End of Year Inventory: Patriots Draft Needs

Patriots NFL Draft Needs

No matter how the 2011 NFL season ends, Bill Belichick has a lot to think about this spring. (Photo: ICON SMI)

NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Loyko

With the regular season winding down, NFL teams have begun to take an inventory of their players and what their needs will be in the off season. In the Patriots case, their needs are pretty apparent to anyone who has watched them closely this year.  

We take a look at what those needs are and how they might be filled come April.

Regardless of how the 2011 season ends for the New England Patriots, I feel that this off season will be as important as any since Bill Belichick has been the coach/GM of this team. Entering next season Tom Brady will be 35 years old and while he is still playing at an all time high level, it’s indisputable that his window is closing on him. It will be critical that the Patriots fill their needs with the best possible players available in order to maintain legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

After the 2006 season, in which the Patriots lost a heart breaker to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game, Patriot fans saw Bill Belichick do something that was a little out of character for him; hit the free agent and trade market in a gung ho fashion.

Realizing that both the WR position and the defense needed to be upgraded, the Patriots went out and traded for Wes Welker and Randy Moss. The team also hit the free agent market hard signing the top available free agent available in OLB Adalius Thomas. The result was an undefeated regular season and seconds away from a Super Bowl victory.

The Patriots are on the verge of posting a 27-5 record over the past two regular season. An 81% winning percentage would be extraordinary for any franchise in any sport. However, when you have Bill Belichick as head coach and Tom Brady as your QB, any season in which you don’t win the Super Bowl is considered a failure. That’s not to say they won’t win the Super Bowl this year, they very well might, and if they do they will have done so with some glaring holes. This off season Bill Belichick must attack the draft and market with the same type of aggresiveness he did following the 2006 season.

Team Needs:

1) Safety
Sergio Brown, Sterling Moore, Matthew Slater, James Ihedgibo, what do they all have in common? Answer: They have all started at safety for the Patriots this year and played it poorly for the most part.

If the Patriots defense is to improve at all next year, the revolving door at safety has to end. I would expect the Patriots to target the safety position heavily — early in the draft and also in free agency.

It’s my opinion that the Patriots don’t need just 1 quality safety added to the roster, they need 2. Besides Patrick Chung, who has fought through injury all year, I doubt any of the other safeties are on this roster next year.

Alabama safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester are two players I would keep an eye on during the draft. Especially Lester, who has the ability to play both free and strong safety in certain schemes, something Bill Belichick requires from his safeties.

If the Patriots are going to draft a safety they will have to draft one early because there isn’t much depth at the position this year.  If they go the free agent route LaRon Landry is likely to be the best UFA safety on the market, he is someone that would fit in perfectly, however I doubt Daniel Snyder lets him get away.

2) Outside Linebacker
Patriot fans say it every year prior to the draft, “this is the year Bill Belichick will finally address the pass rush early in the draft”.  This year I really do feel like it will be the year.

Regardless if the Patriots are playing 4-3 or switch back to playing the 3-4 the Patriots needto get more physical and athletic on the edge of their defense.

I actually think it will be in the teams best interest to switch back to the 3-4 where they can play Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes at their natural positions. I feel like Mayo has been miscast as an OLB this year and has not played up to his potential.  Rob Ninkovich is a nice, blue collar player, but he simply does not have the playmaking ability that this team needs on defense.

The name you will hear most often leading up the draft will be Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw as he would be a perfect fit in this defense. We will get into some more specific players of interest next month.

3) Cornerback
People can complain all they want about the Patriots picking cornerbacks every year. But one thing is certain in the NFL in this day and age, you can NEVER have enough CBs.

Entering the 2012 season the Patriots will be 3 deep at CB with Devin McCourty (who must bounce back next year), Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling (whose injury might be the biggest loss the Patriots have suffered this year) on the roster.

Adding at least 1 impact CB will be imperative. The good news for the Patriots is that this is a very deep CB draft, especially in rounds 1-3. A name to keep a close eye on is North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins, who is an Asante Samuel clone. He fits the mold for a Bill Belichick corner.

4) Wide Receiver
The only offensive position on this roster that needs to be targeted early in my opinion is WR. Deion Branch is a free agent and while I expect the Patriots to bring him back, they will still need to add at least 1 more WR to the roster that can make an immediate impact. Wes Welker is also a UFA but he will be back one way or another.

No position has given Bill Belichick more trouble in the draft than the WR position. Names like Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate and the recently released Taylor Price were all drafted in rounds 2-3 and made little to no impact on the team. A shift in organizational philosophy is clearly needed with how they evaluate and target the position in the draft.

