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Maybe this thread might be a bit early, but since most of us are expecting a great draft with 2 first rounders and 2 second rounders, and a lot of us are expecting next year to be when the team truly comes together, I figure it's worth it.
What does everyone want them doing with the picks? I expect Oakland's pick to be somewhere between 8-14, and NE's pick to be somewhere between 18-26. One of the picks has gotta be an elite 3-4 defensive end prospect, IMO that's the highest priority. It's just repeating what has already been said, but the 3-4 defense is built on having a NT and at least one DE who consistently draw double teams and stuff the run.
My #1 choice would be Marcell Dareus. He's got great size with some experience as a 3-4 DE, and had 6 sacks as someone who only started 4 games (most notably the sack that knocked Colt McCoy out of the championship game). They would probably need to use Oakland's pick to get him since he's poised to have a huge year but he has tons of potential and fills a need.
The later first rounder IMO should be used on a receiver for several reasons.
1) The chances of Moss resigning are slim to none. There are gonna be other teams out there willing to offer more years and more money than New England will for a 34 YO receiver.
2) The NFL is becoming more pass happy every year. Just look at how the last few superbowls unfolded. The Patriots need to maintain a good passing attack after Moss leaves, and there's no way they can without replacing him.
3) Assuming most of the elite juniors enter early, there will most likely be at least one great receiver available in the later first round who would be a top 10 pick in any draft that wasn't loaded at receiver. Between Baldwin, Floyd, Green, Jones, and Posey, there will be great value at receiver if 1-2 of them fall into the 20's.
So those are just my thoughts, please feel free to contribute your own, I don't want this thread to be a critique of my ideal first round next year.
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They need Oline. They've needed Oline for years, and aside from the Vollmer pick haven't addressed it at all until late day two picks. With Light a soon to be FA, Mankins status unknown, Neal either retired or injured, and Koppen on the downside of his career, that leaves one guy you can rely on and he's had what, 8 NFL starts to this point? They need to address Oline early. It doesn't really matter where, BPA with preferably two of the first four picks. I agree that DE needs to be helped, but Oline is in the same boat.
After those two, sure, get all the secondary or offensive skill positions you can. But get the trenches first.
Based on his size and the (limited) footage of him I've seen I'd quite like to see us grab Jonathon Baldwin. Whether Moss stays around or not he's probably only going to be playing for another few years so either way we're in need of a receiver who poses a vertical threat.
Other than that the obvious choices of 3-4 DE and pass rushing OLB but I can't imagine BB will use one of the 1st rounders on a pass rusher
Without going into specific players yet, I would think as of this moment the Pats would be looking at DE, OL, and RB with three of those first four draft picks.
The wildcard is WR: there are four or five very highly rated receivers in next year's draft; if Randy Moss leaves do the Pats draft one of them, or are they okay with Tate, Welker, Edelman, Price and the tight ends?
Part of me really wants the Pats to pick up one of those WRs - as you mentioned, due to the way officials are instructed to call the game now, the passing game is more important than ever. On the other hand if the Pats do that then only first rounder can be used on the three positions I originally mentioned (DE, OL, RB.)
I suppose a large part of it will come down to what happens in free agency. First, because of the rules in the uncapped year there were a lot of players that were RFAs rather than UFAs this past year; that should result in more unrestricted free agents in 2011. Second, because of uncertainty about the CBA and not knowing what the new cap will be, there are a lot of expiring contracts in 2010 - not just with the Pats, but throughout the entire NFL.
Assuming a new CBA is agreed upon, we could see a record number of free agents available. On one hand it could work in the Pats favor, if they could address one or two of those positions prior to the draft. On the other hand the team could find itself with such pressing needs that they cannot consider WR early: for example if Matt Light does not re-sign, and a suitable replacement is not found in free agency, the Pats have to go OL rather than WR.
Then there's the whole Logan Mankins situation too. Do the Pats get a draft pick for him, and if so how high? Does Mankins sit out, become a free agent, and the Pats get nothing in return? Or does the unlikely happen, where the two sides work out a new contract?