As the 2012 NFL Draft draws near, the New England Patriots must take advantage of the vast number of talented defensive prospects.Two positions which need to be revamped for the Patriots are defensive end and safety.
According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, defense is the Patriots' focal point in the draft.
"The Patriots need more athletes on D, particularly in the front seven, and often times the quickest way to add some of the highest-impact players is to be willing to assume more risk than normally is desired," said Reiss. "The player might not have a rock-solid fit in your system, but based on athleticism alone, there can be creative ways to unleash him on the opposition."
Reiss hit the nail on the head.
Athletic defensive players are the ones who change games at the next level, regardless of whether the team plays a 4-3 or 3-4. Every team is looking for the next Jason Pierre-Paul, a physical freak who stepped up for the New York Giants in 2011. Pierre-Paul lasted until the middle of the first round of the 2011 NFL draft and record 16.5 sacks this season.
Needless to say, the 14 teams who passed on him are regretting it.
In terms of athletic ability, future first-rounders like Illinois' defensive end Whitney Mercilus and Alabama's safety Mark Barron are just a sampling of the impressive defensive players in the 2012 draft.
Mercilus would be ideal in the Patriots' 3-4 system while Barron would lock down the young secondary. Their measurables and talent stack up well against other late first-round options. Look for the Patriots to try to snag these future game-changers with their picks at 27 and 31.
Both athletes had excellent seasons at their respective schools and they would help take the pressure off of the D's leaders Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
Current defensive ends Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Shaun Ellis are free agents. New England will seek a young pass-rusher to rejuvenate their front seven. Carter's health and age could become a concern and Shaun Ellis never blossomed after leaving the New York Jets.
Another exuberant lineman needs to be chosen by the Patriots to line up opposite Crimson Tide alum Brandon Deaderick.
In the defensive backfield, former University of Massachusetts' safety James Ihedigbo had a surprising year for the Pats. However, he's not a starter by any means. Ihedigbo is also slated to be a free agent and may not be back in the same role next season. Due to their lack of potential at safety aside from Patrick Chung, Mark Barron would be an excellent draft pick for the Patriots.
Unlike the deep draft class of defensive linemen and linebackers, the safety class drops off after Barron. Arguably, the next best choice would be Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin or perhaps Notre Dame's Harrison Smith. Barron is the only safety in the draft who will be selected on day one.
Therefore, the Pats should be determined to select the two-time National Champion.
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio believes that the 2012 draft class is loaded with defensive playmakers in the front seven.
"The front seven is a position of strength," said Caserio at the Combine. "A lot of the players, front seven especially that were down at the Senior Bowl, are some of the better players in this draft."
Considering the Patriots have experienced difficulty developing young wide receivers, defense is a safer choice as far as the first round is considered.
Chad Jackson and Taylor Price are just two of the recent disappointments New England has had at wideout. Both receivers were slow to grasp the offensive system and caught just 16 catches combined during their tenures with New England. Although the Pats need a future No. 1 route runner, they shouldn't reach for one with their two first-round selections.
Viable receivers who should remain undrafted by Round 2 include:
- Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers
- Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
- Rueben Randle, LSU
- Nick Toon, Wisconsin
- Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
- Juron Criner, Arizona
With all this depth at receiver in the draft, the Patriots can afford to be patient in their search for the next Randy Moss.
If head coach Bill Belichick and company want to alleviate the offense, opting for a defensive end and safety in the first round seems logical.
After all, the cliche saying that "defense wins championships" struck again in Super Bowl XLVI.