I love the Pats draft. Love it. And not just because I predicted four of the players they'd take, either. Initially I was a little worried as I watched them trade out of the first round. But they ended up getting some good players at 2nd and 3rd round prices.
The Patriots were in a little bit of a bind coming into the draft. They have several of their best players with contracts that expire in 2009, and not enough cap space to re-sign them all. I really wondered how they'd handle that. Of course Belichick had the answer. By trading out of the first round, they save cap space, and they dropped 2.1 million of cap in Ellis Hobbs. On top of that, they took some good developmental prospects on both lines, meaning that even if they can't come to terms with all their soon to be free agents, they'll have players in place to take over.
My thoughts on the picks:
Chung. Great pick at 34. He wouldn't have fallen much farther. Delmas came off the board at 33, and they were the two best safeties in the draft. The Pats don't have an immediate need at safety with Sanders and Merriweather, but safeties get hurt, so having 3 guys for 2 positions makes sense. Plus Chung is different than the other two in that he's a hitter -- a backfield enforcer, closer to Harrison than the other two safeties. The Pats need that element of fear in opposing receivers. Could also replace a LB in a 'big nickel' package.
Brace. The Pats liked him enough to move up and take him at 40. He's a pure 3-4 NT, which means he backs up Wilfork. Important, because Wilfork was the one guy on the defense they can't replace. Now they can. So if he gets hurt, they're covered. Plus they can play Brace and Wilfork side by side in the goal line package, making it very hard to run inside, which should help the red zone defense. And if Wilfork's contract situation isn't resolved, they have a fallback plan.
Butler. I'd have liked this pick at 34. I love it at 41. A pure athlete at corner who was the fastest CB at the combine. He may not start at the begining of the season, but he's going to see playing time either in the nickel or as an injury replacement. By next year he's the starter.
Vollmer. Odd pick this high -- I had the Pats taking him in the 4th round. But it's a gamble on greatness. Scarneccia is a great O-Line coach, and he sees something in this guy. If he works out, he could be the answer to the Pats RT situation. Probably starts as a back-up, but might work his way into starting by the end of the year. More likely next year.
Tate: Would have been a 1st round pick if he didn't get hurt and test positive for weed. So this is a gamble. But with Moss, Welker, and Galloway, the Pats can afford to gamble with a 3rd round pick. He might not even play in 2009 -- if his injury isn't healed, the Pats could stash him on PUP for 2010.
McKenzie. Great pick. He's going to play ILB for the pats. That means he's in the mix with Mayo, Bruschi and Guyton. I think he passes Guyton before game one and sees time in the three man rotation, then takes the starting job next year when Tedy retires. Pretty good guy to learn from, and playing next to last year's ROY isn't going to hurt either.
The Pats took two more O-Line prospects and two more D-Line prospects. This gives them a lot of guys who they can evaluate, develop, and plug in as back-ups. They don't need all of them to work out -- one or two would be great. They grabbed a long snapper, which nobody does in the draft, which means if he beats out Hodel for the job, the Pats save about $650,000 a year in cap space. Julian Edelman, who I guessed that the Pats would take in the 7th round, is a potential wildcat QB, kick returner, punt coverage gunner (he did it in college) and WR.
But what about OLB? Much was made by pundits ahead of the draft that the Pats needed a rush LB on the outside to improve their ability to get to the QB. I guess I let that influence me in my predictions, but in my heart I never really bought into it. Woods started last year when Thomas got hurt. They also have Shawn Crable who didn't play last year due to injury, and they signed Banta-Cain, who had 7 1/2 sacks the last time he played a season for the Pats. He was lost in SF, but there's hope that he'll return to form back in the Pats' system.
On top of the great crop of rookies they are bringing in, the Pats also gained two 2nd round picks in the 2010 draft. That means they are in position to be major players again next year, and based on this year Belichick has proven that when he has options, he'll make the most of them.