I always say it is never too early to start dreaming about the draft, and this year is no different. The New England Patriots might be in the midst of a 10-4 season, but they clearly have quite a few holes on both sides of the ball. While some of these can be patched up by returning stars like Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, some cannot be. This NFL Draft is once again very promising, and there are many prospects that would look fantastic in the Patriots silver, blue and red, but I’m going to give you my five favorite prospects that the Patriots have a serious shot at landing. Sorry guys, that means no Jadeveon Clowney or Anthony Barr.
Before I get into listing them off, I figure I should go over the Patriots major weaknesses right now:
Tight End: Just last year the Patriots had easily the best tight end duo in the league, and probably in league history as well. But oh, how things can change quickly. He who shall not be named is rotting away in prison, in one of the greatest wastes of talent in football history, and Rob Gronkowski cannot seem to catch a break after tearing his ACL vs. the Browns. He will be back by the start of the season next year, but it would be a stretch to think that he is going to be the same player after so many brutal injuries and surgeries.
Defensive Tackle: This is another position that was once of great strength. Vince Wilfork is an all-pro, but went down with an Achilles tear, something that is not easy to come back from, just ask Kobe Bryant. After that, we saw Tommy Kelly get placed on season ending IR. He still has another year left on his contract, but who knows if he comes back next year. After that, two rookie-undrafted free agents headline the DT corps, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. While both have played valiantly in relief of Big Vince and Kelly, it is clear that they are not the long-term solution.
Cornerback: Maybe this is a bit of a stretch considering who the Patriots have, but hear me out. The Patriots will seemingly always need cornerback help. Both Talib and Dennard have had phenomenal seasons so far, but are both injury prone, and prone to dumb decisions off the field. Besides, Talib is not locked up and after all these injuries; it is not exactly a 100% guarantee that he comes back. After that, Patriots fans all know about the struggles with Kyle Arrington, and Logan Ryan tops things off. More depth is always crucial at cornerback, especially with two started who are not always on the field.
Eric Ebron: He might be a pipe dream at this point, but Eric Ebron is the most talented tight end in the NFL Draft this year. Ebron is widely coveted around the league with so many teams starting to rely on tight ends more and more. He is a phenomenal athlete, with great speed and quickness for a tight end. He would fit fantastically in the Patriots offense, and would allow Tom Brady to use him in a variety of ways. On the line, lined up at wide receiver, maybe even some H-Back. The biggest problem with Ebron is that is not exactly the perfect size. He is 6’4, 230 pounds in a rather slim frame, and has missed some time in at North Carolina. Despite that, Ebron is the best tight end prospect right now, and will go first. Whether he drops to the Patriots remains to be seen, and right now, I am leaning to the no side of things.
Jace Amaro: Tight end number two! While Ebron is number one almost unanimously, the second and third spots are a bit of a toss-up right now. First, let us look at Jace Amaro out of Texas Tech. This man is a serious freak. An awesome combination of great size (6’5, 255) and freakish athleticism. He also had a fantastic season for the Red Raiders, hauling in a team high 98 catches, 1240 yards, and was second on the team with seven touchdowns as well. He is a bit rawer compared to Ebron, but is again, a fantastic athlete. Everything depends on whether or not the Patriots are willing to take on what will probably a one-year project, trying to fit him into the offense.
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins: Finally, tight end number three is… Austin Sefarian-Jenkins out of Washington! While Ebron and Amaro are more pure playmaker types, Jenkins is a more traditional tight end, with awesome size (6’6, 266). His production is not similar to either Amaro or Ebron, and has even gone down compared to his 2012 campaign. He might not wow you, but he would be a welcome addition along the line with his great size, and added ability of being a very good pass catcher as well.
Ra’Shede Hageman: Now for a prospect that is not a tight end, let us shore up the Patriots defensive line, and run defense by adding one of the most versatile prospects at the position, Ra’Shede Hageman. Hageman can be a sort of Swiss army knife inside for the Patriots, as he is adept at stopping the run, and rushing the passer, making him a welcome addition on any team, but very welcome on the Patriots who have troubles getting pressure on quarterbacks outside of the bookends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Hageman is a great athlete, with good size, and very nice speed for someone almost 6’6 and 300+ pounds.
Darqueze Dennard: For the last prospect on this short list, I went with Darqueze Dennard, cornerback from Michigan State. Dennard just happens to be the cousin of current Patriots starter, Alfonzo Dennard, and Darqueze would be another very welcome addition to this secondary. Dennard has been among the best defenders this year in college football, allowing a very low yards per attempt when he is targeted. Part of a phenomenal Spartans defense, and his talents should translate well to the NFL. One red flag that will come up is his rather extensive injury history, including a sports hernia that cost him most of 2012. Dennard has phenomenal talent, but it all comes down to whether or not the Patriots figure that cornerback is something that needs to be addressed in the first round, with so many other pressing needs, and talented players like the four listed above, who could very well be where the Patriots are picking.
The Patriots are still very much a contender, and while things look rather bleak this year with all these injuries ruining everything, next year should be a very interesting year. The big names, Wilfork, Mayo, Vollmer, Gronk should all be back and ready to go, and the new pieces on the offense should be really clicking early. The Patriots could be a couple smart choices away from becoming a true Super Bowl contender again, and with Tom Brady entering his final few years, that is all we can ask for as fans.
Where should the New England Patriots set their sights when the NFL Draft eventually rolls around? What are your thoughts on the players listed above? Do you have a suggestion that Musket Fire and I should keep a closer eye on? Let me know in the comment section below.