- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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Bring on the NFL draft.
That was the main theme from emailers to the Patriots mailbag this week, as this year's delay has created a bit of a lag in terms of excitement.
Unlike last year, when it was easier to lock the Patriots into the receiver position, I think the team has some more flexibility to go in a number of different areas. If I had to project, this could be a meat-and-potatoes draft focusing a bit heavier on the offensive and defensive lines.
Let's get to the questions...
Q. Hi Mike, does the draft being pushed back a few weeks benefit a team like the Patriots or hurt them? My thoughts are it hurts them by giving others more time to evaluate players, rosters, division, etc. I also feel like the reduced time in camp makes it that much more difficult to learn a system like the one run in Foxborough. Thoughts? -- Dan (Rhode Island)
A. Dan, I don't feel that strongly about it either way, other than the later start helping teams with new regimes that could benefit from a little extra time. Overall, though, I thought of the saying "study smarter, not harder" and how sometimes more time isn't necessarily a good thing and you can have paralysis by analysis. When I see that Patriots coach Bill Belichick is running a half-marathon on the weekend the draft would normally would be held, it tells me, in part, that the hay is mostly in the barn already for most teams with draft preparation.
Q. Hey Mike, this waiting around for the draft is too much, it is way too long to wait. They need to go back to the old dates and do it in early April. I am interested to know if you have seen any tape on Jadeveon Clowney and if you have would you take him at No. 1 if you had the first pick? This is a very strange draft with all the QBs and underclassmen and the extended wait. Such a big deal has been made about Clowney I am just wondering if you think he is a No. 1? Is he the next Lawrence Taylor? From the limited tape that I have seen, I don't think so. He is a player and will bolster any defense he plays for, but is he worth a No. 1? -- Phil (Braintree)
A. I agree, Phil. The league pushed the draft back to May 8-10 because of a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall and here's hoping they move it back to where it was prior (mid-April range). I'm a little more conservative with those top picks and I'd shy away from Clowney. The No. 1 pick is the face of a franchise and reflects the way any regime envisions molding its team. The upside with Clowney is obvious, but my question is more with the football DNA. How bad does he want it? I'm uneasy about that question with a No. 1 pick.
Q. Mike, great job to you and the gang in yesterday's reader mock draft. Loved the pick at No. 29 if no trade is available. Your choice of OL over DL options of Ra'Shede Hageman, Louis Nix III and Dominique Easley brings up a question I've been struggling with for a few weeks. So many of the draft pundits have been mocking Ra'Shede Hageman to the Pats at 29. What I wonder is if you know of any examples of the Pats selecting a top prospect based on "high ceiling" potential while the college production has clearly been inconsistent? I feel that if the Pats were faced with a choice between Hageman, or a player who has been brilliant on the field but just can't stay on it (Easley), they would go with the latter so long as he medically checks out. Would you agree? -- Dave (Phoenix)
A. Dave, my first thought is that they'd go with neither with the top pick. Maybe Laurence Maroney (2006) and Brandon Meriweather (2007) fall slightly into that category of "high ceiling" potential with some other questions. When the Patriots have been at their drafting best, I think it's when they've gone for more of the sure thing with the proven track record.
Q. Hey Mike, nearly all the mock drafts I have taken a look at have the Patriots picking Ra'Shede Hageman for their 29th pick. Although the Patriots have a high need for depth behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, why hasn't there been more talk for the Patriots to draft a defensive end? I feel like there is even less depth at the defensive end position. -- Patrick S. (Davis, Calif.)
A. Patrick, it could be that defensive end is one of the lighter positions in this year's draft. Not a deep pool of prospects to choose from there. Overall, I agree that adding another player there would be ideal, either in the draft or free agency.
Q. Hey Mike, I'm a lifetime Pats fan from Rhode Island currently living in Nashville. I read your columns every week and it seems like you are always answering the same question regarding whether the Pats should draft a wide receiver this year. I generally agree that we need to look at the development of the receivers we drafted last year and don't think we need another receiver. However, we drafted two WRs (and got Kenbrell Thompkins as an UFA) in a receiver class that generally wasn't that strong. Aaron Dobson was the sixth receiver taken overall last year (and was the 12th-ranked receiver according to Scouts Inc., for what it's worth), but I don't think he would be again if he were in this year's "deep" WR draft class. Where would you rank Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Thompkins among the WRs in this year's draft? -- Kyle (Nashville, Tenn.)
