2012 NFL Draft: An In Depth Look at the Patriots Needs

Nick Caserio Bill Belichick

These two are going to have a busy off-season.

NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko

With the offseaon slated to get into full swing this week with the NFL combine, I take a position by position look at where the Patriots roster stands. What are the biggest needs, where are they set and what will they likely target.

In Decemeber I did I similar article breaking down the Patriots roster and where it stood. Now that the Patriots came within two minutes of winning another Super Bowl, I take a look where does their roster stand now.

With the combine coming up this week, it will give fans a perspective of exactly what the Patriots will be looking for on March 13th when unrestricted free agency opens and when the draft comes in late April. It can also be a guide for fans who are looking to do mock drafts for the Patriots.

Returning Players: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Free Agents: Brian Hoyer (RFA)

The Patriots QB position is in solid shape for the foreseeable future. Tom Brady has shown no signs of slowing down and is producing at MVP caliber levels most of the time. The team spent a 3rd round pick on highly regarded and rocket armed Ryan Mallett, who slid to them in the 3rd round due to character concerns.

All the feedback I have heard on Mallett is very positive. He has lost weight, gained muscle and spent a year under the tutelage of the best QB on the planet. It would appear that Mallett is the future of the franchise when Tom Brady finally hangs them up. The big question will be what happens with Brian Hoyer. I expect the Patriots to tender him at the 2nd round level, meaning they would receive a 2nd round pick if signed by another team. Hoyer will undoubtedly receive interest from other teams around the league. The Patriots could choose to bring him back or work out a trade with another team.

Priority (on a scale of 1-5): 1

Running Back
Returning Players: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead
Free Agents: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk

Running back is a position I see undergoing a changing of the guard this off-season. BJGE is a free agent and while there have been discussions about contract offers being made, I see his role being diminished even if he does return to the Patriots. The team spent a 2nd round and a 3rd round pick on running backs in last year’s draft and that doesn’t happen if the long term starter is already on the roster.

This is a position that has a lot of youth and potential, I see the Patriots starting to utilize that potential next year. Both Ridley and Vereen would offer a more dynamic and explosive option compared to BJGE. While Green-Ellis is a viable back and reliable, his lack of explosiveness really hampered this offense down the stretch. Ridley and Vereen should be given every opportunity to compete for the starting RB spot heading into next season. Danny Woodhead also will return. Woodhead provides a solid 3rd down option and excels in no huddle situations. He is by no means and everydown back but, in the right situations he is another weapon for Tom Brady.

I don’t expect the Patriots to use many resources on the position this offseason. Maybe they bring back BJGE or bring in another veteran RB to push the kids, but that would be the extent of it.

Priority level: 1

Wide Receiver
Returning Players: Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman
Free Agents: Wes Welker (TAG), Deion Branch, Matthew Slater

No position, at least on the offensive side of the ball, is going to go through a more dramatic transformation than the WR position this off-season.

Let me start by saying I fully expect Wes Welker to be back. He will be franchised with the goal of working out a long term deal. I would also expect Deion Branch to take a pay cut and a diminished role to return to the Patriots. Branch has great chemistry with Brady and knows the offense inside and out. However, he really struggles to create seperation and can only run a few routes that can get him open.

That really leaves three spots to fill and improve from last year as Ochocinco, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater/Tiquan Underwood really provided close to nothing in terms of production. This position will be a focus not only in free agency, but also early on in the draft.

We have already heard the Brandon Lloyd talk and now the Mike Wallace rumors, both would be perfect. It’s vital that the Patriots find not only a WR who can stretch the field, but also a couple of WR who can create separation and get open underneath and in the intermediate. Taking the pressure off Wes Welker and not relying on him so much will make the offense very tough to stop especially with the young tight ends.

Josh McDaniels is taking over the offense and he prefers to utilized various WR formations moreso than Bill O’Brien. When training camp opens in late July I expect this position to look much different.

