Football Thoughts Archive

Football Thoughts Archive

<< back to Football Thoughts Archive menu

The source for back issues of Football Thoughts.

For 2/8/2006

PATRIOTS NEEDS ANALYSIS - 2006

Last year in the summary of my needs analysis, I suggested that the Pats biggest needs were guard and tackle of the offensive side of the ball and inside linebacker, cornerback and safety on defense. In the draft, the Pats selected an offensive guard (Logan Mankins), a corner (Ellis Hobbs), an offensive tackle (Nick Kaczur), a safety (James Sanders) and a linebacker (Ryan Claridge). They then threw in a quarterback (Matt Cassel) and a tight end (Andy Stokes- Mr. Irrelevant) in the seventh round for good measure. I don't know what that means, but it's setting a high bar this time.

What follows is a position by position analysis of the Pats and where they might be looking during free agency and on draft day. This is a listing of those players who are under contract for the 2006 season and those who are restricted/exclusive rights free agents. Players who were on the active roster or injured reserve last year will be in regular type. Practice squadders for all or the majority of last year, late signers and street free agents are italicized. After each position, I list a number from zero to five describing the need at that position, with zero being no need to five being an area targeted for immediate action. An asterisk indicates a restricted free agent who is unsigned at the time of this writing. Players listed are as of the current roster on the Pats' Web site.

Key:

Need Meaning
0 Just looking for training camp bodies, unless a rash of injuries happen
1 Good starter and depth, but still space for someone on the roster
2 Starter is good, depth is untested
3 Questions about starter, or no depth at position
4 Position needs addition of a starting caliber player
5 Hole a starting position that requires immediate action

Quarterbacks
(Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Chris Redman, Todd Mortensen)

With Doug Flutie a free agent and possibly heading to retirement, this leaves the Pats with a Championship level starter and an untested, but talented backup. The question is whether the coaching staff feels Cassel is ready to take over at #2. If not, the search is on for quality veteran. However, if they feel Cassel is ready, there is a chance to do something interesting here, probably in the draft.

Position Need: 1 (Obviously, you need at least one more, if not two QBs. They certainly don't need a starter, though. Expect a look-see in the late rounds of the draft.)

Running Backs/Fullbacks
(Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk, Patrick Pass, Earl Charles)

I have decided to merge the running back and fullback positions, since the difference between the two in the Pats offense is not particularly great. This is a group that is looking a little shaky. Dillon has been hurt and the front office needs to decide if he is in decline or just had a bad season. Faulk missed a significant portion of the year, but bounced back to form and should be ready to remain the third-down and change of pace back. Patrick Pass fits well in his "ultraback" role. The Pats might also bring back Heath Evans, who might do well in the current offense, especially if he slims down. With the two-tight end base offense, the Pats need big, physical, one-cut runners who can break a tackle. Catching the ball out of the backfield and picking up the blitz are musts as well.

Position Need: 3 (The Pats need an heir-apparent to Dillon, in case the wheels start to fall off. I'm not particularly enamored of any of the free agents at RB for the Pats, so I'd expect a high or mid-round draft pick here.)

Wide Receivers
(Deion Branch, Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Bam Childress, John Stone, Jake Schifino, Rich Musinski)

Well now, I think it is fair to say the Pats might want to pick up a few more bodies at WR. With David Givens a free agent likely to seek top dollar and Troy Brown, Tim Dwight and Andre Davis also free to walk, there could be some big holes here. Branch continues to be a top-shelf performer, but Johnson has never developed the finer points of the game to get himself on the field as more than a kick returner and cover guy. Maybe the light is ready to go on- who knows. The Pats relish guys who run good routes, catch well, can block and play detail-oriented football. Now they have to go find some to put on the roster.

Position Need: 5 (Need a number 2 and number 3 receiver if the free agents leave. Lots of bodies to fill holes will be required.)

Tight Ends
(Ben Watson, Daniel Graham, Joel Jacobs)

The Pats might have the best two-deep tight end situation in the league. Christian Fauria is a free agent, though, and the team needs to see how tread he has left on the tires to determine if he'll be back, as he will be 35 next season. I also would not be surprised to see another team offer a high draft pick to "relieve" the Pats of Graham, who many, MANY teams would love as their starter.

Position Need: 1 (Have to find another player, if Fauria leaves- particularly a blocker.)

