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Second-guessing Bill's picks

Three primary storylines have emerged from emailers to the Patriots' mailbag following the 2013 NFL draft.

* Is there any indication that the defense will be better?

* Excitement with the turnover at receiver and intrigue as to how it will play out.

* Questions over the strategy of trading down in the draft.

We'll cover those topics, and more, as we look forward to covering the team's rookie minicamp on Friday and Saturday at Gillette Stadium (closed to the public).

Q. Hi Mike, once again the focus in the draft was on defensive picks. What is there about the 2013 group that says their college upside has a realistic chance of translating such to be able to fix these problems presently and in the future? -- Jake M. (Vancouver)

A. Jake, the Patriots have devoted significant draft capital over the past two years to the defense as 11 of 14 draft picks were defenders. If we go back a couple more years, you also have high picks in 2011 (cornerback Ras-I Dowling was essentially a first-rounder at 33rd overall) and 2010 (cornerback Devin McCourty in the first round and linebackers Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes in the second). Here's the bottom-line thought: If the Patriots' defense doesn't turn a more decisive corner, and we're seeing some of the same struggles in 2013 as we've seen in recent years, it will be a big disappointment. Some hard questions would have to be asked. Specific to this year's group, linebacker Jamie Collins has unique athleticism and cornerback Logan Ryan is a tough, physical player who should help on special teams and in sub packages, while possibly rising up the depth chart in future years.

Q. Mike, with another mediocre draft, is there any hope that Ras-I Dowling or Jake Bequette will emerge this year? -- Paul (Watertown)

A. Paul, time will tell if the Patriots' draft is indeed mediocre. It's always tough to tell a few days after the fact, especially when a team trades down like the Patriots did. One thing I've noticed over the years is that when a team trades up and goes to get a player, it almost always results in rave reviews. Contrary to that, when a team trades down, it seldom does. Maybe the best example of that was 2010 for the Patriots. They passed on the big-sizzle pick in receiver Dez Bryant, trading down twice, and ended up with draft hits including defensive back Devin McCourty, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and punter Zoltan Mesko. That's very good. To the contrary, the trade down in 2009 was not. As for Dowling and Bequette, I think Dowling is in the same spot as Terrence Wheatley from the 2010 season -- it's a make-or-break year and the team has to approach it in the sense that anything it gets from him is a bonus. That's a reflection that it hasn't worked out as planned. As for Bequette, I give him a little more rope because it's only his second year. But it's hard to say with any certainty that he will be a difference-maker for them. The early returns are concerning. Just going to have to wait and see.

Q. Mike, now that the draft is over, where do you think Armond Armstead would have been picked if he was available? In the late 20s, like Datone Jones and Sylvester Williams? Or, maybe the 40s with Tank Carradine, Kawann Short and Johnathan Hankins? In either case, he would have been higher than the Patriots' first pick. -- Rich M. (Derry, N.H.)

A. Rich, the medical issue (heart) might have affected his status, but there is no telling that for sure (Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden went 12th and Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei went 14th, and both had medical issues from the past). I'll take a stab at it and say second to third round for Armstead had he come out this year. He's one of the players I'm most interested to watch this year, specifically with his ability to penetrate from an interior position and disrupt the quarterback.

Q. I know it is still early in his career to judge, but was Tavon Wilson worthy of a second-round pick in your opinion? This will be a big year for him to prove his worth. -- Ashley (Worcester, Mass.)

A. Ashley, any team picking 48th overall wants to land a starter at that spot, and Wilson is not there yet. So while I think it's early to judge one way or the other, if a decision had to be made at this time, I'd say no. It's a good contrast of how every year is different. Wilson was the Patriots' third draft pick in 2012 at No. 48. This year, linebacker Jamie Collins was the team's first draft pick at No. 52. I think it would be a disappointment if Collins' first-year contributions weren't greater than Wilson's from 2012.

