The Patriots surprised some people by focusing on the offensive side of the ball at the top of the 2006 draft, but it's hard to argue with the team's top selections and the needs they fill on the depth chart. And the picks, including six straight offensive or special teams players to lead off the team's 10 overall selections, certainly have to please Tom Brady.
Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney, Florida wide receiver Chad Jackson and Texas tight end David Thomas bring an instant injection of youth, playmaking ability and depth to a New England offense that struggled at times last season and had holes to fill. And with the duo of Maroney and Jackson the Patriots got a pair of offensive playmakers who many thought could have been early first-round talents.
Jackson (6-1, 202) may be the most impressive pick for New England. With a gaping whole at wide receiver left by the free-agent departure of No. 2 wideout David Givens, Jackson could win a starting job in a training camp battle with fellow former Gator Reche Caldwell. He has the size, speed and potential to be a key target for Brady for years to come, despite the cloud that often hangs over former star Florida wide receivers in the NFL. He's a first-round talent taken in the second round.
In Maroney (5-11, 211) New England gets a biggish, Bill Belichick-style back who also has big-play ability and comes off three straight 1,000-yard seasons even though he shared playing time for the Gophers. With Corey Dillon coming off an injury-slowed and disappointing 2005 season, Maroney should compete for reps from the get-go and projects as the workhorse back of the future.
Add in Thomas' potential role as a solid if not spectacular third tight end, ultra-productive pass-catcher Garrett Mills, would-be Adam Vinatieri replacement Stephen Gostkowski, and a couple of offensive linemen in tackle Ryan O'Callaghan and guard Dan Stevenson, and the Patriots virtually ignored defensive needs at linebacker and in the secondary. The defensive-minded Belichick, he of the value-based draft philosophy that he so often professes, cautioned not to read too much into the lack of defensive draft picks. And he certainly doesn't mean it to suggest he's overly content with his defensive spots of need.
"I don't think it says anything," Belichick said of the early and often offensive picks. "If you take a running back in the first round and then trade up to take a receiver in the second round it's going to be hard to have a defensive draft. We all saw how quickly the defensive players go at the same time. I think that there was some value in the picks that we made regardless of who they were or which side of the ball that they were. So that's why we picked the players that we did. Other than trying to force picks into certain positions, we have the philosophy of trying to take players we feel are the best players. That's what we do."
In the end that led the team to a very offensive heavy, but clearly high-value draft. Maroney, Jackson and Thomas should all be strong contributors in the early going and for the long term. And the top two picks could very well turn out to be the types of offensive weapons that make Brady's life much easier and bring a more dynamic aspect to the New England offense that was lacking last season.
"All in all I thought we added some young players to our team, we added some speed and we added some big guys here on the second day," Belichick concluded. "We add them into the competition on both sides of the ball and we'll just see how that comes down."