Five Questions: New England Patriots

What have the New England Patriots been up to all offseason long? Scout.com NFL analyst John Crist has yet another installment of Five Questions with PatriotsInsider.com publisher Jon Scott.


If he wins a fourth Super Bowl title before putting away his eye black, New England's Tom Brady could be the greatest quarterback of all time. (Al Bello/Getty)

John Crist: Tom Brady has won three Super Bowls, holds the league record with 50 TD passes in a single season and last year became the first unanimous MVP in NFL history. If he gets another ring before he hangs it up, is he the greatest quarterback of all time?

Jon Scott: If Brady completed that perfect season you referenced, then I think he could have made a very strong argument that he belonged atop the best of all time. As it stands now, he's piloted the team to four Super Bowls, turned in one of the biggest upsets of all time and has passed Peyton Manning (29) and pulled into a fifth-place tie with Terry Bradshaw (30) for all-time postseason touchdown passes. Joe Montana, considered the best of the best, is on top with 45 TDs thrown. Brett Favre, Dan Marino and Kurt Warner are the others ahead of Brady, but none of them has the Super Bowl credentials.

Another Super Bowl ring for Brady would put him in Montana's category as two of the best ever, perhaps silencing those that believe Manning, Marino or Favre belongs at No. 1. Brady was the fastest of all of them -- including Montana -- to win 100 games, by securing his 100th victory in just 131 starts.

JC: Take us back to the NFL Draft. Who was your favorite of the Patriots' picks? Least favorite? Did the team properly address its biggest needs and get good value with each selection? If you had been in the war room, is there anything you would have done differently?

JS: This year's draft was a bit of a head-scratcher for Patriots followers. The team failed to address some of its key needs and instead shored up positions that seemed relatively sound already.

The best pick the team made was grabbing Nate Solder in the first round. While there were plenty of options on defense, Solder is a man-beast at tackle, something the team has needed for a while, especially with the aging Matt Light and ailing Nick Kaczur questionable to return in 2011.

The least favorite pick had to be RB Stevan Ridley, taken 73rd overall in the third round. Ridley didn't exactly set LSU afire when he was there, and the pick could have ben used to nab a stud defensive lineman like Allen Bailey (Chiefs, 86th) or Kenrick Ellis (Jets, 94th).

The Patriots did address some of their needs in this draft. As mentioned, Solder is the long-term answer at tackle, and Ras-I Dowling seems to be a good value pick with loads of upside, but there are serious questions about the second half of this draft for New England. Much like 2009, this draft class could be a wash outside of the top two or three picks. Not a good outcome when they had 11 picks headed into the Draft.

One strategy that the Patriots could -- perhaps should -- have employed is to go after defensive pressure players. Stud pass rusher Cameron Jordan was there when New England opted to trade down in the first round. WR Leonard Hankerson was there when New Englnad opted to select QB Ryan Mallett. Taking RB Shane Vereen when Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure was available was a mistake, especially considering how well Danny Woodhead played for the team last season.

JC: Usually we have free agency and then the draft, but this year -- eventually -- it's going to be the other way around. Now that the draft is in the rearview mirror, what position would you most like to see New England address in free agency, and who could be a possible target?

JS: New England needs a pass rusher or a stud defensive end. It failed to even remotely address its need at those positions, and there isn't much out there in terms of free agency. Unlike last year, when the team flirted with some top names like Julius Peppers, there is no clear stud available at either defensive end or outside backer. The big names were franchised by their teams (LaMarr Woodley, Steelers; David Harris, Jets). Charles Johnson, the defensive end from Carolina, is one option that may fit.

JC: On the offensive side of the ball, protecting Brady is always going to be of paramount performance, which is why the Pats were in the market for centers, guards and tackles in the draft. How do you see the line shaking out before the regular season starts?

JS: Great question. The Patriots needed interior help on the offensive line, but instead they took a tackle. With Light likely to re-sign and Sebastian Vollmer ready to take over if he doesn't, Solder will man the opposite position if Kaczur refuses to take a pay cut. Dan Koppen will return for a ninth season at center, with Logan Mankins on one side and Dan Connolly on the other at guard.

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JC: Defensively, putting consistent pressure on the enemy QB has been a problem perhaps since the Adalius Thomas signing didn't work out, yet a pass-rushing linebacker is nowhere to be found among the draft picks. Where is this D going to get sacks?

JS: That is the great unknown. The Patriots' Super Bowl success came when Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest were causing problems from the outside edge rush. There are no such players currently on the roster. The team hopes second-year LB Jermaine Cunningham can grow into that role this year. Eric Moore is a name few people recognize, but he was one of the most productive defensive linemen per snap last year, showing more explosion and presence than team sack leader Mike Wright. If Marcus Stroud has anything left in the tank, his presence could open some holes for the linebackers to have an impact, but that's a big "if."

For all the latest news, notes and quotes on the Patriots, visit PatriotsInsider.com.

Five Questions: Chicago Bears
Five Questions: Detroit Lions
Five Questions: Green Bay Packers
Five Questions: Jacksonville Jaguars
Five Questions: San Francisco 49ers
Five Questions: Kansas City Chiefs


John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com. Jon Scott is the publisher of PatriotsInsider.com.


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