7 points: Georgia Tech’s Dwyer fits Pats

Point No. 1:  The Patriots have a talent crisis looming

at the running back position. 

At first glance, you’d think a team with well-known players such

as Lawrence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris on

its depth chart would be planning to stand pat during this year’s

NFL Draft and focus on other positions. After all, the

running-back-by-committee approach helped the Patriots finish a

respectable 12th in average rushing yards per game (120.1), fifth

in percentage of runs for four-plus yards (45.5), fifth in

third-and-one conversions (76.5 percent) and tied for sixth in

rushing touchdowns (19).

But all four running backs are in the final year of their

contracts. To make matters worse, Maroney appeared to be in head

coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse at the end of last season due to

some poorly-timed fumbles. And while he got nearly half of the

team’s carries last year, his 3.9 yards-per-rush average was the

worst mark among the four backs. Meanwhile, the other three are

waging a battle against time at a young man’s position in the NFL.

They’ll all be 33 or 34 years old before the start of this year’s

training camp.

The Patriots need to bring in a starter-quality back and at

least one strong reserve out of this year’s pool of young draft

prospects. Sources say two candidates who fit the bill are

currently being evaluated by the team.

The team has scheduled a private workout with Georgia Tech’s

Jonathan Dwyer, a versatile, tough runner who could be the feature

back the team thought they were getting when they drafted Maroney a

few years ago. But to be certain they get the 2008 ACC Player of

the Year, the Patriots would likely have to use their second pick

in the first round at No. 22 overall. The Chargers, who have the

No. 28 pick and the No. 40 pick in the second round have shown

quite a bit of interest in Dwyer as well. So, if the Pats decide to

roll the dice and wait to snag him with the 44th selection, there’s

a strong chance he could be off the board. 

Another source says that the Patriots hosted LSU running back

Charles Scott for an official visit this past week. The 5-foot-11,

232-pound back is a terrific inside-the-tackles runner who logged

32 rushing touchdowns during his collegiate career. He’d

undoubtedly be an immediate asset to New England’s short-yardage

and goal-line situations.

If the Patriots face reality and move forward with adding two

fresh faces to the depth chart, be it Dwyer and Scott or two other

talented backs, it’ll be interesting to see who the odd-men-out

will be by the start of the season. My early guess is Morris and

Taylor unless Belichick’s still disgruntled with Maroney.

Point No. 2: As teams continue to work on their draft boards,

they need to wake up and realize the value of having three

highly-skilled wide receivers on their roster. 

Last year, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning racked-up 3,485 of

his 4,500 passing yards while working out of a three-wide receiver

set. He completed 68.7 percent of his 438 pass attempts out of that

formation with Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon split out wide while

either rookie wide receiver Austin Collie or tight end Dallas Clark

lined up in the slot. 

Both Wayne and Clark finished the season with exactly 100

catches and 10 touchdowns while rolling up 1,264 yards and 1,106

yards receiving, respectively. Collie grabbed 60 balls for 676

yards and seven scores while Garcon snagged 47 passes for 765 yards

and four TDs. The spread out talent kept opponents off balance and

helped propel the Colts into the Super Bowl for the second time

this decade.

Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers

were the only other quarterbacks who finished the year with at

least 2,000 passing yards out of that formation. And all but one

(Roethlisberger) ended up in the playoffs. 

Point No. 3: Penn State’s Jared Odrick is the most NFL-ready

defensive tackle in this draft.

Don’t get me wrong. Nebraska’s Ndumakong Suh and Oklahoma’s

Gerald McCoy should both be picked earlier in the first round of

the draft than Odrick, but the 6-foot-5, 304-pound lineman is

special in his own right, and will likely make the transition to

the pro game faster than the other two.

That’s not just my opinion, it’s a point solidified by former

NFL defensive tackle John Thornton, who played the position from

1999 through 2008 for the Titans and Bengals. He’s convinced

Odrick’s poised to make an immediate impact as a rookie.

