DRAFT PREVIEW – NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

A look at the Patriots heading into the 2011 NFL Draft; New England has the 17th & 28th picks in the first round.

REVIEW OF 2010

Record – 14-2, at 1-1 after two games, the Patriots then won 5 in a row, lost once and came back and closed out the season with 8 straight victories.

Finish – first place in the AFC East, winning by 3 games over the New York Jets. It was the eighth division title for the Patriots in the last 10 years and the eighth time in the last decade where they won 10 or more games in a season.

Playoffs – after a week off, they lost to the Jets 28-21. The last time they won a post-season game was 2007, when they beat Jacksonville. It’s now been six full seasons since the Patriots won a Super Bowl.

OVERVIEW

The Patriots do not win championships any more, but they still win a lot of games. Last year it was 14 of them, but that did nothing to get them over the hump against the New York Jets in the playoffs.

Since they beat the Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, New England has made the playoffs five times and sports a 5-5 record in those games.

The problem of course has many roots, as there was the lightning in the bottle factor of everything coming together in the early 2000s. There’s the system as it’s set up in the NFL to create parity with the structured draft and scheduling. There has been the inability to hit the same type of home runs in the personnel game as they did a decade ago. Plus, guys like QB Tom Brady are getting older.

Bill Belichick continues to draft fairly well and he loves to load up on the draft picks and then wheel and deal them. He’ll be doing the same this year.

PARTICULARS

Offense – averaged 363.8 yards per game to rank No. 8 among NFL offenses last season. The Patriots scored 56 touchdowns with 37 of those coming through the passing game. Brady led the league with his 36 TD passes compared to just 4 INTs. He threw for 3,900 yards, completing 65.9 of his passes and a 111 passer rating. His favorite receiver was Wes Welker, with 86 catches for 848 yards and 7 TDs. Rookie TE Rob Gronkowski caught 10 TD passes. BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the Patriots in rushing with 1,008 yards on 229 carries and 13 TDs. In pass protection, they allowed 25 sacks and gave up the ball just 10 times on the season.

Defense – allowed an average of 366.5 yards per game and opponents scored 35 touchdowns against them. The Patriots ended the season with one of the league’s worst pass defenses, giving up an average of 258.5 yards per game and 25 TD passes. Overall, New England forced 38 turnovers and had 36 sacks. Rookie Devin McCourty led the team with seven interceptions and overall, the Patriots returned four of their 25 interceptions for scores. Mike Wright and LB Tully Banta-Cain each had 5 interceptions.

Special teams – K Stephen Gostkowski dealt with injuries and Shayne Graham was brought in to help out. Combined they were 22 of 25 on FGs. Rookie P Zoltan Mesko had a nice start to his career, averaging 43.2 yards a punt and the Patriots had a 38.4 net average. On returns, WR Julian Edelman averaged 15.3 yards on 21 punt returns with a 94-yard return to the end zone. WR Brandon Tate averaged 25.8 yards and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Kick coverage allowed a TD return.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive end. Two years ago, New England dealt its defensive leader All-Pro DE Richard Seymour to the Raiders. They got a nice package of draft picks in exchange, but they haven’t been able to replace Seymour in the lineup. In a draft with a lot of talented defensive linemen, their odds of finding that type of player to fill Seymour’s shoes is improved considerably.

2. Running back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead made up the two-headed running game of the Patriots, but neither one is a classic, every-down NFL back. Belichick has never been hung up on having a big name running in his offense, but this position needs an infusion of talent, whether big name or not.

3. Guard – After everything that’s happened between Logan Mankins and the Patriots, the bad blood situation that’s been created doesn’t make for an atmosphere of getting a contract done. If he’s out the door, they’ll need to replace him with a talented player. That’s going to have to be a draft pick.

FIVE-YEAR DRAFT HISTORY

The past two drafts have seen the Patriots select two dozen players as Belichick has been trading up, trading back, trading in four different directions it seems. Now whether all this movement allows for a better quality of choices, time will tell.

But in the last two years they have hit on some good ones, especially last year with CB Devin McCourty, DE Jermaine Cunningham and TE Aaron Hernandez.

Before the 2009-10 drafts, however the team struggled to draft well in 2006 to 2008. There were busts like first-round RB Laurence Maroney and second-round WR Chad Jackson.

2006 – This was not a particularly profitable draft as the only player still in the building is Gostkowski the kicker. RB Maroney was a long-term disappointment in the first round.

2007 – S Brandon Meriweather needed time but he eventually found his way into the starting lineup and he’s been a contributor. The rest of the draft produced nothing.

2008 – Scott Pioli’s last draft with the Patriots produced a very good one with first-rounder LB Jerod Mayo. Only one other draft choice from ’08 is still on the roster.

2009 – The Patriots ended up with 12 players and four choices in the second round. As they reached the playoffs last year, seven were on the active roster and eight were in the organization.

2010 – Think Belichick likes to wheel and deal? Last year the Patriots selected a dozen players and made trades involving 11 other picks.

PREDICTION

With two selections in the bottom half of the draft I would expect Belichick to be wheeling and dealing again. If he stays with pick No. 17, I think he go defense with someof those DE that might still be available, like Cmeron Heyward. He might also go offensive line, with a guy like Southern Cal’s Tyron Smith or a home grown player in Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo. THE PICK – Anthony Castonzo.

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