Point No. 1: The Patriots have a talent crisis looming at the
running back position.
At first glance, you'd think that a team with well-known players such as
Lawrence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris on its depth chart
at running back would be planning to stand pat during this year's NFL Draft and
focus on other positions. After all, the running-back-by-committee approach
helped the Patriots finish a respectable 12th in average rushing yards per game
(120.1), fifth in percentage of runs for 4-plus yards (45.5), fifth in
3rd-down-and-1 conversions (76.5 percent), and tied for sixth in rushing
But all four running backs are in the final year of their contracts. To make
matters worse, Maroney appeared to be in head coach Bill Belichick's doghouse at
the end of last season due to some poorly-timed fumbles. And while he got nearly
half of the team's carries last year, his 3.9 yards-per-rush average was the
worst mark among the four backs. Meanwhile, the other three running backs are
waging a battle against time at a young man's position in the NFL--they'll all
be 33 or 34 years old before the start of this year's training camp.
As a result of that mess, the Patriots need to bring in a starter-quality
running back and at least one strong reserve out of this year's pool of young
draft prospects. Sources have told me that two candidates that fit the bill are
currently being evaluated by the team.
The team has scheduled a private workout with Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer,
a versatile, tough runner who could be the feature back that the team thought
they were getting when they drafted Maroney a few years ago. But to be certain
that they get the 2008 ACC Player of the Year, the Patriots would likely have to
use their second pick in the first round at No. 22 overall. The Chargers, who
have the No. 28 pick in the first round and the No. 8 pick in the second round
have shown quite a bit of interest in Dwyer. So if the Patriots decide to roll
the dice and wait to snag him with their 12th selection in the second round,
there's a strong chance that could be off the board.
I was told by another source that the Patriots hosted LSU running back
Charles Scott for an official visit this past week. The 5-foot-11, 232-pound
back is a terrific inside-the-tackles runner who logged 32 rushing touchdowns
during his collegiate career. He would undoubtedly be an immediate asset to New
England's short-yardage and goal-line situations.
If the Patriots face reality and move forward with adding two fresh faces to
the depth chart--be it Dwyer and Scott or two other talented backs--it'll be
interesting to see who the odd-men-out will be by the start of the 2010 season.
My early guess is Morris and Taylor unless Belichick is still disgruntled with
Point No. 2: As teams continue to work on their draft boards, they need to
wake up and realize the value of having three highly-skilled wide receivers on
Last year, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning racked-up 3,485 of his 4,500 passing yards
out of a three-wide-receiver set. He completed 68.7 percent of his 438 pass
attempts out of that formation with Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon split out
wide while either rookie wide receiver Austin Collie or tight end Dallas Clark
lined up in the slot.
Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Both Wayne and Clark finished the season with exactly 100 catches and ten
touchdowns while rolling up 1,264 yards and 1,106 yards receiving, respectively.
Collie grabbed 60 balls for 676 yards and seven scores while Garcon snagged 47
passes for 765 yards and four touchdowns. The talent balance kept opponents off
balance and helped propel the Colts into the Super Bowl for the second time this
The Vikings' Brett Favre, the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, the Cowboys' Tony Romo, and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers were the only other quarterbacks who
finished the year with at least 2,000 passing yards out of the
three-wide-receiver formation. And all but one--Roethlisberger--ended up in the
Point No. 3: Penn State's Jared Odrick is the most NFL-ready defensive tackle in this
Don't get me wrong. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy
should both be picked earlier in the first round of the draft than Odrick. But
the 6-foot-5, 304-pound lineman is special in his own right, and will likely
make the transition to the pro game faster than the other two.
That's not just my opinion, it's a point that was solidified by former NFL
defensive tackle John Thornton--who played the position from 1999 through 2008
for the Tennessee Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals. He's convinced that Odrick
is poised to make an immediate impact as a rookie.
"He doesn't do much wrong. He
comes off the line using his hands well and making pass-rush moves immediately, and you don't see that a
lot out of college guys who play inside," Thornton said. "He's the most pro-ready with
the little things. When I saw him at the Senior Bowl, this was the guy
who I thought that if I was picking for a team, I'd be hoping that I would get
him, because there's less risk there."
The veteran defensive lineman is also optimistic that Odrick will have a long
and successful career in the NFL if he stays healthy.
"He doesn't have Suh's strength or McCoy's numbers, but he's a hidden
gem, like (Steelers defensive end) Aaron Smith who has played for
12 years, who does it well and is still going," Thornton explained. "If Jared comes out and does it right,
I think he can be one of those guys.
"He could play 3-4 defensive end, he could slide down on a 3-technique, you
could throw him inside on a pass rush against the center. He's probably the most
versatile guy of the bunch."
As for when the Penn State star will hear his name called during the first
round, Thornton believes it'll be between the tenth and 20th overall pick. And
he thinks that he's a steal at that point in the draft.
"If I'm looking for a value pick, based on where I think he'll be taken,
it would be Jared Odrick," he said. "He's going to give you a lot of production,
because he's really active."
Point No. 4: Riley Cooper is getting plenty of interest, and he's pumped
up about it.
The talented wide receiver out of Florida told me this week that he's already
worked out for the Falcons, Patriots and the Vikings. So I asked him if it's hit
him yet that he could soon be catching passes from future Hall of Fame
quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Tom Brady.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
"No, not yet. I'm just trying to focus on getting picked. But that would
be cool to be playing with one of those quarterbacks that I've been playing with
on Madden--that would be pretty neat," he said with a laugh.
Cooper has already visited with the Baltimore Ravens, and he's heading to
Cleveland early this week to visit the Browns. The two-time national champion is
getting really positive feedback from the NFL teams that are taking a closer
look at him.
