The New England Patriots added seven new players via the NFL draft this past weekend, hitting on every major need area, sometimes twice. While the Rutgers-to-Foxboro pipeline is the punchline everyone will be talking about, the Patriots improved their team in a number of areas.
What's clear is that the passing-game makeover just got a huge boost. The additions of Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce immediately inject life and signs of promise into the Pats' depleted receiver corps. Both seem to have the requisite intelligence to pick up the Patriots' offensive system, and both are potentially explosive.
On defense, they added middle-of-the-field coverage players, along with pass-rushers. They ignored a deep and diverse defensive tackle class.
Let's take a look at the preliminary depth chart at each position and take an early crack at what a 53-man roster might look like.
Projected Depth Chart: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Mike Kafka
Despite rumors of a potential Mallett deal, which could've been cooked up by the Patriots, he remains Tom Brady's backup. It was a safe move to keep Mallett around. Brady's too old to mess around with a newbie backing him up.
Brady now has, in essence, a totally new receiving corps. How will this chapter of his legacy go? Will he keep this new crew at the top of the NFL in every offensive category? Or will his age and lack of Welker start to show some cracks in the armor?
Projected Depth Chart: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount, James Develin, Tony Fiammetta
The Pats swapped Jeff Demps for LeGarrette Blount on Saturday, in a case of two teams flipping players they would probably cut. Blount showed some promise in 2010, but there's already a talented young backfield in New England. He'll likely need an injury to sneak on the roster.
Stevan Ridley is the de facto lead back, but Brandon Bolden could push him in training camp. Shane Vereen is out to prove he can take over for Danny Woodhead and stay healthy for a full season.
Projected Depth Chart: Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, Matthew Slater, Jeremy Ebert, Kamar Aiken, Andre Holmes
Now the Patriots have a good competition at wide receiver. Both Jones and Jenkins are veterans who know how to be pros, but rookies Dobson and Boyce are more talented. Julian Edelman is back as the only returning weapon for Tom Brady.
The biggest key for this group? Staying healthy. If they're all on the field for practices and games, maximizing their time to work with Brady, the Pats should be OK.
The Pats should consider bringing Deion Branch back. Not to play football in the fall, but to start working with all the new receivers and helping them grasp what Brady wants out of them.
They can cut him before camp if they want to, but it would certainly help.
Projected Depth Chart: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Brad Herman.
Just like receiver, this group will all come down to health. If the Pats are somehow able to get full seasons out of both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, it won't even matter what happens at the wide receiver position.
There's no question, Gronk and Hernando are the best tight end combination in the NFL, but both have been haunted by injuries the last two seasons.
Behind them, the capable Jake Ballard returns to the field for the first time since tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl against the Pats. Ballard is a better third option than Fells or Hoomanawanui, especially in his blocking.
Projected Depth Chart: Nate Solder, Will Svitek
We thought the Patriots would grab a tackle in the draft, but they must feel good about Will Svitek being their backup swing tackle. Svitek came over from the Falcons earlier this offseason.
Nate Solder returns after a stellar first season starting at left tackle. He should only continue to improve this year.
Projected Depth Chart: Logan Mankins, Nick McDonald
The Patriots will look to add some guard depth in rookie free agency, and if necessary, on the regular free-agent market. McDonald looked good last preseason and has a lot of fans, but the team still hasn't replaced Donald Thomas. He was more valuable than most people realize.
Mankins, now in his second season after ACL surgery, should be ready to have a big year. He was good last year, not great.
Projected Depth Chart: Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald
Ryan Wendell was a surprise success last year, his first as the starting center. He excelled in the run game and will look to improve his pass protection this season.
McDonald backs him up as well, another sign that the Patriots will need significant interior-line depth for training camp and to develop for the future.
Projected Depth Chart: Dan Connolly, Nick McDonald
Dan Connolly started the full 2012 season at right guard, but the team wanted Brian Waters to return. This leaves some uncertainty if Connolly is the Patriots' long-term solution at guard.
There have long been rumors that Marcus Cannon would make a better guard. This current lack of depth could mean he's finally making the position change.
Projected Depth Chart: Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Mark Zusevics
Free agent Sebastian Vollmer returns on a new deal, and like many Pats, if he can stay healthy he should dominate.
Marcus Cannon is still on the tackle depth chart but could be headed over to the guard page, especially with the decent Zusevics around.
Projected Depth Chart: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Jamie Collins, Michael Buchanan, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan, Jason Vega, Marcus Benard
Defensive end is shaping up to be the most interesting camp battle for the Patriots.