It appears to me that Bill Belichick has given more weight to a WR that can double as a KR or PR than a player who maybe a better true WR that can’t return kicks. It’s talked about alot about how the Patriots need a WR that can take the top off the defense and I don’t agree with that. What they need is a WR who is faster, more athletic and can create seperation. Deion Branch especially has a lot of trouble creating seperation, except on a few routes, if he doesn’t get open on those then he can be contained easily.

A player like Kendall Wright who is smaller but faster than any WR on the roster could intrigue them. If they are looking for a bigger WR someone like Alshon Jeffery who I feel will slip down draft boards could fall into their lap.

5) Defensive End
Andre Carter and Mark Anderson have done a fantastic job this year coming in and providing a pass rush. As good as they have been I don’t look at either as a long term solution. Carter especially, with his age and now major injury, won’t be the answer.

The Patriots need to add a 3 down DE to this roster. Someone who can rush the passer but also someone who can stay in on running downs. Looking at the roster it is filled with DE/DT combos like Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace, Mike Wright. A true DE will need to be added in order to improve this defense.

6) Inside Linebacker
The middle of the Patriots defense has been exploited all year for its inability to cover anybody. They can’t cover tight ends, they cant cover slot WRs and at times they struggle to cover RB out of the backfield.

With Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo the Patriots have two very good downhill MLBs. Mayo is servicable in pass coverage and can hold his own, but after that there is nobody. This team badly needs to add sub package linebackers who are athletic but who can also cover. Gary Guyton is a tremendous athlete but he can cover if his life depended on it. Shoring up the safety position and the middle linebacker position with coverage linebackers will instantly improve this defense.

7) Center
The future of the Patriots offensive line is as bright as can be. Over the last few years they have completely rebuilt this line for the next decade, with a pair of potential all pros at tackle. Logan Mankins signed long term at LG and Marcus Cannon ultimately moving inside to RG. The only position on the line that needs any addressing at all is the center position.

Dan Koppen was lost for the year in game #1 this season. Since then Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald have all filled in to varying degrees of success. Adding a young stud a center would give the Patriots one of the best and youngest offensive lines in the league. Players to watch include Wisconsin’s Peter Konz, Michigan’s David Molk and Ohio St. Mike Brewster.

These positions are clearly the biggest areas of need on this roster and positions that I hope are clearly addressed this off season. Bill Belichicks philosophy since he has gotten he has been to draft the best player available and that is a strategy I agree with whole heartedly. This year I just hope they just draft the best player available at the position of need.  This off season is going to be immensely important to the future of this organization and immensely fun for those who follow it.

Tags: 2012 NFL Draft, Team Needs

25 Responses to “End of Year Inventory: Patriots Draft Needs”

  1. JMayo_51 says:

    For all the talk about adressing the needs during the draft, I think Belichick will love the depth at DL and CB from the second down the middle rounds.

    At DT, don’t forget that Gerrard Warren might be playing the final games of his career while it should not come as a surprise if Ron Brace is cut at some point in the offseason. They are a lot of interesting prospects that can really strengthen our DL line. Kawann Short (Purdue), Marcus Forston (Miami), Hebron Fangupo (BYU) and Mike Martin (Michigan) are the names that come to mind, among much more

    At CB, Belichick would have the opportinity to keep addind physical corners with the ability to play all cover techniques and to be aggressive against the run. I’m thinking Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), Trumaine Johnson (Montana) or Leonard Johnson (Iowa State)

  2. Lundahl says:

    I don’t agree. I want a a 3-4 DE over an OLB. It’s more important for me to have strong guys up front rather than ‘pass rushers’ that might be totally regarding stopping the run or covering.

    1: 3-4 DE
    2: S
    3: CB
    4: WR
    and the rest I want Ss and CBs.

  3. D.T. says:

    2012 roster:

    QB: Brady, Mallett (Hoyer traded)
    WR: Welker, Ochocinco, Branch, Edelman, Slater, FA/rookie
    TE: Hernandez, Gronkowski
    RB: BJGE, Ridley, Vereen, Woodhead
    OG: Mankins, Waters, Connolly, Cannon
    C: Rookie, Wendell
    Tackle: Solder, Light, Vollmer

    Total: 23

    Special teams are the same: 3

    Defense (based on 4-3)

    D-Tackle/End: Deaderick, Brace, Pryor, Wilfork, Love, FA/rookie
    D-End: Anderson, Cunningham, Carter, Moore, FA/rookie
    LB: Mayo, Spikes, Fletcher, Ninkovich, FA/rookie, White
    Safety: Rookie, Chung, Ihedigbo, Moore
    CB: Dowling, Molden, McCourty, Arrington, FA/rookie

    Total: 26

    For a total of 52. We’ll add someone somewhere. So I’m seeing five draft players, one 1st round, 2 second round, 1 3rd round, 1 4th.

    • TD says:

      I hope fans are not expecting a landfall for a trade involving Hoyer. He was an undrafted rookie and unlike Cassell/Kolb, he has not started, only mopped up.

