The New England Patriots were yet again one of the top teams in the NFL last season before faltering in the playoffs. As long as Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady are leading the team, the Patriots will be in contention. The Patriots have a good mix of veterans and younger players, and with so many picks in this year’s draft, the Pats can improve this team while still getting younger.
Tom Brady is an excellent team leader and he is still one of, if not, the best quarterbacks in the league. He is still playing at a high level and there are no signs of slowing down. The Patriots haven’t really had a dominant running back in the past decade, but the tandem of Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green Ellis worked out pretty well last season. Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk provide depth, but neither of them will be around much longer.
The Patriots traded Randy Moss last season, but that left them without a serious deep threat at receiver. Wes Welker and Deion Branch played well last year, and Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate have potential. The two rookie tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, were huge successes for the Pats last year and they give the Patriots one of the best tight end tandems in the league.
The offensive line is starting to age, and both Matt Light and Logan Mankins might not be back next year. Throw in the fact that Sebastian Vollmer and Nick Kaczur were underwhelming at right tackle, and you can see that the Patriots may need to focus on this unit in the draft.
Ty Warren didn’t play last year due to injury, but he should be back at one defensive end spots, while Pro-Bowler Vince Wilfork will hold down the fort in the middle. The Patriots other defensive end spot is unsettled, but they have some underrated talent that could challenge for playing time.
The linebackers are led by Jerod Mayo, who is one of the top inside linebackers in the game. Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham played pretty well, and I think that they will get the opportunity to start next season. The other linebacker spot is a need, as Tully Banta Cain hasn’t been overly impressive.
The secondary is young, but very talented. Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung are a very solid safety combo, while Devin McCourty and Darius Butler have a lot of talent and potential at cornerback.
1. (27) CB Devin McCourty, Rutgers: The team leader in interceptions looks to be a perennial Pro-Bowl cornerback for the foreseeable future. 16 GP/ 16 GS
2. (42) TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona: He was second among rookies with 10 touchdowns, he may just be the Patriots best receiving weapon. 16 GP/ 11 GS
2. (53) OLB Jermaine Cunningham, Florida: Played pretty well in his rookie season, but he will be a bigger factor rushing the passer in the future. 15 GP/ 11 GS
2. (62) ILB Brandon Spikes, Florida: He has some character concerns, but he looked very impressive before his suspension. 12 GP/ 8 GS
3. (90) WR Taylor Price, Ohio: Price has some promise, but he only played in one game in his rookie year. He’ll have a bigger role in 2011. 1 GP/ 0GS
4. (113) TE Aaron Hernandez, Florida: Was a steal in the fourth round as he ended up with 563 receiving yards and six touchdowns in his rookie year. 14 GP/ 7 GS
5. (150) P Zoltan Mesko, Michigan: Mesko made a good impact in his rookie season as he really helped to improve the Patriots special teams. 16 GP/ 0 GS
6. (205) C Ted Larsen, North Carolina St.: Was cut in training camp but he ended up starting over half of the season’s games for Tampa Bay. 0 GP/ 0 GS
7. (208) OT Thomas Welch, Vanderbilt: He didn’t make the team out of training camp and ended the season with the Minnesota Vikings. 0 GP/ 0 GS
7. (247) DE Brandon Deaderick, Alabama: Played well in the defensive line rotation and even got a few starts due to Ty Warren’s injury. 10 GP/ 4 GS
7. (248) DT Kade Weston, Georgia: Was placed on injured reserve before the season started. He’ll compete for a roster spot in 2011. 0 GP/ 0 GS
7. (250) QB Zac Robinson, Oklahoma St.: He was released after training camp and then he spent time on a couple of team’s practice squad. 0 GP/ 0 GS
Summary: This looks to be yet another successful draft for the New England Patriots, as they found five starters to go along with punter Zoltan Mesko. McCourty and Gronkowski look to be the big pickups in this draft, but they also had big impacts from Spikes, Cunningham and Hernandez.
This position will be helped by Ty Warren returning to one defensive end spot, but the other starting spot is in question. The Patriots have good depth with Brandon Deaderick and Myron Pryor, but I think those two are better suited to be rotational players rather than starters. With two picks in each of the first three rounds, the Patriots could find a player who could come in and start right away.
The Patriots may not see this as much of a need and they could go into next season with either Deaderick or Pryor starting. However, I think the Patriots should try and draft a starter due to the high quality of defensive end talent available for this draft.
Round One: Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, Corey Liuget, Cameron Heyward
Round Two: Allen Bailey
Round Three: Lawrence Guy
Round Four: Ian Williams
The Patriots could possibly target a defensive end with the first of their round one picks. They could get a high caliber player like Clayborn or Jordan. Liuget and Heyward would be nice pickups either at the end of the first or with first selection of their second-round picks.