Offensive Tackle
(Matt Light, Nick Kaczur, Brandon Gorin, Wesley Britt, Jeff Roehl)

If Light comes back healthy, and Kaczur can seamlessly make the shift to the right side, this could be one of the top tackle combos in the league. If, on the other hand, Kaczur doesn't make the move well or Stephen Neal leaves, and the Pats choose to move Kaczur inside, then the team will likely look for some help here. Tom Ashworth is a free agent, and his health issues seem to continue to dog him. Gorin is a decent swing tackle, but a below-average starter and Britt is an interesting developmental project.

Position Need: 1 (Could go up with the factors listed above.)

Offensive Guard
(Logan Mankins, Russ Hochstein, Billy Yates, Ryan Krug)

The Pats' biggest priority in free agency should be getting Stephen Neal's signature on a long-term contract. He has developed into on of the best guards in space in the NFL and he truly excels on traps, pulls and screens, while also becoming an very good pass blocker. His leaving would create a real hole. If he stays, then this is an area of strength, with Neal and Mankins holding down the fort and Hochstein the first interior lineman off the bench.

Position Need: 3 (Neal's re-signing would make this drop quickly. Moving Kaczur inside would drop this and raise the need at tackle.)

Center
(Dan Koppen, Gene Mruczkowski*)

The key revolves around Koppen. If he's healthy, he's the guy. Hochstein has shown he can step in if necessary, making Mruczkowski a luxury.

Position Need: 1 (Much of this is predicated on if the team finds another starting guard, allowing Hochstein to backup at center as well.)

Defensive End
(Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Marquise Hill)

The only major issue here is re-signing Seymour. Hill needs to step it up- it's time.

Position Need: 0

Defensive Tackle
(Vince Wilfork, Dan Klecko*, Mike Wright, Santonio Thomas)

I would shudder to think of what would happen to the Pats' run defense if Wilfork ever missed any significant time. Seymour would probably have to switch over and have Klecko move to end. A big, physical presence on the nose should be a priority, though not a top one.

Position Need: 3 (I'd like to see a relatively high pick or a significant free agent here.)

Outside Linebacker
(Willie McGinest, Roosevelt Colvin, Chad Brown, Tully Banta-Cain*, Ryan Claridge)

Anybody think the Pats defense wouldn't miss a beat if McGinest or Colvin got injured? Didn't think so. Banta-Cain has shown himself to be a good special-teamer and spot pass rusher, but he gets run over too often against the run. Matt Chatham is a free agent. Chad Brown is just slow. Claridge is a guy that impressed me at UNLV, I think he might have a chance, if he's healthy. Of course, they could always move Vrabel back outside as needed.

Position Need: 2 (McGinest is not going to play forever. There needs to be a next in line. Is Claridge the guy? That remains to be seen.)

Inside Linebacker
(Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Monty Beisel, Larry Izzo, Eric Alexander)

This isn't a bad group, though some more depth and youth would help. Maybe the Pats will grab someone on the outside and move Claridge inside.

Position Need: 2 (Another starting caliber player would offer Vrabel a chance to move back outside.)

Cornerback
(Ellis Hobbs, Duane Starks, Tyrone Poole, Asante Samuel*, Randall Gay, Antwain Spann)

This position is almost impossible to predict without knowing the health conditions of Starks, Poole and Gay. If they all come back healthy and at the top of their games, this position is set. My guess is that's not likely to happen. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Starks or Poole were cut. That means that at least another corner or two is in order.

Position Need: 3 (If the Pats can find another Ellis Hobbs in the draft, they sure would be happy.)

Safety
(Eugene Wilson, Rodney Harrison, James Sanders, Guss Scott, Raymond Ventrone)

I think it's fair to say that Harrison's knee presents a big question mark looking forward at this position. Wilson's play dropped off noticeably after Harrison's injury, but he found a way to turn it up as the year went on. Sanders is a talent on the rise, but needs time and reps. Scott has never given me a lot of reason to get excited. Artrell Hawkins, a converted corner, is a free agent.

Position Need: 3 (This could go higher, but I refuse to bet against Harrison. He's too much of a competitor. Sanders has a real chance to be a player as well.)

Punter
(Josh Miller)

No reason to change what's not broken. There will be another body in camp, though.

Position Need: 1

Kicker
(None)

Other needs might get in the way of franchising Vinatieri again. This is one to watch.

Position Need: 5

Long Snapper
(Lonnie Paxton)

All set.

Position Need: 1 (Need a second snapper in camp.)

Kick/Punt returners
(B. Johnson, Faulk, Pass, Hobbs)

Losing both Dwight and Brown would create a hole on punts.