      Also, the list includes a few guys that are on 1 year deals: Carter, Anderson?, Waters?. We also need to sign Welker.

      The good news for 2012: a very deep WR free agent market as well as a deep/deeper DBack draft class, which I’m sure BB was thinking about last year when he did not draft a FS or SS.

  4. D.T. says:

    I think the Patriots need a safety, nickelback, and center in that order. Those are the positions that are in most flux.

    Let’s take an early look at next year’s roster.

    QB and TE is set.
    Tackle is set.
    Guard is in flux – We have Connolly, Wendell, Mankins, and Waters? We need to figure out whether to keep Waters. I say keep.
    Center – Koppen is gone. So we’re either getting a rookie in the first round or we’re going to stick with Connolly. It seems clear to me that we’re going to draft.
    WR – We’ll have Ocho (who’s going to get paid the same as last year), Welker (franchise tag or contract), Edelman, and Slater. I’m guessing we bring Branch back on a 1-year deal. This means we may get a WR in the draft. I’m hoping for a second round pick. Or…we’ll be signing a FA or two.
    RB: BJGE may be signed. Faulk is retiring. Ridley, Vereen, Woodhead are the future. I think we could draft one more but we may go a different route and look for a cheap RB off the street. I still see BJGE coming back to serve on the committee.

    DEFENSE

    Tackle: we’re stacked at this position.
    DE: We need to replace Carter and resign Anderson. I’m hoping for a pick at the position. Carter is old. We may resign him for continuity. I think Ellis goes. I feel that Belichick will disappoint us again and go with FA pickups.
    LB: We have a good core with Spikes, Mayo, Ninkovich, Cunningham, Fletcher. We’ll cut Guyton. I see us picking up whatever is on the street or drafting in a later round (3-4).

    Safety: We desperately need a safety. We have no depth. Definitely going to see a draft pick. No question. We’ll also see the Patriots working out every cheap FA on the block.
    CB: Arrington, Dowling, McCourty is a good core. I’m guessing we’ll pick up another CB in the draft, trade for one, or pick a decent one up off the FA market. Either way, we’ll see someone who’s comparable to Bodden but who can play nickel. We’ll keep Molden on the roster and bring back Jones and the rest for training camp competition. So this means:

    1st round: Safety, Center, CB (if player available)
    2nd round: Safety, Center, CB, WR, DE, LB
    3rd round: Safety, CB, WR, DE, LB,

    • qwerty says:

      i agreewith assessment

    • Bruschi54 says:

      I see Koppen coming back, security blanket for Brady & no strong value on open market coming off season ending injury. Even with the drafting of a young center I think it is much more likely that Koppen stays and Wendell is sent packing.
      I would like to see Carter and Anderson come back, unfortunately I think it is the end of the road for Mike Wright. Wright is a player that would have been a tremendous boost to this defense but the risk/reward with his salary vs cap does not add up going forward.
      I agree that they will look to add a LB, but I think BB likes what he see’s in Fletcher and he will be a starter in 2012 along with Mayo & Ninko.
      DB’s are a disaster, you can only play the shell game for so long before the wheels fall off. BB is the master of getting chicken salad out of chicken s#”t, but even he will want to overhaul this mess. Any of the FA safeties mentioned would be solid, obviously Landry would be the second coming of Rodney Harrison and completely change the defensive landscape. In McCourty, Arrington & Dowling you have a good young group that hopefully continue to improve at a very tough position, but more will be needed. Could the return of Asante Samuel be in the cards this off-season?

  5. Nobody says:

    The Pats had the opportunity to draft Jimmy Graham. (Instead, BB took Taylor Price a few picks before.) He was a player that I hoped they would pick up that year. In my opinion, think BB should consider getting another a 6’5″/6’6″ TE to use as wide receiver just like New Orleans uses Jimmy Graham predominantly as a wide receiver.

    (But, what do I know? I was one of those idiots that cursed BB when he passed on Clay Matthews. And, I cursed again when BB passed on Connor Barwin, who has 11.5 sacks this year, in the next round.)

  6. MJP says:

    I’ll be looking for Ryan Broyles in the 3rd or 4th round as I don’t see them using a 1st round pick on a WR, maybe a 2nd if Kendell Wright or Dwight Jones falls.

    Also, that 1st pick has to be an impact DE/OLB or FS, even if they find someone in FA they’ll need young talent that is cap friendly.

  7. qwerty says:

    You really list too many positions of need and it is not practical that they would be able to get all quality players with such few picks.