"They've said that they love my speed and my size. I'm 6-foot-4 and I
weighed in at 224 pounds, so they love how I use my big frame and my hands to my
advantage," he said.
"They said they're really interested in me and they want me, which is
what you want to hear, so I'm pumped for the 22nd and the
Point No. 5: Don't overlook the players drafted in the seventh round later
Over the past five drafts, a number of players selected in the seventh
round have become starters or highly-valued reserves for their teams. Here are
just a few examples from recent drafts who will remind you that it's worth
paying attention to those late-round picks:
- Courtland Finnegan: The Titans cornerback has started 45 of
the Titans' last 48 regular season games and has picked off five
passes in each of the last two seasons.
- Ahmad Bradshaw: In a traditional 32-picks-per-round draft, the Giants
running back wouldn't have been selected. New York grabbed him with a compensatory 40th pick
in the final round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and he's rewarded them by posting a career
rushing average of 5.2 yards.
- Matt Cassel: The Chiefs' starting quarterback was the 16th pick in
the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft by New England. He's passed for at least 2,900 yards in each of the last
two seasons as a starter.
- Jay Ratliff: The Cowboys defensive tackle has started all but two contests over the past three seasons and has
13.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
- Marques Colston: Another compensatory draft pick, Colston
was the 44th pick in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. He's logged at least 1,000
receiving yards in
three out of the four seasons when he's started at least a dozen games.
- Julian Edelman: The Patriots receiver started seven
games, appeared in 11 and caught 37 balls for 359 yards last year. With Wes Welker likely
to miss at least a portion of the 2010 season, Edelman is the heir- apparent to
the slot receiver position.
Point No. 6: If the Panthers don't dramatically improve their wide
receiver situation during this year's draft, veteran Steve Smith should request
Carolina has only drafted
two wide receivers in the last five years, and that neglect has put them in a
terrible position. The Panthers drafted Dwayne Jarrett with a second-round pick in 2007,
but the underachieving receiver has just three starts, 33 receptions and
388 yards on his NFL resume to date. In the same year, the team also selected Ryne
Robinson in the fourth round out of Miami (Ohio). He was a one-year-and-done
roster addition who washed out after handling
punt returns and kickoff return duties as a rookie.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Last year, while surrounded by a mediocre receiver corps and while chasing
down erratic passes from declining veteran quarerback Jake Delhomme, Smith
failed to break the 1,000-yard receiving yards mark for the first time since
2004--when an injury ended his season after the first game of the season. The
bottom line is that the Panthers are wasting the incredible talent of the
tenth-year veteran if they don't put enough talent on the field at the wide
receiver position to force their opponents to distribute their pass coverage
As it stands now, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound star shares the depth chart with
Jarrett, fifth-year pro Wallace Wright--who was signed as a free agent from the
Jets for his special teams coverage skills--and a trio of young, inexperienced
receivers who have a grand total of seven career catches between the three of
them. And Smith will likely be catching passes this year from Matt Moore, who
made a promising showing during the final weeks of the 2009 season, but is still
an unproven talent.
In 100 career starts, Smith has 574 catches and 50 touchdown passes--even
though he hasn't had the benefit of a consistently strong cast of offensive
players during his career. While it's unlikely that Carolina will make a change
at the quarterback position this year, they owe it to Smith to bring in some
talented receivers who will command some respect and divert some attention so
that he can flourish again. Otherwise, they should show some class and allow the
soon-to-be 31-year-old player to finish his career with a contender like the
Chiefs did for tight end Tony Gonzalez prior to the 2009 season.
Point No. 7: I'm still hearing plenty of buzz about visits and
workouts directly from draft prospects and my NFL sources.
- USC offensive tackle Charles Brown told me he met with the Ravens
offensive line coach before his school's Pro Day, visited the Bills and the
Lions this past week, and has a visit with the Buccaneers early this week. I
asked him why he's been able to be so effective as a pass blocker, which is
essential to an offensive lineman's success in the NFL. "Staying
square to the line of scrimmage," he said. "And I've got long arms, so I'm able to get
a good touch on my opponent before he can get close to me." Brown's been
hearing good things from the NFL coaches he's been talking to over the last
couple of months. "They like that I'm athletic
and have good feet. And when they put me on the board, I'm able to draw up the
plays that we've been talking about," he said.
- Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung and South Florida defensive
end Jason Pierce-Paul were both up in Buffalo for a visit this past week.
Both players are projected as first-round selections.
- Ole Miss wide receiver/running back Dexter McCluster visited both the
Redskins and the Broncos this past week. He finished his collegiate career
ranked second in school history with 4,089 all-purpose yards and should be
selected no later than the second round.
- UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price has a busy month in progress with visits
to the Chargers and Eagles and a workout for the Falcons already completed.
He's scheduled to visit with the Patriots, Buccaneers and Falcons this week.
The 6-foot-1, 303-pound defender has an explosive burst and awesome physical
strength that helped him register 23.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in
- Oregon's Ed Dickson told me that he's already visited the Lions and the
Ravens, and has visits lined up this week with the 49ers and the Rams. He
was the school's top all-time tight end with 124 receptions for 1,557 yards
and 12 touchdowns. He'll should know which NFL team has sent his name to the
podium no later than the third round.
- UCF defensive tackle Torrell Troup is drawing interest from the Panthers
and had a visit with the Falcons this past week. The Cleveland Browns have
already worked him out, but have scheduled a follow-up official visit early
this week. The 6-foot-3, 314-pound lineman has the physical size and skill
to be a 3-4 nose tackle and will likely be selected during the second round
of the draft.
- University of Washington linebacker Donald Butler told me that has a visit
with the Patriots early this week and a workout for the Raiders later in the
week. One of the top inside linebacker prospects of this draft class, he
deserves consideration as a second-round pick.
Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2010 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.