As we enter the stretch drive before Thursday’s draft, let’s take a look at what’s being said by the Patriots’ rivals in the AFC East.
(10 picks; first at No. 16)
There has been speculation - fueled even by some Jets players, including guard Matt Slauson - that they will be running two distinct offenses: a traditional scheme led by Mark Sanchez and a spread option with Tim Tebow.
But vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales said that isn’t the case.
“From an offensive standpoint, it’s important that we’re lining up in one offense - we have one Jet offense,’’ said Clinkscales. “So that being said, we want the best wide receiver available, the best offensive guard available, the best tight end available.
“So we’re not going to specifically draft a guy or not draft a guy because of what [Tebow] might do, especially if he’s the backup.’’
One of the most glaring weaknesses is at outside linebacker, where the Jets notoriously flubbed the selection of Vernon Gholston, who was taken sixth overall by former coach Eric Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. The Jets said they’ve learned from that.
“We all make mistakes,’’ Tannenbaum said. “We’re going to learn from ours. Ultimately, that was my decision. There were a lot of things we liked about Vernon - his measurables, his production - and then obviously it didn’t work out. Why it didn’t, we’ve looked at that quite a bit.’’
The Jets have looked closely at all the top pass rushers in the draft.
“I think when you look at it, seven of the eight outside linebackers on our board were all college defensive ends,’’ said senior personnel consultant Terry Bradway. “I think there’s a good number. I think it’s a position that we’d like to get a young guy in there that can play and help us win. If that happens, then we’ll be happy.’’
Safety and receiver are also positions of need. But Tannenbaum said the Jets will take the best player available.
“They are all important, those are areas that we certainly could add to,’’ Tannenbaum said. “But in addition to that, I think it always comes back to ‘take the best player.’
“Go back three years when we had Thomas Jones and Leon Washington [at running back] and we traded up to get Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene was sitting there in the third round. We traded up for him because, by far, he was the best value.
“Really, as best we can, if things go our way next Thursday, we’re just going to take the best football player.’’
The Jets could have plenty of swipes at the draft this year. After drafting six, four, three, six, and four players the past five drafts, they have 10 selections (including four compensatory picks that can’t be traded). Most expect Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan to trade up at some point, something they have done a lot of in recent years.
“I really don’t know what we are going to do, but I do like the flexibility of the 10 picks, even though we can’t trade four,’’ Tannenbaum said. “We’re open to going up or back.
“That has certainly been our track record, and that just falls back to our preparation - that when we see opportunities, we’ll try to take advantage of them. But again, trading back is also something we’re open to.’’
(eight picks; first at No. 8)
Despite having a new coach in Longmeadow native Joe Philbin and a new on-field identity, general manager Jeff Ireland said the Dolphins haven’t altered their thinking very much on the type of players they’re looking for.
“My philosophy doesn’t change too much,’’ said Ireland, who is running his second draft since the departure of football czar Bill Parcells. “Joe’s been in a couple of draft rooms. He’s been around the Green Bay Packers.
“My philosophy’s not too much different than maybe [Packers general manager Ted Thompson]. We grind out the draft. Believe in the draft. Believe in the development of young players.’’
Most around the league expect the Dolphins to select quarterback Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M in the first round.
The Dolphins have drafted only two quarterbacks in the first round: Dan Marino (1983) and Bob Griese (1967). You’d think they might want to try again at some point.
Should a team target a franchise quarterback in the first round?
“When there’s one available,’’ Ireland said. “I mean, that’s a tough question. That’s kind of a loaded question, to be honest with you.
“Certainly I’m not going to get into the quarterback discussion from the strategy standpoint, but I think there are times that you should try to go after one. But I certainly don’t feel like you should be pressured into doing that, either.’’
The Dolphins have all the information they need on Tannehill in-house. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, a Northborough native, coached Tannehill with the Aggies.
“He’s a great kid,’’ Ireland said. “He’s smart. He’s tough. Got a good family background. A lot of good things about Ryan.’’
