London Fletcher, Amobi Akoye Remain Possibilities for Patriots’ Defense and 19 Other NFL Thoughts


Apr 4, 2012

London Fletcher, Amobi Akoye Remain Possibilities for Patriots' Defense and 19 Other NFL ThoughtsIt's fashion week in the NFL. With Wes Welker's underwear commercial and Nike's uniform launch, the biggest stories in recent days haven't had much to do with things on the field. But maybe, in a weird sort of way, it was a necessary evil to allow everyone to take a breath after so much discussion about free agency and the draft.

Anyway, it's time to put the focus back on the field, and the Two-Minute Drill starts with a point I made several times last season, but the numbers needed some updating.

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is the most lethal red-zone target in the NFL, and the numbers prove it. He has 25 touchdowns inside the 20-yard line since entering the league in 2010, which is second only to Texans running back Arian Foster's 26. But Gronkowski has six more red-zone scores than any other pass catcher.

2. In the same span, Gronkowski also leads all non-running backs with 14 touchdowns inside the 10-yard line. As a nice luxury for the Patriots, tight end Aaron Hernandez is tied for the second most with 11. What's more, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was second among all players with 20 touchdowns inside the 10-yard line.

3. As of Tuesday, the Patriots had 71 players on the roster, including wide receiver Wes Welker (franchise tag) and defensive tackle Kyle Love (exclusive rights tender). Teams can carry 80 players into camp, though there will be a vote in May at the owners meetings to expand that number to 90, which was the one-time limit after the 2011 lockout.

4. Point is, the Patriots aren't done signing players by any stretch of the imagination. As a point of reference, they signed four players in April 2010 before the draft. That, of course, wasn't applicable last year.

5. The Patriots have six draft picks in 2012. Only the Raiders and Saints (five each) have fewer, and 26 teams have more. Of course, some draft-weekend trades could alter those numbers.

6. Interestingly, the Jets have 10 draft picks, and if all holds true, this will be the first time since 2005 the Jets have drafted more players than the Patriots. The Pats drafted more players than the Jets from 2007-11, and the two teams had the same number of picks (10) in 2006.

7. In a crazy stat, the Patriots drafted 49 players from 2007-11, while the Jets only drafted 23. Just as crazy, the Patriots had more draft picks in 2009 and 2010 (24) than the Jets had over that whole five-year span.

8. Time to throw out some other draft tidbits. The Patriots' first pick is at No. 27, which they've used before on defensive end Julius Adams (1971), defensive tackle Lester Williams (1982) and cornerback Devin McCourty (2010).

9. The Patriots' second pick is at No. 31, where they've selected halfback Ellis Johnson (1965 AFL draft) and linebacker Chris Slade (1993).

10. The Patriots' third pick is at No. 48, where they've selected defensive end Garin Veris (1985) and left tackle Matt Light (2001).

11. The Patriots' fourth pick is at No. 62, where they've selected defensive back Bernie McRae (1962 AFL draft), guard Rod Foster (1963 AFL draft), cornerback Terrence Wheatley (2008) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (2010).

12. The Patriots' fifth pick is at No. 93, where they've selected defensive back Darren Anderson (1992).

13. And their sixth pick is at No. 126, where they've selected guard Ken Byers (1962 AFL draft), tackle Wes Bryant (1963 AFL draft) and defensive end Jarvis Green (2002).

14. As I was combing through the Patriots' 685 draft picks of their 51-year existence, I was reminded of something that I only remember when I do things like comb through five decades of draft picks. The Patriots actually selected Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the fifth round of the 1961 AFL draft, which was the first in the history of the organization. Yet, a month later, the Vikings took Tarkenton in the third round of the NFL draft, and he signed with them.

15. Center Dan Koppen's visit to the Titans, according to The Tennessean, furthers the notion that his nine-year career with the Patriots is over. The Patriots paid Dan Connolly starting money, and if they wanted to retain Koppen, it's hard to imagine they'd let him leave town.

16. The Patriots' running backs have been a major focal point since Green-Ellis left for Cincinnati last month, and while I've said all along I think Stevan Ridley will be the primary ball carrier, I don't want to diminish another point. I really think Shane Vereen will be a fun player to watch because he's so electric in space. The Patriots' passing game can be conducive to Vereen's strengths, so keep him in mind as a breakout candidate next season. I'm also intrigued to see what he's got as a runner in between the tackles, even if it's mostly out of passing sets.

17. Looking ahead to 2013 for a moment, the Patriots have one draft pick in every round except for the fifth and sixth rounds. I noted last week the Patriots might trade down about 10-15 spots in the second or third round to pick up an extra fourth- or fifth-rounder. But they might also trade down in this year's draft to stock up extra picks heading into next year. Since the trade value increases by a round each year, let's say they had a chance to move from No. 48 to No. 58, and the inquiring team would also send a fifth-round pick in this draft. The Patriots might try their luck to turn that fifth-rounder into a fourth-rounder in 2013. Just a thought.

18. It's too easy to say the hysteria surrounding the unveiling of the league's new uniforms was a credit to the power of the NFL. That just doesn't tell the whole story. Nike deserves a lot of credit, too, because if it hadn't made so many dramatic changes to its college football uniforms in recent years, fans wouldn't have been as anxious to see the new NFL uniforms.

19. I raised the point Tuesday in my post about Alshon Jeffery that the Patriots might not be very inclined to draft a wide receiver who can't immediately help on special teams. With their depth at the position, it's not worth it to draft another rookie and redshirt him at the expense of a proven veteran who could be more of an asset. Therefore, if the Patriots haven't identified a wide receiver in the early rounds who could make an immediate offensive impact, I think it makes more sense to wait until the third round to get Arkansas' Joe Adams, who has dynamite special teams ability and could get on the field right away.

20. The best free agents, from a Patriots perspective, who are still on the market are safety O.J. Atogwe, linebacker London Fletcher and defensive linemen Luis Castillo and Amobi Akoye. The Patriots don't necessarily need Fletcher, but he's a really solid football player who would provide quality depth and leadership. You could throw Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb to the top of the list, but he's a restricted free agent who would cost a first-round pick and possibly a $50 million contract.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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