NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
The New England Patriots targeted pass rushers (Jamie Collins and Michael Buchanan), wide receivers (Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce), defensive backs (Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon), and a linebacker (Steve Beauharnais) in the 2013 NFL Draft, attempting to address nearly every position of weakness from their 2012 season. Read on for an early look at which positions they may target on the offensive side of the ball in next April’s draft.
At this point, it’s unclear what type of role the Patriots have in mind for second-year player Brandon Bolden, who appeared to land himself in coach Belichick’s doghouse following a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs but otherwise turned in an impressive debut season. After losing Danny Woodhead, the Patriots added Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount, although both players are set to become free agents following the 2013 season.
Running back Jeff Demps was traded out of town in order to acquire Blount from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so the Patriots could realistically enter next offseason with only three running backs on roster: Bolden, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen. New England has traditionally carried four or five running backs on roster, so that would create an additional need, most likely for a running back who could contribute in pass protection as well as in the receiving game.
2013 second-round pick Aaron Dobson projects as New England’s split end, with free-agent signing Danny Amendola expected to occupy the slot. Although the Patriots primarily operate out of their “Ace” formation (one running back, two wide receivers, and two tight ends), mitigating the need for a third wide receiver option (the flanker), drafting a player at the position would still offer New England increased schematic versatility, which would prove especially fortunate should any of their other options miss time; last season, Amendola and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both missed significant time.
2013 fourth-rounder Josh Boyce typically played split end in college, so he may not be the ideal fit for the flanker position. In 2012, Deion Branch was on the field for 534 snaps as New England’s third wide receiver, while Julian Edelman took 302; the latter should reprise his role this year.
New England is currently deep at tight end, but they will likely need additional personnel as next offseason begins: Jake Ballard and Michael Hoomanawanui will become free agents, while Daniel Fells could potentially be released this season or next. According to OvertheCap.com, releasing Fells next offseason would save New England $1.75 million, with just $333,334 in dead money.
All of the aforementioned players are best as inline “Y” tight ends, so a reserve “F” tight end to back up Aaron Hernandez would come in handy regardless of any re-signings. When Hernandez was missing in 2012, New England’s passing game appeared to suffer. Although 2013 was an exception, the Patriots also frequently draft at least one tight end, so a mid-to-late-round investment would make sense regardless of whether players such as Ballard and Hoomanawanui re-sign with the team.
Dan Connolly is likely to remain on New England’s roster for at least the 2013 season, but could very well be looking for work in 2014, as his cap figure is just north of $4.08 million, well above market value for an average starter; because the Patriots could save $3 million by releasing Connolly, his only hope of sticking with the team beyond this season is on a new, significantly cheaper contract.
Donald Thomas, who played 616 snaps for the team in 2012, signed with the Indianapolis Colts, so there is a lack of depth at the guard spot as well. Of all the positions on offense, a starting right guard is the most likely early-round need on the roster, although it’s possible that Marcus Cannon could transition from tackle to guard and develop into a quality starter.
Ryan Wendell did an outstanding job in 2012, struggling at times in pass protection but nonetheless offering an impressive upgrade over predecessor Dan Koppen; Wendell also stayed on the field for an impressive 1,399 snaps, just two snaps behind offensive tackle Nate Solder’s team-leading 1,401 snaps. However, Wendell is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, which could potentially create a void at the position. If not, New England could be interested in bringing in addition competition for the backup spot.