Priority Level: 4

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32 Responses to “2012 NFL Draft: An In Depth Look at the Patriots Needs”

  1. cp says:

    Does anyone know what’s up with Jermaine Cunningham? I know he was hurt, but no one ever mentions him. Will he be back next year and will he have an impact on the defense? He seemed to be done well at the end of his rookie season. cp

  2. justin says:

    great article, keep writing buddy (very thorough, Efficient and informative

    sign brandon lloyd re-sign welker

    re-sign mark anderson, and a. carter

    draft olb 1st round

    draft dl 1st round

    draft cb 2nd round

    must grab a starting free safety in free agency

    draft best players available with remaining picks

    grab free agents that fit scheme for the reamining holes

  3. Michael in Uxbridge says:

    The reason that the PATS lost the Super Bowl is clear. After much thought about why the PATS lost the Super Bowl again against the Giants – I suddenly got it – it was team speed. Tom Coughlin said we draft players in the same mold on D that fit our team – speed rushers what was he meant.

    The PATS do not have the team speed to beat a team like that.

    My prescription for the PATS this year in both free agency and draft – SPEED people. Especially in the skill positions on BOTH offense and defense,. And let’s not forget – in the return game!!!! They do not have a kick returner. Draft a speedy WR who can return kicks. And draft a CB and safety who can run with fast WR’s. I am tired of looking at PATS Defensive backs running to catch up to opposing WR’s. Especially McCourty!!!!!

    The result – SB win. Guaranteed.

  4. paul says:

    Well, you forgot to write about Cunningham. Will going back to a 3-4 defense help him.

  5. Butchie Jand says:

    Dan Connolly is bigger (height and weight) than Dan Koppen, and the last couple of years they have BOTH shown that they can be overpowered. I love Koppen and when we drafted him I told all of my friends that Woddy had better not miss any snaps because Koppen would not give him his job back…and that’s exactly what happened! Great article…keep it up.

  6. Ryan says:

    I know many Patriots fans will disagree with me. I think one of the biggest additions that Patriots could make is an OC. It seems to me if they want to be more effective in both the passing game and the running game with the running backs, a OC could really help both sub par WRs and young RBs. I know many wont like if Bill takes a OC early, but a lot of problems stemmed from Koppens injury. I think it becomes very important to get either a WR, CB, LB or DE from FA so that we can use our first picks more effectively.

  7. Bob says:

    Not only is Green Ellis a great slam-bam up-the-middle running back, he has proven himself over the years again and again in the red zone. True, he had a tough Super Bowl, but so did Brady and the receivers who came down with a bad case of stage-fright dropsy.We need Benny bad….Danny Woodhead the 928 all purpose yardage 6 touchdown running back-short pass receiver of 2010-11 for the most part disappeared in 2011-12. Why? Was he sick? Did he lose his mind? Did he lose interest? None of the above. Danny was grossly misused and underused by Bill Obrien. BO tried to make him an up-the-gut runner, i.e. a Green Ellis clone, when in fact Danny is a sneaky quick perimeter runng. All year long Danny ran invisible short pass routes to nowhere as Brady in his BO instructed long pass addiction never looked at Danny when in fact he was wide open again and again. It was tragic to watch and a devastating waste of talent…..In the Super Bowl Danny was finally included in the offense, and he showed what happens when he is. But he was not passed to again 95% of the time out of the backfield. If he had been, we would not have lost due to bad passes, dropped passes, and a long-flong interception.

    • qwerty says:

      Woodheads performance puzzled me also. I think they changed the way he was used from year before.