A. Thanks for reading Kyle. I asked one coach who has evaluated receivers the past two years the same question and his opinion was that Dobson would be the same (second-round range) and Boyce and Thompkins would still be mid-rounders. To me, the Patriots' potential interest in receivers would be tied only to Dobson's health (surgery for a stress fracture in his left foot). If the Patriots felt there was any reason for concern there long term, then I could envision them dipping back into the well at the position.
Q. I think with such a strong draft many teams will want to trade down, but the Pats should do the opposite and trade up. They will have a lot of willing partners and could get a top-15 pick that will have an immediate impact. They have eight picks, why not package a few and move up? -- Ashley (Worcester, Mass.)
A. If the right player is there, Ashley, by all means go for it, similar to 2012 when they traded up for Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in the first round. I would imagine there will be one or two players who might fall into that category, so depending on how the draft falls, I don't think we can rule it out.
Q. Hi Mike, I was wondering about Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. Do you think he could play strong safety and, if they were to draft him, do you think the Pats would consider moving him there if he can? -- Samuel (Germany)
A. Samuel, I don't think that would be the best use of Shazier's talent, putting him that far away from the line of scrimmage in the deep third of the field. When I watch him, part of what intrigues is his instinctiveness to read the snap and get to the ball carrier or quarterback in a flash. I like him playing toward the line of scrimmage, or flowing sideline to sideline, as a better fit.
Q. UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr has slipped way down a lot of people's draft boards. He was once considered a top-10 pick, but is now projected to be going in the 20s. Do you think this slip was warranted? And if he's there for the Pats, do you see them taking him even if it means moving up a few spots. -- Jonathan (Waltham, Mass.)
A. I've struggled with this one, Jonathan, mainly because Barr has played just two years of defense. He has the desired physical makeup but it sounds as if he might not play with the power some would expect from a player with that size. So this one falls a bit more into that projection category that makes it a bit riskier from my view. If I had to guess, the Patriots will stay away because of it.
Q. Hi Mike, excited about the draft. Let's talk running back. My feeling is that the Pats need to draft one who can bring immediate production behind Stevan Ridley/Shane Vereen, and maybe push them for carries. A guy I love is Terrance West of Towson. Absolute beast at the 1-AA level. Complete package and a nasty competitor. When all is said and done, this kid has the tools to develop into the best NFL back of this class. He'd be a steal in Round 4 (or later), and worth the "value" at any point in Round 3. What are your thoughts about him? -- Mark (Champaign, Ill.)
A. Mark, I think the Patriots will come out of this draft with at least one running back, maybe two, and West is one of the big backs who catches the eye. You have to be comfortable with the level of competition he played against and project improvement in the passing game, but I can see why you like him. I'm a bit more partial to Florida State's Devonta Freeman or Boston College's Andre Williams if both players are in that range.
Q. Mike, a number of people have linked the Pats to RB Andre Williams of Boston College. While his numbers were impressive, one number that stands out to me is 355 -- the number of carries he had last season. With the average NFL workhorse getting around 250 carries in a season, does this raise any red flags as a player with maybe a little too much wear and tear? Mind you NFL RBs get those 250 carries over 16 games. Williams got his over 13 games including an injury-shortened season finale where he recorded only nine carries. The rest of his college career seems about average. Will this be a positive factor that he can handle the workload or a negative that he may have less tread on the tires? -- Craig (Hurlburt Field, Fla.)
A. Craig, I understand the thought, but at this stage of the player's career, I don't think it's a major consideration. Teams want to see enough of a body of work and it's not as if he's entering the league as a 26-year-old rookie. He's 21 and the body is often a little more resilient at that stage of life.
Q. Mike, I think you consistently devalue players by overrating the importance of consensus evaluations. One example was in this week's chat when you said "Also, he has that undrafted label..." when discounting Kenbrell Thompkins. So you're saying he is doomed to the same low ceiling that stifled LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Danny Amendola and Wes Welker? On that note, your belief that the Pats need to draft a running back in the early rounds seems misguided. In addition to Blount and Bolden, I'll cite BJGE as evidence that good RBs can be found as UDFAs, and provide better value. Comments? -- Brujo (D.C.)