Position Need: 2

Coaching

Obviously, this is not a positional need. The Pats have lost Eric Mangini to the Jets and Dean Pees is stepping in at defensive coordinator. Josh McDaniels is picking up the title of offensive coordinator that he seemed to hold de facto this past year. Overall, the results speak for themselves, but if I'm Belichick, I have got to be asking what is going on with his strength and conditioning staff. The spate of injuries over the past two years have been overwhelming. Is it merely coincidental? I don't know, but I'd be asking.

SUMMARY

The top needs on offense are finding a running back, getting some receivers and signing Stephen Neal to a long-term deal. On defense, some corners, a safety and backup nose tackle are needed, and maybe a linebacker or two. Then, we need to figure out what we're doing with a kicker; hopefully without franchising Vinatieri- we may need that for Neal. There are certainly a number of needs, but the team still has a strong core. Belichick and Pioli have a clear vision, and they are following it.

POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS

Looking through a list of free agents, I try to play Pats GM for a moment and think about which of these guys might fit the Pats system. The following list is targeted to the Pats need and doesn't include the Pats own free agents (whom the Pats would already have a good feel of the value to the team). I also know enough not to look at the top-tier free agents or behavioral problems, whom the Pats typically avoid.

RB
Verron Haynes
Jonathan Wells
Tony Fisher
Rock Cartwright
Najeh Davenport
Maurice Morris
(None of these guys get me too excited, though Davenport and Cartwright are somewhat intriguing.)

WR
Antwaan Randle-El
Quincy Morgan
Corey Bradford
Jabar Gaffney
Joe Jurevicius
Kevin Johnson
(This is a mixed bag. There is some talent here, particularly with the Steelers receivers. Worth some tire-kicking.)

OG
Jonathan Goodwin
Toniu Fonoti
Terrence Metcalf
Tutan Reyes
(Nobody I would rather have than Stephen Neal, but some talent here, particulary Fonoti and Metcalf.)

DT
Ron Edwards
James Reed
Ma'ake Kemoeatu
Lional Dalton
(Just looking for a backup here, no reason to break the bank.)

LB
Ben Leber
Clint Kriewaldt
Rob Morris
DeLawrence Grant
Scott Fujita
Eric Ogbogu
Keith Newman
Nick Greisen
Raonall Smith
Brandon Moore
Derek Smith
(A lot of names out there. Some are former starters who might flourish in the right situation- again, not looking for a starter here, unless McGinest or Colvin is let go for salary cap reasons, which is unlikely.)

CB
Will Allen
Kenny Wright
Brian Williams
Dante Wesley
Fakhir Brown
Juran Bolden
(Some of these guy would come with a bigger price tag, but they could solidify the position.)

S
Tank Williams
Ifeanyi Ohalete
Chad Williams
Will Demps
Deke Cooper
Corey Chavous
(There might be some candidates worth exploring here. Decent tire-kicking group.)

POSSIBLE DRAFT TARGETS

I watch a lot of college football. I don't think it makes me a bad person. Actually, I continue to watch just on the off chance my alma mater (Vanderbilt) might get to a bowl game. (Folks, if you thought Red Sox fans were long suffering...) Actually, I'm joking, I just like watching college ball. Anyhow, here are some folks the Pats might consider.

QB

Brad Smith, Missouri: Again, this is predicated around the Patriots feeling comfortable with Matt Cassel as the backup. If so, this is an opportunity to go in a different direction with the #3. In this case, Smith is a versatile, athletic passer with a pretty good pace (velocity) on his passes. From all accounts, Smith is a hard-working, dedicated player who wants to get better and has the respect of his teammates. He played in a wide-open, multiple receiver set and would need time to develop more dropback skills and mechanics and needs to read defenses better. However, he could contribute in other areas (special teams, wide receiver) while he learned these skills. He's got some Kordell Stewart in him and is a tremendous athlete.

Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M: McNeal brings much of the same skill set as Smith, but is a little faster and might have an even stronger arm. However, he has been described as self-centered and moody, which makes me question whether he would be a distraction if he had to be a #3 QB and how willing he would be to help out in other areas while waiting to get his shot. The talent is certainly there, though.

Erik Meyer, Eastern Washington: I will admit that I've only seen Meyer play a few times, as EWU doesn't make it on TV all that often. What I have seen has impressed the hell out of me, though. This guy has a cannon of an arm, good accuracy and a really good feel for the game. It's a huge jump from a I-AA school to the NFL and he's going to need some time. The Pats could be a team that could take that gamble.

