I get into the complexity of mock drafts and why they're so difficult to project without making it sound like I'm using the response as an excuse, and later, I'll list the trade offer that will make the Patriots drive Mankins to the airport.
Thanks again for all of the questions, and apologies to those whose questions didn't get in this week. But fear not, these mailbags will take over your Fridays from now until the end of time. The CBA can't hold us down.
Jeff, on a more personal level, have you ever put together a mock draft (first round only) that held true to form? What's the most you've ever gotten right? To me, mocks are more of a way to report on a prospect than to actually predict where they'll be picked, especially after the top five are done.
–One man is not a nation
Nice, I like the question. I've only done three or four mock drafts (counting all of them this year as one), and this is my second year doing one for NESN.com. Last year's final mock was awful. I don't think I even had a half-dozen correct picks. One thing I hang my hat on, for what it's worth, is I correctly predicted Aaron Rodgers going to Green Bay in 2005, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.
Draft-day trades also kill mock drafts because they throw everything out of whack. Just look at my fourth mock draft, for instance. I moved Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert up one spot — from No. 8 to No. 7 — and it triggered a huge series of changes throughout the rest of the first round. Because that meant the 49ers were taking a quarterback instead of a cornerback, and the Titans were taking a defensive lineman instead of a quarterback, the depth of three positions changed. From there, do the Titans want a sure thing in Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus or a quarterback with question marks in Cam Newton? And since the Cowboys couldn't take Dareus, who is a better fit for their scheme than most of the defensive linemen on the board, they went with the top tackle available.
It's one thing to miss a pick when that team takes a player at the same position — in my fourth mock, the Redskins took Cam Newton instead of Ryan Mallett, and that had no effect on any other picks in the mock — but if you incorrectly pick that team's position of interest, you're going to cause a chain reaction of missed picks.
Mock drafts are fun to do, and they're worth reading because, as you said, it helps people get an understanding of how good certain prospects might be. But when I only hit on four first-rounders in April, please don't swear at me.
Jeff, will the Patriots trade down in the first round of the draft, like they usually do, and if so, is this a force of habit?
It's about value to the Patriots. Last year with Devin McCourty, I believe they were prepared to take him with the 22nd pick, but they believed he'd still be around later in the first round, so they traded back to No. 24 and then to No. 27 because it saved them money and got them more picks — a fourth-rounder they used to take Aaron Hernandez and a third-rounder used to take Taylor Price.
While trading back drives fans crazy, Bill Belichick doesn't believe in using a pick on a player whose grade doesn't deserve that selection. Obviously, the pre-draft grading process is anything but perfect, and McCourty certainly proved that with a stellar rookie season. But at the very least, the Patriots were correct in their assessment in thinking McCourty would still be there at No. 27.
The implementation of the rookie salary scale will carry a lot of weight with the Patriots' trading strategy. If it's in place for this draft, I can see them trading up or staying in place. If it's not, look for the same strategy you've seen in the last decade.
For now, I see them keeping the 17th pick, but I wouldn't be shocked to see them trade out of Nos. 28 and 33 due to the drop-off in talent in the low-20s. One thing I'm curious about, though, is the depth at defensive line in this draft class. If the Patriots think they can get a similarly graded defensive lineman at No. 17 as they can at No. 25, that's a recipe for trading down.
Jeff, it's interesting reading all of the mocks but almost impossible to predict in what direction Belichick will go in. None of us saw the McCourty pick coming and many didn't even knew who he was. Is there one position or a specific player that you could see them addressing with first three picks that would surprise? For example, taking three offensive linemen with those picks or another cornerback?
–Rob in Mexico
Good question, Rob, and it doesn't end with McCourty, either. Belichick turned heads with Logan Mankins in 2005, Jerod Mayo in 2008 — Sports Illustrated didn't even have Mayo as a first-rounder in its mock — and Sebastian Vollmer was a major surprise as a second-rounder in 2009.
