Nov 2, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) plays in the second quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-34. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agent and NFL Draft Fits for the New England Patriots

NFL Free Agency has dwindled to the bargain bin, and the NFL Draft is still over a month away at this point, but the New England Patriots still have many holes that they need to fill on their team right now. Most of these positions are backups, but it is still very important that these spots are filled with quality players, incase injuries come up again like they did last season. So here are five specific needs for the Patriots, and players from free agency and the draft that can fit those needs.

Designated Pass Rusher

The Patriots are in dire need of more pass rush, to help their anemic pass rush from last season. Sure, Chandler Jones had a very nice 11.5 sacks, but he was very ineffective at time, and part of that was because he was forced to play so many snaps during the season. Rob Ninkovich might be the best 4-3 run stopping defensive end according to PFF, but he’s a very minimal pass rusher, and can’t generate enough pressure on third downs. That why the Patriots are in need of a pass rusher who can come in on passing downs, and provide the pass rush Nink can’t give, and also spell Jones when needed.

Free Agency Fit: DE Anthony Spencer

NFL Draft Fit: DE/DT Stephon Tuitt

Interior Defensive Line Pressure

Part of the reason that the Seahawks dominated the Broncos so thoroughly in the Super Bowl, was because they had great inside pressure, with a rotating line of fresh players. The Patriots have been crafting their secondary similar to how the Seahawks did with theirs, so why not copy what the Seahawks did with their pass rush? Interior pass rush might be the most important facet in today’s NFL, and Tommy Kelly can’t provide that all on his own. Vince Wilfork isn’t a particularly good pass rusher, and Chris Jones and Joe Vellano are huge liabilities against the run, and shouldn’t have nearly as much playing time next season. Interior pass rush is essential, and will also help save guys like Wilfork from playing too man snaps throughout the season.

Free Agency Fit: DE Robert Ayers

NFL Draft Fit: DT Ra’Shede Hageman

Double Tight End

Tight end has probably been the most highlighted need for the Patriots this offseason, and it is a big need no doubt. We all remember back to the good old days of Rob Gronkowski and that other guy dominating the NFL as two of the three best tight ends in the game. Those days are gone, but the production can be replaced to a degree. The NFL Draft is loaded with good tight ends, not only in the high rounds, but also in the later rounds as well. The free agent bin is also a source of a number of good players. The Patriots seem set to return to tight end prominence with all the nice options they have.

Free Agency Fit: TE Dustin Keller/TE Dallas Clark

NFL Draft Fit: TE Troy Niklas/TE Crockett Gilmore

Depth/Coverage Linebacker

The Patriots recently lost important backup Dane Fletcher to the Tampa Bay Bucs, and right now are a little low on linebacker depth. They showed interest in the likes of Wesley Woodyard meaning they’re looking for a good coverage linebacker, to settle into that backup spot, and also play a key role on third downs. I would expect the Patriots to spend a 4th or even a 3rd round pick depending on who’s available at linebacker.

Free Agency Fit: LB Dan Conner

NFL Draft Fit: LB Christian Kirksey

Dual Threat Running Back 

The Patriots recently lost LeGarrette Blount to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which means they should probably be looking into grabbing themselves another running back considering that both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are in contract years this year. The Patriots have always liked carrying a four running backs on their roster, and two good pass catching backs, and this next running back should be able to compliment Vereen, and also provide some solid running when called upon to spell Ridley.

Free Agency Fit: RB Larod Stephens-Howling/RB Ronnie Brown

NFL Draft Fit: RB Charles Sims/RB Andre Williams

Offensive Line Depth

The final thing the Patriots should address is getting some depth on the offensive line. They recently brought back Ryan Wendell, and while they might have their starters nice and set up, problems face them in the future. Logan Mankins might not be long for the team with his large contract next season, and Dan Connolly will be a big question mark with his hefty cap hit. The Patriots won’t be looking for starters in this draft at offensive line, but they should be looking late in the draft for players who can fill in multiple positions if necessary, and those with some upside. As for free agency, there’s always solid depth available.

Free Agency Fit: T Ryan Harris

NFL Draft Fit: T Matt Patchan

The New England Patriots are in a very good position that they only need one or two starting caliber players, and they can grab those players in the first three rounds, and then focus after that with the rest of their picks on essential backups, and take advantage of the depth provided in multiple positions such as TE, RB, ILB, and DE.

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Tags: New England Patriots NFL Draft NFL Free Agency

  • Mattia Rizzo

    I think you’re really underestimating the problem at interior o-line positions, Mankins is getting old, Wendell and Connolly were bad and they’re still payed too much. The Patriots will have to fill those holes early in the draft, or maybe the can just surrender when they’ll face team like Denver or Detroit.

    • Matt Wincherauk

      Well it’s good to see that you’re overreacting quite nicely. They re-signed Wendell, and Connolly will come back at a reduced cost. This is a line that in 2012 was one of the very best, and if they’re all healthy, they’ll be good again. Part of the reason they struggled was because of the new faces on offense. If someone like Richardson, Sua’Filo etc. were to fall into their laps in the second round, then they would happily grab them, but it’s not a pressing need like another pass rusher or a tight end. Besides, there isn’t value in filling interior line spots early in the draft, you can grab good players like Cannon in the later rounds if you’re smart.

      • Mattia Rizzo

        It’s not like you’ll find plug-and-play players every year, there are 31 other teams evaluating players out there.

        • Matt Wincherauk

          But not all 31 teams are as smart when it comes to drafting. Right now, the offensive line is a need, but not a pressing first three rounds need, unless someone of Sua’Filo’s caliber were to fall there. There are more pressing needs right now, the Patriots will find a way to make it work, it’s not like their line is bad, it just had a bad year hampered by injuries.

  • Dirty Water

    Interesting that you would call Andre Williams a dual threat RB. The man is a running beast, but he had eight (8, 9-1, 4×2) TOTAL receptions in his four stint at Boston College. He didn’t have a single one during his prolific senior season. He seems like the perfect replacement for Blount, but not a compliment to Vareen.

    • Matt Wincherauk

      I think a Charles Sims like player is more important, but they were showing interest in a more pure running back like Blount and even MJD, so that’s why I put him in there. It’s not because I think he’s a dual threat, it’s because he’s one of my favourite prospects, and could see the Patriots drafting him, with a potential need for another 3 down back if Ridley were not to be re-signed. I just wanted him on there, and think he’d provide good depth.

    • Matt Wincherauk

      What I should’ve done is just put it as “Depth/Dual Threat Running Back”.