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
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
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