Every Friday, Mel Kiper looks at big NFL topics through the prism of the draft.
There's just so much to the Randy Moss trade. Current personnel, future draft moves, philosophical locker room dealings and on-field ramifications. So let's hit it all:
• What I think of the deal
• Is the current personnel enough?
• What the Pats need
• Draft strategies and who they could target with the pick
• Is there such a thing as too many picks?
• How the picks could be used in trades
Let's get into this.
The right trade?
My opinion is this is a deal Bill Belichick felt he had to make. This is not meant to be an indictment of Randy Moss, but the bottom line is Belichick likes to maintain a "we" and "us" culture in the locker room. The individual won't be a distraction. And while the situation -- Moss' concerns over his future, his contract, whether this was his last year with the Patriots, the subtle questions about whether he was somehow becoming a lesser part of the offense -- wasn't created entirely by Moss, the questions were constantly being asked. And that's not a distraction Belichick is or has been willing to deal with.
The Vikings got what they felt they needed -- although if they can't keep Brett Favre upright, there's no reason to think Moss is the difference for that team -- and the Patriots feel they have enough to be successful now. That, and they've added another significant piece of franchise-building currency with a third-round pick. And about that current personnel
Is New England's current personnel enough?
In terms of the passing game alone, my feeling is yes. Patriots fans who believe the offense is somehow built around the talents of Moss, or that Wes Welker suddenly will be drawing double-teams at the line of scrimmage simply because the deep threat of Moss is no longer there are a little delusional. This is a 3-1 team that has scored 38 or more points in three of four games, and doesn't even have anything resembling an elite running game. Of the current pass-catchers on the team, Welker, rookie Aaron Hernandez and second-year man Brandon Tate all have more catches than Moss. And Julian Edelman could certainly add touches. A number of people have pointed out (notably Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com) how the Patriots are using far more two-tight-end sets this season, featuring the extremely talented Hernandez and the emerging Rob Gronkowski. (A point on Gronkowski: He's already become an almost impossible red zone matchup, much like Moss once was. His 6-foot-7 basketball frame forces safeties to climb on him in jump-ball situations.) There will be changes in the passing game, but a lot of it will be perception, because changes have already been made. This passing attack, which has largely coasted, is diversified and dangerous and has a QB that could get it done with David Givens, Deion Branch and Troy Brown, and certainly can with the current unit. And, in terms of talent, the current squad far surpasses Givens and Co.
No, the Pats' personnel question comes elsewhere. We'll get to that.
Again, the Patriots are 3-1, and you're looking at a league in which, according to ESPN Stats & Information, 23 teams are within a game of first place. There simply isn't a dominant team. And if New England can make gradual improvements on defense, there's a lot of season left for the offense to jell. (And again, look at what they've done to this point.)
What about trading picks now?
When you have eight picks in the first four rounds, you have ammo to go and get a player if you think that guy can make an immediate difference. I don't see the Patriots getting Vincent Jackson (partially because of the stance and price we've seen from Chargers GM A.J. Smith thus far), but even a player like Steve Smith can't be considered an impossible get when you're holding such a massive picks portfolio. Draft picks are trade currency, and the Patriots are sitting on a vault right now. Still, given the current offensive productivity, I think the Patriots would be far more inclined to target defense. And if it was about offense, they should pick up a running back before a receiver.
What are the Pats' draft needs?
It's early, but for me it starts at running back. This is a team that's sort of been piecing together a backfield with veterans, augmenting its brilliant passing attack with whatever it could get. You had Corey Dillon and now Fred Taylor, plus the ageless Kevin Faulk. Laurence Maroney is officially a bust (at least for New England), but given the picks it has, a running back should be targeted with one of those first three. From there I'd target a stand-up 3-4 OLB who can get after the passer, a 3-4 defensive end (Ty Warren will be back, but you can't be deep enough there), some added depth at corner and also a guard, for obvious reasons. I can also see the Pats looking at a young, field-stretching wideout to develop. That's the early triage, but obviously, it's early and needs can shift.
Who could they target?
Because of the amount of picks it has, New England has the option to move a couple of them and continue the surplus into 2012, or it could use the current surplus to move up for more premium picks. For now, with RB as a top need, it could target a guy like Bama's Mark Ingram, or Kansas State's Daniel Thomas. If it aims for a receiver early, it could pursue A.J. Green (possibly with a trade up, depending on how the Raiders finish), or wait and get someone like Michael Floyd of Notre Dame. (Again, these are just guys with grades at the front or back of the first round right now.)
For a stand-up 3-4, the Pats could target a player like Jeremy Beal of Oklahoma, or a likely defensive end convert in Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue. They could also consider a player like Akeem Ayers of UCLA, who has coverage skills and pass-rushing ability and projects as an ideal 3-4 OLB.
I won't get into the endless number of prospects available, but I mention a few here just to emphasize the sheer number of names in play because of the stockpile of picks the Patriots have acquired. Seemingly anything is possible on draft day with this team, because the Pats are able to do anything in terms of targeting picks, or simply remaining patient and letting solid picks come to them. Consider Hernandez, a fouth-rounder.
Is there such a thing as too many picks?
No. People will say that it could be a concern to carry such a high percentage of youthful players on what feels for all personnel people like a relatively small NFL roster, and that's legitimate, but no GM is going to lose sleep over the "concern" of drafting eight possible keepers. And again, there's no reason to think New England has to keep all these picks. It can move up or down pretty easily.
The startling thing about the Patriots is this: If they hold onto all eight picks in 2011, they could conceivably have 21 players on the 2011 roster who were picked in Rounds 1 through 4 from 2009 through 2011. You won't hit on all of them, but when you see a player like Patrick Chung making plays on special teams, you start to think about the remarkable depth of talent that could be spread across the Pats' roster.
In a league built for parity, the Patriots' current strategy gives them an edge.
Mel Kiper, who has been covering the NFL draft for ESPN since 1984, can be found year-round at his homepage.