NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
On April 15th, some ideas for potential trades the New England Patriots could investigate in order to replenish their draft capital were outlined; however, there is always the distinct possibility that the Patriots will opt for three high-quality picks (their first, second, and third-round selections) over trade-down possibilities which would offer them additional mid-round draft choices. Without many roster spots, available, don’t be surprised if New England is more aggressive than anticipated; read on for more information regarding this possibility.
The strongest case to make for a small 2013 draft class revolves around New England’s activity in free agency; the Patriots were very active this offseason, filling many of their roster spots with veteran players. They seem to have replaced Danny Woodhead with Leon Washington, Wes Welker with Danny Amendola, and Deion Branch with Donald Jones. Will Svitek was brought in to provide New England with offensive line depth, while the Patriots also invested in defensive linemen, signing Armond Armstead as well as Tommy Kelly to compete for snaps in what is shaping up to be a deep defensive tackle rotation. Dane Fletcher and Niko Koutouvides were re-signed as linebacker reserves, while the defensive backfield received attention via the signing of Adrian Wilson and re-signings of Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib.
At this point, we know that New England is receptive to adding another wide receiver due to the one-year, $2.5 million offer they tendered to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but whether Patriots head coach Bill Belichick sees any major holes on the roster aside from that is anyone’s guess. Positions such as right guard or defensive end could potentially be addressed, but there are also young players on the roster at both positions with the potential to develop into starters: 2011 fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon and 2012 third-rounder Jake Bequette.
Both possess impressive physical tools, but their lack of significant playing time has made it difficult to evaluate their future prospects. Should New England’s coaching staff believe players such as Cannon and Bequette could replace incumbents Dan Connolly and Rob Ninkovich, respectively, they may wish to pass on drafting prospects in the early rounds at those positions.
What the Patriots plan to do with players whose contracts are set to expire following the 2013 NFL Draft is also worth considering; starters such as Ryan Wendell, Kyle Love, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, and Aqib Talib are set to hit the open market, so New England may look into addressing those positions with younger, cheaper talent a year in advance. However, it’s also possible that the Patriots will opt to reward quality play with contract extensions; in particular, it would come as a surprise if Wendell, Love, or Ninkovich were allowed to hit the open market.
New England’s possible openings in the starting lineup are concerning, but fortunately, the team is loaded with enough low-end depth to render additional mid-round picks more of an option than a necessity. In a draft which appears thinner than usual at certain positions (CB and WR excluded) in the fourth-to-sixth-round range, mid-round picks may have a difficult time winning roster spots from players currently on the roster. As we saw in 2007, this may be a draft in which New England makes relatively few picks, opting to upgrade at say, wide receiver, cornerback, and linebacker early rather than making a handful of picks to improve their roster depth.