The New England Patriots don't build through free agency. They build through the draft.
Because of this, New England has been able to find instant contributors right out of the gate. Just from last year's draft, the Patriots landed four players who saw starting work as rookies.
Once April 25 rolls around, the Patriots will be back on the clock in search of the most NFL-ready talent.
The Patriots currently own just five selections, which could very well change in order to accumulate picks, in the 2013 draft. But the one thing that won't change is New England's criteria for college prospects.
While some franchises opt for project players with high ceilings, the Patriots opt for immediate impact.
With that in mind, it's time to look at the best plug-and-play options available at New England's respective picks.
*Note: Alternate picks are listed based on availability
Quinton Patton is one of the most polished receivers in this draft class.
The last time the Patriots found productive wideouts through the draft was 2002. At that time, Deion Branch and David Givens were just two young pups catching passes from a 25-year-old Tom Brady.
Needless to say, New England has struggled to develop wide receivers.
Yet now, there's no choice but to get back on the saddle and select a route runner in April's draft. The franchise-tagged Wes Welker, plus Julian Edelman, Donte' Stallworth and Branch are all set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason.
The scarce depth at wide receiver is more than just a contractual problem, however. The Patriots simply don't have a receiver worth building around.
Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton could change that.
Patton amassed 104 receptions for 1,394 yards and 13 touchdowns this season in the Bulldogs' air-raid offense. No stranger to big plays, he pieced together eight games with a catch of more than 40 yards.
Since transferring from Coffeyville Community College in 2011, Patton has been as steady as they come. He has exhibited tremendous body control and a great pair of hands. On top of that, he runs precise routes and is a tenacious blocker down the field.
Capable of lining up as a "Z" receiver and in the slot, Patton's route tree goes far beyond fly routes outside the numbers. Because of that adeptness, Patton is prepped to make his presence felt right away. Rotoworld.com's Josh Norris seconded that motion:
Add on the fact that Patton faced plenty of press coverage, winning his individual battle on each occasion, and he is primed to produce early in his career.
According to NationalFootballPost.com's Russ Lande, Patton stood in at just 6-feet tall at the Senior Bowl. Yet what the 202-pound target showed on the field outweighed his stature.
Patton showed impressive foot quickness in cone drills, surprised with quick cuts in drills and on the practice field, and has a toughness in traffic that could see him as a #1 receiver in the right system.
Scouts see Patton as a rising first-round pick. Lande ranks Patton as the best senior receiver in the draft, penciling him in at No. 18 on his Top 200 list. Meanwhile, Optimum Scouting has Patton down as the fourth-best receiver with a first-round grade.
Ideally, this is where the Patriots would trade back, as some may call this pick a reach. But if the Patriots want the most prepared receiver available at pick 29, then Patton's their guy.
Alternate Pick: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Receivers don't want to cross FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien.
While the rangy Devin McCourty looks promising at free safety, the jury is still out on strong safety spot right next to him.
In 2012, the Patriots invested a second-round pick in safety Tavon Wilson and signed ex-San Diego Chargers safety Steve Gregory. Wilson's rookie year included four starts and four interceptions, but he was best utilized in the dime package. Gregory, on the other hand, started 12 contests and intercepted three passes, but he was overmatched by larger receivers and is on the wrong side of 30.
Although it's too soon to give up on Wilson, Gregory not not exactly a long-term solution. In light of this, the Patriots could do far crazier things than pursue an imposing strong safety in Round 2.
That man is Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien.
The 6-foot, 209-pound Cyprien is an enforcer at the point of attack. He's relentless, packing more of a punch than any defensive back currently on New England's roster. Consequently, he totaled 93 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and forced one fumble this past season for the Golden Panthers.
Even though he hits hard, Cyprien proved to be much more than an in-the-box safety at FIU. The senior made four interceptions and deflected nine passes this year—albeit in the Sun Belt Conference.
It wasn't until the Senior Bowl that Cyprien put himself on the map.
OptimumScouting.com's Eric Galko noted the following:
Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International made his case this week for the best senior safety, even potentially in the discussion with Kenny Vaccaro. His range, timing of his breaks, reading of the quarterback, and aggressiveness could make him one of the NFL’s best free safeties.
Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller was more forthright in his thoughts via Twitter:
Jonathan Cyprien is my favorite defensive player in this class. Pray your team drafts him.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 26, 2013
Due to his strength, awareness and athleticism, Cyprien will likely dabble at both free safety and strong safety in the NFL. But wherever he lines up, he'll play full speed on every down and be sure to leave an imprint on ball carriers.
There will never be another vocal leader like Rodney Harrison or Lawyer Milloy in New England's secondary, but Cyprien is as close as the Patriots can get at the bottom of Round 2.
Alternate Pick: Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State
Bennie Logan knows how to push the pocket.
In the early stages of the offseason, the Patriots have been diligent in seeking more interior pressure next to Vince Wilfork.
The team signed former USC and Canadian Football League defensive tackle Armond Armstead on Jan. 22. According to James Christensen of NEPatriotsDraft.com, the 6'5", 300-pounder could have been taken within the first 100 picks in 2012 if it weren't for health problems.
The Patriots gave Armstead $655,000 in guaranteed money, cites Mike Reiss and Mike Rodak of ESPNBoston.com. His "futures" contract wouldn't have been so lofty if New England didn't expect him to be a solid rotational player this upcoming season.