There's one mock draft that has Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara falling to the Patriots at No. 17, but it would be more surprising to see him fall that far out of the top 10 than the Patriots adding a top-notch cornerback. Then again, maybe Belichick would be intrigued by cornerback Brandon Harris because of his history with selecting players from Miami.
Another surprise, the Patriots could add Florida interior lineman Mike Pouncey with the 17th pick. Pouncey is a good player, but historically, Belichick has been more inclined to develop an undrafted guard than using a high pick on one. Mankins has been an exception to that rule.
Jeff, I know it is solely dependent on a new CBA, but let's say they reach a deal before the draft and we have a free agency period. 1) Do you really think they will pursue Takeo Spikes? I know Patrick Willis has said he wants San Francisco to keep him. How much, if at all, do you think that will influence Spikes' decision, and have you heard anything about him wanting to play for New England? 2) I hope they re-sign Mankins, and if they do anything with Light, it more than likely wouldn't be for more than one year, two tops. That being said, they will still be in need of an offensive lineman. How high do you think they draft one, and who do you think it will be, (i.e. Anthony Castonzo from BC, Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin)? Thanks.
I think Spikes is worth pursuing because he'd be a great mentor for his younger cousin, Brandon Spikes, but the Patriots can't go after him until free agency begins. Players can be signed now if they've been cut, but Spikes' contract expired, which means he has to wait until free agency. I can see him having interest in New England because he's 34, has never sniffed a Super Bowl and is familiar with the AFC East due to his four years in Buffalo.
Light will have some suitors on the open market, so there's no way the Patriots will be able to keep him with only a one-year deal. I can see him giving them a hometown discount, but not to that extent.
If the Patriots take a tackle in the first round, I think they should do it early because the four highest-rated tackles — Castonzo, Carimi, Nate Solder from Colorado and Tyron Smith from USC, in whatever order — will be gone by No. 28. As for who, well, their place on the totem pole is still unclear, so it will depend on how things shake out over the next two months.
I still haven't heard the answer to the question. Did Bill Belichick OK the fake punt before the half in their playoff game to the Jets, and if so, has he lost his mind? They were only down four points and going to receive the second-half kickoff despite playing a miserable first half! –Winning in Farmville, Va.
Patrick Chung called the fake punt because he recognized the Patriots had a five-on-three advantage in blockers on his side of the line, and by all accounts, he would have gotten a first down if he handled the snap. Belichick had given Chung the green light to call for a fake long before the actual play, maybe even as early as training camp when the play was installed into the playbook. Belichick didn't order anything from the sideline because he had already given Chung the power to make the call.
Jeff, I keep reading many of the national media members comment that for the unrestricted free agent players that have had the franchise tag applied to them so far, they are smart to quickly sign that tag. Do you agree that is the best move players that have been tagged can make based on the uncertainty of the CBA? The bigger question is this: how does that apply in regards to Logan Mankins? Would it also be in his best interest to sign as well? Or are his circumstances different, and he would be better off not signing?
–All Things Pats
It's actually smart for the restricted free agents to sign the tender, and I addressed some of this Thursday. Mankins' circumstances are different because he's an unrestricted free agent, and it's probably smarter for him not to sign the tender because my gut feeling is the franchise tag will be eliminated with the new CBA. In that event, he'll be free to open up the bidding to the whole league, and that has been his intention all along.
Could you see the Patriots trading Logan Mankins to the Redskins for their pick at No. 10 and then selecting Robert Quinn or another stud defensive lineman since LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller would be gone? They could replace Mankins by drafting Pouncey with pick No. 28 leaving No. 17 for another stud defensive lineman.
If the Patriots could get a first-rounder for Mankins, I think they'd do it in a heartbeat, especially if they could get into the top 10. However, players can't be traded until there's a new CBA. Pouncey would add an edge to the offensive line, similar to Mankins, and I think he'd be a good get at No. 28. But if the Patriots want him, I think they'll need to take him at No. 17, which I believe is too high for an interior lineman.