The first week of NFL free agency has drawn to a close, leaving a flurry of questions to be settled in its aftermath. That said, all 32 front offices now have a better understanding as to how April's draft will take shape.
One team, however, is harder to read than the rest: the New England Patriots.
Head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio have seen slot receiver Wes Welker join the Denver Broncos, third-down back Danny Woodhead land with the San Diego Chargers, and offensive guard Donald Thomas ship out to the Indianapolis Colts.
On the flip side, New England has agreed to terms with St. Louis Rams slot target Danny Amendola, Seattle Seahawks returner Leon Washington, Buffalo Bills wideout Donald Jones and even Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson.
How will all these transactions affect New England's draft plans and direction moving forward?
With the recent moves, the Patriots do have some flexibility in the draft.
Here are five talents who could be Foxborough fits now that the initial dominoes of free agency have fallen.
All NFL combine stats courtesy of NFL.com
Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington are set to fill New England's top three cornerback spots in 2013. But don't think that Coach Belichick won't add talent to the cornerback position.
That could come as soon the 29th selection of Round 1, where Boise State's Jamar Taylor should be waiting.
The 5'11", 192-pound Bronco has a knack for making plays. It doesn't matter if he's pressing his man at the line of scrimmage or playing with his back towards the sideline in zone coverage, Taylor will be a factor.
Over his last two seasons in Boise, No. 5 racked up six interceptions to go with 21 pass deflections. Those numbers were a byproduct of Taylor's ability to get physical with his receivers but break off in time to jump routes.
On top of his ball skills, the redshirt senior is a refined tackler—a rare trait for a college cornerback. In 2012, he amassed 51 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss to go with three forced fumbles. He is aggressive in run support and has the strength to disengage from receivers' blocks.
Taylor has a lot of fluidity to his game and can run downfield with the best of them. He showed just that at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Taylor ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, the 20-yard shuttle in 4.06 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 6.82 seconds—all Top 10 finishes among cornerbacks.
The Patriots selected Devin McCourty in Round 1 of the 2010 draft, and he too garnered a Top 10 placement among cornerbacks in those respective drills. Taylor certainly has the makeup to be next.
Since he played in the Mountain West Conference, Taylor didn't face the most imposing receivers on a weekly basis. That may pose a challenge to him in the NFL, but he is a well versed cornerback prospect as well as a smart and instinctive team captain.
The Patriots must take Taylor's NFL-ready potential into account at the end of Day 1. This may be a spot where New England tries to trade back, but Taylor has the ingredients to be a good one, maybe even a first-rounder.
Markus Wheaton may be compact, but he is complete.
The Patriots have a lot up in the air right now when it comes to the wide receiver position. But no matter where Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman end up next year, it's clear that the passing attack needs another playmaker.
Oregon State's Markus Wheaton is one.
The 5'11", 189-pound pass-catcher had an extremely productive career with the Beavers, totaling 227 receptions for 2,994 yards and 16 touchdowns. Last season alone, Wheaton hauled in 91 balls for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns.
A former high school track star, Wheaton hasn't lost his wheels. He ran a 4.45 second 40 and a 6.80 second three-cone time at the NFL combine. While he definitely has straight-line speed, Wheaton can change direction in a hurry and break away from defenders.
Although he's 5'11", Wheaton's quickness and footwork make him a bigger weapon than he looks. Oregon State's all-time reception leader knows how to manipulate defensive backs through his deceptive route-running and outstanding body control. A dynamic option, Wheaton can impact the game via short, intermediate and even deep passes.
Wheaton may drop a pass here and there. He may also struggle to push off against bigger cornerbacks. However, the moments in which he flashes make the moments in which he lapses worth it.
Wheaton is a savvy wideout who can play on the outside or in the slot at the next level. Don't be surprised if he takes the occasional handoff, either. He did score five rushing touchdowns during his days in Corvallis.
Khaseem Greene is a cover linebacker with a mean streak.
The Patriots have three downhill "thumpers" at linebacker: Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. With all that power, though, there must be some speed.
This is where Khaseem Greene comes into the picture.
Not only is the 6'1", 241-pound outside linebacker from Rutgers—a program Belichick admires—but he's a cover linebacker with ball skills. Since his freshman year in 2009, Greene has collected six interceptions, along with 15 pass deflections.