Aside from quarterback - where Miami has Matt Moore, David Garrard, and Pat Devlin on the depth chart - Ireland didn’t address the team’s needs for this season.
“Last year we needed to add speed on the team - some speed, some playmakers,’’ he said. “We had some really good possession-type offensive skill-set [players], but we needed some explosive playmakers. That was glaring to me last year.
“I have some glaring things that are hitting me in the face this year, which I won’t get into the strategy of telling you what those are but I feel confident we can approach here in the next week.
“I think you go into every draft looking for core position players. You’re looking for guys that can make an impact and certain guys that can block premier pass rushers and guys that can make big plays.’’
(10 picks; first at No. 10)
General manager Buddy Nix, who is conducting his second draft for the Bills, acknowledged that they have clear needs at offensive tackle, receiver, and cornerback. That doesn’t mean he’ll address those - but it’s clear Nix wants an impact player.
“You’d think at 10 you’d get a starter,’’ he said. “We want to get a difference-maker, an impact guy, a playmaker. You should get a starter.
“But, again, we don’t feel the pressure that we’ve got to start a guy just because we drafted him 10th. A guy is going to compete for the job rather than giving it to him right off.’’
Buffalo would seem to be a candidate to draft a tackle early, after Demetress Bell signed with the Eagles. That leaves Erik Pears, who is unspectacular, on the right side and Chris Hairston, a former fourth-round pick, the only candidate on the left side. It helps that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick gets rid of the ball quickly in this offense, which uses a lot of empty sets.
“We need tackles, but I’m going to make this clear: We think Chris Hairston can play left tackle for us and win,’’ Nix said. “He may not be the prettiest foot athlete, but he’s got so much length that he can protect the back side. We feel like he can do that.
“Now we’ve only got two, and Sam Young coming off of knee surgery. That’s three tackles in the house. That’s not enough. We’d like to have two more.’’
At receiver, they re-signed Stevie Johnson but have little depth behind Donald Jones and David Nelson.
“The wide receiver position is deep in this draft,’’ said assistant general manager Doug Whaley. “We have a lot of guys that have question marks that we want to see go out there and show what they have.
“With that being said, we always believe that competition brings out the best in everybody. With the deepness in this draft, hopefully if the opportunity presents itself, we bring somebody in here to push those guys or maybe overtake those guys. But we want to bring in competition.
“We’re trying to get to the point where if the first-team guy gets hurt, [the dropoff in] the level of expectation from the guy that takes his place is minimal.’’
The Bills haven’t had much consistency at cornerback, starting with Terrence McGee’s struggles with injuries. Drayton Florence is 31, and Leodis McKelvin hasn’t proven himself.
“I don’t want to get us in a position that we were in last year and the year before: If we get one hurt, it’s a big dropoff,’’ Nix said. “You lose the ability to compete. So we’re going to try to fix that.
“Leodis, going into his last year, he’ll probably play lights-out. I hope he does.’’
BROWNS ARE STOCKED
Many options with 13 picks
If he wants to, Browns general manager Tom Heckert could be the power player in this draft. Thanks to the pre-draft trade last year with the Falcons for receiver Julio Jones, he has 13 selections. He has three in the top 37 (fourth and 22d in the first round; fifth in the second) and six in the first 118.
Coming off a 4-12 season, the Browns obviously have a lot of holes and could use all of those picks. And Heckert might just use them. But he could be aggressive and move up to target specific players, or he could trade back and manipulate the draft so the Browns are set up in future drafts.
“Having ammunition is nice,’’ Heckert said. “If there’s somebody we like but don’t think we can get, we can go up and get him.’’
Heckert acknowledged that he made draft mistakes in the past - most notably defensive linemen Jerome McDougle and Victor Abiamiri when he was with the Eagles - because he was influenced by outside pressure.
“You just can’t panic,’’ he said. “I’ve done it. I’ve made bad mistakes for that exact reason.
“I’ve traded up in the first round for both [pass rusher and defensive tackle], and they were bad moves. It was strictly for a need. It was something we never should have done.
“I am trying to avoid that. That was a long time ago when we did those, but we’ve learned from it.