A. Brujo, I think the context of those remarks on Thompkins is important. The question, if we're citing the same thing, was why Thompkins might be getting sold short by some people in any 2014 analysis. The answer noted the perception that sometimes comes with being an undrafted free agent, and how that could be a factor in why some might be selling him short. On the running backs, you can definitely find them late. But I think the devaluing of the position has been overstated. Look at last year's second round -- those are some impact running backs who can help any team and can give defenses plenty of trouble. So I still think there is good value in selecting a running back in the second round.
Q. Mike, read with interest your case for Bill Parcells and the Patriots Hall of Fame. I would like to add a few thoughts as a longtime Pats fan. The NFL Hall of Fame covers Coach Parcells' tenure in the NFL; the Patriots Hall of Fame for the short time he was in New England: four seasons. Sorry, no matter how many good draft picks he made, and acknowledging he definitely got the franchise headed in the right direction, those are hardly sufficient in my book to justify him being in the Patriots Hall. He quit, just like he's done so many other times with so many other teams -- and not only that, he goes to the Jets. Don't you think he gave that a lot of thought and wanted to stick it to us? So I'm fine with all the politically correct chatter about how they've smoothed things over and such, but as far as I'm concerned, the Big Tuna deserves a bust in Canton, but not with the Patriots. -- DonT (Atlanta)
A. I can't disagree with anything you wrote here, Don. As I wrote in the piece, I'm more forgiving when it comes to Parcells' candidacy, but I respect those who aren't. There are fair reasons to look at it differently. And your point on the Pro Football Hall of Fame is also well taken and I agree with it -- just because Parcells is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame doesn't automatically qualify him for the Patriots Hall of Fame. To me, it just pushes it over the top. But again, I respect those who see it differently.
Q. Mike, Bill Parcells can't be in the Patriots Hall of Fame. Just can't. It would be an insult to the current players who worked so hard to earn that honor. The Patriots' motto is clear: "Do your job." In 1996, Parcells had one job; coach the Patriots in the Super Bowl, not find another head-coaching/GM position. He put himself ahead of the team and allowed himself to be a distraction during the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl. Does that sound like the "Patriot Way"? He was a HOF coach who had great success in NE. He was a big part of the franchise turning itself around. But he is not a Hall of Fame New England Patriot. -- Dan (Boston)
A. Thanks for sharing the thoughts, Dan. I respect them.
Q. Mike, while I agree that Parcells was as polarizing as it gets for NE sports, he laid the foundation and was the main piece in the transition from doormat to top-tier franchise. Without him, there is no opportunity for a Patriots HOF (or even a reason). Sure, he left for the Jets, but what he did in his four years here is more than most coaches of his era would do in a 10-year snapshot. There is simply no opportunity for your column, Law, Bruschi, Brown and Co., or even BB and TB12 without the Tuna. Just imagine if he was given the option to choose the ingredients to cook with in his kitchen. -- Creidy (Tucson via Amherst via Wareham)
A. I see both sides, Creidy, and that's why I wanted to write the column. There are passionate reasons to view Parcells' candidacy from both perspectives and I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. But if we can have civil discourse about it at the same time voting is ongoing, I think that's what it is all about.
Q. An 8-0 record at home, BUT 3-5 away? Mike! What kind of road warrior are you? A team that can finish with a perfect home record is unlikely to drop that many games away. Reflect, please, and consider: 1. no worse than 7-1 in Foxborough and 2. no worse than 5-3 elsewhere. 12-4 is the way to go. -- Mad Max (Austrialian Outback)
A. Max, those predictions aren't to be taken too seriously. Last year, I predicted the Patriots would finish 12-4 but was 8-8 when it came to accurately predicting which games they would win/lose. When you go through that exercise, I think there is some value in looking at what situations other teams face and projecting if it's a tough spot for them. For example, the Jets travel to San Diego on Oct. 5, return home to host the Broncos on Oct. 12, then come to Gillette Stadium for a Thursday night game against the Patriots on Oct. 16. I think that's a tough spot for them and that's the analysis I'd want to highlight more than the predictions themselves.
Mock drafts have filled the void, but mailbaggers are ready for the real thing.