NFL Draft 2012: 5 Players New England Patriots Should Consider in Round 1
At 31st in the league, the Green Bay Packers were the only team with a worse record.
With two first round picks, though, the Patriots have the means to immediately impact that side of the football.
Specifically, they should focus on prospects that will shore up their secondary and linebacking core.
What about the offense?
Despite the fact they were in the top five in total yards and passing yards, they could use an additional piece for Tom Brady to throw too.
Surprisingly, since arriving in 2000, Bill Belichick has not drafted well at that position.
If they see it as a priority, an athletic receiver who can provide a downfield presence should be considered.
Remember, the Patriots are a team that was just one Wes Welker catch away from winning the Super Bowl.
If they think about and select any of the following five players, they will put themselves in an even better position to compete for another championship.
On average, the Patriots allowed nearly 294 yards to their opponents through the air this year.
That was the second worst in the league and needs to be fixed.
Alfonzo Dennard, a 5’10” Nebraska cornerback, could be part of the answer.
In his career as a Cornhusker, he had a total of 97 tackles to go with four interceptions.
While neither of those numbers are incredibly high, many scouts are excited by his ability to stand up receivers at the line of scrimmage and take them off their routes.
In New England, he could immediately step in to disrupt the rhythm of opposing offenses and take away big play opportunities.
Like Dennard, North Alabama product Janoris Jenkins does not have the flashiest of resumes.
Yet, if he falls to them, he is an asset the Pats need to consider because of his ability to do multiple things well.
In drafting him, the Patriots would be adding a much needed piece to their secondary, as well as their special teams.
As a corner this season, Jenkins recorded 53 tackles, four pass breakups, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
As a punt returner he averaged nearly 22 yards per attempt, and was the only player in Division II to return three punts for touchdowns.
For Bill Belichick, a coach who loves players with a variety of skills, Jenkins is right up his alley.
Dont'a Hightower is one of the most interesting prospects in this year’s draft.
The Patriots may have to get lucky for him to drop to them, but if he is there they should grab him.
At 6’4”, 260 pounds, he would bring an immediate, physical presence to the Patriots' linebacking core.
While being a captain of the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense, Hightower was able to rack up a total of 79 tackles.
That physicality and leadership is exactly what the Pats should be considering for their defense.
If the Patriots add Hightower to go along with Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich, they would have the makings of a strong starting unit of linebackers.
Based on potential and size, Vontaze Burfict should be one of the top linebackers in the draft.
At 6’3”, 250 pounds, he is more compact than Hightower, but equally capable of explosive plays.
The question mark surrounding him is his attitude.
In his sophomore season, he recorded 10 or more tackles in five of the Sun Devils’ 12 games, and was named the Sporting News Pac-10 Defensive MVP.
However, this past year was troubling, as he had zero double-digit tackle performances, while taking multiple penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.
That is a difficult season to explain without calling into question Burfict’s commitment and character.
However in the Patriots locker room, with Belichick and Brady in control, that attitude would likely be kept in check.
If they believe that to be the case as well, Burfict could be a steal for them at the end of the first round.
In all the buzz surrounding the Patriots' needs on defense, it is important to remember that outside of Wes Welker, the wideouts were unimpressive this season.
After Welker, Tom Brady’s two top targets were tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
As good as Brady is, he could use a tall, athletic receiver to consistently stretch the field.
Therefore, record-setting Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is worth consideration.
This season, Sanu had 115 catches for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns.
He stands at 6’2” and would certainly provide a nice compliment to Welker on the outside.