It may not really be funny, or fair, but a part of me still just has to laugh.
For one thing, in the midst of this whole upside-down NFL off-season, Bill Belichick's blowing of mock-draft minds everywhere fit perfectly with the general chaos and overall ridiculousness of even having a draft when the rookies can't report to their assigned teams' facilities due to a labor lockout.
Another way in which I chuckle about this draft is in recognition. I've been among those tasked with putting together draft boards and making educated guesses writing for other sites in previous years, flying by the seat of my pants and trying to guess what the ultmate unpredictable mind in football was going to think of next. Every time I tried to identify positions of need and likely picks for the Patriots in the draft, the results were, in the end, hardly worth the pixels required to display them, or the electricity and light signals required to bring them to their audience.
The Patriots work to make it so that others in the league with them, so that beat writers with inside sources, are thrown off the trail of what they're really doing. And none of us, not the pros or any of us out in TV Land, really has a chance. Not with this head coach. So, for me it was amusing, more than a little reassuring, and even a bit comfortingly familiar, to see all that borne out again this year.
As for the picks themselves, well...
At first glance, Belichick stuck to his general philosophy of taking whomever he felt was the best player on the board when it came time for a pick, rather than drafting based on need. After a year in which defensive woes, particularly with the pass rush, were top of mind for fans, Belichick picked up a draft class heavily weighted toward the offensive side of things. Instead of highly-rated defensive prospects like Prince Amukamara, Robert Quinn or Cameron Jordan, the Patriots took, among other things, multiple offensive linemen, some low-round runningbacks, and a quarterback out of Arkansas with a sordid history of off-the-field behavior problems.
For some fans, it was like sending a guy to the store for milk and having him come back with a bunch of Snickers bars and a losing scratch ticket. But in my view, there are a couple of things to think about before joining Planet Patriot's Chicken Littles.
One is injuries. Especially when it comes to the defense the Patriots fielded last year, it appears some people have very short memories. Defensive linemen Ty Warren and Mike Wright are expected back to shore up the front 3 alongside Wilfork, who's locked in to a long-term deal now. Cornerback Leigh Bodden will be coming off IR to serve alongside Devin McCourty. Richard Seymour and / or his equivalent won't be walking back through that door, but last year's injured reserves are at least capable of filling in the holes on the defensive line and in the secondary that a lot of fans wanted addressed through the draft. I also look forward to seeing previous draftees, like McCourty, Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung continue to mature and become team leaders.
Meanwhile, fans may have pass-rush woes fresh in their minds, but it appears the Patriots front office most vividly remembers the five-sack ass-kicking put on Tom Brady by the Jets defense when the team last took the field at Gillette. We can't fight that defensive power in our divisional midst with defensive picks of our own -- what we need, arguably, is a stud, franchise left tackle, and a few other stout, mean, nasty offensive linemen to set up against them, the better to keep No. 12 clean and upright should a playoff rematch of this nature recur.
Just a thought.
Another thing to consider when evaluating the Patriots picks in 2011 is, once again, the dice-rolling nature of the draft in general. Take, for example, one of the more maligned picks, Marcus Cannon, an offensive lineman recently diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Cannon has already begun treatment for the disease, which we've also already seen at least one other Boston athlete battle back from to make a nice little career for himself -- a guy you may have heard of by the name of Jon Lester. You might also know the name of another Patriots lineman taken in the fifth round eight years ago: a certain Dan Koppen.
If anything, before I'd question Belichick's sanity, between this draft and the incisive questions offered by by ESPN's documentary The Brady 6, I'd question the sanity of a system which seems to continually mis-evaluate the fitness of eligible college rookies for the professional game. Not to mention, of course, the sanity of doing a draft at all when we might not have any football games this year.