RB

Mike Bell, Arizona: The Pats look like they will likely go with a two-tight end base offense, which means that you aren't going to have a lead blocker in most cases. This means you need someone who can break a tackle and make a sharp cut. While the easy choice would be LenDale White from USC, he's likely to be gone when the Pats pick in round 1 (#21) and might have some character issues. This leaves Bell, who has pretty good size and was productive at Arizona, despite having poor offensive line play and below average production at QB. Bell has decent size and looks like he could add another 10-15 pounds, catches the ball well and has a very smooth, gliding running style. He's not a burner, nor is he overpowering, but I think he can be a pretty good back in the NFL. He should be a mid-round pick and could bring real value.

Cedric Humes, Virginia Tech: I'm not really in love with Humes, but there just aren't that many big backs in this draft. Humes is a power runner who possesses a pretty good first burst with the ball and can break some tackles. However, he is not much of a factor in the passing game, either as a receiver or a blocker, and takes too many big hits.

J.R. Lemon, Stanford: Yeah, I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to find big backs, especially a guy who can't seem to stay healthy. When he is healthy, he has been pretty productive and looks excellent at times. It's just that those times are too far apart.

WR

David Anderson, Colorado State: Goodness, I love to watch this guy play. I'm not sure whether to call him a smaller version of Hines Ward or a faster version of Troy Brown. Either way, it is a lot of fun to watch a guy who competes as hard as Anderson. He catches everything thrown his way, runs great routes and get separation, goes over the middle of the field fearlessly and blocks his butt off. He'll probably never lead the league in receiving, but he's is going to leave it on the field every game and will win the respect of his teammates and coaches. I'd love to see the Pats use a mid-rounder on him.

Ben Obamanu, Auburn: Imagine a slightly bigger version of David Givens coming out of Notre Dame, and you will understand Obamanu. He does the little things that coaches love and he's still a pretty good, though not great athlete. He could be very productive in the Pats' offense and would be a valuable middle-round pick.

Ed Hinkel, Iowa: I'd put him here for no other reason that the guy seems to come back from or play through some serious injuries. He's tougher than leather, has great hands, has good skills and could be a valuable add as a late-round pick or priority free agent.

TE

Cooper Wallace, Auburn: You say you want a complementary blocking tight end who can catch? Well, they are a dying breed in college football, but Wallace is here to show that they are not extinct. If the Pats want a guy to step in replace Fauria, Wallace would be a good mid-rounder.

Troy Bienemann, Washington State: Bienemann is similar to Wallace in style and athleticism, but not as good as blocker with his technique. He needs to play stronger as a pure inline blocker. He also brings to the table the ability to deep snap, and you know how Belichick likes versatile players.

Jeff King, Virgina Tech: See the description above of Wallace and make it slightly less athletic, and you have King.

OG

Fred Matua, USC: I will say again that I hope this not necessary as the Pats re-sign Stephen Neal. However, I do certainly enjoy watching Matua play. I thought he was the most consistent of all of the Trojans' linemen this year. He's a great inline run blocker and his pass blocking has improved every year. My guess, though, is that the secret is out and he'll go in the top two rounds.

Mark Setterstrom, Minnesota: I'm not sure he's strong enough to get on the field at the NFL level at this point. He needs to add lower body strength in a big way. However, he is pretty athletic and his technique is solid. He's probably a year in the weight room away for most teams except the Broncos or maybe the Falcons, but has a good upside.

DT

Babatunde Oshinowo, Stanford: He's your basic fireplug two-gap nose tackle. He has size, strength and some quickness and he can hold his water and often requires a double-team. He has been a disruptive force when left one-on-one. He'd be a good pick up in the 3rd round, if he falls that far. He reminds me at times like Casey Hampton of the Steelers.

Johnny Jolly, Texas A&M: Jolly is another run-stuffing two-gap nose tackle. He's physical, strong and has an upside. I'd like to see a little more consistency, but he'd be a good mid-round pick. Plus, he's got an all-league name.

Montavious Stanley, Louisville: Stanley is a huge, powerful, pocket collapsing nose tackle type (though he played over the guard in Louisville's scheme). His technique is rough, but he has the physical gifts to excel. At times, he looks a little like Shaun Rogers and others like a marginal player. He's a risk/reward mid-rounder.