  8. Ratzalot says:

    “The Patriots can draft all the CBs they want but, until they fix the safety position it won’t matter.”
    While I agree, how do you propose to remedy the situation? As I’ve already commented on in a previous topic, drafting Mark Barron won’t help. Barron would be a backup/rotational Strong Safety to Patrick Chung. Neither Chung nor Barron would be able to play Free Safety effectively. Since there are no top-tier Free Safety prospects in the 2012 Draft, the Patriots have two choices: Sign free agent Michael Griffin OR move McCourty/Dowling to Free Safety. The bottom line: Drafting Barron would be drafting a backup/rotational Strong Safety. The Patriots need to address Cornerback in the 2012 Draft and fix the dilemma at Free Safety through free agency or current player position swaps. The Patriots should only be drafting a developmental Safety in the later rounds.

    • Billy C. says:

      I’ve seen Barron play and he usually lines up in the box and offers much run support as a safety, however, I’ve also read some of the prognosticators say he can also play as a free safety. If that’s the case, then the secondary would be much improved with Barron and Chung lining up as safeties.

      • Ratzalot says:

        I think that’s a hell of a risk. I realize New England doesn’t truly play Free and Strong Safeties, but there needs to be a very good cover safety roaming out there alongside Pat Chung. There is too much risk assuming Barron can be the cover guy when in reality a Chung/Barron combo would be closer to having two Chungs on the field. If Barron falls due to his injury, picking him up in the second round would be great. Unless Janoris Jenkins is available at pick 27, I’d rather see the Patriots move out of the first round entirely and stock up on 2nd rounders.

    • qwerty says:

      Safety is a hard position to draft this year. Let’s not try to fix it by reaching.

      CB’s are in more plentiful supply so I have bias for CB.

      Patriots need one more quality defensive back whether S or CB. It comes down to what’s available.

    • AM says:

      I agree on Barron–he just isn’t a good fit. Griffin seems like a good answer in the short term. But I would like to see them grab Aaron Henry in the 4th round; he’s hardly an instant starter, but he could contribute early and start soon.

  9. Dan says:

    I would hope that coming so close, AGAIN, will push them to make some moves in free agency. Losing out on Goldson, and seeing the season he had while being so terrible at the position, must have been tough to swallow.
    I’m hoping they get more agressive and bring in some solid players.
    Like you said so well, the issues are very obvious and this years free agents and draft seem to fit our needs as well as could be expected.
    I can’t help but think they will improve…

  10. Dan says:

    Sorry, right guard

  11. Dan says:

    Question: I recall during the pre-draft & draft last year that Cannon was projected to move inside to guard, is this the case? I believe they used him at OT this year out of need, but I would think he would move right in to Water’s spot at LG if Waters retired.
    I suppose Vollmer’s health will play a role also, and if Waters does return, which I hope he does, Cannon can remain a solid back up for another year, greatly adding to our depth on the OL.

  12. Ken W says:

    Some FA that would be nice to see in a pats uniform.

    First list in order of want.

    WR 1. Wallace 2. Lloyd 3. Colston
    FS 1. Landry 2. Griffin 3. Goldson
    DE 1. Campbell 2. Williams 3. Avril
    CB 1. Grimes 2. Finnegan 3. Rogers

    Now the list of most likely to actually become a Patriot.

    WR 1. Lloyd 2. Wayne 3. Colston
    FS 1. Goldson 2. Griffin 3. Sanders
    DE 1. Avril 2. Campbell (going to get some really high offers) 3. Williams
    CB Coin toss, I would say a trade for Asante Samuel is more likely

    If the Pats could walk away with Lloyd, Goldson, and Campbell that would be amazing. I think Lloyd is most likely going to happen, so just getting one of the other two would be great. Add that to the draft and I think the Pats would fill some major holes and be right up there again to win it all.

    • TD says:

      If BB has $20mill to the cap, he is probably only going to want to spend half that on FA’s. That would mean Lloyd and maybe one of the safties, he did make a play for Goldson last year.

      He may be leery of big ticket FA’s after the Adalius Thomas fiasco.

      Any other FA’s would have to take a cheaper deal. The rest of the cap will be taken up by Welker and rookies. He always keeps a good buffer in case he needs to bring some guys in during the year.

      • Ken W says:

        yah thats a good point, and I do like the fact that Goldson was a target last year so hopefully that leads to the pats at least have a little familiarity with him.

