Ranking the Patriots' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft
When discussing the New England Patriots' roster, the word "need" is a bit of an overstatement. Wants, wishes and desires may abound, but the roster that Bill Belichick has put together has few glaring holes. This is a team that made it to the AFC Championship Game with many of its top players languishing on injured reserve.
Vince Wilfork's return—along with Jerod Mayo—paired with the addition of Darrelle Revis makes the defense a strength rather than a weakness. A healthy Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola should combine with the re-signed Julian Edelman to make the offense another nightmare matchup.
To change the Patriots' status from contender to favorite, here are the six things Belichick should wish for in the 2014 NFL draft.
Outside of Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui, the New England Patriots come up a little short in the tight end department.
An incredibly important part of the offense, the tight end allows offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to disguise his intentions. With multiple players who can both block and catch passes on the field, Tom Brady can read the defense and get his team into the best play possible.
In "12" personnel, defenses will have to choose whether to stay in base—the Patriots will pass—or to go to their nickel package—the Patriots will run.
Look for the Patriots to add an in-line tight end early in the 2014 NFL draft.
Possible Options: Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame), C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE, Iowa), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington), Crockett Gillmore (TE, Colorado State)
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich can't do it all themselves. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the duo accounted for 47.2 percent of the pressures on opposing quarterbacks. Dont'a Hightower, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones accounted for the majority of the remainder.
In 2014, you can expect Jamie Collins and Michael Buchanan to get chances at rushing the quarterback, but adding a pass-rusher via the draft is still likely.
Many of the best options—UCLA's Anthony Barr and Buffalo's Khalil Mack, for example—will be long gone before the New England Patriots are on the clock. With pick No. 29 or beyond, there is still value to be found.
Possible Options: Dee Ford (DE, Auburn), Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri), Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State)
Interior Offensive Line Competition
Protecting Brady is priority No. 1 for the offensive line. While Nate Solder, Logan Mankins and the combination of Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer held their own in 2013, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly were two of the worst at their position, according to Pro Football Focus.
Wendell and Connolly could bounce back with solid performances in 2014, but Bill Belichick is not one to rest on his laurels.
While there likely won't be a guard or center available in the first round who matches up value-wise with the 29th pick, a trade down into the second round of the 2014 NFL draft would give the New England Patriots enough ammo to take an interior lineman early on and still address their other needs.
Possible Options: Xavier Su'a-Filo (OL, UCLA), Weston Richburg (C, Colorado State), Brandon Thomas (OL, Clemson), Marcus Martin (C, USC)
Behind Hightower, Collins and Mayo, the lack of depth at linebacker on the New England Patriots' roster is startling. Chris White, Steve Beauharnais and Ja'Gared Davis logged a combined one defensive snap in 2013.
It is safe to say that Belichick will likely draft a linebacker this May. How high and what type are up for discussion.
Do the Patriots want an inside thumper to replace Brandon Spikes? Do they want a faster linebacker who is more savvy in coverage like Dane Fletcher? Do they want somebody to rush from the edge?
Depending on how Belichick answers that question—my guess is that they will address Fletcher's departure first—there are scores of linebackers who will be available on Day 2 and 3 of the draft.
Possible Options: Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State), Jordan Tripp (LB, Montana), Christian Kirksey (LB, Iowa)
With the subtraction of Adrian Wilson and Steve Gregory this offseason, the New England Patriots could be in the mood to add some safety help. Devin McCourty can play either free or strong safety, so Belichick has some options when considering who to bring on.
Duron Harmon played well in his rookie season, while Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner have been disappointments while lined up on defense. Logan Ryan—like McCourty—is a possible convert from cornerback to safety, as the cornerback depth chart will be a tough one to crack.
Harmon and Ryan should allow the Patriots to pass on a safety in the first and second rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, but if they fall in love with a prospect, cementing their secondary as one of the top five in the NFL is a good way to go.
Possible Options: Calvin Pryor (SS, Louisville), Jimmie Ward (SS, Northern Illinois), Deone Bucannon (SS, Washington State)
As I've said many times before, if you find yourself needing to draft a franchise quarterback, you've waited far too long to address the position.
Brady doesn't seem to be slowing down, but he isn't getting any younger. His current heir—Ryan Mallett—will be a free agent in 2015. Belichick can't like seeing the New England Patriots with that level of uncertainty surrounding the most important position in football.
If Mallett isn't extended prior to the draft, look for New England to draft—perhaps earlier than you think—a young quarterback to compete as a backup.
Possible Options: Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville), Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU), AJ McCarron (QB, Alabama)