On Pro Football
As the 2010 NFL draft commences tonight, every team in the game has needs to quench.
Where are the New England Patriots' top priorities as they prepare to uncork a dozen selections over the next three days, starting with No. 22 overall tonight?
Let's look at the top 10. After the amazing accomplishments, three Super Bowl titles in four years plus a 16-0 regular season in 2007 that came up just one David Tyree miracle short of perfection, could you ever imagine a Bill Belichick Patriots team with 10 glaring needs?
Of course not. They've been that good, the franchise by which all others are judged since 2010. But even with Tom Brady back in the saddle, they remain vulnerable, the overall talent level a mere shadow of what it was from 2003-2007.
After unspectacular drafts from 2006-2008 — yielding just three full-time starters, a kicker and little else — 2009 showed promise with Sebastian Vollmer showing the potential to be a starting offensive tackle, Darius Butler seeing serious time as a rookie corner and Pat Chung impacting on special teams.
Still, there is little depth and the roster is showing its age in various spots.
Where does New England go? Only Belichick knows, and it depends on what players are around. But moreso than in years past, need is a definite factor and will be through the weekend.
So here we go:
1. Inside linebacker — More than anything, this defense needs a backbone. Like a catcher who can block balls and throw out runners, a quality run-stuffing monster, one who runs from sideline to sideline to make plays makes defense just a bit easier for every other player on the defense. Jerod Mayo may or may not be that guy. He showed signs of being there as a rookie and regressed last year. Belichick needs two inside guys anyway. Vince Wilfork, signed to a mega-deal this winter, is only as good as the guys cleaning up behind him.
2. Cover corner — Leigh Bodden is average at best, and unless Butler makes a mega-leap forward, this defense craves at least one more and possibly two reliable cover guys. When you tell me that Butler is that guy, I simply will ask: "Did Darelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha or Champ Bailey need a year of seasoning before stepping in? Of course not. They were stars when they hit the field in training camp. The Pats need one of those.
3. Outside linebacker — If the next Lawrence Taylor or Andre Tippett were in this draft class, it might be priority one. That doesn't exist. Clearly, this team has not successfully replaced Mike Vrabel. Tully Banta-Cain had a monster season, but please remember that half of his 10 sacks were against Buffalo. And watch his tepid attempts to set the edge in the run game. Nope, this team needs an impact guy out there, one that can compete on every down.
4. Wide receiver — Randy Moss, Torry Holt and David Patten aren't quite ready for the early-bird discount at Morrison's Cafeteria, but they are ancient in NFL years. Wes Welker's knee will be a question until his first serious cut is made. Julian Edelman enjoyed a legitimate rookie year. Please tell me he's spending his winter/spring days catching 400-500 balls a day so those bobbles, double-catches and drops can be eliminated. Either way, help is needed. Belichick is 1 for 3 in the second round, nailing Deion Branch and absorbing hits with Bethel Johnson and Chad Jackson. Time for another early-to-mid bid to find Tom Brady another friend.
5. Running back — The Laurence Maroney Era should have ended in August. Time for some new, young explosive blood on first down.
6. Third-down back — Kevin Faulk, coming up on his 12th year, turns 34 in June. Despite what he's shown the past couple seasons, he can't go on forever.
7. Tight end — Alge Crumpler carried my fantasy team ... in 2005. Who are Robert Myers and Robert Agnone? Yep, Brady needs help here, too.
8. Punter — I wonder what Josh Miller, the last reliable punter this team had at the position, is doing right now. Seriously, punter is a Day 3 priority of the highest level.
9. Dynamic specials team cover man — When is the last time the Pats had a gunner on punt coverage you feared? That answer was Tebucky Jones in 2002. Athletes, folks. You need athletes to fill out spots 43-45. Those athletes, again, come on Day 3.
10. Game-changing returner — Maybe this is a bit of luxury. Heck, Edelman can catch punts and Maroney is adequate lugging kicks out to the 25-30. But again, how about a threat in the kicking game. Where's that sleeper from the Mid-America Conference? Find him, land him and find a way to cash in on returns.
Of course, New England can't fill each of these holes in one draft. No team could. But hitting homers on two-to-three spots and nailing a couple more with solid selections could again propel this team back to the top of the AFC as early as this year.
Brady's healthy presence here shortens that leap back, but he needs some serious help right now.
Who goes tonight?
The Patriots own the 22nd pick overall in tonight's first round of the NFL draft, which kicks off at 7:30 on ESPN.
Hector Longo, The Eagle-Tribune's beat reporter, thinks that if the opportunity presents itself that New England's Bill Belichick might get involved earlier.
Keep your eyes on Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain, who many draftniks feel has top-10 potential. If he drops past the New York Giants at No. 15, it might get the Pats shuffling a bit.
Longo's top three choices for the newest Patriot tonight:
1. Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama — The phsycial, inside run-stuffer Bill Belichick's defense craves.
2. Jason Odrick, DT, Penn State — A true replacement at defensive end for Richard Seymour.
3. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma — It might cause a shudder to Pats fans, but the former Sooner is a star in the making.
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