Patriots Report: A Look at the Draft

<p>The New England Patriots Draft in Review, including which draft choice was the <I>&quot;best pick&quot; </I>and which one could be the <I>&quot;biggest surprise&quot;</I> of the group. Going in to the draft the Patriots had 10 draft picks. Of those picks, they chose, Logan Mankins, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kaczur, James Sanders, Ryan Claridge, Matt Cassel and Andrew Stokes.</p>

PATRIOTS REPORT - DRAFT REVIEW

The Patriots didn't have any glaring holes to fill in the 2005 NFL Draft, but clearly felt it was important to restock the offensive line with some first day prospects they hope will replace the free agent losses of guard Joe Andruzzi and tackle Adrian Klemm and add depth to a front that has performed adequately with limited talent during a four-year stretch that included three Super Bowl championships.

It was certainly a surprise to hear Paul Tagliabue call offensive lineman Logan Mankins as the Patriots first round pick with 32nd selection, particularly since he is projected to play guard in the NFL despite playing exclusively at tackle during his Fresno State career and because most predicted a cornerback or linebacker to New England at that spot.

Under Belichick, the Patriots have never drafted a guard at all, never mind in the first round, which means they don't likely project Mankins or third round pick Nick Kaczur to play guard even if one or both start their careers there before moving out to tackle at some point.

That is particularly true of Mankins, who will likely start somewhere along the front as a rookie, at either left guard or right tackle, while providing much-needed depth behind Matt Light at left tackle, something the Patriots lacked when Klemm went on injured reserve last year and then signed with Green Bay in free agency.

Belichick always cites value when explaining his team's selections, but NFLdraftscout.com projected Mankins as a late-second or third round prospect, so New England may have reached to acquire him at the end of the first. But since they picked at the bottom of each round, the Patriots clearly felt it too risky to wait until the 64th pick to take Mankins and made sure they landed the man they wanted. One has to wonder, though, if they could have moved back to take Mankins while acquiring more trade ammunition to move up from 64 and potentially get two middle-of-the-second-round picks, a scenario they must have thought was not possible.

Mankins played collegiately for former Belichick assistant coach Pat Hill at Fresno State, meaning the Patriots were comfortable with the information they had on the player.

"I have a lot of respect for Pat and I think he is a good football coach," Belichick said. "He spent the majority of his career coaching the offensive line and his players are always fundamentally sound and well coached. Logan has developed a good playing style. Suffice it to say, Pat recommended Logan."

Another coach Belichick respects, Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, also visited the prospect for an individual workout in Fresno, Calif., and apparently came away impressed. After working with a slew of undrafted and late-round picks in recent years, Scarnecchia is likely pleased to have a player with which to work that is on the higher end of the talent scale.

Kaczur figures to be more of a project coming out of Toledo of the MAC, where he also excelled at left tackle, but needs refining to play that important spot in the NFL. He will require some developmental work and strength training before competing for playing time down the line, but comes to a program that has had excellent success developing young linemen such as Tom Ashworth, Stephen Neal, Brandon Gorin, Russ Hochstein and even Andruzzi, who signed as a street free agent back in September of 2000.

Between the two tackles, the Patriots grabbed undersized and unheralded cornerback Ellis Hobbs out of Iowa State after trading down from the 64th and final pick of the second round to Baltimore's 84th spot while adding a sixth round pick and a 2006 third rounder.

New England had a chance to grab one of the more highly rated corners at the end of the second round in Stanford's Stanley Wilson or Virginia Tech's Eric Green and could have had LSU's Corey Webster or Clemson's Justin Miller at the end of Round 1, the latter two who could end up as NFL shutdown type corners, but instead chose to simply add depth at the position with a small corner who has solid ball skills, instincts and dedication and will fight for time in the dime package early in his career while contributing on special teams.

"I think (Hobbs) has some good value for us on defense and hopefully in the kicking game," Belichick said. "Nick Kaczur is similar to Logan in that we feel he has some position flexibility. He's smart, tough and has a good motor. There have been a few lineman come out of the MAC in the last few years and he is competitive relative to that group."

The Patriots moved picks around on Day 2 to add to their 2006 lot, but did land a couple players that figure to compete for jobs and maybe make a decent impact in the future.

Fourth round safety James Sanders is a potential future starter who can learn from Rodney Harrison while he digests the Patriots system and prepares to eventually take over for the veteran strong safety. He might be a better prospect than the two safeties New England drafted in 2004 -- Guss Scott and Dexter Reid.