Q. Hi Mike. I would have felt a lot better about the WR position if they had signed Da'rick Rogers as an undrafted free agent. He was rated a first-round talent and watching tape he is that. I know he has off-field issues but he should have been a risk worth taking. I can't believe he would choose the Bills if the Pats wanted him. Is it purely a case of the team trying to avoid locker room trouble or do they think they have enough at WR? -- Jay N. (Mercer Island, Wash.)

A. Jay, I don't know how aggressively the Patriots pursued Rogers, but if I had to guess I'd say the off-field stuff was a factor for them. At a position that suddenly has a much younger look than it previously did, I would imagine the club was selective in what type of influential personality it brought into the mix. Furthermore, the Bills had brought Rogers in for a pre-draft visit, and sometimes that type of aggressive approach can resonate with a player when deciding on where to sign.

Q. Hi Mike, I was very pleased to see the double dip at WR during the draft as it was something I had hoped would happen prior. What gives me confidence that these moves will work was less about numbers, even though they seem more than acceptable, but what both players said after being drafted. During conference calls with media, both players described playing at various positions and varying their routes in line with coverage faced in terms of scheme and personnel. For me, these are prerequisites for this offense both in gaining the trust of Brady and having productive careers, unlike many other WRs who land in Foxborough. I'm hopeful that one if not both players can have an impact this year -- or at least next year -- and offer something different than the other players currently on the roster. Thoughts, Mike? -- Marc (London)

A. Marc, one of the interesting parts of the 2013 Patriots draft was the dynamic between filling the receiver spot while also balancing the lingering defensive questions surrounding the team. I was most intrigued by the receiver position because it was pretty clear to me that the club was headed in that direction, and based on their history drafting and developing at the position, it was a compelling storyline. But every time I wrote about receivers, it seemed as if it was received by some that it was a mistake because defense is the real issue. I think both viewpoints are correct, which reflects how building a team isn't black and white. I love the double-dip at receiver. I think Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce have a chance. It's a great challenge to the coaches and quarterback Tom Brady and I think it will invigorate them.

Q. Hi Mike, much has been said about the Patriots' inability to cultivate young WRs and one of the theories is that Brady is such a perfectionist when it comes to running the right play/route that there is little room for the growing pains that come with a young receiver. One storyline that may come into play this offseason is that, aside from Julian Edelman, all of Brady's WR targets are new to the system and will all go through some form of growing pains. This will, in a way, force Brady's hand (literally and figuratively) to throw more balls in their direction while also necessitating more patience from the HOF QB. It is clear they can't win by only throwing to Gronk and Hernandez. I have a good feeling that one of the two WRs the Pats drafted (if not both) will pan out because Brady will be much more patient than usual. -- Tron (Waltham, Mass.)

A.
Great point, Tron. I think a situation like this can stimulate a 35-year-old quarterback, putting him out of his comfort zone a bit. That's good. I also think it will test his patience, which is also good. It's another layer as to why the receiver spot is one of the most intriguing on the team from this view.

Q. Mike, I woke up on Saturday morning, checked the computer, and got really excited about the second- and third-round picks. Love trading down, love the focus on defense. Then, suddenly, names like Shawn Crable, Tyrone MacKenzie, Darius Butler ... popped into my mind, and I started feeling sick to my stomach. Regardless of how excited people may be at this point about the draft, the sad reality is the Pats will be lucky if half of their top four players actually make real contributions to the team, and the odds are that at least one of those top four players will be a complete bust. But, the good news is that, with four picks in the second and third round (as compared with the two total picks in those rounds that they started with), the Pats have increased their chances for success. -- Jeff (Arlington, Va.)

A. Jeff, I think you've hit a good balance here. The more swings you get at the plate, the better chance you have of getting a hit. At the same time, when you trade out of the first round, statistics show that you lessen your chances of getting a difference-maker (they dropped from 29 to 52). I'd bring up the Ravens as a comparison. Few executives have been praised as much as Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome of late and look at their drafts over the last couple of years. He traded out of the first round last year and his top four picks look pretty solid right now -- defensive end/outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw (second round), offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele (second round), running back Bernard Pierce (third round) and center Gino Gradkowski (fourth round). That's what the Patriots are looking for this year. But then look at the Ravens' 2010 draft, in which they also traded out of the first round and ended up with outside linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive tackle Terrence Cody as their top picks, in the second round, and it's not so good. It's a nice reminder that even those perceived as the best personnel men in the NFL don't get it right all the time.