With Armstead already on the books, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Patriots wait until Round 3 to draft a defensive tackle.
LSU's Bennie Logan could still be waiting.
The 6'3", 295-pound Tiger enjoyed a successful junior season, logging 45 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble in 13 games. But his triumphs in disrupting the offensive line didn't always show up on the stat sheet.
CBSSports.com's Rob Rang analyzed what has made Logan so effective:
Quick off the snap and capable of handling double-teams due to his strength and use of leverage, Logan is a load in the middle and a big reason as to why LSU ranked fifth in the country last year in run defense.
He's a little slimmer than what you'd expect for an NFL defensive tackle, but Logan is a lean and willing pass-rusher who knows how to shoot the gap. A high-motor guy with deceptive speed, driving legs and long arms, it's no wonder why Logan blocked two kicks and batted down three passes this past season.
In terms of draft stock, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks Logan as the 12th-best defensive tackle and slots him No. 111 overall. If he doesn't jump off the charts at the NFL combine, he should be around for the Patriots at the end of Round 3.
It's clear that position adaptability is critical to head coach Bill Belichick, and Logan's capabilities as a 4-3 three-technique and a 3-4 five-technique are right up that alley.
Alternate Pick: Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
Terry Hawthorne is a high-effort guy who could be available late.
He we are three months later and Talib is on the verge of free agency, which opens up a hole at left cornerback barring a resurgence from 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling.
Talib is going to get paid this offseason. But if the price tag is too high for the Patriots, then drafting a cornerback—even with that early seventh-rounder—isn't a bad consolation prize.
Terry Hawthorne may not be a press-coverage tyrant like Talib, but he is an intriguing prospect who could fall to the seventh round.
Like New England safety Tavon Wilson, Hawthorne is Illinois product with upside. He started his collegiate career as a wide receiver before converting to corner in 2009, cites FightingIllini.com.
The move yielded instant results, as Hawthorne started five games as a true freshman and has since become one of his school's top playmakers. The 6-foot, 194-pounder had a breakout year in 2011, racking up 60 tackles, a team-high three interceptions and 11 passes defended, while also handling punt return duties.
Hawthorne's senior year wasn't as prolific, but he still was named an Honorable All-Big Ten selection by the media. The East St. Louis, Ill., native finished his final year in Champaign with 44 tackles, one sack, one interception and six pass breakups. Although it wasn't his best season, it is obvious that Hawthorne is an NFL talent due his nose for the football and his determination to track down receivers.
CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler broke down the vitals of Hawthorne's game:
Hawthorne doesn't have great size, but his speed and ball-hawking ability is top-shelf, flashing the awareness and natural feel teams seek in defensive backs.
A participant in the 2013 East-West Shrine Game, Hawthorne took advantage of the opportunity by intercepting a pass and recovering a fumble. Hawthorne performed well on the outside, but he also showcased physicality in the slot, where the Patriots could use him if nickelback Kyle Arrington leaves via free agency.
B/R's Matt Miller ranks Hawthorne as the 24th cornerback and the 208th overall prospect in the 2013 draft. If that projection holds true, then New England would be in great position to select a very motivated corner in Round 7.
Alternate Pick: Jeff Baca, OG, UCLA
Cornelius Washington is one of the best edge-setters available in Round 7.
The talent behind 2012 first-round pick Chandler Jones and veteran Rob Ninkovich is not written in ink. The Patriots do filter in multiple backup pass-rushers, but the group must be more consistent in doing what their job entails: rushing the passer.
Yes, 2010 second-rounder Jermaine Cunningham and undrafted rookie Justin Francis did combine for 5.5 sacks in 2012. But the Patriots still placed only 15th in sacks, which subsequently put pressure on the squad's 29th-ranked pass defense.
It's too soon to know what the future holds for Trevor Scott, who's about to enter free agency. And the same can be said for last year's third-round pick Jake Bequette, who played just 29 defensive snaps this year, per FootballOutsiders.com.
With all these forces in play, it would be no shock to see the Patriots nab another defensive end in April's draft. If the front office waits until the later rounds to do so, then Georgia's Cornelius Washington would fit the bill.
Washington may have been overshadowed by fellow Bulldogs John Jenkins, Bacarri Rambo, Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones, but he's an NFL prospect in his own right.
In 2012, Washington was credited with only half a sack. However, he still managed 22 tackles, a fumble recovery, 15 quarterback hits, a blocked kick and three tackles for loss.
Regardless of the mediocre numbers, it's apparent on tape that No. 83 is a force to be reckoned with on passing downs. He's got good speed, he's a mean tackler and he's agile enough to drop back in coverage as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Washington also boasts an NFL body. According to Russ Lande of NationalFootballPost.com, Washington measured out to be 6'4", 264 pounds at the Senior Bowl and displayed an 81-inch wingspan to boot.
During his scouting venture down in Mobile, Ala., Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com saw Washington as a potential fit with New England:
For the Patriots he has the size they like on the perimeter of the defense. Washington is big enough and strong enough to set the edge vs. the run, as well as rush the passer.
He's not going to tally up the tackles, especially not in run support, but Washington can get offensive tackles out of their anchor and chase down quarterbacks. If he winds up a system tuned to his strengths, Washington could end up being a very dangerous third-down pass-rusher at the next level.
Alternate Pick: Kenneth Tate, SS/OLB, Maryland