Who Is The Patriots Current Draft Target?
DE/OLB, Ohio State
Vernon Gholston was a star at the combine, showing off his speed, strength and athleticism. The Patriots don't have a lot of options with the seventh overall pick. They need a corner but that may be too high to select one in this draft. Gholston makes sense because he can come in and learn the outside linebacker position behind Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas, while he's used as a pass rusher in his rookie season.
Gholston played the "Leo" position in the Buckeye's defense, a hybrid role blending defensive end and linebacker duties. If drafted by a 3-4 team the physically impressive Gholston would have to adjust to more time playing on two feet and dropping into coverage. It's a challenge he's more than willing to take on.
"I did 'em both in college. It's really wherever the team puts me," Gholston said of the position debate. "The biggest thing is I'm capable of playing both positions."
Gholston, like many Ohio State players, has worked out with Vrabel during summers in Columbus. Working side-by-side with a guy like Vrabel helped motivate the draft's elite pass rusher -- the only opponent to get a sack on Michigan tackle Jake Long last fall -- and show him where he could end up at the next level.
"A lot of guys come back and work out and help us out. (Vrabel) comes back a lot of times in the summertime for conditioning for the season, and a lot of times he actually joins in the workouts, so I get a chance to compete with him and some of the other veterans," Gholston said. "Sometimes I beat him and sometimes he beats me."
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Gholston admits he could see himself in a Vrabel-type role, either in New England or in another 3-4 scheme.
"Yeah, I think I could," Gholston said. "Obviously he made the Pro Bowl this year. That's one of my goals for the future. We come from similar backgrounds, Ohio State, similar positions."
Gholston is still raw and would have to make the transition from college defensive end but his physical attributes and future upside will make it difficult for the Patriots to pass on Gholston is he's still on the board when they pick.
One player who would be a perfect fit for the Patriots is Virginia DE/OLB Chris Long. However, Long will most likely be off the board by the seventh pick but if he isn't, New England would likely jump on him.
Long, the son of Oakland Raiders Hall of Famer Howie Long, played exclusively at end in Al Groh's 3-4 scheme at Virginia and is drawing rave reviews in the draft preparation process.
"There's not a lot of 3-4 college defenses and the way Chris plays in coach Groh's defense, he's as NFL ready as you can be from a 3-4 standpoint," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "He plays a very difficult technique and he does it very well so he's a perfect 3-4 defensive end. Could he stand up and be a linebacker? Absolutely. He's, I'd say, rare for a college defensive lineman, especially more specific to a 3-4 defense."
Even though he may be considered NFL-ready for the 3-4 -- and by all accounts has the attitude and "motor" that coaches love -- it will still be worth watching to see if Long has the size to play end in the pros or if he does make that transition to 'backer.
"I feel that I could play at either scheme. Interestingly enough, people talk about what a transition it would be for me to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. But, let's not forget that I never played in a 4-3 in college either," Long said. "I was a base defensive end in a 3-4. Either position would be a fresh start for me and an opportunity to learn and an opportunity for me to progress as a player.
"I can see myself fitting in wherever a team wants and needs me to fit in. Being versatile is a plus and I believe I have the capabilities of being versatile at the next level. I am going to have to work hard and I'm going to have to make some adjustments. One thing you have to do is check any expectations at the door. I don't expect to play any position or anything like that. I just want to be a football player."
The Patriots need a young, defensive playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, so that's likely the direction they'll go in if they keep the seventh pick.
A CLOSER LOOK: TEAM NEEDS
1. Inside linebacker: Both mike Vrabel and Adalius can play inside if needed but each is more valuable on the outside. Tedy Bruschi just signed a new two-year deal but he's not the player he once was. Seau could return for one final year but with no quality backups, the Patriots need to add some youth at inside linebacker.
2. Cornerback: With Asante Samuel signing with the Eagles and Randall Gay going to New Orleans, the Patriots are thin at cornerback. Brandon Meriweather can play corner, so that's a possibility but expect the Patriots to upgrade this position through the draft and free agency.
3. Tight end: Kyle Brady was released and Benjamin Watson has underperformed, so tight end once again is a position the Patriots will be focused on in the draft. Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli like to draft tight ends. They've taken one in every draft except one since 2000. Expect that trend to continue, as the Patriots add depth to a position that right now only consists of Watson, Stephen Spach and David Thomas, who missed all of 2007 with a foot injury.
DRAFT SCOUT SKINNY
Expect the Patriots to go heavy on defense in this draft. They need to add some youth to both the linebacker and defensive back positions. There probably isn't a corner rated high enough for the Patriots to select at seven, so Ohio State's Vernon Gholston and Southern Cal Keith Rivers look like the best fit to come to New England. The Patriots have a second-round pick and two selections in the third round, so expect a corner or two to be taken in that area. One name to watch for later on in the draft is Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan. The Patriots like Brennan and backup quarterback is an area that needs to be upgraded.