This week's mailbag deals with questions about a Patriots coaching change, draft strategy and the team's situation at running back. Read more to find out why I compare BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
Thanks for all of your questions, and don't forget to come back next week for the last mailbag before the draft.
Do you think the Pats have the right personnel/coaching staff to return to Super Bowl glory, or is it time to move in a different direction?
I don't need to run through Bill Belichick's credentials to say they're in good shape with who they've got. But who would you rather have, Belichick or one of the eight coaches who landed new jobs this offseason — Pat Shurmur, Mike Munchak, Hue Jackson, Ron Rivera, Jim Harbaugh, Leslie Frazier, Jason Garrett or John Fox?
Hey Jeff, I had a question about Alabama running back Mark Ingram. How much better is he than, say, a Mikel Leshoure or a few of the other top-rated backs. Also, do you believe the gap is small enough for the Pats to go after a back in later rounds and still get similar value?
Good question, Ben. I heard a very dumb statement this week from an analyst who said the only difference between Ingram and the other top running backs is that Ingram won a Heisman Trophy. Being college football's best player for a season is the "only" thing that sets him apart? What does that even mean?
Anyway, Ingram's knee issues concern me, and because of that, I actually shuffled my draft board this week. I have Leshoure as the draft's top back with Ingram as No. 2. Leshoure will most likely go at the beginning of the second round, with the possibility he could sneak into the late first round or fall into the middle of the second. But if the Patriots plan to add a running back in this draft, Leshoure would be worth it at Nos. 28 or 33.
There are some nice backs who will go in the second and third rounds, but I think Leshoure is the prize. Check back Monday for a full breakdown of how Leshoure could fit with the Patriots.
If the Patriots don't target a running back high in the draft, it would be a great sign for their feelings toward BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who I'd compare to Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis in a way. Remember when Youkilis had to fight to stay in the lineup, showed signs of being a pretty good player and then was thrown around in all of those trade rumors in 2006 and 2007? At the time, it seemed like the Sox could use him as a valuable trading chip, but I also kept hearing they viewed him as a guy who could hit 30-35 home runs some day. It seemed like a stretch then, but he wound up with a combined 56 home runs and 209 RBIs in 2008 and 2009. Basically, they were patient, and he rewarded them for it.
I kept hearing similar things about Green-Ellis this season. He hit 1,000 yards — a very nice milestone, even if it doesn't mean what it used to — but his teammates, including Fred Taylor, were adamant that Green-Ellis has the ability to get to 1,300-1,500 yards at some point. So, essentially, if the Patriots stay patient and keep allowing Green-Ellis to develop as the lead back, he could really reward them the way Youkilis did for the Red Sox. They're guys who have done it the right way and fought for every single opportunity they've gotten (Green-Ellis started 2010 as the Patriots' fifth-string running back), and they work hard enough to make sure they keep improving.
I don't get this obsession with California defensive end Cameron Jordan and Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith. Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, while more of a defensive end than a pass-rushing outside linebacker, would tie up two offenders, leaving more room to rush for Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham. Plus, he used to be a tight end. Do I hear Mike Vrabel versatility? Why take a risk on a conversion prospect when you can nail down a solid defensive end for years who could also pass protect or catch on the goal line once Alge Crumpler retires?
Here's the thing with Jordan. He might not wow you all the time, but Cal's defensive ends are asked to do the same exact thing that the Patriots' defensive ends do. He would be a natural fit as a space-eater who could hold blocks and free up linebackers. Jordan doesn't have the same relentless motor as Watt, and he might not be as good of a pass rusher, but he proved in college that he can do what Belichick wants. As for Smith, well, he'll be a really good 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, but he has said he has very little interest in playing in the 4-3. There is absolutely no reason to believe the Patriots will take him.
As for Watt the tight end, he caught eight passes at Central Michigan and was moved to defensive end during his red-shirt year on Wisconsin's scout team. Those days are far behind him. I've personally seen every member of the Patriots catch at least eight passes in practice since Watt changed positions, so don't get too excited about that notion. That, and Rob Gronkowski has already proven he can be a juggernaut in the red zone.
I see what you're saying, and I absolutely understand the respect for Vrabel's contributions as a pass catcher. But I promise you Watt's eight catches as a tight end at Central Michigan will have no effect on the Patriots' interest in taking him with a first-round pick.
Will the lockout affect the 2011 NFL season?
–Pats should have one it all
It already has. The players would be a month into their voluntary workouts at team facilities right now, and the draft will happen before the start of free agency, which will alter their strategy, no matter what they say. But at this point, the best way for there to be a full training camp, preseason and regular season would be for the players to win the injunction and the appeal process in court. If the owners are victorious in court, it's going to be very difficult for the two sides to reach a new CBA in time for a full season.
Do you think it's possible Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers falls to pick No. 17, and the Pats take a shot and pick him? He could be an incredible player! Thank you.
I think it's extremely possible Bowers falls to No. 17, and I'm sure the Patriots would be inclined to draft him if he has cleared their medical checks. Remember, they passed on Sergio Kindle twice last year — although, Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski worked out wonderfully — and Bowers' knee issues could be compared to Kindle's. Bowers was a great player in college, and he might be one in the NFL. The question, though, is how long do teams expect Bowers to excel before his body breaks down.