      • qwerty says:

        patriots need to manage salary cap long term so willy nilly long term signings should not be done. They have to plan on keeping their current young talent in future years.

        I’d boot on any very high priced signings. No need for it. Football is a team sport. I’d rather have 5 good CBs at 2 million each than an elite CB at 10 million.

        • Dan says:

          Amen, and it’s a sports with long & shor-term injuries. BB has shown it’s best to spread the wealth and be ready. This is why we just rebuilt and went to the Super Bowl before it was even complete

    • jim r says:

      Ken, those options look great. I would love to see them pry Wallace away from Pittsburg.

  13. TD says:

    Offense: more reliable running game and 2 WR’s so Welker can get back to the slot. Lack of running game and viable #2 and #3 WR spelled doom in super bowl. With Gronk out the offense needed to be perfect.

    Defense: If running 4-3, need to resign Carter & Anderson. If a 3-4 need interior rushers. Need depth at ILB and OLB. Need DB’s that can press cover.

  14. Billy C says:

    No question the safety position is the greatest need at this point (embarrasment is saying it lightly), however, the guard position should include Marcus Cannon as I see that as his more permanent position. If Waters retires I’d think BB would insert Cannon into that role (just guessing at this point).

    • Big Dan From Maine says:

      Do you guys realize we are probably one of the ONLY teams in the NFL who has drafted and could potentially start 4 colledge left tackles. As I am sure you know left tackle is usually the most athletic position and contains the best college lineman. This is definately one position that we draft well at.

      Cannon would be a beast at Right Guard

  15. jim r says:

    Three FA to target Griffin (FS), Wallace(WR) and Mathis(DE/OLB)

  16. Keith says:

    Wow! I really culdn’t have written it better myself! I don’t disagree with a single thing you wrote. I’d like to add to it though!

    1)In no way shape or form can Ras-I Dowling be depended upon. He has to show us all he can be healthy for at least 1 quarter of the season before his name should even show up in a piece like this.

    2)Why not Mario Williams, Cliff Avril & Laron Landry, Mike Griffith, Tyvon Branch? If none of these players are Franchised, the Patriots have NO EXCUSE what so ever for not chasing some serious FA’s this offseason! The Patriots have over 30 million in cap space before Welkers 8,9million. Do the math, that’s allot of cap space! Add some players who can help win some football games! Enough putting all this pressure on TB12! Make this team complete & get some defenders who can cover on the back end & make some serious plays in the front 7!

    3) Safety was literally an embarrassment! BB HAS TO add a real safety to this team! Again, there’s plenty of cap space @ the Patriots finger tips! NO EXCUSES!

    4) This is by no means the Patriots #1 need but it’s definitely 1C! The WR position NEEDS to be upgraded. Period. Wes Welker has to be brought back into the fold & again there’s plenty of cap $ available for the Patriots to make a move here as well as all the other improvments that have been listed. No excuses, get it done.

    The Patriots are literally on the doorstep of rebuilding a perennial title contender. AGAIN. With all the right moves it can be accomplished I have little doubt! Allot like the 2006-07 off-season, I def see BB going out and spending some $$

    • prioris says:

      >Wow! I really culdn’t have written it better myself! I don’t disagree with a single thing you wrote. I’d like to add to it though!

      Except for a nitpick, that’s pretty much how I felt.

      BB should sign Mike on as advisor.

      Maybe Patriots can find another receiving TE instead of WR so Patriots can utilize 3 TE option a lot more but they will likely be reaches.

      The Patriots picks in first round will come down to which DT/DE/WR/CB/S is best available player. Not even BB knows who that may be at this point but Mike has chosen the highest likely candidate in draft.

      I’m leery of Patriots reaching for Barron or any player. Keep to best available player. On plus side, Saban may be able to give BB a few gems of information on Barron that will make it easier to pick or reject him so in position to make correct choice.

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