“He doesn’t do much wrong. He comes off the line using his hands

well and making pass-rush moves immediately, and you don’t see that

a lot out of college guys who play inside,” Thornton said. “He’s

the most pro-ready with the little things. When I saw him at the

Senior Bowl, this was the guy who I thought that if I was picking

for a team, I’d be hoping that I would get him, because there’s

less risk there.”

The veteran defensive lineman is also optimistic that Odrick

will have a long and successful career in the NFL if he stays

healthy.

“He doesn’t have Suh’s strength or McCoy’s numbers, but he’s a

hidden gem, like (Steelers defensive end) Aaron Smith who has

played for 12 years, who does it well and is still going,” Thornton

explained. “If Jared comes out and does it right, I think he can be

one of those guys.

“He could play 3-4 defensive end, he could slide down on a

three-technique, you could throw him inside on a pass rush against

the center. He’s probably the most versatile guy of the bunch.”

As for when the Penn State star will hear his name called during

the first round, Thornton believes it’ll be between the 10th and

20th pick, and he thinks he’s a steal at that point.

“If I’m looking for a value pick, based on where I think he’ll

be taken, it would be Jared Odrick,” he said. “He’s going to give

you a lot of production, because he’s really active.” 

Point No. 4: Riley Cooper is getting plenty of interest, and

he’s pumped up about it.

The talented wide receiver out of Florida told me this week he’s

already worked out for the Falcons, Patriots and Vikings. So, I

asked him if it’s hit him yet that he could soon be catching passes

from future Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Brett Favre or Tom

Brady.

“No, not yet. I’m just trying to focus on getting picked, but

that would be cool to be playing with one of those quarterbacks

that I’ve been playing with on Madden. That would be pretty neat,”

Cooper said with a laugh.

He has already visited with the Ravens, and he’s heading to

Cleveland early this week to visit the Browns. The two-time

national champion is getting really positive feedback from the NFL

teams that are taking a closer look at him.

“They’ve said that they love my speed and my size. I’m 6-foot-4

and I weighed in at 224 pounds, so they love how I use my big frame

and my hands to my advantage,” he said.

“They said they’re really interested in me and they want me,

which is what you want to hear, so I’m pumped for the 22nd and the

23rd.”  

Point No. 5: Don’t overlook the players drafted in the seventh

round.

Over the past five drafts, a number of players selected in the

seventh round have become starters or highly-valued reserves for

their teams. Here are just a few examples from recent drafts

who’ll remind you it is worth paying attention to those

late-round picks:

  • Courtland Finnegan: The Titans cornerback has

    started 45 of the Titans’ last 48 regular season games and has

    picked off five passes in each of the last two

    seasons.  

  • Ahmad Bradshaw: In a traditional

    32-picks-per-round draft, the Giants running back wouldn’t have

    been selected. New York grabbed him with a compensatory 40th pick

    in the final round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and he’s rewarded them

    by posting a career rushing average of 5.2 yards.

  • Matt Cassel: The Chiefs’ starting quarterback

    was the 16th pick in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft by

    New England. He’s passed for at least 2,900 yards in each of the

    last two seasons as a starter. 

  • Jay Ratliff: The Cowboys defensive tackle has

    started all but two contests over the past three seasons and has

    13.5 sacks over the last two. 

  • Marques Colston: Another compensatory draft

    pick, Colston was the 44th pick in the seventh round of the 2006

    Draft. He’s logged at least 1,000 receiving yards in three out of

    the four seasons when he’s started at least a dozen

    games. 

  • Julian Edelman: The Patriots receiver started

    seven games, appeared in 11 and caught 37 balls for 359 yards

    last year. With Wes Welker likely to miss at least a portion of

    the 2010 season, Edelman is the heir-apparent to the slot

    receiver position.

Point No. 6:  If the Panthers don’t dramatically improve

their wide receiver situation during this year’s draft, veteran

Steve Smith should request a trade.

Carolina has only drafted two wide receivers the last five

years, and that neglect has put them in a terrible position. They

drafted Dwayne Jarrett with a second-round pick in 2007, but the

underachieving receiver has just three starts, 33 receptions and

388 yards on his NFL resume to date. In the same year, the team

also selected Ryne Robinson in the fourth round out of Miami

(Ohio). He was a one-and-done roster addition who washed out after

handling punt returns and kickoff return duties as a rookie.

