The New England Patriots are arguably the best team in the AFC, but they are not without their weak spots on the roster. Once their playoff run comes to an end, Bill Belichick and staff will immediately turn their attention toward 2013 and the many moves to come in the offseason.
With the Patriots likely to lose a number of players, there will be holes to fill all over the roster. Here is a look at some of the players that the Patriots should take a hard look at when they make their picks from the collegiate ranks at the NFL draft next April.
Terrence Wheatley, Darius Butler, Ras-I Dowling all failed in New England. Cornerback is a spot that Bill Belichick has repeatedly swung and missed on. It could be argued even Devin McCourty belongs on this list with his move to free safety in recent weeks. Even if Aqib Talib remains with the team beyond 2012, the team is likely to looking for a corner in the draft once again.
Johnthan Banks has been a steady presence in the Mississippi State secondary for four years, culminating this year with a great senior campaign in which he was named an AP second-team All-American.
Banks finished his career with 15 interceptions, including four this year despite teams generally not throwing his way. He will likely be the second corner taken behind fellow SEC player Dee Milliner of Alabama. Banks would be an addition Bill Belichick would welcome with open arms into his defensive backfield.
He just needs to hope Banks falls into a position where he can select him at the end of Round 1.
Despite selecting Chandler Jones in Round 1 and Jake Bequette in Round 3, the Patriots are still clearly trying to add more to their pass rush. With Bequette being a healthy scratch week-in-week out, another player needs to be added into the mix to play with Jones and Ninkovich.
Corey Lemonier was one of the best players this year on a struggling Auburn team. He had 9.5 sacks in 2011, down to just 4.5 this season as he received more attention. This quiet year could put him a little further down some draft boards and into the lap of the Patriots' pick in the second round.
Lemonier would be a factor immediately on the New England defensive line, even if it was just in sub-packages initially in 2013.
The New England Patriots will be in a transitional period at wide receiver in 2013. Deion Branch will likely not be retained, and both Julian Edelman and Wes Welker are unrestricted free agents. Brandon Lloyd would seem to be the only player sure to be a factor again next season.
Kenny Stills was extremely productive in the absence of Ryan Broyles this year with Oklahoma. Heading into next weeks Cotton Bowl vs. Texas A&M, Stills has 75 receptions for 892 and 11 touchdowns. His best effort came in Oklahoma's exciting 50-49 win over West Virginia November 24 in which he had a career-best four touchdown receptions.
Stills would give Tom Brady a nice, speedy threat opposite Lloyd to have a little fun with during the end of his time in New England.
To state the obvious, Tom Brady is not getting any younger. With Ryan Mallett most likely not the team's long-term answer at quarterback, a developmental passer would not be a bad choice for a late-round pick this year by Patriots.
This year, Nick Florence of Baylor did about as well as one would hope stepping in for Robert Griffin III. He led the nation with 387.7 yards of total offense per game, while throwing a very impressive 31 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
He is certainly a more athletic quarterback than either Brady and Mallett, and the Patriots could likely expand their offensive playbook a little bit with a player like Florence. Since he played so well after sitting behind RGIII for two years, it stands to reason that one could assume he still has plenty of potential growth left in him.
The Patriots have a luxury no other team in the NFL has. Dante Scarnecchia is their offensive line coach. Scarnecchia does such a great job that the team has been able to get by using many players who were not top picks. Tackle is clearly going to be a need for the team in the offseason with the struggles of Marcus Cannon, who is more competent on the interior.
Reid Fragel is a late-round talent who could develop into a quality backup down the road under the right guidance. Like Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, he is a monster, standing in at 6' 8" and 310 pounds. As a former tight end like Solder, he is also highly athletic for a tackle.
He is an intriguing prospect that the Patriots would not regret picking up at the end of the draft.