NFL Draft 2012: 5 Reasons Defense Should Be New England Patriots' No. 1 Priority

Justin KeithCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: 5 Reasons Defense Should Be New England Patriots' No. 1 Priority

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    New England Patriot fans are still trying to pick up the pieces from another heart-breaking loss at the hands of the New York Giants.

    However, Bill Belichick and the front office are almost assuredly looking toward the busy offseason ahead for the defending AFC champions.

    The porous New England defense has many question marks heading into the offseason, and the Patriots will be looking to upgrade at many positions.

    Here are some reasons why the Patriots must address the defense through the draft in April.

Toughness in the Secondary

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    One of the many deficiencies on the New England defense was tackling.

    Opposing offenses had second and third-chance yards after catch, and this was very evident in the Super Bowl against the Giants.

    The New England secondary showed lack of toughness and aggression when coming up to tackle the big New York running backs in Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

    A big, physical safety would be just what the doctor ordered for New England.

    Patrick Chung has shown he is willing to initiate contact against a ball carrier, but his injuries and inconsistency in 2011 shows he can't be counted on full-time yet.

    Mark Barron out of Alabama would be a perfect fit for New England's defense at the end of the first round if he is still available.

    If not Barron, look for the Patriots to get tougher in the secondary as the rounds progress.

Youth Along the Defensive Line

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    Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were two veteran defensive linemen who Bill Belichick brought in a year ago to help solve the pass-rush problem on his defense.

    For the most part, both worked out.

    However, Carter suffered a terrible knee injury, and Anderson couldn't be counted on consistently, and both are free agents this offseason.

    This calls for youth along the line to help out Pro Bowl nosetackle, Vince Wilfork.

    Nick Perry would be a tremendous fit along the line or at outside linebacker for the Patriots if the talented pass-rusher is still available.

    Other options in the first round for the Patriots could be Whitney Mercilus or Quinton Coples if the Patriots wanted to move up to get him.

True Cover Corner

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    After the 2010-2011 season, many fans were comfortable with the New England cornerback situation.

    Devin McCourty looked like a seasoned vet, and Leigh Bodden was coming back to bolster the other side of the field.

    However, things didn't go as planned in 2011-2012 as McCourty had a dismal season, Bodden was cut and second-round pick Ras-I Dowling was sidelined for the entire season.

    The Patriots defense ranked second-to-last in defense, and the secondary was a huge reason for that.

    Bill Belichick will most certainly be looking to upgrade through free agency as well as the NFL Draft.

    Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerback for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide last season, is someone who Patriot fans should be keeping an eye on as well as Stephon Gilmore out of South Carolina.

    Although recent cornerback selections haven't panned out (i.e. Johnathan Wilhite and Darius Butler), the Patriots will have to try again in this year's draft to try and improve on a secondary that struggled immensely in 2011.

Athleticism at Linebacker

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    Athleticism at linebacker can go along with getting younger on the defensive line.

    Many of the defensive ends are athletic enough to project at a 3-4 outside linebacker, and the Patriots would be smart to take advantage of such talent in the draft.

    Although the Patriots seem set at the inside linebacker positions with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, outside linebacker has proven to be a revolving door.

    Rob Ninkovich stepped up in the second half of the season and may have earned himself a starting job next year.

    However, the need for an athletic, speedy pass-rusher remains.

    Again, Nick Perry or Whitney Mercilus could be on the Patriots' radar if in fact they would like to upgrade in the first round.

High-Powered Offense

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    Although questions loom about the Patriots offense this offseason, ultimately they will still be an elite offense in 2012.

    Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will all be back, and it looks as though Wes Welker will be franchised.

    The Patriots will not struggle to put up points next season with these four players all coming back, and other depth moves can be made late in the draft or through free agency.

    The Patriots should still take a top talent if he falls to them on offense, but given their plethora of talent at the tight end position as well as bringing back Welker, the Patriots will still be a top offensive club without focusing on offense in the draft.