11 Safeties New England Patriots Could Target Through the Draft and Free Agency

James DiMaio@@JamesDiMaioCorrespondent IFebruary 1, 2013

11 Safeties New England Patriots Could Target Through the Draft and Free Agency

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    The New England Patriots need some help at safety.

    Devin McCourty really settled into his role at safety in the second part of the 2012 season, but the other safety spot is still up for grabs heading into next year.

    Steve Gregory played well down the stretch, but he is really just a poor man's McCourty who is best suited in a pure free safety role.

    The Patriots did just draft Tavon Wilson in the second round of last year's draft, and he flashed some promise in his rookie season by reeling in four interceptions, but it is unclear if he is ready for a starting role next season, if ever.

    With so many questions at the safety position, here is a look at 11 safeties that the team could target this offseason via the draft and free agency.

Possible High-Round Draft Selections

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    Kenny Vaccaro, Texas - Draft projection: Early to middle first round

    Vaccaro, in all likelihood, will be the first safety off the board in this April's draft.

    Vaccaro is big-bodied safety who delivers punishing hits on a regular basis. He plays both the run and pass at a high level, and he will be highly sought after come draft day.

    The Patriots would benefit from an aggressive safety like Vaccaro in their secondary.

    If he's available at the No. 29 slot in the first round, Bill Belichick should pull the trigger.

    Matt Elam, Florida - Draft projection: Late first round to early second round

    Like Vaccaro, Elam plays with a lot of fire and is probably the best big-hitting safety in this year's draft class, despite being a bit undersized at 5'10'' and 205 pounds.

    The Patriots need a guy like Elam, who is a guy that strikes fear into opposing receivers.

    Eric Reid, LSU - Draft projection: Late first round to early second round

    With good speed and great size, Reid looks the part of an NFL safety.

    He has terrific ball skills, and his sound tackling make him a dependable run defender.

    Reid is an all-around playmaker who doesn't shy away from laying the wood on poor souls running across the middle.

Possible Mid to Low-Round Draft Selections

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    Robert Lester, Alabama - Draft projection: Second to fourth round

    Having played under Nick Saban's Patriots-like defensive system, Alabama's Lester is absolutely on New England's radar.

    Lester is a cerebral player with good ball skills and ideal size (6'2'', 210 lbs).

    He's not a great run defender, but he has the build to develop into one.  

    Cooper Taylor, Richmond - Draft projection: Third to sixth round

    At 6'5'', the most intriguing aspect of Taylor's game is that he is gigantic.

    He's also a good athlete who made a lot of plays for Richmond. He had 78 tackles, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles last season.

    He didn't play against top-tier competition regularly, but his best football is still ahead of him.

    Whoever drafts this monster of a safety could be getting one of the steals of the 2013 draft. 

Possible High-Profile Free Agents

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    Ed Reed, Baltimore

    Reed will be a free agent this offseason, and Belichick loves himself some Ed Reed.

    The Patriots could use a true leader in the secondary and Reed—arguably the best safety to ever play the game—would certainly help.

    If Reed decides to play more football after Super Bowl XLVII, it makes a lot of sense for Belichick to make a run at him. The Patriots would have to pay him some decent money, but only for a year or two.

    According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, when asked if he could see himself playing for New England, Reed replied "Yeah, oh yeah, man, I could definitely play for coach Belichick." 

    That is music to Patriots fans' ears. 

    Dashon Goldson, San Francisco

    Goldson, another Super Bowl XLVII participant, would also look great in a Patriots jersey.

    His physical style of play would really complement the rangy Devin McCourty at the other safety spot.

    Goldson (6'2'', 200 lbs) would add a much-needed layer of size to New England's secondary as well.

    It's hard to see the 49ers letting go of this playmaker, though, especially if they win the big one this weekend. 

    Jairus Byrd, Buffalo

    If the Patriots want to invest some real dough into the safety position, the 26-year-old Byrd should be their guy.

    Buffalo will need to move some money around if they want to give Byrd his well-deserved long-term deal this offseason, and if Buffalo can't come up with the cash, the Patriots may consider making him an offer.

    Although they have a similar style of play, Byrd and McCourty could combine to form the most talented young safety duo in the league.

    William Moore, Atlanta

    Moore is quietly one of the best safeties in the NFL.

    He can really do it all, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Atlanta wants to keep this guy around.

    Similar to Byrd, Moore would not come cheap—especially at only 27 years old and coming fresh off of a Pro Bowl berth—but if the Patriots want to spend some money, Moore would be a good investment. 

Possible Bargain Free Agents

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    Nate Clements, Cincinnati

    Clements is an intriguing and potentially inexpensive possibility for the Patriots this offseason.

    The former Pro Bowl cornerback was moved to safety this year in the Bengals' secondary and performed well.

    At 33 years old, this is a guy with a lot of experience who is likely just looking for one last run at a Super Bowl ring before his retirement party.

    Clements would be a nice addition to New England's safety corps while also providing quality depth at cornerback.

    Yeremiah Bell, New York Jets

    Bell will be 35 this March, but he is still one of the more physical safeties in the NFL.

    He played well for the Jets in 2012—a squad that ranked second in the league in terms of pass defense.

    Bell didn't miss a single game in 2012 either, so his durability shouldn't be in question.

    The Patriots could benefit from a guy like Bell, and they could probably get this old-timer on the cheap.