The rich keep getting richer. That’s a saying Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are sporting as they head into the offseason loaded with draft picks. After finishing the 2010-11 regular season with an NFL best 14-2 record, the Patriots head into the draft with a total of nine draft picks, which includes two in each of the first three rounds.
Despite the great regular season success, the New York Jets were able to expose what few holes New England did have in the second round of the playoffs to send them to the golf course early. With the plethora of early draft picks, look for the Patriots to be able to add the necessary talent to be right back at the top next season.
Tom Brady led a rag-tag offensive group that thrived off the success of its passing game even with the loss of Randy Moss. With the emergences of rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Brady threw 36 touchdowns compared to only four interceptions and set a NFL record with 335 straight pass attempts without a pick. Deion Branch came in mid-season after being acquired by Seattle and provided Brady another viable target, but the Patriots still lacked a true deep threat after trading Moss.
Still fairly inexperienced, New England’s defense faced its fare share of struggles this past season. Devin McCourty and the secondary showed improvement, but the lack of a true pass rusher continues to plague them. Look for the defensive front seven to be a big target area of the Patriots this upcoming draft.
1. Pass rushing LB: New England finished the season with 36 sacks, which was right in the middle of the pack of the league. This is one area that needs to improve so the Patriots can keep their defense off the field. New England was dead last in the NFL in third down defense and if that doesn’t scream pass rusher I don’t know what does. Some hybrid type players to keep an eye on should include: J.J. Watt and Ryan Kerrigan. If they look at linebackers keep an eye on Akeem Ayers and Justin Houston.
Offensive line: Any depth New England can add to its offensive the line the better with several question marks heading into next season. Matt Light is a free agent and even though Logan Mankins was franchised his relationship with the team is on thin ice. After a series of shoulder injuries Stephen Neal is pondering retirement, which further puts a dent into the depth of the line. There is plenty of depth at offensive tackle in the draft and there are some good second round guard prospects. Danny Watkins and Stefen Wisniewski (also can play center) would be good fits for them.
Wide receiver: Wes Welker and Branch will continue to serve as great possession receivers for Brady, but the offense is lacking a game-changer. Brandon Tate has shown flashes as big-play guy, but don’t be surprised to see New England add a similar type of receiver. Some top speed guys include Torrey Smith and Titus Young. The Patriots might also look to add a bigger type receiver such as Jonathan Baldwin. Some might argue that running back is a bigger need, but I don’t see Belichick using a high pick on that position.