How do you make one of the best teams in the entire NFL even better after a 14-2 regular season?
That is the question that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick faces heading into the offseason. This season saw his team dominate the league on offense once again, while their defense was the Achilles heel in their divisional round playoff loss to the New York Jets.
The team will have to address weaknesses at the wide receiver, cornerback and offensive lineman positions, while also figuring out a way to put pressure on opponent’s quarterbacks if they want to retake their throne on top of the football world next season.
The team has enough pieces already in place to have another great regular season, but if they could just add a few more quality players in the draft, there is no reason that this team shouldn’t be the last team standing come next February.
New England also has a ton of great draft choices to work with, as they have six selections during the first three rounds of the NFL draft and nine draft picks in total.
The following are ten players who the Patriots should look to add to improve their team in April’s upcoming draft. These players are not just in found the first few rounds, but in the later rounds too.
Projected Round: 1st Round
Left tackle Matt Light has been a staple of the Patriots franchise for the past few years, but as a free agent, the 32-year-old has certainly seen his best days pass him already and while he is a very good offensive lineman still, it is believed that the pay day he wants for his play is just too much for the Patriots to shell out for him.
Right tackle Tyron Smith from USC would be a great pick for the Patriots, as they could groom him to become a top tackle in the league.
Smith is a very good athlete for his size (6’3”, 280 lbs.) and while he might seem a bit light to be playing the line at the pro level, he has plenty of time to add strength and his quickness is something that no other tackle in the draft brings to the table at this point.
Even though Smith has not played left tackle in college, it is a switch that many scouts believe that Smith can make easily.
Smith is a freak athletically and at tackle, his long arms go with his uncanny ability to slide his feet from side-to-side, which lets him excel in pass coverage.
Even though he isn’t as polished as some would like, Smith is athletically better than anyone else at his position in the draft and has the highest ceiling if he can put it all together at the next level.
With the great coaching staff that the Patriots possess, I don’t see this being a problem at all.
Projected Round: 1st-2nd Round
The New England Patriots could never seem to get enough of a pass rush on opposing quarterbacks, as they had plenty of time to sit back in the pocket and tear the passing defense apart. Because of this, opponents loved going to the air against the Patriots, who finished 30th in the NFL in passing defense, allowing 258.8 yards through the air per game.
That stat could be improved with a better pass rush.
The Patriots also accumulated a very low 36 sacks over the course of the season, averaging about two sacks per game.
Houston could improve the pass rush almost instantly, as he is an absolute force coming around the edge.
Houston had a great season in 2010, turning in 67 tackles, including a team-leading 18.5 for loss and 10.0 sacks to go along with an eye popping 44 quarterback pressures as a standout on the Georgia Bulldogs defense.
If the Patriots are serious about improving the pass rush, why not go after a guy who was the best at doing it this year in college?
Projected Round: 1st Round
The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner had a rough go during the 2010 season, as he was constantly battling with injuries throughout the season.
Even after missing the first two games of the season, Ingram bounced back to rush for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns during the season.
This is, of course, coming after the huge year in 2009, in which Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards, an Alabama school record.
Although Ingram doesn’t have the big play ability and speed to just run past defenders at the pro level, he has good size and runs with an incredible balance that allows him to pick up yards after contact.
He also has a high IQ for the game and recognizes holes being developed and hits them just as they start to open.
The Patriots had a good year rushing, averaging 123.3 yards per game, (9th in the league) but they currently don’t have an every down running back on their roster.
While Ingram would make sense for the Patriots to add to the team, I just doubt that they would use one of their first round picks on a running back, when the team did end up having success with their running back by committee approach.
With Tom Brady at quarterback, having an elite running back isn’t on the top of the list for the Patriots to try to find right now, especially when their defense seems to be the area of their team that needs the most work.
Projected Round: 1st-2nd Round
The Patriots could also use some help on their defensive line and Wilkerson is just the guy that could add a solid talent on the team to go along with nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
When he announced that he was forgoing his senior season to enter the draft, not a lot of buzz was out there about the Temple product.
That isn’t the case anymore.
Scouts are starting to salivate over the 6'5" 305 lbs defensive lineman, who led the Owls in tackles for loss (13), sacks (9.5), and quarterback hurries last season en route to earning a second straight first-team All-MAC selection.
He has the ability to play either defensive tackle or defense end and would fit in nicely at the end position in New England’s 3-4 defense.
Wilkerson is another option out there if the Patriots are looking to get more pressure on the quarterback.