Q. Hey Mike, as I watched the Patriots' 2013 draft unfold on ESPN my thoughts were this was a replay of 2009. Bill Belichick trades out of the first round to acquire more value picks passing on higher rated players at need positions. He drafts a corner and safety two players from his back yard. We know how well this did not work out in 2009. Please tell me this is not a redux. -- Ben (Grass Lake, Mich.)

A. Ben, I heard a lot of that from Patriots followers as well, that this draft had shades of 2009 to it. Only time will tell. What I will say is that when you look at the players selected from 29 to 52, which is what the Patriots dropped in their trade, these are the prospects that I think would have been the best fits for them: Florida safety Matt Elam, Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine, Southern Cal receiver Robert Woods and Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks. I can't say with certainty that any of those players will be decisively better than Southern Mississippi linebacker Jamie Collins, which is why I feel a little differently about this draft than 2009, but time will tell. I think the level of quality was about the same from pick 29 to 52.

Q. Hey Mike, I know you were rooting for Markus Wheaton as he would put less strain on your neck during interviews, but I for one am glad that we got a bigger receiver in Aaron Dobson. Throwing the ball up high where a tall receiver can catch it and the cornerback can't is a strategy that is catching on in the NFL and I'm sure Tom Brady will excel at it. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem like we have any rookie receivers who are safe bets to be ready to start in the NFL in September. How would you rate the chances that the Pats still add some veteran WRs during the offseason? I'm thinking Donte' Stallworth, Deion Branch or even Brandon Lloyd (personally I would love to have Lloyd back. I don't know about the locker room, but I thought he did fit on the field). -- Michael (Cologne, Germany)

A. Michael, I think Stallworth and Branch could always come back at some point, but right now I think those rookies need every repetition they can get. Every football thrown in the direction of Branch or Stallworth (when you already know what they can do) is one less chance for development for the young guys. So while I think a re-signing is possible down the line, I'd be surprised if we see it at this point. As for Wheaton, I think the Patriots had him on their radar as well, but the board just fell a certain way for them. Hard to argue with Dobson from a size perspective and bringing something a little bit different than what is presently on the roster. I think they also would have considered Wheaton with their next pick, in the third round, had he been there.

Q. Mike, how on earth can you say "part of Belichick's greatness is going outside group-think" and cite Tavon Wilson as an example of why this is a good thing? If you want to convince me that drafting the Rutgers backfield is genius, you will have to do a lot better than cite Tavon Wilson as an example of Belichick's personnel prowess. If any other GM gambled and failed as much as Belichick does at drafting, they would be fired. Belichick the GM is fortunate enough to have Belichick the coach to bail him out. -- Dan (Boston)

A.
Dan, that is not the context in which those remarks were intended to be made regarding Belichick's "greatness." The point was that Belichick isn't afraid to stand on his own and go against the grain, and that's part of what makes him great. In my opinion, there are many in the NFL who are afraid to make the bold, unpopular decision because it could cost them their job or create unwanted headaches. Belichick seldom, if ever, makes a decision based on that thinking and I respect that. At the same time, I'm not defending draft picks like Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon. In fact, I was actually questioning the pick of Harmon in the piece you mentioned.

Q. If Belichick likes former Greg Schiano players so much, you would think Schiano would like them too. Secondary help was listed as a primary need for the Jaguars going into the draft. Do you think one of the factors that Duron Harmon was picked so early was a concern that the Jaguars might have taken him before the Pats' seventh-round picks? If you really like the player, it does seem like a long time to wait from the late third/early fourth to the seventh round. -- Vincent (Atlanta)

A. Vincent, I think Schiano does like his former players; it's just a matter of where to take them. On Harmon, just a curious pick all around for the Patriots based on the handful of scouts/personnel men I've spoken with. Most had Harmon as a late-round, free-agent type. As for the Jaguars or other teams like Schiano's Buccaneers eyeing Harmon, I think part of the Patriots' success is that they don't fall in love with one player and they show discipline in the drafting process. I'm not sure what Bill Belichick was thinking with this pick, but like the others, we'll give it a chance to play out before panning it. The early indication is that Belichick sees something in Harmon that many other teams -- and perhaps his own scouts -- did not.

