Mark Ingram is an attractive player. Let's get that straight.
The former Alabama star running back is the consensus top choice at his position in the upcoming NFL draft. He's strong, explosive and durable. He's a Heisman Trophy winner and a potential elite NFL talent.
And if the New England Patriots are smart, they're not taking him with the 17th overall pick. And if his fall continues to the end of the first round, they're skipping him at No. 28 as well.
It's important to look at the draft by identifying its purpose. Some teams use the draft to rebuild. Others use it to reload. The Patriots, 14-2 with a division title, league MVP and two first-round draft picks in hand, are in one of the best positions to reload in recent memory.
New England isn't looking for a franchise player or a marquee cornerstone. It's looking to fix the problematic areas from last year, and the weak links that pushed the train off the tracks in a divisional-round loss to the Jets in January.
Those areas are the pass rush and offensive line, not running back.
With all the names thrown around in mock drafts and player previews, it is tempting to focus more on the players coming up than the teams they will be going to. In Ingram's case, it is easy to fall in love with the physical specimen that blew away onlookers during the regular season and scouts during the combine, and forget the fact that the Patriots don't really need him.
New England had the highest-scoring offense in the league last year. It hung 36 points on a good Bears defense on the road and in the snow, 45 points on the eventual AFC finalist Jets and 30 or more points on eight consecutive opponents to close out the regular season.
But in the playoff debacle against New York, the offense was derailed as the normally stable line surrendered five sacks and helped wreck any trace of flow or rhythm. The defense, under the spotlight as a result, after 16 games in the offense's shadow, couldn't come through.
With the loss, the Patriots and their fans were drawn a clear line between necessity and luxury heading into the offseason.
The Patriots need someone who can get a hand on Mark Sanchez, and not let him go the whole game untouched. They need reinforcement on the offensive line that appeared befuddled by blitz packages even at full strength. Plus, the line lost guard Stephen Neal to retirement and could wind up without tackle Matt Light and guard Logan Mankins.
They can get a quality pass rusher in the first round. Names like J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Cameron Heyward have been thrown around. They can get a linchpin for the offensive line with the 17th or 28th pick as well.
They have needs in those areas. And sure, they could use a wide receiver. They could use a cornerback. They could use a running back. They could use Mark Ingram. Any team could.
But for 14-2 teams that are a fix or two away from the Super Bowl, that's not what the first round is for. It's for finding the player that can be an immediate solution to the missing area. In the Patriots' case, that means finding a relentless pass rusher, a versatile defensive end or a standout offensive lineman.
Ingram will likely make whichever franchise drafts him happy. That team, however, shouldn't be the Patriots. New England has other areas to address if it wants to be playing in February once again.
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