Last year, while surrounded by a mediocre receiver corps and

chasing down erratic passes from declining veteran quarterback Jake

Delhomme, Smith failed to break the 1,000-yard mark for the first

time since 2004 when an injury ended his season after the first

game of the season. The bottom line is that the Panthers are

wasting the incredible talent of the 10th-year veteran if they

don’t put enough talent on the field at the wide receiver position

to force their opponents to distribute their pass coverage more

evenly.

As it stands now, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound star shares the depth

chart with Jarrett, fifth-year pro Wallace Wright, who was signed

as a free agent from the Jets for his special teams coverage

skills, and a trio of young, inexperienced receivers who have a

grand total of seven career catches between them. Not to mention,

Smith will likely be catching passes from Matt Moore, who made a

promising showing during the final weeks of the 2009 season, but is

still an unproven talent.

In 100 career starts, Smith has 574 catches and 50 touchdown

passes, even though he hasn’t had the benefit of a consistently

strong cast of offensive players during his career. While it’s

unlikely Carolina will make a change at quarterback this year, they

owe it to Smith to bring in some talented receivers who’ll

command some respect and divert some attention so he can flourish

again. Otherwise, they should show some class and allow the

soon-to-be 31-year-old player to finish his career with a contender

like the Chiefs did for tight end Tony Gonzalez prior to the 2009

season. 

Point No. 7:  I’m still hearing plenty of buzz about

visits and workouts directly from draft prospects and my NFL

sources. 

  • USC offensive tackle

    Charles Brown told me he met with the Ravens

    offensive line coach before his school’s Pro Day, visited the

    Bills and the Lions this past week and has a visit with the

    Buccaneers in the next couple days. I asked him why he’s been

    able to be so effective as a pass blocker, which is essential to

    an offensive lineman’s success in the NFL. “Staying square to the

    line of scrimmage,” he said. “And I’ve got long arms, so I’m able

    to get a good touch on my opponent before he can get close to

    me.” Brown has been hearing good things from the NFL coaches he’s

    been talking to over the last couple of months. “They like that

    I’m athletic and have good feet. And when they put me on the

    board, I’m able to draw up the plays that we’ve been talking

    about,” he said. 

  • Oklahoma State offensive tackle

    Russell Okung and South Florida defensive end

    Jason Pierre-Paul were both up in Buffalo for a

    visit this past week. Both players are projected as first-round

    selections.

  • Ole Miss wide receiver/running back

    Dexter McCluster visited both the Redskins and

    the Broncos. He finished his collegiate career ranked second in

    school history with 4,089 all-purpose yards and should be

    selected no later than the second round.

  • UCLA defensive tackle

    Brian Price has a busy month in progress with

    visits to the Chargers and Eagles and a workout for the Falcons

    already completed. He’s scheduled to visit with the Patriots,

    Buccaneers and Falcons this week. The 6-foot-1, 303-pound

    defender has an explosive burst and awesome physical strength

    that helped him register 23.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks

    in 2009.

  • Oregon’s

    Ed Dickson told me he has already visited the

    Lions and Ravens and has visits lined up this week with the 49ers

    and the Rams. He was the school’s top all-time tight end with 124

    receptions for 1,557 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’ll should know

    which NFL team has sent his name to the podium no later than the

    third round.

  • Central Florida defensive tackle

    Torrell Troup is drawing interest from the

    Panthers and had a visit with the Falcons this past week. The

    Browns have already worked him out, but have scheduled a

    follow-up official visit early this week. The 6-foot-3, 314-pound

    lineman has the physical size and skill to be a 3-4 nose tackle

    and will likely be selected during the second round.

  • Washington linebacker

    Donald Butler told me he has a visit with the

    Patriots early this week and a workout for the Raiders later in

    the week. One of the top inside linebacker prospects of this

    draft class, he deserves consideration as a second-round

    pick. 

 

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