Fifth rounder Ryan Claridge also was an intriguing pick as a guy who can play inside linebacker in a 3-4 and also has experience in a 4-3. He is a leader who is considered the perfect Day 2 pick at a position where the Patriots need to get younger. While he figures to play special teams as a rookie, the Pats hope he will be a defensive contributor a couple of years down the road.

New England has had terrific success mining Day 2 talent in recent years, digging up David Givens (seventh), Tom Brady (sixth), Asante Samuel (fourth), Jarvis Green (fourth) and Dan Koppen (fifth). All five of those have started for New England at some point.

With two seventh rounders, the Patriots tabbed USC backup quarterback Matt Cassel and tight end Andrew Stokes out of William Penn, who was the final pick of the draft and therefore labeled as Mr. Irrelevant.

BEST PICK: Grabbing safety James Sanders in the fourth round might have been the best value for New England on draft weekend. Sanders is a consistent player who is a fierce hitter, tackles well in the open field and is consistent and reliable. He will be given time to learn behind Rodney Harrison while he plays special teams. Sanders needs work playing in traffic near the line of scrimmage, but that would seem to be coachable. He needs to play with more discipline rather than attack the ball, bite on play action and over play at times. He, like first round pick Logan Mankins, played for former Belichick assistant Pat Hill at Fresno State, meaning the Patriots brass trusted the information they had on the player.

COULD SURPRISE: UNLV linebacker Ryan Claridge is a Day 2 pick that will make his mark on special teams as a rookie, but has experience playing in a 3-4 and 4-3 front while also bringing strong leadership skills. He is a Patriots-type player with position flexibility who will learn from Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi while eventually providing some rush ability from the inside. He will need to get stronger and should make a sizable jump from Year 1 to Year 2 after a year in the Patriots strength program. He has a nose for the football and was projected as an early Day 2 pick, but the Pats landed him at the end of the fifth. He is a good character player.

A closer look at the Patriots' picks:

Round 1/32 -- Logan Mankins, OL, 6-4, 307, Fresno State

The Patriots look for position flexibility and found it in an offensive line prospect they may have taken too high, but one that fits what they were looking for up front. He will compete for playing time immediately at left guard or right tackle while providing much needed depth at left tackle, where he played in college.

Round 3/84 -- Ellis Hobbs III, CB, 5-9, 186, Iowa State

Needing more depth at corner, the Pats went with an intelligent, undersized corner who plays with solid instincts and ball skills. He will compete for time in the nickel and dime packages. He improved annually for Iowa State and has upside as a third rounder despite being a smaller corner who could have trouble with big receivers. Look for him to work in the slot for New England.

Round 3/100 -- Nick Kaczur, T, 6-5, 319, Toledo

A solid line prospect, Kaczur needs to work on his strength, but sustains blocks well, can drive defenders off the ball and has good quickness. He needs technique work, but may have the ability to play guard. He won't likely play much in 2005, but the Pats have the luxury to let him develop. His first season will be a redshirt-type year.

Round 4/133 -- James Sanders, SS, 5-11, 214, Fresno State

New England needs a young strong safety to learn behind aging veteran Rodney Harrison and may have landed their future starter in the fourth round with a player who is consistent and has good speed and tackling skills, but needs seasoning and refinement playing near the line of scrimmage. He'll get it in New England's secondary while he plays special teams. This was a good pick.

Round 5/170 -- Ryan Claridge, OLB, 6-2, 254, UNLV

NFLdraftscout.com labels Claridge as a natural leader who wants to coach when his playing days are over. He can play inside in the Pats 3-4 defense or rush the passer from the outside. He needs to get stronger and improve his technique, but he's aggressive and agile and not afraid to play in traffic. He's had injury problems but has shown the toughness to play through them.

Round 7/230 -- Matt Cassell, QB, 6-4, 222, USC

A backup at USC, Cassell had a strong workout in the spring in which he showed good velocity and accuracy on his throws. He will start camp fourth on the Patriots depth chart behind Tom Brady, Rohan Davey and Chris Redman, the latter two of whom are scheduled to be free agents after the 2005 season.

Round 7/255 - Andrew Stokes, TE, 6-4, 253, William Penn

Stokes has good hands and runs good routes, but is a long-shot prospect that will have a hard time making the roster. He is quick, but needs some bulk on his frame.


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