With Bill Belichick in mind, creating a round-by-round 2014 big board for the New England Patriots is a nightmare. Surprise picks like safeties Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon and shrewd value picks like cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and quarterback Ryan Mallett always keep NFL draft analysts guessing.
That said, here are 42 players—six each round—who I expect the Patriots to be taking a hard look at this offseason.
Note: Players were chosen based on anticipated draft position, scheme fit and positional need.
Offense: Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
The New England Patriots won't go another season with poor-quality tight ends. Amaro offers a pass-catching threat who has upside as a blocker.
If Amaro is available near the end of the first round, Belichick won't hesitate to snatch up a player bound to create mismatches in the secondary.
More Options: Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina), Zack Martin (OL, Notre Dame)
Defense: Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
If the Patriots don't re-sign cornerback Aqib Talib, they will need a cornerback who can be physical on the line of scrimmage and cover "X" receivers. Dennard has the physicality to bully top receivers at the NFL level, but his speed might be a question mark.
If Dennard runs poorly at the NFL combine, this might be a bit of a reach. That said, there aren't many corners who can match Talib's skill set in this draft.
More Options: Ra'Shede Hageman (DL, Minnesota), Louis Nix III (DL, Notre Dame)
Offense: Xavier Su'a-Filo (OL, UCLA)
The New England Patriots will be looking to upgrade their interior offensive line this offseason and need not look further than Su'a-Filo. He has the balance, strength and technique to contribute as a rookie in Josh McDaniels' offense.
Su'a-Filo should be available on Day 2 of the draft, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him rise up draft boards with strong showings at the NFL combine and his pro timing day.
More Options: C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa), Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
Defense: Telvin Smith (LB, Florida State)
With Brandon Spikes a free agent, the Patriots might look to transform their linebacker corps into a quicker unit with better skills in coverage. Smith fits that role like a glove.
Smith's speed would complement Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower's strength and would give Jamie Collins a partner in nickel and dime coverage. Look for Smith to be picked somewhere near the end of Round 2.
More Options: Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville), DaQuan Jones (DL ,Penn State)
Offense: Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)
With Julian Edelman's status in flux, the New England Patriots may choose to add to their young group of wide receivers.
Matthews is a solid—if unspectacular—receiver who has perhaps the highest floor of any receiver prospect in this draft not named Sammy Watkins. That said, his inability to separate down the field will limit his ceiling. A desperate team might snatch him earlier, but he could easily be available near the end of Day 2.
More Options: Seantrel Henderson (OL, Miami), David Fales (QB, San Jose State)
Defense: Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa)
Bill Belichick can't get enough linebackers, especially ones with versatility. Kirksey isn't a household name, but this could easily be the surprise pick that Belichick loves to make.
Kirksey is adept at rushing the passer, has sideline-to-sideline range chasing down running backs and can drop in zone coverage or man up tight ends. Add his special teams prowess to the mix and you have quite the value.
More Options: Trevor Reilly (DE, Utah), Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois)
Offense: Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
Tight end has already been mentioned, but it bears repeating. The New England Patriots need multiple tight ends on their roster—not named Rob Gronkowski—who can create mismatches.
Niklas has a big 6'7" frame and can block as well as go up and catch some passes. In the red zone, he will cause numerous problems for opposing defenses. He is still a bit raw, but he could rise into the early stages of the draft's second day with an impressive combine.
More Options: James Hurst (OT, North Carolina), Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia)
Defense: Aaron Colvin (CB, Oklahoma)
Alfonzo Dennard and Ryan Mallett both dropped in the draft due to issues other than their play on the field. Aaron Colvin will be in the same boat after suffering an ACL tear at the Senior Bowl.
If the prognosis on the knee and rehab is going well, this will be his ceiling. If it isn't going as planned, Colvin could tumble out of the draft completely. With injury issues always a concern at cornerback, stashing a player like Colvin on the PUP list would be a savvy move.
More Options: Jaylen Watkins (CB, Florida), Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State)
Offense: Billy Turner (OL, North Dakota State)
The New England Patriots never shy away from adding talented young linemen, especially with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer suffering injuries during the 2013 season.
Like Kirksey, Turner isn't a big name, but he has a big game. He has played left and right tackle, but his premium lateral movement skills would help shore up the Patriots interior line at guard.
More Options: Joel Bitonio (OT, Nevada), Brandon Linder (OL, Miami)
Defense: Ryan Carrethers (DL, Arkansas State)
If Vince Wilfork isn't fully recovered from his Achilles injury—or even if he is—the Patriots need some depth inside at defensive tackle.
Carrethers is more of a 1-technique defensive tackle, but he has the size and strength to grow into a role as a two-gapping nose tackle as well. If he is available on Day 3 of the draft, he is a worthwhile project.
More Options: Jordan Tripp (LB, Montana), Morgan Breslin (LB, USC)
Offense: Colt Lyerla (TE, Oregon)
The stories you hear about Lyerla—both on and off the field—sound like tall tales. Refusing to give up the ball on a zone-read play and dragging Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota into the end zone with him comes to mind right away.
With the right coaching staff and a lot of buy-in from Lyerla, he could be the best tight end to ever grace an NFL field. That said, he could easily bust out of the league entirely. In the sixth round, some team will be willing to take that chance.
More Options: Michael Campanaro (WR, Wake Forest), Jack Mewhort (OT, Ohio State)
Defense: Vinnie Sunseri (SS, Alabama)
Bill Belichick adores special teams players. He has drafted coverage players—Nate Ebner, Matthew Slater—and specialists—Jake Ingram, Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko—showing his commitment to improving that phase of the game.
Sunseri, while a phenomenal player on coverage units, also adds some upside to the safety position. He has good instincts, a high football IQ and enough athleticism to get on the field in the NFL. Coming off a season-ending injury, he would be a steal here in the sixth.
More Options: Tim Scott (CB, North Carolina), Bruce Gaston (DT, Purdue)
Offense: Kenny Guiton (QB, Ohio State)
The New England Patriots have never hesitated to select quarterbacks in the later stages of the draft. Even backup quarterbacks. After hitting it big with Matt Cassel, the Patriots might set their sights on Guiton.
Guiton filled in very well for Ohio State starter Braxton Miller when he went down with an injury and has arguably one of the better football minds in college right now. If Guiton doesn't make it in the NFL, look for him to become a coach sooner rather than later.
More Options: Dustin Vaughan (QB, West Texas A&M), Jalen Saunders (WR, Oklahoma)
Defense: Jordan Lynch (QB/RB/SS, Northern Illinois)
No, this isn't a typo. Lynch was a Heisman finalist at quarterback but won't get a chance to play there in the NFL. His athleticism, however, will give him a chance to find another position.
At 6'1" and 220 pounds—with a 4.5 40-yard dash—Lynch has the build and athletic makeup of a safety. Whether he can fine-tune the details of the game in time to become a viable option on defense is another matter. Knowing Lynch's competitive drive, I wouldn't put it past him.
More Options: James Morris (LB, Iowa), Andrew Jackson (LB, Western Kentucky)