Nov 3, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) reacts after a pass interference call against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

What Is The New England Patriots' Biggest Need Heading Into The Draft?

Aug 9, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (75) during warmups prior to playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 31-22. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has happened this offseason.

The Pats lost Aqib Talib, but added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Vince Wilfork was all set to leave Foxboro, but some clutch negotiations from both sides enabled him to stay. Julian Edelman re-signed, but LeGarrette Blount and Dane Fletcher did not. After all of that, where does that leave New England? There is no quick answer to that. All teams still have weaknesses at this point, although some teams (like the Patriots), only have a few big holes as of right now.

The way I see it, the debate is between the tight end position, and the defensive line. Rob Gronkowski is recovering from knee surgery, and while he is expected to be back in time for the start of the regular season, he may not be 100%. However more importantly, they have no depth behind Gronk. Yes, Michael Hoomanawanui re-signed, but he is pretty much useless in the passing game.

With no solid receiving threat next to Gronk, the Pats offense will struggle. Tom Brady has no other “big-time” weapons outside of Gronk, and as we saw last year, the passing game breaks down when no one can get open. Eventually teams will begin to double Gronk come playoff time, and that is assuming he is still on the field (his injury problems are no joke anymore). Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, and Brandon LaFell are all good players. In fact, the combination of those four plus Gronkowski will probably form a top 10 offense in 2014. But as Pats fans know all too well, in the postseason, you can’t get away with these small guys anymore. You need someone that has a physical mismatch that can take advantage of the opposing defense.

If New England’s defensive front is 100% healthy, then I would say that they are fine in that area. But after last year’s injury fiasco, we can’t assume that anyone will be healthy the entire season going forward. Their two starting defensive tackles both suffered season ending injuries early in the 2013 season as well, which doesn’t give me much confidence in them staying healthy all year long. Vince Wilfork is coming off of an Achilles injury, and Tommy Kelly is coming off of an ACL tear. When healthy, they are a formidable duo, that would help anchor a top defense in the league. But if they were to go down, New England would be faced with the task of playing with essentially the same group as last year. That unit gave up the third most rushing yards in the league. Because of that, the Pats must address the interior of their defensive line this week, in order to infuse some youthful talent behind Wilfork and Kelly.

With that said, the addition of Sealver Siliga towards the end of 2013 really helped stabilize the middle. Siliga is a big guy, and he can take up multiple blocks in order to free up lanes for his teammates. In that sense, he is a lot like Vince Wilfork. Chris Jones also played well as the 2013 season came to a close, specifically when it came to rushing the passer. I am confident that these two guys will continue to improve next year, although not enough to make defensive tackle the number one need for Bill Belichick and company.

When it is all said and done, the tight end position is a bigger area of need for the Patriots. If they had a choice in the first round of a defensive tackle, or a tight end, New England would be better off taking the tight end. However I still think they need to address the middle of that defensive line. Wilfork and Kelly missing most of the 2013 season gave the younger guys some invaluable experience last year, but I still wouldn’t feel 100% comfortable with Jones and Siliga starting once again in 2014.

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Tags: New England Patriots NFL Draft Rob Gronkowski Vince Wilfork

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