Matt Light’s run as the starting left tackle may be over, and the right tackle position is unsettled as well. Sebastian Vollmer will most likely be starting at one spot, but it remains to be seen whether he is at left or right tackle. The Patriots need to give Tom Brady the best protection possible so that he can continue to play at a high level late into his career.
The Patriots also need to find some depth at the tackle position as they really don’t have any depth to speak of at this position. It could be possible that the Patriots select two tackles in this draft to help improve the lack of depth.
Round One: Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo
Round Two: Ben Ijalana, Marcus Cannon, James Brewer
Round Three: Lee Ziemba, Orlando Franklin
Round Four: Joe Barksdale, DeMarcus Love
I think the Patriots would really like to get Smith with their first pick, but I’m not sure he’ll still be available at that point. Cannon and Ijalana would be good picks in the second round for the right tackle position. Guys like Love and Barksdale could challenge for the starting spot but they would provide good depth if they lose out on the starting right tackle position.
The Patriots look to have found a keeper for one of the starting outside linebacker positions in Jermaine Cunningham. However, the other spot could use some work as Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta Cain could be upgraded. Ninkovich did have a pretty good season in 2010, but I’m not sure if he’s the best option for the Patriots moving forward.
This is another position that doesn’t have much depth, and I’d really be surprised if the Patriots didn’t take at least one outside linebacker in this year’s draft. Another pass rushing linebacker would do wonders for the Patriots defense.
Round One: Justin Houston, Akeem Ayers
Round Two: Dontay Moch, Brooks Reed
Round Three: Mark Herzlich, Mason Foster
Round Four: Lawrence Wilson, K.J. Wright
Houston and Ayers could be considered in the first round, but the Patriots could have more pressing needs to improve with their first-round picks. Herzlich would be a good pick for the Patriots even though he isn’t known for his pass-rushing abilities. Wright and Wilson could even challenge for a starting spot in their rookie seasons.
As I said before, the Patriots have never really had a dominant, No.1 type running back during their recent dynasty. Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis both played pretty well last season, but neither of them looks like they’ll turn into a workhorse running back. Getting a running back who can carry the load throughout an entire NFL season is a need.
The Patriots could, however, decide to enter into next season with their current running back group. They may be perfectly happy going into next season with the same group of backs, which wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible idea. Yet, if they really want to take their offense to another level, they could consider a back early on in the draft.
Round One: Mark Ingram
Round Two: Mikel Leshoure, Ryan Williams
Round Three: Kendall Hunter, Daniel Thomas, DeMarco Murray
Round Four: Dion Lewis, Jordan Todman
Mark Ingram would be an excellent pickup for the Patriots in round one if he’s still there. He had a down year in 2010, but he has the most talent in this draft. Leshoure and Williams are intriguing too, as I think that they’re the only other two running backs in the draft besides Ingram who can be every down running backs in the NFL.
The Patriots finally got tired of Randy Moss and his antics when they traded him to Minnesota in the middle of the season. That trade left the Patriots without a true deep threat at wide receiver. Brandon Tate could possibly be that guy, but he didn’t show the ability to be a true No. 1 receiver. This group still has some talent with Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman, to go along with Tate.
Even without a great deep threat, the Patriots still performed pretty well in the passing game, so they might not see this position as that big of a need. Yet I think they need to pick up another receiver at some point in this draft who has good size and speed to give Tom Brady a true deep threat.
Round One: Julio Jones, Jon Baldwin
Round Two: Torrey Smith, Greg Little, Leonard Hankerson
Round Three: Tandon Doss
Round Four: Austin Pettis
Round Five: Terrence Tolliver, DeAndre Brown
If Jones somehow drops to the Patriots at No. 17, it would be pretty difficult to pass him up. He has the size and speed that would really make up for the loss of Randy Moss. Guys like Hankerson and Little would be good options in round two, but I’m not sure if they could come in and start right away in their rookie seasons.
Offensive Guard: Logan Mankins might not want to come back to New England next season and Neal may not have many seasons left in him. Depth in this unit is also somewhat of a concern.
Quarterback: I don’t think Brian Hoyer is as talented as Matt Cassel was when he took over when Brady was injured. They should look to find an insurance policy for Brady in case he gets injured.
Cornerback: McCourty is a stud and Darius Butler has a lot of talent, but the Patriots could use some extra depth in the secondary moving forward.
The Patriots have a lot of ammunition for this draft with two picks in each of the first three rounds. They have a lot of talent currently on the roster, but there are a lot of areas that they can improve upon as well. The best strategy, in my opinion, would be to select the best player available, regardless of need. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Belichick doing some wheeling and dealing in the first day or two of the draft to help fill out the needs of his football team.
This draft is very important for the Patriots because they need to continue to build up the young talent of this football team to keep the dynasty going. The biggest area of concern for the Patriots would be on the offensive side, as they need to find some long term protection for Brady, as his current group of linemen are getting up there in age.
Look for them to take multiple offensive linemen in this draft, because if Brady gets injured, I think this team will struggle to win games week in and week out.