With the team's top-two wide receivers from the 2012 season, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, no longer with the team, it seems inevitable that the Patriots will come out of this draft with at least one receiver.
But the Patriots don't always draft for need over value.
It's also important to remember that the defense still remains the team's weakest link (the offense still has Tom Brady after all), so talent will likely be added to that side of the ball as well.
Trade Scenario (h/t NEPatriotsDraft.com for the idea):
In this mock draft the Patriots decide to trade their first-round pick (No. 29 overall) to the Philadelphia Eagles for their second-round (No. 35 overall) and fourth-round pick (No. 101 overall).
The Eagles may be interested in acquiring a quarterback like Matt Barkley or EJ Manuel or perhaps Florida International strong safety Jonathan Cyprien, all of whom they've shown interest in. So, the trade makes sense for them.
The Patriots acknowledge the minimal talent gap between the first and second round and decide to take the extra pick given their limited draft arsenal.
Without further ado, let's take a look at how the draft could potentially play out for the Pats.
The Patriots could use some more pass rush.
If Datone Jones drops out of the first round, New England won't be able to pass on this guy.
Jones is a disruptive defensive lineman who has experience playing defensive end and defensive tackle.
The former UCLA Bruin has an NFL-ready build at 6'4'', 284 pounds with long arms and violent hands that he uses well to shed blockers.
Jones' exceptional upper body strength allows him to bull over guards and tackles to penetrate the backfield.
The Patriots could line him up as an end in either three- or four-man fronts as well as use him as an interior rusher in four-man fronts in passing situations.
Bill Belichick could create matchup problems with this guy all day.
Rob Ninkovich played well last year (eight sacks, five forced fumbles), but he isn't a guy who keeps offensive coordinators up at night.
He also enters the last year of his contract in 2013.
Jones could be Nink's eventual long-term replacement and has the potential to become a premier NFL defensive lineman for years to come.
I've gushed about Marshall's wide receiver Aaron Dobson before, but it bears repeating that he truly has all the makings of a top-tier NFL wide receiver.
Greg Cosell, the executive produce of NFL Matchup and contributor to Yahoo! Sports Shutdown Corner, had a lot of good things to say about the Marshall standout in a recent piece, writing:
Dobson, at 6’3” and 210 pounds, [has] a strong blend of size and fluid movement. He [is] quicker than fast, regardless of his outstanding 4.42 40 time at his recent pro day. Yet, like many tall wide receivers, his height and stride length generated deceptive speed on vertical routes. What continually stood out the more I evaluated Dobson were his vice grip hands, and his body control and flexibility to adjust to the ball in the air, resulting in both contested and difficult catches. He’s not quite Larry Fitzgerald..but I saw some similar traits in Dobson.
Dobson won't become Fitzgerald, but he has a good chance to become a special player.
The Patriots would likely ask Dobson to play out wide in the "X" receiver role where, given the attention that Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Amendola will command between the hash marks, he should have plenty of one-on-one opportunities.
He has the talent to capitalize on those opportunities, and that's all the Patriots need.
While the Patriots have Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib—their best starting cornerback duo in years—returning for the 2013 season, you can never have enough quality corners in this pass-happy league.
After signing just a one-year deal, the Patriots may be without Aqib Talib in 2014 too, so grooming a potential replacement now is good business.
Logan Ryan is an ferocious and physical defender with good size (5’11’’, 190 lbs) for the position who would look great in a Patriots uniform.
Ryan has outstanding ball skills (17 pass breakups, four interceptions in 13 games in 2012, per ESPN.com), and he’s also a very willing tackler who never shies away from run support—something Belichick covets in his CBs.
He went to Rutgers too—a program Belichick adores—so we can be certain Ryan is all over New England's radar.
The former Scarlet Knight has all the makings of a top-flight cornerback.
His only knock is that he doesn't has "elite" straight-line speed (4.56 40-yard dash), but neither does Richard Sherman (also ran a 4.56 40-yard dash), and that hasn't stopped him from being an elite cornerback.
While he certainly needs some polish (as do all NFL prospects), Ryan has a very high ceiling and would be a perfect developmental talent for the club.
The Patriots decide to double-dip in the wide receiver pool by drafting Da'Rick Rogers—a big and physical target.
Rogers is an aggressive player, who plays with a lot of strength, short-area burst and has some serious run-after-the-catch skills.
Above all else, Rogers is as tough as nails and plays with a lot of competitive fire.
He wants the ball and knows how to get open, whether it's outmuscling defenders or using crafty footwork.
Rogers' skill set allows him to be effective out wide or in the slot, so it wouldn't be hard for Tom Brady to create mismatches with him.
He's had some off-the-field issues that led to him being kicked out of the University of Tennessee, but guess what?
Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Spikes and Alfonzo Dennard all had off-the-field issues as well, just to name a few.
With Tom Brady and Logan Mankins there to straighten him out, Rogers wouldn't be an issue.
There may be risk, but Rogers' talent should outweigh the risk.
Certainties are few and far between on draft day, but the Patriots offense would certainly be a tougher unit with the addition of Rogers.
Tanner Hawkinson is an athletic offensive lineman (4.51 in 20-yard shuttle) who played under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis at Kansas.
With that said, the Patriots should be able to learn everything and anything about this guy while projecting how he'd fit into their system.
A former tight end, Hawkinson has retained a lot of his quickness despite putting on a lot of weight over his collegiate career.
He has a good all-around game but doesn't do anything exceptionally well.
If the Patriots see him as a fit, it makes sense for them to add depth to their offensive line with both Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly getting older.
There is a lot to like about small-school safety Cooper Taylor.
First off, at 6'5'' and 228 pounds, this kid is massive.
He's also a good athlete who plays with a lot of aggression and physicality.
Given his size and build, Cooper is effective against the run, but he also has the closing burst and length to be effective against the pass.
He's not a top-flight athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but the Patriots could have a lot of fun with this guy—lining him at strong safety, as a sub-package cover linebacker, blitzing him, etc.
Cooper could go a lot higher than this or he could not be drafted at all; it's hard to get a pulse on how teams feel about him.
If he's on the board this late, though, the Patriots might pull the trigger.