Draft: Patriots Target Value Over Need

The New England Patriots Draft strategy has remained consistent with Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli at the helm - take the best player, not necessarily the one you need the most. If that strategy holds true in 2006, the team likely will not make a reach for a starting wide receiver, outside linebacker or lineman despite needing players at those positions. Time to expect more of the same from the Patriots in this weekend's NFL Draft.

When it comes to the Patriots' draft scoreboard, "value" beats "need" in a rout.

Although free agency subtracted four key starters -- wide receiver David Givens, linebacker Willie McGinest, kicker Adam Vinatieri and right tackle Tom Ashworth -- coach Bill Belichick won't stray from his philosophy of taking the best player instead of the best player who fills a specific need.

That's the strategy that led to the team grabbing tight end Benjamin Watson with their second first-round pick in 2004 despite having taken tight end Dan Graham in the first round two years earlier.

"As soon as you start taking players truly based on need, if they can't fill that need, then you have to come back the next year and you're drafting again for the same spot and you haven't filled anything other than putting a name on a piece of cardboard and putting it up on the depth chart," Belichick said.

"You really don't have anything if the player can't fulfill that expectation or that role that you think you drafted him for. Sometimes players aren't there at the position you want them, but you can't manufacture them. You just have to take the player that helps your team the most at that point, even if it's at a position that may not be necessarily the top need."

That doesn't mean that the Patriots won't draft a receiver or linebacker with their first pick, No. 21 overall. Picking at that spot two years ago they lucked out and had nose tackle Vince Wilfork fall to them. He was the best of both worlds -- a highly rated player who happened to fill a big need in the middle of the defensive line.

That could happen again, but the player in question would have to be up near the top of their overall draft board (regardless of position) and not simply the highest rated player at that position.

Belichick also said the rehab status of a trio of veterans -- strong safety Rodney Harrison, left tackle Matt Light and center Dan Koppen -- would not impact the Patriots' picks in the draft. Harrison suffered a major knee injury in Week 3 last season. Light was put out for the year with a broken leg that same day, and Koppen suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in November.

"You can't worry too much about other guys on your team and what their (injury) situation is because you can go out there the first day of training camp and that could change on one play," Belichick said. "I don't feel like we can look at it that way. And we don't."

The Patriots have 11 draft picks, including two each in the third and fourth rounds. Only their two compensatory selections in the sixth round can't be traded, meaning they could be active on draft weekend.

"Having those extra mid-round picks in a full draft does certainly give you flexibility to move up in rounds," Belichick said. "Again, there's only so far you can move in that first round. From 21 you're not going to be able to get into the top 10, but you could move up a couple of spots.

"We know from our draft history that we're not afraid to trade them, moving up, moving down, or like we did last year, just sit there and take them when our turn comes up. There's no way to predict that."

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