New England Patriots' 5 Top Remaining Offseason Priorities

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor IApril 3, 2014

New England Patriots' 5 Top Remaining Offseason Priorities

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    What more does Bill Belichick have in store for the 2014 offseason?
    What more does Bill Belichick have in store for the 2014 offseason?Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots came out swinging this offseason, but they still have some priorities to take care of before they put pads on. Luckily, they still have the 2014 NFL draft and some limited free-agent options to help fill those.

    There are always places a team could improve, but aren't a priority. Adding a fourth running back would be nice, but it certainly isn't a top need. Depth at safety is a bit suspect, but it doesn't crack the top five.

    These are the five priorities that I expect Bill Belichick and the Patriots to take care of by the end of Day 3 of the draft, not leaving anything to chance. They can sign an undrafted free agent to play running back, but you don't find many tight ends who can come in and start on day one.

"Y" Tight End

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Rob Gronkowski is the best "Y" tight end in the NFL. He blocks like a third tackle and is a walking mismatch as a receiver. Rob Gronkowskis don't come around very often.

    The Patriots need to go shopping for Gronkowski insurance this offseason. Through little fault of his own, he has earned the reputation of being fragile, despite freak accidents and devastating hits causing his injuries.

    Adding a "Y" with some receiving upside such as Notre Dame's Troy Niklas would be preferable, but he may ultimately fall in between the Patriots' picks in Round 1 and Round 2. If they don't trade up or down into that range, Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz would be a good backup plan.

Pass-Rush Specialist

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    Andre Carter and Michael Buchanan played the role of pass-rush specialist in 2013, but neither really lived up to his billing. While Carter is likely to retire, Buchanan has the athleticism and skills to grow into the role.

    If the Patriots aren't willing to bet on Buchanan, they'll need to take a hard look at some interesting Day 2 prospects.

    Auburn's Dee Ford is a true pass-rusher, but his slight frame and less-than-stellar play trying to hold the edge might disqualify him from being a high pick in New England.

    Louisville's Marcus Smith, Oregon State's Scott Crichton and Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence look like the most likely targets in Rounds 2 and 3.

    When push comes to shove, don't be surprised if the Patriots' defensive staff looks to its own roster and puts the electric Jamie Collins in a place to rush the passer. With Jerod Mayo back in coverage, that frees up Collins to get after the quarterback.

Interior Offensive Line

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    Stew Milne

    Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly are all slated to suit up for New England in 2014. After that, however, things look dicey. Mankins has an $11 million cap number in 2015, while Connolly will be a free agent after this year. Wendell is currently signed to a team-friendly two-year contract.

    Marcus Cannon looks to be the future at one of the positions, but the Patriots can't be happy about their depth going into 2015. When your whole season rides on the shoulders of Tom Brady, you can't think about protecting him too early. If it has become a huge need, you're already too late.

    UCLA guard—he played tackled as well—Xavier Su'a-Filo and Colorado State center Weston Richburg are two of the more likely options for New England. Su'a-Filo is a likely first-round pick, while Richburg could be available near the end of Day 2.

"Move" Tight End

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    The Patriots' passing rhythm sputtered early in 2013, clearly missing the dynamic Aaron Hernandez as an option that could be moved around to create mismatches. New England had nobody on its roster—few teams do—to replace him.

    Newly signed Brandon LaFell and practice-squad receiver Mark Harrison are two in-house candidates for the "Move" tight end position vacated by Hernandez, but New England could look at one in the draft as well.

    North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron would be the perfect fit, but he will be long gone by pick 29. Texas Tech's Jace Amaro is an intriguing option, but he isn't a true "Move" with his lack of elusiveness after the catch and only average route-running ability.

    The best value in the draft—if the Pats are willing to take the risk—will be Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla. His issues away from football are well-documented, but his talent on the field is sublime. If Bill Belichick feels like his antics can be tamed, he would be an immediate upgrade to New England's offense.

    Marshall hybrid fullback/tight end Gator Hoskins is a late-round option to keep an eye on.

Versatile Linebacker

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    Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher will be playing without the Patriots logo on their helmets this year. In their stead, look for Jamie Collins to take on a bigger role. That still leaves a linebacker position to fill, preferably by someone with scheme versatility and the ability to play on special teams.

    Steve Beauharnais has a year in the system and has experience on special teams, but his upside is limited on defense. The 2014 NFL draft, however, has a lot of intriguing options.

    Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier is an explosive athlete who could be available near the end of Round 1, but his injury history and size would make him look more attractive in Round 2. 

    Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp and Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey are two mid-round options—likely Round 3 or 4 targets—who offer upside against the run, in coverage and rushing the quarterback. Both have experience on special teams as well.