New England Patriots' Benjamin Watson (84) celebrates his touchdown catch in against
the Carolina Panthers Aug 28, 2004 (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Class of 2004 Could Step Up in '05
By John MacKenna
The New England Patriots sometimes seem immune to the personnel problems
that plague their competitors in the National Football League. It's not that New
England players don't get hurt; they do, yet the team itself always overcomes.
the 2004 season. The Patriots went into the playoffs missing DT Richard Seymour
and CB Ty Law, arguably their top two defensive players, and handily defeated
two strong opponents in the Colts and Steelers (before Seymour returned for Super
As the Patriots went on to win their third Super Bowl in four
seasons, there was little talk about another serious roster debacle that likely
would have felled any other team.
The problem was this: The Patriots got
virtually no contribution from three of the top four players they drafted in 2004.
There was a first-round pick who suffered a season ending injury in Week 1, a
second-round pick who didn't appear in a game until Week 17, and a third-round
pick who got hurt in training camp and missed the entire season.
all the contributions that the 2004 draft class has made have come from Vincent
Wilfork, the nose tackle selected in the first round (No. 21) out of the University
of Miami. Wilfork was outstanding as a rookie, but he stood alone in that regard.
pick Dexter Reid (113th overall) played pretty well on special teams but was more
of a liability than an asset on defense. After Reid, the busiest of the Patriots'
rookies was fourth-round running back Cedric Cobbs (128th), who played in a mere
three games, logging only 22 carries for 50 yards.
What a change from the
previous season, when New England won its second Super Bowl while receiving major
contributions from four rookies. Second-round DB Eugene Wilson (36th) and fifth-rounder
Dan Koppen (164th) stepped in as starters at safety and center, respectively.
Bethel Johnson (second round, 45th) returned kickoffs, including two for touchdowns,
and Asante Samuel (fourth round, 120th) became the regular nickel back.
three other 2003 draftees (Ty Warren, Dan Klecko, Tully Banta-Cain) playing regularly,
New England had a total of seven rookies contributing to a championship season.
Camp is set to open on July 29, and last year's problem becomes this year's opportunity,
as the Patriots have a surfeit of players looking to make their first contributions.
In addition to the seven rookies led by first-round offensive lineman Logan Mankins,
the Patriots will "unveil" three top-100 picks from 2004.
most-anticipated second-year player is tight end Benjamin Watson. Drafted with
the second of the Patriots' first-round picks, Watson is expected to bring serious
skills to the Patriots already-potent offense.
ESPN.com has this to say
about the 6'3", 253-pounder out of Georgia: "He has rare speed, he is
a tremendous vertical route runner, and he is a nightmare match up for linebackers
This is what Watson's profile on NFL.com says. "Has
a great frame, with very good muscle development, chiseled upper and lower body,
long arms, large hands and thick thighs and calves
who plays with good effort
Has a sudden upfield burst and above-average
lateral quickness to reach the second level and gain position in-line
outstanding acceleration and speed, showing the burst and strength to easily play
off the jam
Will sink his hips and separate out of his cuts downfield
Knows how to use his size to push off the defensive back and settle in the zone
Has good concentration going up for the ball in traffic
speed and size to create mismatches vs. smaller defenders on deep routes."
could be a potent addition to the New England offense, according to Patriots.com:
"His ability to line up in the slot, work in motion and out of the back field
from the full back spot should give the New England coaches a great deal of flexibility
in terms of formations and personnel packages as the unit continues to strive
for increased production."
Watson gets all the hype, but 2004 second-rounder
Marquise Hill is equally intriguing. Drafted 63rd overall out of LSU, Hill is
a monster chosen for his long-term potential and not for an immediate contribution.
Coach Bill Belichick held Hill out of every game until the regular-season finale
against San Francisco, so Hill has stayed completely under the radar.
out of high school, Hill was regarded as one of the country's top defensive linemen.
He had a strong career at LSU, and several experts predicted he would have been
a first-round pick in 2005 had he stayed for his senior season at LSU rather than
entering the draft after his junior year.
Hill is 6'6", 300 pounds
and turns 23 next months. If he lives up to his potential, he gives the Patriots
another D-line monster to go along with Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Wilfork.
Hill might play a major role soon, depending on how Seymour's contract dispute
Also representing the top of the 2004 draft class is safety Guss Scott, drafted in third round (95th) out of Florida. Scott was expected to join
the safety rotation with Wilson and Rodney Harrison, but he suffered a leg injury
in training camp last year.
Opportunities appear limited for Hill, and to
a lesser degree for Scott. The Patriots have three solid starters on the defensive
line with Jarvis Green and Rodney Bailey in reserve, and Hill's best case might
be to fill a role similar to the one Warren enjoyed as a rookie, playing on about
half of New England's defensive downs.
Scott is stuck behind Wilson and
Harrison, but he will likely be the first safety off the bench and could see plenty
Watson, on the other hand, could play a major role as a receiver
all season long. The Patriots employ a lot of two tight-end sets, and Watson could
play often and might well emerge as the favorite new option of quarterback Tom Brady.
John MacKenna is a regular
contributor to Patriots Insider. You can contact him in
the forums under the name: oldnslow.
You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John
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