Resetting the Patriots 2013 NFL Draft Priorities

Ernie Adams

What are these two guys – plus Nick Caserio – going to cook up this year? (Photo: SI.com)

NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas

NFL free agency has left the New England Patriots roster loaded at some positions and less secure at others. Certain old faces have departed, just like certain new faces have arrived.

It’s a business. It’s a process of upkeep and turnover. It’s a battle to keep talent at equilibrium.

And the next stage in the offseason is most critical to making that happen. The NFL draft will be where Bill Belichick and Co. re-stock the depth chart with players yet to reach their ceiling.

But with only five — or potentially four — Patriots selections currently on tap, which areas of the roster are the top priorities? New England is not known to draft based on need; instead Belichick, Nick Caserio and Ernie Adams place their focus on value.

If the Patriots play it right, however, the team will fulfill both need and value with one stone. So with April 25 just around the corner, here’s a look at New England’s “hierarchy of needs.” (counting down)

6. Defensive Tackle

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is a menacing two-gapper, but the Patriots’ interior pressure has still been inconsistent at best. Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick split starting time next to Wilfork in New England’s 4-3 front last season. Yet Love is more of a run-stuffer, and Deaderick is more of a rotational 3-4 end with flexibility.

Looking to bolster this spot, the Patriots inked deals with Armond Armstead and Tommy Kelly. Armstead, a former USC Trojan, ventured up to the Canadian Football League after a heart attack put his career on hold. Only 22 years old, Armstead could be a dark horse to nab the starting gig. Kelly, a former Oakland Raider, has totaled 16 sacks since 2010. At 32 years old, he’s on the back end of his career but should provide New England with some savvy and pass rush.

Between Love, Deaderick, Armstead and Kelly, the Patriots will have plenty of options to choose from. All of whom are candidates to start, but it’s just a matter of how effective they will be. Drafting a prospect that can push the pocket shouldn’t be ruled out. LSU’s Bennie Logan and Penn State’s Jordan Hill are two mid-rounders to keep an eye on if the personnel members concur on the need and value.

5. Linebacker

New England’s linebacker corps is in good standing. Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower are young, aggressive tacklers. The issue here is that they’re young, aggressive downhill tacklers. This unit would greatly benefit from a change-of-pace linebacker who can come in and cover tight ends and halfbacks on passing downs.

Dane Fletcher, who missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL, is the Patriots’ best cover linebacker. He has helped keep offenses honest against what’s otherwise a “thumper” group of Patriot linebackers.

While linebacker is not glaring void, it’s an area that could be taken care of on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft. The seam and the flats have been exploited, so if a sideline-to-sideline linebacker is available, it would leave Belichick and staff with an interesting proposition. Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene, Florida’s Jelani Jenkins and Iowa State’s Jake Knott are three men who fit the bill at different points in the draft.

4. Defensive End

New England’s starting pass rush is in good hands with Chandler Jones as the right end and Rob Ninkovich as the left end. The rookie and the journeyman combined for 14 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 2012. The biggest concern with this group is that no one has emerged as a surefire situational pass-rusher who can come in and ruffle feathers.

Behind Jones and Ninkovich is last year’s undrafted pick-up Justin Francis and 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham. The two netted a total of 5.5 sacks last season and figure to have a serviceable role in the rotation moving forward. After Francis and Cunningham, there’s Jake Bequette, whose tires haven’t really been kicked since he was drafted in the third round last April.

The depth is there, but it’s relatively unproven. Veteran free agents John Abraham and Dwight Freeney have made pit stops in Foxboro, but their landing spots remain up in the air. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Patriots stockpile this group even more once the draft arrives. Edge-setting prospects like Western Kentucky’s Quanterus Smith, Illinois’ Michael Buchanan and Georgia’s Cornelius Washington are three who come to mind if the Patriots can somehow swindle an early Day 3 pick.

3. Cornerback

Starting left cornerback Aqib Talib, nickelback Kyle Arrington and dimeback Marquice Cole have all re-signed with the Patriots. Nonetheless, three variables are at the forefront of the cornerback concern.