Projected Round: 2nd Round
Just a couple of years ago, the New England Patriots were looking to take playmaking wide receiver Percy Harvin out of Florida University, but were beat to the punch by the Minnesota Vikings, who picked one spot ahead of them.
This time, they get another chance to take an elite playmaker as they could select Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Randall Cobb somewhere in round two.
Cobb is a playmaker who not only caught passes, but also lined up in the backfield to run the ball and threw a few passes himself too.
Overall, Cobb had one of the most productive seasons ever in college football, as he broke the SEC single-season record for all-purpose yardage, racking up 2,396 yards this season.
To go along with all of those yards, Cobb also hauled in 84 receptions for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns, rushed for 424 yards and five touchdowns and also added three more touchdowns through the air.
He is also capable of running the Wildcat formation, something he did a lot of during his college playing days.
With the offensive mastermind of Belichick, it is quite scary to think of the kind of numbers and impact that Cobb could be putting up for the Patriots for years to come, as he turns into an elite playmaker on the team.
Projected Round: 6th-7th Round
Friday is a talent that most teams should be looking to add to their team come April, especially because it won’t cost them a high pick to do so as he is expected to go in the later rounds.
Friday could turn into a good outside linebacker in the Patriots 3-4 defense and would greatly help the team dial up pressure on quarterbacks.
Athletically, Friday is an absolute monster and just has to get it all together at the next level, as he still is very raw.
In his only starting season with Virginia Tech, he produced at a good level, as he totaled 64 tackles, 15.0 tackles-for-loss, 8.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries, while also forcing two fumbles.
Friday has the strength and speed at the next level, but is a work in progress right now.
Still, when someone with his athletic ability is available, look for the Patriots to add him late in the draft and try to develop the 25-year-old into a serviceable outside linebacker.
Projected Round: 3rd Round
The Patriots could definitely use another cornerback to add to their roster, but with offensive line and defensive pressure higher on the list of needs for New England, they will most likely not select a corner with their first couple picks.
That’s where USC cornerback Shareece Wright comes into play.
There are some questions off the field about Wright and some durability concerns, but once he is able to get on the field, there is no doubt that the talent is there for this guy to continue to get better and better.
Wright is an athletic player who is very good in run support and has the uncanny ability to force fumbles when making tackles.
He is very good in coverage too and despite being a little raw, (he didn’t see a ton of playing time in his college career) he has all the tools to but it together at the next level.
With the use of a mid-round pick, the Patriots could add an up and coming cornerback that will help them cover opposing wideouts for years to come.
Projected Round: 4th-5th Round
For some reason, the Patriots love the little guys who can make plays and West Virginia’s running back, Noel Devine, fits this bill very nicely.
Even though he stands at only 5'7" and 160lbs, Devine has game breaking speed and would be a nice fit to the backfield by committee approach that the Patriots tend to employ.
He also is a threat out of the backfield to catch passes and could be a match up nightmare if used the correct way.
Seeing as I doubt the Patriots will spend a top pick on a running back, look for Devine to be a potential playmaker that the Patriots take a hard look at to see if he fits in the offense later in the draft.
Projected Round: 6th Round
Just like Steven Friday, TCU defensive lineman Wayne Daniels is a player who has some good skills, but just needs a good coaching staff to help him put it all together.
Daniels is a great tackle who has the quickness and the ability to get past linemen, but struggles once he is locked up with linemen and needs to improve on his strength if he wants to make an impact at the next level.
Daniels is another project player at a position of need for the Patriots and if they can’t use his skills and teach him how to become a productive player in the league, I don’t know what other team can.
It will be a work in progress, but Daniels has the skills. If he can just get it all together and reach his full potential.
Projected Round: 2nd Round
If the Patriots don’t go to a lineman with one of their picks in the second round, look for Baylor guard Danny Watkins to be one of the players they take a close look at in the second round.
Now, some of the players mentioned before we labeled as raw but Watkins is truly the most inexperienced guys in terms of playing years in the draft, as he only started playing football a mere four years ago.
This past season, Watkins was a force on the line though and he is an outstanding athlete with good feet and does a good job of pulling and reaching the second level to take on linebackers.
His rawness and age (he is 26 years old) are question marks heading into the draft, however, his talent and potential are too great for teams just to pass up on him, because he is a little bit older than you would like as a prospect.
The guy can play and he has plenty of time to mature as a player and really become a top guard in the league for the future.