Grading the Draft: New England Patriots

The Patriots started the draft with two first round picks, ended the day with one but added a ton of choices for the April 2004 selection meeting. Along the way they also chose several quality prospects.

Round Pick Player Pos School
1 13(13) Ty Warren DT Texas A&M
2 4(36) Eugene Wilson CB Illinois
2 13(45) Bethel Johnson WR Texas A&M
4 20(117) Dan Klecko DT Temple
4 23(120) Asante Samuel CB UCF
5 29(164) Dan Koppen C Boston Coll.
6 28(201) Kliff Kingsbury QB Texas Tech
7 20(234) Spencer Nead TE BYU
7 25(239) Tully Banta-Cain DE California
7 29(243) Ethan Kelley DT Baylor

UDFA of Note: Kyle Croskey/G/Central Michigan, Jasen Esposito/T/Kutztown, Chas Gessner/WR/Brown, Michael Hayes/WR/Southern, Ricklan Holmes/CB/Oklahoma State, Jason Hunt/LB/Cincinnati, Chad Lee/LB/Louisville, Chris Massey/S/Oklahoma State, Shawn Mayer/S/Penn State, Rob Milanese/WR/Penn, Buck Rasmussen/DE/Nebraska-Omaha, Walter Sampson/DT/Louisiana-Lafayette, Dan Stricker/WR/Vanderbilt, Kerry Watkins/WR/Georgia Tech, Matt Word/LBIowa State

Staying "pat" with their initial choice in round one, New England filled a big need on their defensive line with a top player, Ty Warren.  Warren, a large, athletic lineman who can be used on the nose or as an end in the Pats three-four system, surged to the forefront with his performances both as a senior and in the post season.  Branded as a "soft" player who would "turn it on and off" Warren displayed a lot of grit as he roughed it with an injury in 2002 and was a premiere lineman in the Big 12.  At the top of his game he is a dominant force and Bellicheck must find a way to keep him there.

Eugene Wilson in the top of round two was good value.  Falling slightly after a poor senior campaign, Wilson is still a solid cover man with a good head for his position.  Like Warren, he must kick it into gear and work hard off the field if he's to reach his upper most level.

The next pick in round two, Bethel Johnson, was a major reach.  Johnson looks great in shorts and sneakers, even plays to his athletic numbers on occasion but for the most part has been plagued with inconsistency and was minimally productive in college.  He needs a lot of work.

Though he may not be the proto-typical two-gap lineman, Dan Klecko is an asset anyway you cut it.  As tenacious a player as any you'll find in this draft, Klecko overcomes his lack of size with sheer intensity and determination.  His high revving motor never stops yet at the same time, Klecko plays a smart brand of football.  Expect him to be rotated into the line-up and be a demon on special teams.

Asante Samuel disappointed many with his pre-draft workouts but offers a solid fourth cover corner that can be put on the field in nickel coverage. Dan Koppen adds depth at both guard and center.

Both Kliff Kingsbury and Spencer Nead will have a tough time making the squad as each has limited upside for the NFL and are only average athlete's.

Their last two choices could both be steals.  Immediately after the draft we detailed the precipitous drop down draft boards by Tully Banta-Cain, a situation now behind him.  Banta-Cain is perfectly suited to stand up over tight end in a three-four or put his hand on the ground in pass rushing situations when the Patriots line up four defenders on the front.  Ethan Kelley may surprise a lot of people when he's placed at the position he is built for; nose tackle.  Kelley could make the final roster as a two-way player; remember, he was an excellent offensive lineman at Baylor before moving to the defensive side of the ball.

New England kept the momentum going with a solid group of rookie free agents.  Chas Gessner, Michael Hayes and to a certain extent Dan Stricker all have a shot at sticking as each brings size to the receiving ranks.  We mistakenly had Chad Lee listed as signing with another team but the Pat's system fits him better as a LOLB and keep close eye on Matt Word.  The Iowa State linebacker got little press before the draft even after several good workouts, but is perfectly suited for the weak side in the Patriots system and should lend a helping hand on special teams.

Analysis: You have to be impressed with the Patriots work in April; they filled short term needs yet at the same time their collection of players offers a lot of long term potential.  Factor in the added picks New England will receive in 2004 as a result of maneuvering in this year's draft and the Pats will once again be able to fill need areas of linebacker and receiver in twelve months with players that right now look like superior prospects.

Tony Pauline
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