logoby Scott Benson

The 2008 NFL Draft is over for the Patriots, and it’s time to put the clipboards and highlighters away for another year.

The draft was more condensed this year but it still seemed to last forever. Especially day two, with the added round. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for at least three months but by the time the Pats chose corner Jonathan Wilhite with the 129th pick, I’d had enough. As I lie in a semi-comatose state, the Pats completed their selections by taking a reported special teams ace (UCLA’s Matt Slater) and then finally, their third linebacker of the draft (Nebraska’s Bo Ruud, who will play inside).

The Pats had selected a total of seven linebackers in the previous eight drafts before this weekend, when they took nearly half that many in two days.

That’s the story of this weekend, at least for me. Did the Patriots draft for need, or what? Three linebackers and two cornerbacks in seven picks. We can agree that timing is everything, and location of selections also plays a role, but come on. They lose Asante Samuel and Randall Gay in free agency and then just happen to pick two corners in the next draft? They release Rosevelt Colvin and his contract and then just happen to draft another Big Ten defensive end who will stand up and rush the passer in the pros?

Most importantly, three players over the age of 35 led the defense in total snaps played in 07, including the two inside linebackers, and they just happened to spend the #10 pick on a player they saw as the best inside linebacker in the draft? And then took another one later, albeit a much longer shot?

I’m not finding fault with any of this. In fact, I love it. Do I love the individuals they picked? No idea. You can certainly see good qualities in the reports on each, and if you’re inclined that way, you can find something negative too. Those words are of no further use, though, because there will be plenty to judge when these players hit the field in late July. Any reasonable jury takes the summer off first, at least.

But you have to love the intent. It reassures me that the Pats aren’t going to squeeze one more year out of the vets before trying to address the inevitable – they cannot play forever. This time, they used real draft capital acknowledging that the inevitable is coming sooner than later. It reasures me that they weren’t content to add a couple of capable yet traveled one-year vets at the corner position, with their eyes fixed on 08 alone; they directed more capital that way in a draft that was said to hold several players of future promise.

The two positions that cried out for the most attention got exactly that. So in that sense, I couldn’t be more satisfied as a fan.

It’s also important to remember that part of the take this weekend was San Diego’s second-round pick in 2009, which you can guess will fall somewhere towards the end of the round, unless Norv surprises everybody and has a mediocre year. I’m being droll here.   

Still, most of the early reaction to this draft will be directed towards the individual players. Based on what I read about Mayo, I can see where he’d fit within the middle of the defense (the Junior role, clearly), bringing new speed and athleticism to the position. And come on….do you really think Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli just blew the 10th pick in the draft? Based on what? If there’s anything that these guys can do, it’s pick first rounders.

Wheatley does, as NFL Draft Scout opined, sound a lot like Ellis Hobbs, except maybe with better straight-line and short-area speed and quickness. If he can prove to be as durable as Hobbs (who played through various injuries by years end) then its possible Wheatley could be a factor right away. You can never have too many corners, as Mike Mayock instructs (more later).

Crable was touted as a Pats possibility all along, as the prototypical tweener that the Pats have transitioned in the past. Here’s the thing about this – I wonder how much influence Dom Capers is having on the Patriots, and on this draft. I admit I have a dog in this hunt. Will the Pats grant my fondest wish and move towards a faster and more aggresive, attacking defense? And look at these picks – a versatile, mobile linebacker to put in the middle, two blazers outside the hashes, and with this pick, the McGinest-elephant type that is best suited to go straight up the field to the quarterback. What do all these guys have in common?  

I read a few things on Matt Slater and decided to back out of those links because I had already convinced myself the Pats just drafted Hanik Milligan or Kasim Osgood or somebody. We should be so lucky that the Patriots mine instant special teams gold with a pick in the 150’s. But if you remember that Willie Andrews and Antwan Spann both played special teams roles last year, you can see an opening for Slater (son of THE Jackie Slater) this fall, if he comes as advertised.

The quarterback pick was typical Patriots – it kicked off a wild argument on the NFL Network between Jamie Dukes (who thinks the Pats should be trying to win NOW instead of drafting a quarterback that Jamie Dukes has never heard of) and Belichick-pal Mayock (who thinks Jamie Dukes is full of it). Man, the way Mayock got his back up at Dukes questioning Belichick – well, it was just one of those harmonic moments. I think I heard angels singing. And listen – Mayock was nothing short of brilliant all weekend. He was step for step with nearly every selection, articulating clearly why certain prospects fit for each team.

Often, he nailed it, and when he didn’t, Adam Schefter often did. Mayock was batting something like .900 over the first one hundred players that came off the board. Never has an NFL Draft analyst performed at anything even approaching this level – he was like Gretzky or Jordan out there. And then he pitches a nutty at Dukes that would have befitted even the most strident Pats partisan. I don’t think I’ll bother listening to anybody else from now on when it comes to the draft, or anything else, for that matter. I wonder what Mike thinks about my investments?

As far as O’Connell – it sounds as though we’ll have to be awfully patient with him, but promise exists here as well. He fits the physical profile of Pats quarterbacks, has the mental makeup they prefer (he was captain as a freshman?), and he adds the Cassel-like element of mobility. There will be those who claim he went too soon, and there isn’t much we can say until he actually does something. I don’t think the Patriots like Matt Cassel all that much anymore, frankly, so I expect O’Connell to stick around. They’ll never be able to slide him to the practice squad, not if the reports of his ascending pre-draft status are true.

I really think the Patriots took Bo Ruud to appease those local supporters of his brother Barrett, who was a pre-draft sweetheart of some Pats fans a few years back. I like that they’re listening to us. Let’s make them take an offensive lineman next time.

The Pats didn’t take an o-lineman, even though their own got rag dolled the last time we saw them. Branden Albert was seen as one possibility here, and I admit the thought occured to me that a huge, athletic guard to challenge Stephen Neal was appealing. As was the thought of one that may also challenge Matt Light, or Nick Kaczur. But in the end, was it a high priority when compared with other needs? No. They’ll be back choosing offensive linemen soon, I’m sure; maybe with the mid-to-early second round pick Norv Turner is determined to give them next season.

As Belichick acknowledged himself, the Pats also didn’t draft other staples like tight end and defensive line. There were some needs there, but with the seven picks they had, I’d argue the Patriots had their priorities correctly in order.

Now if these guys can just play.

That’s it for me for a few days. Chris Warner will be along shortly with his reaction to this weekend’s events, and maybe a few undrafted free agents for Pats fans to look for over the next few days.

Thanks to all who have checked in over the weekend and who still continue to visit this page some three months after the season ended. I hope you had an enjoyable draft and I look forward to chatting with you again when the mini-camps commence in a few weeks.