Outside of Chandler Jones, nothing is set in stone. Rob Ninkovich should be the other base-package defensive end, but for how long? He's entering the last year of his deal, and there's a lot of young talent in the pipeline behind him.
Cunningham and Bequette are likely facing make-or-break camps, and Justin Francis will be in for some stiff competition. Vega is an unknown as well, who showed some promise in the CFL.
Jamie Collins is the athletic top pick and likely has the inside track on a designated pass-rusher role. Buchanan is right on the bubble and will have to show pop as a pass-rusher as well.
Projected Depth Chart: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston, Tracy Robertson.
Surprisingly, the Pats didn't add a defensive tackle in the draft. They did sign Armond Armstead from the CFL, so that is somewhat like a draft pick since he only played one season in Canada.
Tommy Kelly provides a nice complement to Vince Wilfork. They've been running Wilfork into the ground in recent seasons. They have to cut back on that, and Kelly should allow them to do it.
Love and Deaderick both enter contract seasons and should play with something to prove.
Projected Depth Chart: Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Niko Koutouvides, Jeff Tarpinian.
Mayo and Hightower return to man the outside linebacker spots. Mayo is coming off his best season as a pro, and Hightower really started to come on at the end of 2012. His progression could mean he takes the sub-linebacker role entirely from Spikes, or perhaps even slide to middle linebacker on base downs.
Mayo is the leader of the defense, but he must continue to improve his pass coverage. He still lacks instincts in the passing game, despite his speed and smarts.
Projected Depth Chart: Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Steven Beauharnais, Mike Rivera
This could be an interesting position to watch in training camp. Spikes will need to show improvement on his pass recognition and drops if he wants to get a three-down linebacker contract next offseason.
Dane Fletcher returns from an ACL injury suffered in the first preseason game of 2012. His skills in coverage, especially as a spy against Ray Rice, could get him on the field.
The wild card could be Beauharnais. He's undersized but might have better movement and coverage skills than either Spikes or Fletcher.
Projected Depth Chart: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole, Malcolm Williams.
Logan Ryan is a welcome addition in rounding out the depth at the corner spot. He should immediately contribute as a dime back and special teamer.
The starting trio from 2012 return intact with Talib at left corner, Dennard at right corner and Arrington at star, a spot he excels in.
Dowling is facing a make-or-break year after being broken the last two seasons. His measurables are still intriguing, but he's got a lot to prove.
Projected Depth Chart: Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon, Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner.
Devin McCourty returns as the only sure thing at starting safety, and that's assuming he stays at the safety position. But if he does, he'll be the one lining up the defense.
From there, the early favorite to land the other spot is Tavon Wilson. At least that's the Pats' preference for their 2012 second-round pick.
Adrian Wilson came off the field in passing situations in Arizona, will he do the same in New England? Or will the Pats use him more in a short-area-coverage linebacker role?
Steve Gregory did start to come on at the end of the 2012 season but capped it off with a horrible AFC Championship, and that's all anyone can remember. His $2.183 million salary cap hit makes him a potential casualty as well (h/t Spotrac).
And how does third-round pick Duron Harmon fit into all this? That will be one of the biggest questions of training camp.
Projected Depth Chart
K: Stephen Gostkowski
P: Zoltan Mesko
LS: Danny Aiken
PR: Julian Edelman, Leon Washington
KR: Leon Washington
The Pats get a needed boost at kickoff returner with the addition of Leon Washington. With Julian Edelman returning punts, the Patriots should have one of the most explosive units in the NFL.
Stephen Gostkowski, despite a $3.4 million cap hit, returns and should be steady.
Zoltan Mesko enters the final year of his deal and could be in line for an extension.
QB (2) Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
RB (4) Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Leon Washington
WR (6) Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Julian Edelman, Donald Jones, Matthew Slater
TE (4) Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells
C (1) Ryan Wendell
G (3) Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Nick McDonald, Marcus Cannon
T (4) Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Will Svitek
DE (4) Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins, Jermaine Cunningham
DT (5) Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Kyle Love, Armond Armstead, Brandon Deaderick
ILB(3) Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Steve Beauharnais
OLB(3) Jerod Mayo, Donta Hightower, Niko Koutouvides
CB (5) Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Logan Ryan
SS (3) Tavon Wilson, Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon
FS (3) Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Nate Ebner
ST (3) Stephen Gostkowski, Danny Aiken, Zoltan Mesko