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The source for back issues of Football Thoughts.

For 4/7/2005

Editor's Note: Frank's brother Greg, who has been a guest columnist in the past on GoPats.com, assesses the needs of the Patriots as they prepare for the 2005 season.

Pats Draft Review
by Greg Moore

Like most Super Bowl Champions, this Patriots team has a great deal of talent at every position. Depth is a key area, though, and this has been exacerbated by the loss of several players to release and free agency. While none of the players who have left is irreplaceable, the Pats need to focus on ensuring talent across the 53-man roster.

The current free agency period has followed Patriots tradition, in which they have not jump out to grab high-priced, big name players. Instead the champs will wait and focus on those individuals who will come at a reasonable rate and provide the maximum value to the team. The draft will continue to be the area in which Belichick and Pioli look to build the future of the franchise.

What follows is a position-by-position analysis of the Pats and where they might be looking during free agency and on draft day. Players who were on the active roster or injured reserve last year will be in regular type. Practice squadders for all or the majority of last year, late signees and street free agents are italicized. New additions are listed in bold. After each position, I list a number from zero to five describing the need at that position, with zero being no need to five being an area targeted for immediate action. An asterisk indicates a restricted free agent who is unsigned at the time of this writing. Players listed are as of the current roster on the Pats' Web site.

Quarterbacks
(Tom Brady, Rohan Davey, Chris Redman)

This is a solid group with Pro Bowler Brady leading the way. Redman provides a significant upgrade to Jim Miller, the man he replaces if he is healthy. Redman has a lot of qualities similar to Brady, though he does not make as good decisions with the ball. Should Brady be hurt, expect Redman to step in as the replacement. Davey, despite his wonderful physical tools, is a poor fit for the Pats offense under Weis, which emphasized quick decision-making. Will a new offensive scheme offer him a second chance? Time will tell.

Position Need: 1 (Never discount a late round flyer on a QB. Seemed to work OK with Brady. A seasoned veteran could also come at the right price.)

Running Backs
(Corey Dillon, Kevin Faulk, Cedric Cobbs, Kory Chapman)

Patriots Running backs constitute a solid group, presuming the coaching staff feels Cobbs is ready to step in as Dillon's backup. Faulk is one of the better third-down backs in the game, if he is near healthy or healthy. Dillon is a Pro Bowler, 'nuff said. If Cobbs is physically and emotionally ready, the Pats could be set here.

Position Need: 2 (I don't put too much faith in Cobbs. He has too much baggage to feel secure. I wouldn't mind seeing a young stud added.)

Fullbacks
(Patrick Pass)

Calling Pass a fullback is a misnomer. However, the Pats signaled the direction they want to go here when they took Ben Watson in the first round last year. Expect to see two TE or TE/H-back formations be the base offense for the Patriots, and Richard Seymour/Dan Klecko/whoever else come in on short yardage situations. This is an ideal strategy for a powerful cutback runner like Dillon. The re-signing of Pass means he will continue in his jack-of-all-trades role for the future.

Position Need: 3 (I have got to think that Belichick would grab someone if it constituted an upgrade here.)

Wide Receivers
(Deion Branch, David Givens*, Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Tim Dwight, Mark Bartosic, Ricky Bryant, Cedric James, Jake Schifino)

Bethel Johnson, it is time to make The Leap. An enormously physically gifted athlete, Johnson needs to start showing it on the field. I don't watch him every day in practice as the coaches do, but it appears his route-running and hands have improved. He has a chance to be a star. Branch is wonderful when healthy and Givens is the physical, possession receiver every team needs, plus he adds a burst. I wouldn't be shocked if another team took a look at him as a restricted free agent, though the 1st-round compensation is steep. I can't rationally explain how giddy I am about the signing of Dwight. He is dynamite ready to go off at any time as a returner, presuming he can shake the injury bug. Whenever he touches the ball, he is a threat to go the distance and well worth taking a flyer on special teams, what you get as on offense is gravy. Sam was raw and needs more polish- he might be ready to contribute this year.

Position Need: 3 (You could get by with this group, especially if Johnson steps up, but another possession guy could help.)

Tight Ends
(Daniel Graham, Christian Fauria, Ben Watson, Jed Weaver, Joel Jacobs)

This is a very solid if not spectacular group. Watson could be a star on the rise, if he comes back strong from the leg injury. Graham keeps improving each year and Fauria is Mr. Stability. Weaver adds a pass catching element as an H-back. Expect to see two of these guys on the field most of the time next season.

