By: Derek Havens
Rob Gronkowski’s injury history leaves some uncertainty at the tight end position heading into this offseason. (USA TODAY Images)
The 2013 New England Patriots season is in the books, so it only makes sense we turn our attention to the NFL Draft.
The past several seasons I’ve dissected and analyzed each class, just as I will this year.
New England currently sits at the No. 29 slot in the first round. This year’s draft class is deep and talented, most likely a correlation to the record breaking underclassman that have declared.
Here are five thoughts on the Patriots 2014 NFL Draft needs:
– Deep Draft at Important Positions: As aforementioned, this is a pretty deep class and offers some talented collegiate athletes. Luckily for the Patriots, many of the team’s needs are among the positions that offer high quality. Tight end, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, defensive back, returner, — however or whichever need you deem to be the most important, there are players that fit the system.
– Targeting Needs on Offense: Some say New England’s biggest need is at wide receiver, but I look at the tight end position as a more glaring need. With Aaron Hernandez gone, Rob Gronkowski coming off another injury, the team needs to add another weapon that can make the offense more dynamic.
A veteran wide receiver should be targeted in free agency, but there are several young players who have potential.
The offensive line went through some injuries and many guys saw playing time in 2013, but the weak interior was exposed far too often. Logan Mankins play was subpar and his contract should be restructured; Ryan Wendell is a free agent; Dan Connolly is paid far too much for the level of play he displayed this past season — the entire middle of the line is in question.
– Targeting Needs on Defense: In a pass-happy NFL, getting after the quarterback is priority one. The Pats worst loss of the season came at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game when New England couldn’t get close to Manning. Adding help in the interior and exterior of the defensive line is key.
Aqib Talib’s impending free agency obviously could change how the team approaches the draft. If he stays, the team has a strong core of cornerbacks returning. but if he goes there is an immediate need at an important position.
Safety — upgrading over Steve Gregory — should be high when I glance over the roster. New England needs a player on the back end to take on the enforcer role and secure the middle of the field. Devin McCourty is a very good free safety, but more of a pure strong safety could go a long way.
– Quality, Not Quantity: The past few seasons New England has transformed their roster and now is one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Gone are the days the team must draft 10 plus players. At this point, the Patriots need quality, not quantity. Playmakers are needed on both sides of the ball.
– Free Agency Plays a Role: Many fans and analysts have an idea of how the Patriots should or could upgrade this off-season. While the draft will be a great way for the team to continue to add young talent to the organization, free agency will play a big role in how the team addresses the May event.
If the team lands some quality players, they might be less inclined to be aggressive. On the other side, if the team swings and misses during the free agency period, the Pats could find themselves looking to make a splash. A lot could change over the next few weeks.
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