Q. Mike, are we now better able to access the Emmanuel Sanders courtship and conclude that if the Pats had upped the offer a little bit they would have landed him, lost the third-round pick they used on Harmon, drafted the kid later anyway and saved either of their WR selections for more help elsewhere? Seems post-draft like the better route to have taken, no? -- Dean (East Providence, R.I.)

A. Dean, that's the way it turned out -- Sanders for Harmon/help elsewhere. We can't guarantee that they could have drafted Harmon later in this scenario, but even if they lost out on him, there were other good players. Strange one.

Q. Every year it seems that the Patriots have an under-the-radar type of selection. Do you get the sense that the discrepancy is with the media's mock drafts versus the real draft boards used by teams (in other words, that other teams rate the same players highly but the media missed it) or is it that Bill's view is really different from other teams' view of players? Hard to know this for sure, I understand, just looking for your best guess. -- Alex (Wakefield, Mass.)

A. Alex, my best guess is that it's Bill Belichick looking at things differently from most teams. Part of that opinion is based on talking with people from other teams. In the case of Harmon, I also wouldn't be surprised if Belichick viewed things differently from many on his own staff, but as the personnel chief, that's his right. Knowing that Belichick stresses the motto "do your job" and everyone should know/execute their clearly defined role, I just wonder if anyone in the room stops Belichick before making a pick like Tavon Wilson or Duron Harmon and says, "Bill, we could probably get this guy a little later and get some better value elsewhere." The Harmon pick was a real outlier, and with the limited information I have, comes across as something that would have been done unilaterally more than as a consensus.

Q. When, other than Sebastian Vollmer, has Bill Belichick hit on these second- and third-round reaches that all the draft gurus pan? Great that he sticks to his guns, but his record seems abysmal in these particular moments. -- Dave (Rockport, Mass.)

A. Dave, I'd put Rob Gronkowski (second round, 2010) on the list. Pretty good player.

Q. With Tim Tebow being released, and the Patriots' connections with Tebow (Josh McDaniels formerly drafted him), do you think New England will show interest? -- Mark (lady Lake, Fla.)

A.
Mark, nothing would surprise me when it comes to the Patriots and Tebow. Check out our ESPNBoston.com blog entry on the topic.

Q. Mike, saw footage of the Patriots' "war room" in the first round. Looked like less people in there than the usual war rooms I have seen across the NFL. Can you tell us who is usually in the war room for the Patriots? Thanks. -- Jay (Beirut, Lebanon)

A. Jay, loved that footage. The Patriots have one of the smallest draft rooms in the NFL, and it includes head coach Bill Belichick, his assistant, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, football research director Ernie Adams, director of college scouting Jon Robinson, assistant director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort, owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft. There might be a few others in there, but that's about as small as it gets.

Q. Any thoughts on T.J. Moe, the free agent out of Missouri? -- Pete (Oak Bluffs, Mass.)

A. Pete, it looks like Moe will be one of the Patriots' rookie free-agent signings, although nothing is official just yet. So I was waiting on the official word because those things can change quickly. If Moe does come aboard, it seems like he has some traits that could make him a player to watch. We've seen rookie free agents beat the odds and make the roster various times and Moe would be the near the top of the list of candidates this year as more of an inside option. I was thinking Moe could have been the reason that the Patriots cut 2012 seventh-round pick Jeremy Ebert.

Q. Hi Mike, with the draft being over, I was hoping you can explain the concept of a player being 'raw'? I heard that over and over again throughout the draft. -- Nick (Montreal)

A. Nick, saying a prospect is "raw" is essentially noting that the player might not be ready to step right in and contribute without some development. That is true with most prospects, to a degree, but they have physical ability and traits that if harnessed properly could lead to the desired end result.