Position Need: 0

Offensive Tackle
(Matt Light, Tom Ashworth, Brandon Gorin, Jeff Roehl, Lance Nimmo)

Light is the left tackle for the foreseeable future. Gorin is the swing tackle for the next several years. That leaves us with Ashworth, a right tackle with a history of a bad back. This is not a good thing for an offensive lineman.

Position Need: 3 (I expect some help here from the draft- probably early too.)

Offensive Guard
(Stephen Neal, Russ Hochstein, Billy Yates)

Neal is a good player, but I think he might be better suited for the left side, replacing Joe Andruzzi. Hochstein is a good depth guy, but not the type you want as your starter.

Position Need: 5 (This is the area of greatest need on offense. Guards don't tend to go high in the draft, but a middle rounder is a solid bet.)

Center
(Dan Koppen, Gene Mruczkowski)

Koppen is a rising star in the pivot. Mruczkowski can also swing to guard to add depth there.

Position Need: 1 (Depth is never a bad thing. Other line positions are more pressing.)

Defensive End
(Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green*, Rodney Bailey, Marquise Hill)

Depth and talent don't begin to describe what the Pats have here. I write this with the presumption that the team will continue as 3-4 base defense. If so, the team might consider a deal for Green, who could bring a high draft pick in return. However, if concerns about ILB depth have the staff thinking about more of a 4-3 look, they will probably keep all of these players and shifting Seymour, Green and/or Warren inside.

Position Need: 0

Defensive Tackle
(Vince Wilfork, Keith Traylor, Ethan Kelly)

This is a good, solid blend of talent and experience. Wilfork needs to shed a few pounds to get quicker and become more disruptive.

Position Need: 2 (You can never have enough bodies here.)

Outside Linebacker
(Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, Matt Chatham, Tully Banta-Cain)

When you have a talented, experienced bunch like these guys, you know why this is the strength of the defense. Questions for next year include whether Banta-Cain can develop into more of an every down player and if the Pats and McGinest can find common ground on a salary cap number.

Position Need: 1 (This will go higher if McGinest is released, but some youth could be an option on draft day.)

Inside Linebacker
(Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Larry Izzo, Eric Alexander, Grant Steen)

Here comes the big question mark. What to make of Bruschi's health? With Bruschi, this is a solid group that needs some depth to fill in for the loss of Roman Phifer. Without Bruschi, you have to ask if the team moves to a 4-3 to compensate or needs to add player through the draft or free agency to the mix. This question is a pivotal part of the Patriots defense next year.

Position Need: 5 (Biggest need area on defense, perhaps across the board.)

Cornerback
(Duane Starks, Tyrone Poole, Asante Samuel, Randall Gay, Hank Poteat, Ike Charlton)

As much as some would tell you the sky is falling due to the departure of Ty Law, this is not a bad group if all are healthy. That's a big "if." Starks, Poole and Samuel all spent significant time off the field last year due to the injuries. Poteat and Charlton were both high draft picks that might shine in the right system.

Position Need: 3 (Too many guys with long medical records and not living up to expectations to date not to look for something here.)

Safety
(Eugene Wilson, Rodney Harrison, Guss Scott, Dexter Reid)

This is probably a bigger need area then CB for the Pats. After the second Super Bowl in which the starting safeties were knocked around, the backups showed little reason to show that they are the answer. Reid has some talent, but still looks lost in coverage. Scott missed the whole year on the IR. The good news is that the starters might be the best in the business.

Position Need: 4 (The Pats need to find some help here.)

Punter
(Josh Miller)

Miller was a significant improvement over Ken Walter. However, NFL stands for Not For Long, so the Pats will always have an eye out for someone younger and cheaper. No punter is ever secure.

Position Need: 2

Kicker
(Adam Vinatieri)

Vinatieri is the team's franchise player. I get the hint. Always need bodies in camp, though.

Position Need: 1

Kick/Punt returners
(Dwight, B. Johnson, Faulk, Pass, Poteat, maybe others)

Loaded.

Position Need: 0


Summary

The Patriots do have some significant need areas. Inside LB is the most glaring one, given the uncertainty surrounding Tedy Bruschi's health. The offensive line needs some talented bodies, but Dante Scarnecchia seems to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. What could he do with some high draft picks? It seems scary to think. A DB or two wouldn't hurt either.

There is still much to consider before the draft, though. The free agency period is still upon us and now that the big names have been snapped up, the Patriots tend to get moving. Furthermore, two Patriots remain restricted free agents who might attract interest from other teams (Jarvis Green and David Givens). We could still see substantial changes before draft day that could impact these needs.

All things considered, the Pats remain a talented, young team that can improve from where they were last year. Belichick and Pioli have built a pipeline and fans can expect more good things from this group.