Will Alfonzo Dennard be suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell for his pre-draft arrest? Will 2011 second-rounder Ras-I Dowling — whose injury history has limited him to nine games in two years — stay healthy? And will Talib be around Foxboro beyond his one-year contract? There’s no debate about the level of talent in New England’s secondary, but these questions need some answers. Selecting a cornerback would help fend off attrition and whatever else enables passing yardage.

This draft class is loaded with instant-impact corners. From the end of Round 1 through the end of Round 3, the options are promising. Washington’s Desmond Trufant, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor and Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer are just three possible fits out of a laundry list of names. The top three corner spots on New England’s depth chart are penciled in, it’s just a matter of if the front office wants to throw more names into the mix.

2. Offensive Guard

The interior of New England’s line looks solid on paper, but there’s reason to believe it should be topped off via the draft. All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins is tough as nails, except his injuries have caught up with him of late. He has missed 14 games since 2010. Meanwhile, starting right guard Dan Connolly is a respectable starter, yet he too has been hobbled by injuries recently. He has missed seven games since 2010.

With both men sidelined, Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald saw an uptick in playing time last year. Both backups filled in admirably — Thomas may have performed too admirably, actually. He’s now in position to start for the Indianapolis Colts. His exit means the Patriots must find another interior blocker, perhaps one who could eventually take over a starting job. Could former fifth-rounder Marcus Cannon be the answer? Or will he continue to provide depth at right tackle? It may be too soon to tell.

Pick 29 of Round 1 and pick 59 of Round 2 present two excellent spots for the Patriots to find a guard. It’s unlikely that North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper is still waiting, so Alabama’s D.J. Fluker and Syracuse’s Justin Pugh are two transitioning offensive tackles to jot down. If the team opts to go guard late, UCLA’s Jeff Baca is a quick and aggressive run-blocker worth a look.

1. Wide Receiver

Wide receiver is New England’s No. 1 scarcity heading into the draft. As we all know, 100-catch machine Wes Welker was signed by the Denver Broncos and ‘X’ receiver Brandon Lloyd was released.

Stitching up of the deficit, the Patriots added slot receiver Danny Amendola from the St. Louis Rams. The team also agreed to terms with ‘X’ types such as Donald Jones from the Buffalo Bills and Michael Jenkins from the Minnesota Vikings. And just this week, restricted Pittsburgh Steelers’ free agent Emmanuel Sanders signed a third-round tender with the Patriots while Julian Edelman re-signed — both one-year deals. The question now is: Are the Patriots finished adding? The split end position still may be without its eventual starter.

At this point it looks like the Pats will turn to the draft to find another field-stretcher. Fortunately for Belichick and staff, this year’s receiving pool is not on the shallow end when it comes to talent. At the end of Round 1, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins would be an ideal fit. If the Patriots wait until Day 2 to pick a wideout, then Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers, Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton and West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey all have the makings to thrive in the spread.

Tags: 2013 NFL Draft, Danny Amendola, DeAndre Hopkins

15 Responses to “Resetting the Patriots 2013 NFL Draft Priorities”

  1. David L says:

    Very informative article.

    I would change the priorities around.

    1) Defensive end. Little depth is apparent behind the starters. If a DE with size like Tank Carradine or Okafor from Texas is available I would this position first. Werner keeps falling on mock drafts, so this year’s #1 and a pick from next year to move up and get him works for me. If these guys are not available try for Simon of Ohio State in the 2nd round. I want an every down DE, not just a pass rush specialist.

    2) Cornerback. I do not think Talib is the long-term answer. If CB’s Taylor, Trufant, or Banks is available I would go there in the 1st round if guys listed above are gone. Otherwise, in the second round Haden from Houston is on the rise or take the best CB available.

    3) Wide Receiver. I do not believe any current WRs on the team are potential pro bowlers. I do not think the Pats look to fill this weakness until the 3rd round pick.