In contrast, Washington Huskies' projected first-round draft pick Desmond Trufant totaled six picks over that span. Yet he is a cornerback, not to mention a very good one at that.
When it comes to finding coverage linebackers, well, the Patriots haven't really found one. Athletic tight ends have created mismatches, and that's been the case ever since ex-Indianapolis Colts tight end Bryan Fletcher beat Eric Alexander on a corner route in the final minutes of the 2006 AFC Championship Game.
If Greene falls to New England in Round 3—it will take some luck—that deficiency would be averted. He's comfortable dropping back but also has the lateral agility to close in on the ball. At the NFL combine, Greene posted a 4.71 second 40-yard dash and a 4.20 second 20-yard shuttle—both Top 10 finishes among linebackers.
Not only does Greene hold his own in coverage, he can wrap up the ball-carrier too. As a senior this past season, the Scarlet Knight registered 136 total tackles, six sacks, 12 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles. That kind of resume makes him an ideal three-down weakside backer.
All in all, Greene is the perfect fit for New England's 4-3 front, even more so considering Spikes has just one year left on his rookie contract, per Spotrac.com.
It doesn't hurt that Greene is close with Belichick's son Steven, either. Both played on the same team and had classes together at Rutgers, according to Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com.
The physical Josh Johnson can compete against taller targets.
Even if the Patriots grab a cornerback early in this year's draft, it would wise to grab another one late.
Purdue's Josh Johnson is one worth taking a flier on.
Although he's just 5'9" and ran a sluggish 4.65 second 40-time at the combine, Johnson is one of the toughest corners you'll come across. The 199-pounder knows how to battle against taller receivers and did just that versus Marshall's Aaron Dobson and Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert.
He's been through a lot, too.
According to Tyler Dunne of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Johnson was just five years old when he received third-degree burns over 35 percent of his body. Dunne writes:
Playing football with his brother, Johnson bumped into his uncle, who was carrying a pot of boiling water. One doctor told Johnson's family he wouldn't be able to walk again.
Not only would Johnson be able to walk again, he'd be able to play football again. He worked his way up and became a three-year starter for the Boilermakers.
Johnson hit on all cylinders during his senior campaign, totaling 65 tackles, a sack, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and 19 pass deflections, which tied for fourth most in the Football Bowl Subdivision, cites NCAA.org.
At Purdue's pro day in early March, Big Ten Network analyst Tom Dienhart backed Johnson's play (via Travis Baugh of The Purdue Exponent):
"If you turn on the film and watch Johnson play, that’s all you need to know,” Dienhart said. “While some of his measurables may not be top-shelf, the guy had a knack for making plays and being in the right position more often than not."
A physical and heady competitor, Johnson could develop into a stout nickelback and core special teamer in the NFL. He knows how to tackle in open space, relishes in bump-and-run, and is much quicker than he is fast.
Johnson is the type of player who will turn some heads.
New England's right tackle situation is on shaky ground. 2009 second-round pick Sebastian Vollmer has not yet re-signed, and 2011 fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon's future may be best served at guard.
In light of this uncertainty, there are far crazier things the Patriots could do than select a tackle in the draft.
Luke Marquardt is a name to remember.
No, Azusa Pacific is not exactly an NFL pipeline. The football program competes NAIA. But it is the alma mater of former NFL running back Christian Okoye—otherwise known as the "Nigerian Nightmare"—who was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1987 draft.
Marquardt could be the next Cougar to establish himself in the NFL. The 6'9", 322-pound blocker is a former basketball player who also converted from tight end midway through his freshman year, per George Bremer of The Herald Bulletin.
With that athletic background, Marquardt will remind some of Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who is 6'8" and a former tight end. Now Marquardt doesn't have the same polish as New England's 2011 first-rounder, but he's an intriguing bookend regardless.
At Azusa Pacific, Marquardt was coached by Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jackie Slater. If that last name sounds familiar, that's because Coach Slater is the father of Patriots Pro Bowl gunner Matthew Slater.
Having a connection with the Patriots certainly doesn't make Marquardt a sure bet, but it keeps him on the radar. Bremer reports that Marquardt met with the Indianapolis Colts and the Patriots during the NFL combine.