OLB

Ray Edwards, Purdue: Last year, I would have said he was another potential Willie McGinest. However, teams got wise to Edwards and started chipping him at the line and moving the tight end his way. He still needs to do a better job of fighting through blockers, but he has a good rip move and a decent swim move to complement his speed rush. Even though he has good size, he needs to get stronger in the lower body.

Stanley McClover, Auburn: This guy is a pure speed rusher in the mold of Jason Taylor coming into the league. His burst off the line is explosive and he seems to time the snaps very well. He needs a lot of work as a 3-4 outside 'backer, but he has physical tools that you cannot teach.

Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech: Henderson is a very athletic, quick defensive end who can get upfield and probably play over and control a tight end. He's a very intriguing prospect, but one who has had trouble staying healthy- thus, he's probably perfect for the Pats (OK, I'm joking!). He could be a mid-round steal.

ILB

Kai Parham, Virginia: As much as I liked watching David Anderson on offense is as much as I liked watching Parham. He has excellent size, very good playing speed and instincts and he comes out of Al Groh's system at Virginia, which has a lot of similarities to the Pats' D. He can run with backs and tight ends, blitz effectively and at times has shown he can take on linemen. Parham obviously watches a lot of film and knows how to attack an offense. He competes and has a passion for the game. He's probably going to go in the 2nd round, so the Pats would have to make a serious commitment to get him.

Anthony Schlegel, Ohio State: Schlegel is a vestige of a dying breed of run-stuffing linebackers who can take on a guard in a 3-4 defense. He reminds you of Ted Johnson, though he not as athletic. Schlegel transferred to Ohio State from Air Force and has a military, all-business feel about his game. If he stays healthy, he will find a way to stay in the league for a number of years.

Spencer Havner, UCLA: Havner is a playmaker. He's one of those guys doesn't seem to have many skills that stand out, but who just seems to be in on a ton of plays. He has great intangibles and has always been a standout special teamer. There is value here, just needs to find a good home.

CB

Cedric Griffin, Texas: Griffin is a very athletic cover corner who could fit the Pats' coverage style. He has excellent ball skills and reads routes well. He's not particularly physical in run support, which is something the Pats demand. I seem to remember him being arrested a few years ago, so there is a character flag, but I don't believe it was a huge matter as was, say, Georgia's DeMario Minter's drug arrest a few years back, which likely would take him off the Pats' board.

Gerrick McPhearson, Maryland: He's a Pats' legacy, with his dad (also Gerrick) having played defensive back (all his Maryland bio says) after playing his college ball at Boston College. Gerrick the younger's bio also says he ran a 9.9 anchor leg for Maryland's track team- folks, that's fast. McPhearson is a physical, fast, athletic corner who loves contact and will stick the run. His ball skills and diagnosis ability needs to improve, but he's never been a full-time football player and he has a chance to be a top corner in the right system. He could be the next mid-round corner steal for the Pats.

Darrell Hunter, Miami (Ohio): Hunter is a stocky, physical corner who does have a closing burst to break on the ball. He also likes to hit, but his tackling form needs some work. He has pretty good ball skills, but tends to bite on some double moves. He's another guy who could be a mid-round hit.

Antonio Malone, Toledo: Who'd have thought I'd have two MAC corners? Malone is smaller than the other guys here, but just seems to make a lot of plays. He has good recovery speed and has a knack for timing his hands to break up passes, like Ellis Hobbs. He tries hard against the run, but gets run over at times. He's definitely worth looking at in the late rounds.

S

Darrell Brooks, Arizona: The Pats ask their safeties to do a lot, from covering a deep half to coming up to support the run to occasionally playing one-on-one with a wideout. Brooks a jack-of-all-trades type safety who does everything pretty well, but doesn't excel in any one area. He could play either safety position and has good instincts and field awareness. He would be a fairly safe mid-round pick.

Alan Zamaitis, Penn State: Zamaitis is a corner who, to my eyes, projects to safety in the NFL. He has very good ball skills and isn't afraid to step up against the run, though his tackling is not the best. He made a number of big plays for the Nittany Lions this year in their conference-winning season and probably won some games for them.

Marcus Demps, San Diego State: If the name Demps and San Diego State seem familiar, it is because his brother Will, who starts at safety for the Ravens, was a standout there a few years back. Marcus might be better than his brother, as he is a more aggressive run supporter and is a little more physical. He has played both corner and safety for the Aztecs and has pretty good range. He has a chance to be a good player in the NFL with some good coaching.