With the “big” part of free agency behind us, our attention now turns to the NFL draft. There are still plenty of holes in New England’s roster, and the draft is the best place for Bill Belichick and company to address them. Here are the top needs for the Pats in this year’s draft, after taking into account what they have done with free agency.
1. Defensive Tackle
If Vince Wilfork is indeed released, then adding talent to the middle of their defense instantly becomes the top priority for New England. By signing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, their secondary is set. But the Pats were 30th in the NFL against the run without Wilfork last year, which is something they can’t afford to have in 2014.
2. Tight End
Rob Gronkowski should be ready to go for the start of the season, but he needs a partner. Michael Hoomanawanui is a terrific backup, but he can’t produce in the passing game. Adding a dynamic playmaker to pair with Gronk would elevate Tom Brady’s offense back to an elite level.
3. Defensive End
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are solid starters, but as you probably know by now, they played way too much in 2013. The Pats need someone to come in and not only give these guys a breather, but be productive at the same time. New England’s lack of consistent pass rush really hurt them in the AFC Championship game against Denver, especially after Aqib Talib went down. If they can add someone to help get pressure from the edge this year, that defense of theirs may end up in the top five in the NFL.
4. Offensive Line
For some reason the offensive line has flown under the radar thus far this offseason. I thought that upgrading the interior of the line was one of the most important things on Bill Belichick’s docket heading into free agency. Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell struggled throughout the 2013 season, and it cost the Pats offense at critical times. Connolly is making a lot of money next year, which could lead towards him being cut, in favor of a younger, more talented guard.
The starting unit is set, but New England has no depth behind them. Losing Dane Fletcher really hurts, because of his ability to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. If one of the starting three guys (Mayo, Hightower, Collins) goes down with an injury, the Pats would be in serious trouble.
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