The New England Patriots traded quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs for the third pick in the second round (34th overall). With that pick, the Patriots should take former University of Cincinnati defensive end, Connor Barwin, to fill Vrabel’s spot at outside linebacker.
It seems Barwin can’t shake the comparison to Mike Vrabel; both are bigger than the average NFL linebacker, both can catch passes from the tight end position and both played college football in Ohio (Vrabel played at Ohio State).
The most prominent similarity between the two is their receiving ability. Vrabel has 10 career receptions – each for touchdowns – while Barwin started his college football career as a tight end. New England used Vrabel on offense exclusively in goal-line situations, but after impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Draft Scouting Combine, Barwin has demonstrated the skill-set to take on a more expanded role at tight end.
Barwin would also replace Vrabel at outside linebacker in the Patriots’3-4 scheme (three defensive linemen, four linebackers). This role usually requires a player to be larger than 250 lbs. and to be an effective pass-rusher; Barwin is listed at 256 lbs. and led the Big East in sacks last season with 11.
The removal of Vrabel is a sign that New England wants to continue to get younger on defense, specifically at linebacker. In last year’s draft, the Patriots took middle linebacker, Jared Mayo, with their first-round pick, then selected another linebacker, Shawn Crable, with their third. The other starting linebackers are Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas, each with more than 10 years of experience.
Many draft experts have listed linebacker as a need for the Patriots to address in this year’s draft as well. Along with the 34th pick acquired from the Chiefs, they also have the No. 23 pick in the first round. It’s conceivable that they could select linebackers with each of these picks, and with them, replace their aging veterans in the near future.
Connor Barwin would be the perfect replacement for Vrabel in coach Bill Belichick’s system, and the 34th pick would not be much of a reach to get him – many draft experts have him projected as a second-rounder.
Belichick has a masterful understanding of his system and knows which players will function best within it; proven by his three Super Bowls and .724 winning-percentage with New England. Trading Vrabel and adding Barwin is the kind of move that could provide a seamless transition of such a specialized system like that of New England’s.
It’s doubtful that the Patriot’s brain-trust will allow such an opportunity to pass them by. After all, they’re the franchise model the rest of the league tries to emulate. The scenario of New England drafting Barwin would make sense for both sides, which means it will probably come to pass; Belichick rarely makes mistakes.