    4) Linebacker. The reasons you mentioned already. Getting a good prospect would require trading down for extra picks OR my favorite idea (the future is now) trade a pick from 2014.

    5) Offensive Line. A pick from next year to get a versatile lineman like Quesenberry or Barrett Jones.

    • Nikolas says:

      You don’t think Amendola could be a pro bowler?
      And how can you call yourself a pats fan and think that werner and Okafor are good fits for the defense?
      So Talib isn’t the long term answer, despite continually shutting down top receivers, but some guy who the ‘experts’ think are good fits would be acceptable? Do you even know anything about these players besides name value and height/weight?

  2. Bryan Cambell says:

    He would be a great asset to the Patriots.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWTKrpnFNao

    Mississippi State L/B Cameron Lawrence #10.
    291 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 9 pass break ups, 5 forced fumbles and 4 interceptions. All-SEC football, ALL-SEC academics, Team Captain, Back to Back 120+Tackle seasons

  3. Alex Smith says:

    I don’t see the big need at o-line. Joe Andruzzi, Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell are all UDFA’s and have all been solid starters. As long as Dante is coaching o-line doesn’t need to be a priority. Pass rusher is far more of a need. Ninko is good but maddeningly inconsistent.

  4. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    Steelers matched the Patriots offer, so we keep #91

  5. Henry Carmen says:

    Do you think that Kiko Alonso could be a good fit in the Mid to late 3rd?

  6. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    I still like the Patriots to take LB Sio Moore 1st at #29 or trade back and still get him. Barrett Jones may side to #59 were I think BB will grab him, if not I like Jordan Poyer CB at #59.

    • acm says:

      would be a big waste of extra picks to get him at 29, especially this year.
      I think he would fall out of top 50 picks, with Brown, Ogleteree (projects as a 4-3 OLB, not a MLB as many still label him) and Greene likely going ahead of Moore for that position.

      I personally expect Moore to get drafted in the 50-65 pick range. like the player a lot, just don’t think BB would put such a premium on that particular position, considering there are very good alternatives deeper in the draft.

      With Sanders not coming, I think drafting a WR in the 2nd, and dare I say the 1st should some great value presents itself, is back on the tabla as an option. Still think drafting defense is more likely in the 1-2 round range though.

      An extra pick or two via whatever trade would come in real handy right about now. ;)

  7. AlexMullen4180 says:

    I think the Patriots will end up with Barrett Jones in the late 2nd round. He would allow them to keep using Cannon as the backup RT while being a useful backup at any of the interior O-line postions even if he has to start the season on the PUP List.

  8. cc says:

    Sorry, but scarcity at WR….I don’t buy it, they choose to snag all new guy’s & partially rightfully so. But they did it and have all new guys. 1/2 a dozen newbies in the Org. is not scarce. Its a conscious Org. choice.
    As far as an OG….? I break off Travis Frederickson C/OG out of Wisconsin & solve many O-line deficiencies at once! I now have a future full time/long time (C) ala’ Dan Koppen. I have M. Cannon as a back-up OT or OG, & Wendell & Connelly as Guards and backup (C) at any point I may need!
    The other 4 positions are pretty blatent in need.
    Now if someone would slap BB in the head so he’ll actually get rid of all of his UNWORTHY & UNESSECCARY HARD ON’S, & actually draft what the team needs………
    It may actually possable 2 not loose 2 the NYC GIANTS AGAIN!

    • PSW says:

      historically its been hard to go wrong with a wisconsin O lineman

      • cc says:

        Absolutely. Keep in mind the actual structure of our teams current O-line.
        Bringing this guy in “completely solidifies” everything O-line for TB12′s next/last 3 yr’s as briefly stated above.
        Loosing this O-line opportunity would be 1/2 blasphemous.
        Note to BB: Brady didn’t take a pay cut so he could struggle getting the ball to 1/2 a dozen newbies alongside undersized, partially damaged goods & some who don’t even have an actual spot did he??????



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