“There’s a lot of pressure from media, fans, people in your building, scouts, and it’s my job to say, ‘Wait a minute. It’s not the right thing to do.’
“I think that is the hardest thing to convey to the fans. It’s not like we don’t want those guys - we want them just as bad as they do - but we don’t want to make a mistake doing it.’’
In his pre-draft press conference, Heckert was a man after my own heart when he showed little patience for all the mock drafts and media talk that goes on this time of year.
“People talk about Ryan Tannehill flying up the draft board after his workout,’’ Heckert said. “That is simply not true. With most players, where they are now is the same as where they were after the season.
“He had a good workout, but to be honest with you, I haven’t seen a lot of people have bad workouts. It’s a workout, it’s not a game. So, wherever somebody had him, that’s probably where they still have him. He is a good football player.’’
The bottom line is, if you’re not in an NFL front office, you really don’t know anything. I know people make a business out of the draft, but to me it’s useless information.
NFL teams have so much more information at their disposal than people outside it - years of coaching tape, private background information on prospects, intense interviews, and intelligence tests.
In reference to a report that the Browns prefer receiver Justin Blackmon, Heckert said, “Everything you have heard is complete nonsense. Everyone is talking about who Minnesota is taking, and I have no idea if they like [Matt] Kalil or not. Who knows? Everybody that says stuff, they don’t know.’’
1. I picked Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith for the Patriots in my first mock draft last week, but there will be a different selection in the final one Thursday. I think it’s going to be a big body on either side of the line. The Patriots need some beef up front, and not just for this season.
2. Tough break for the Bills, who went 3-13 on the road the past two seasons, to get a schedule that has six of the first nine games away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. And good luck, Mark Sanchez, holding off Tim Tebow while facing the Steelers, 49ers, and Texans defenses - let alone the Dolphins and improving Bills - in the first five weeks.
3. I think it was significant for the Dolphins that linebacker Cameron Wake, who isn’t happy with his contract, reported to voluntary workouts last week after having a heart-to-heart with new coach Joe Philbin.
4. Congratulations to long snapper Zak DeOssie of North Andover for signing a three-year contract extension with the Giants.
5. Happy trails into retirement, Marc Colombo. The Bridgewater native and former Boston College tackle signed a one-day contract Friday to retire with the Cowboys, the team he spent six of 11 seasons with.
It sure doesn’t sound as though North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins - who has had marijuana arrests, was kicked out of the University of Florida, and has four children with three women - is on the Bills’ draft board. “If you mean whether we’ll take him or not, ability-wise obviously you would,’’ said general manager Buddy Nix. “This is a political answer I’m fixing to give you. But otherwise you wouldn’t. You get enough trouble without getting one that you know is a problem.’’ . . . Falcons coach Mike Smith on the development of former BC quarterback Matt Ryan: “I think Matt’s well ahead of the pace where we thought he would be, and really I think it started with his first game as an NFL quarterback. He’s matured much quicker than we anticipated, and I think we need to see the continued growth in his accuracy and the continued growth in his decision-making, because those are the two traits that all of the elite quarterbacks have.’’ . . . Ravens right tackle Michael Oher, who had a terrible AFC Championship game against the Patriots, told reporters last week that he played that game with a slightly torn meniscus in his right knee. He suffered the injury the previous week in the win over the Texans. The injury didn’t require surgery, and his knee is just now starting to feel good . . . Seahawks general manager John Schneider said that despite signing free agent quarterback Matt Flynn, he would be interested in drafting Ryan Tannehill at No. 12. But Schneider doesn’t think it will happen. “It’s fun to talk about, but he’s not going to be there,’’ said Schneider. “I think he’s going to get drafted pretty high.’’ . . . Jets college scouting director Joey Clinkscales indicated that Alabama safety Mark Barron would not be a good fit for the Jets scheme. “He may or may not be the best fit for this team, or any defense that’s running a true man-to-man system,’’ said Clinkscales, “but he has the skill set to really be effective in some of the things we do, and other teams as well.’’
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.