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
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.