The Patriots will look to the draft to fix their problems.
Another offseason, another NFL draft.
Yes, it's no shocker that the Indianapolis Colts will take Stanford quarterback Andrew luck with the No. 1 overall pick, but everything else is still up in the air.
The New England Patriots in particular have some glaring holes that need to be addressed. The 2012 draft will be an opportunity to find the playmakers of the future, while also adding depth to their roster.
With four picks in the first two rounds, there will be plenty of high caliber prospects available for the Patriots.
New England needs help at the following positions:
- Defensive End
- Free Safety
- Wide Receiver
With seven needs and only six draft picks, something's got to give. Head coach Bill Belichick has been known for stockpiling future draft picks, so it would be no surprise if the Patriots trade out of one of their spots.
Yet, as far as mock drafts are concerned, you have to play the cards you're dealt.
The following guys should be on the Patriots radar come draft day.
Whitney Mercilus would shore up the Pats' pass rush.
40 Time: 4.65
Whitney Mercilus plays with a high motor and would add some intensity to the Patriots' front seven. He would be a great choice for the Pats at No. 27.
New England needs to find a defensive end early in the draft with veterans like Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis' potentially coming off the books.
Mercilus provides not only a great name, but excellent versatility as well. The pass rusher lined up off the edge as well as at defensive tackle. His ability to play multiple positions could work out for the Pats. If they decide to switch back to a 3-4 scheme, Mercilus could even play outside linebacker.
This season, Mercilus had 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles on his way to many postseason awards.
If there's one area the Illinois defensive lineman needs to improve in, it's his run defense. He often gets held up during rushing plays. If he can work on improving this aspect of his game, he will give every offensive coordinator headaches.
In the end, the good outweighs the bad with Mercilus. The big man can tackle and knows how to finish plays, something the Pats struggled with this season.
Chase Minnifield would strengthen the secondary in New England.
40 Time: 4.49
Chase Minnifield would fit in nicely in New England with fellow Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling.
The Patriots secondary was ripped apart all season. Expect the front office to make defensive back a priority in this draft. At pick 31, Minnifield should still be available.
Minnifield finished the 2011 season tied for seventh in the nation with six interceptions and has proven to be a capable defender in both zone and man coverages.
This Cavalier is tough too. Minnifield is not afraid to press the receiver at the line of scrimmage and tackles well.
For what its worth, the senior DB comes from a football family. His father was a Pro Bowl corner for the Cleveland Browns in the mid-1980s.
Among the likes of Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington, Minnifield could solidify the young cornerback group for the Pats.
Markelle Martin would fill the void at safety for the Patriots.
40 Time: 4.47
Markelle Martin has showcased his hard hitting abilities at Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, the Patriots lack a starting caliber safety to tandem with Patrick Chung.
Martin is that guy.
His quick burst and brutal tackles are why this Cowboy made All Big 12 Conference First Team this past season. Martin's a ball hawk and possesses fantastic athleticism.
The only drawback at this point seem to be his mental mistakes. In an effort to avoid another Brandon Meriweather, coach Belichick should iron out the kinks early on.
At pick 48, this well rounded senior should be available for the Patriots.
Nick Toon is what the Patriots need, a dependable No. 2 wide-out.
40 Time: 4.52
Nick Toon would bolster the wide receiving core in New England. Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco might not re-sign, so the Pats need to look for a young route-runner in the draft.
This wideout is a physical specimen who wins most one-on-one battles.
Some of the concerns with Toon are his inconsistent hands and durability.
Yet with receivers like Mohamed Sanu and Alshon Jeffery likely already off the draft board, Toon could be worth the risk at No. 63.
The Wisconsin Badger can line up in both the slot and outside. He's a good ball carrier and has quick feet.
If Toon is capable of stretching the field for the Pats, then things would open up more underneath for Wes Welker.
Another nice thing about Nick Toon is his bloodline. His father Al played eight seasons in the NFL for the New York Jets.
Michael Brewster could be the center of the future.
40 Time: 5.17
Michael Brewster is ranked as the third best center in the draft.
Wisconsin's Peter Konz will be drafted in the bottom half of the first round. Therefore, the Patriots should look at Brewster to be the center of the future.
Dan Koppen has been a mainstay in New England since 2003, but last year he suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
Now's the time to draft a talented center to learn under the tutelage of Koppen before it's too late.
This Rimington Trophy finalist was a four-year starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He's got a high football IQ and is pretty athletic for a big man.
One downside to Brewster's game is his relatively lean build, which makes him vulnerable on run plays. Yet with New England's passing game dominating the offense, his bulk shouldn't be much of an issue.
Kheeston Randall could help take some pressure off of Vince Wilfork.
40 Time: 5.07
Kheeston Randall knew how to stop the run for Texas, despite having a disappointing senior year.
A three-year starter for the Longhorns, Randall can play both the 3-technique and the 5-technique well. This versatility would bode well for him if he were to be drafted by the Patriots.
If New England reverts to their old 3-4 defense, then Randall could play some defensive end.
If they stick with the 4-3, then Randall would provide solid depth behind Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love. Players like Ron Brace and Myron Pryor just haven't been able stay healthy for the Pats, so this DT could be an upgrade.
Randall is tall, but doesn't have overpowering size. He's not very athletic, but the Patriots know how to use players who are willing to play more than one position. Even Wilfork plays some defensive end for the Pats.
Currently, Randall's draft stock is dropping, which is good news for New England.
This gap-filler could still be waiting for a call when the Patriots are on the clock in the end of round four.
At least for now, this is New England's last pick in the 2012 draft.