You're immersed in the glow of that Opening Day rendition of "Sweet Caroline." Football remains eons away. Enjoy Jacoby Ellsbury and the repeated beatings inflicted on the Baltimore Orioles. See you in September.
True die-hard football fans struggle with insomnia this week. You can't get to bed without one last Google for the latest mock draft update.
The Pats own the seventh pick late tomorrow afternoon when this weekend's NFL Draft commences. The draft is the first major step to rehabilitating that pit in your stomach left from that ugliest of ugly first Sunday in February loss to the Giants.
Bill Belichick and Co. held serve through the early free-agent signing period. Only the expected loss of Asante Samuel affects their status atop the AFC.
The Patriots could draft the second coming of Trevor Matich with that pick tomorrow, and they'd still be the team to beat in the NFL. But this draft matters, and true Pats fans know it.
Belichick's roster, the envy of 31 other pro franchises, enters this draft in a critical state — not for this year, or even 2009, but for the future of this dynasty.
Tom Brady aside, New England's star power is waning.
Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Randy Moss ... the Patriots stars, their true impact performers, are old and running out of snaps.
Brady is, was and will be a superstar, currently in his prime with at least five more years to reap the benefits of greatness. He is alone in that stature, among the young.
Perhaps that's why New England's No. 7 pick in Round 1, obtained via trade during last year's draft from San Francisco, looms so boldly as the 2008 draft approaches.
Pats personnel man Scott Pioli has been impeccably consistent in his drafts. New England locates and picks players. Take a look at their No. 1s since taking over:
r Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork on the defensive line.
r Tight ends Ben Watson and Daniel Graham.
r Running back Laurence Maroney.
r Guard Logan Mankins.
All are performers in the top half of the league at their position. And none of them, not Maroney nor Watson, and are game-changers.
The time has come for Belichick to pull the trigger on a gamble. Take the high risk/high reward move.
Jake Long is gone, signed this week by the Dolphins at No. 1. No mega left-tackle is to be had here.
And as attractive as USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis might be, he's not a 15-sack a year man. He's a Richard Seymour in Trojan clothing. Hey, that's not a knock, it's a compliment, but it's not what the Patriots should be looking for.
The Patriots have to find an athlete, a big-play guy. Those usually come in two forms, either at the offensive skill positions or on defense, at outside linebacker, corner or safety.
If those last three spots sound familiar, they are, of course, New England's three giant needs.
When is the last time a Patriot dominated on the edge against a decent, non AFC East opponent?
Vrabel in Super Bowl XXXIX? The Ohio Stater will be 33 in August and is now known a lot more for his savvy than his skills.
Samuel might have been the closest thing the Pats had to an impact youngster on defense. He's a Philadelphia Eagle now, a very rich Eagle.
But is Troy's Leodis McKelvin the next Ty Law or a return to Chris Canty?
Regardless, Belichick has to take a shot. Be it an edge rusher or secondary defender, the coach has to make a move he often disdains.
The right choice extends this amazing Patriots run. And for the true Pats fan, it begins to make that February pain start to go away.
Lucky 7 ... Sometimes
Here's a look at the last 10 players chosen with the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft. New England owns that pick Saturday, thanks to a shrewd trade with the San Francisco 49ers last April.
2007%Adrian Peterson%RB%Oklahoma%Minnesota%NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
2006%Michael Huff%DB%Texas%Oakland%One of the AFC's fine young safeties.
2005%Troy Williamson%WR%South Carolina%Minnesota%22 starts in three years, looking like huge bust.
2004%Roy Williams%WR%Texas%Detroit%Averaging 61 catches, 913 yards and a 7 TDs a year, with some of the worst QB play ever.
2003%Byron Leftwich%QB%Marshall%Jacksonville%Axed by Jags, will try again in Atlanta, never lived up to the hype.
2002%Bryant McKinnie%OT%Miami%Minnesota%One of game's best left tackles.
2001%Andre Carter%DE%California%San Francisco%Fine career in two cities. Has 48.5 career sacks.
2000%Thomas Jones%RB%Virginia%Arizona%Journeyman, struggled early, three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
1999%Champ Bailey%CB%Georgia%Washington%Now a Bronco, one of the game's elite corners.
1998%Kyle Turley%OT%San Diego St.%New Orleans%Eccentric but serviceable tackle