    >The only offensive position on this roster that needs to be targeted early in my opinion is WR

    mostly they should target whoever is the BEST player left on the draft board outside of a few positions

    there are not that many quality WR in this draft where patriots draft

    i am against patriots swapping their two first round picks for one.

    the key question is this …

    given the patriots will draft at position 24 or later, which positions will have high quality left

    i would suspect maybe Center, Safety and just maybe a CB

    OLBs won’t get drafted because they are harder to evaluate. better to develop them with late round pick.the patriots can get by with their current front 7 and try to develop with udfa or late rounder.

    patriots can always get free agent WR so low on the list

    • qwerty says:

      I think it may be better to keep Ocho for another year as long as he comes cheap. Being in the system for a year may be to Patriots advantage.

      Patriots need to try to find some TE receiving depth as insurance policy in case of injuries rather than a WR

  8. D.T. says:

    Knowing Belichick, I think we’ll see a center pick. Brewster. We have needs at LB, DE, CB, S, WR, C. Belichick will pick one of those who either slides down into reach or was his pick all along. But he seems to draft CBs, D-Line, and O-Line in the first round. I personally think we need to go WR in the first or second round.

    • Tom says:

      I think the Patriots should draft Brewster. However, I am not sure why in the NEPD mock draft Brewster went from going to the Pats in the first round to going to the Colts in the third round. Why such a drop in where Brewster is drafted?

  9. CC says:

    Agreed with all 7 position need’s, except regardless of whether or not N.Solder & M. Cannon both are on point & top dog’s themselves throughout next season…..wear & tear on guy’s like vollmer & conolly, an unforseen injury to anybody? I’d have to add a top notch O-lineman in with what we have right now as it stand’s. Brady has been rushed and sacked more lately than he ever has in the begining of his career.
    If were expected to succeed at winning a SB before him current contract is up, then adding to the “O”-line is a necessity. Save Brady from being hit so much and prevent possable injury, give more time to choose and throw, open up the time for a deep threat possability (another weapon that can be used against oponents both literal and decoy value).
    Even if it wasn’t a top notch starter(which i’d preffer and feel safer about), I’d definetly stiffen it way up and make sure we had plenty of releif for the O-line and make sure we stayed even more consistent at 30/35+ per game average.

    Also: w/due respect, the last thing that should be done for many reason’s id waste a draft pick on a wide out-PERIOD, in any shape form or fashion.
    Not only would it be needed more in other area’s, but we know the general result’s of Patriot/Wide Out/Draft=NOT GOOD.

    **Any opinion’s on any Free Agent Wide Receiver’s for TB12′s use instead ????
    J.Cotchery,
    E. Doucet,
    D. Bowe,
    M. Stovall,
    R. Meachem,
    M. Crayton,
    R. Parrish,
    L. Sweed,
    M. Colston,
    D. Amemdola,
    D. Aromashodu,
    J. Higgins………………………

  10. MikeLoyko says:

    Landry and Griffin would be the best fits, they are going to cost $ but BB has to spend some this winter..that position needs to be fixed.. he did it in ’03 with harrison and he immediately brought the defense a toughness and identity it lacked. This defense could improve very quickly, its just a couple good players here and there and it would make a huge difference

    • TD says:

      They almost had Goldson this year, but I agree that position needs a major overhaul except for Chung.

      They also need depth at DL, LB and CB. I would not expect the following to be back: Brace, Anderson, Wright, Guyton, Cunningham and all the guys off the street at CB & Saftey.

      On offense they may part ways with BJGE, Woodhead, Branch, Ocho and Koppen so some depth at OL and RB will be needed.

      • Big Dan From Maine says:

        With only 5 picks in the draft, i dont see all of these guys getting cut. with BJGE, on the roster you have an unspectacular, but dependable back up, WHO DOESNT FUMBLE. I would see Faulk gone way before BJGE.

        As far as teh Defensive line goes I agree with cutting Wright and Guyton. Anderson would be reasonlably priced insurance and situational pass rusher. Brace is a solid back up and with a full offseason, and training camp i could see him pressong Love for time. Belicheck will never give up on Cunningham this quickly, he will be back.

        We are definately going to need to hit the free agent market for a WR and Safety. God Forbid we draft another do nothing WR. Lets pick up someone that has proven they can play in the NFL, Cut Ocho Stinko to make room. I would even consider switching Ross Ventrone to WR over keeping Ocho Stinko. (only kidding here a little bit)

  11. hugh d lee says:

    I enjoyed reading your New England Patriots 2012 NFL draft needs. I just hope that BELICHICK can start with the defense. I was really hoping in the 2011 draft they pick a very aggressive pass rusher.Someone like JJ Watt or Brooks Reeds.Aldon Smith was another guy I had interest in.He’s having a very good rookie season also. I really wan them to get the pieces that they need to keep the Patriots competing for the next decade.

  12. Phil says:

    Do you think they would try to sign a safety via free agency? Tyvon Branch, LaRon Landry, Michael Griffin, even Jim Leonhard?



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