When it comes to draft-day motives, it's impossible to gauge what the Patriots will do, but here are two certainties: they will pick the best player available regardless of need and they will be involved in more than one trade next weekend. With the No. 17, 28 and 33 picks, the Patriots have plenty of ammunition with which to come up with a blockbuster deal. In terms of defense, look for them to draft at this position early while saving some of their late-round picks for skill-position players.
Linebacker: The most pressing need for the Patriots
heading into the 2011 season is an obvious fix on defense. Last year,
the Patriots failed to generate enough energy in their pass rush,
allowing opposing quarterbacks to pick apart their developing secondary
with relative ease throughout the first half of the season. As the
secondary jelled, the need for a stout pass rusher diminished, but
depending solely on ball-hawking defensive backs to save the day is a
bad idea, which means the Patriots should be targeting pass-rush
specialists either through the draft or free agency. The problem with
this draft is there are too many hybrids and perhaps not enough true
linebackers who can step in immediately. This is something the Patriots
will have to scout carefully in the upcoming week.
Running back: Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis
filled the void nicely last year when others got hurt, but it doesn't
appear they, too, are the answer long term, especially if Kevin Faulk
decides to retire. The Patriots need a legitimate workhorse who can get
the tough yards on every down. Right now, they have a group of
specialty backs who lack overall versatility. Woodhead is more of a
third-down back and while Green-Ellis can make people miss now and
then, he's more of a downfield runner without much lateral speed. The
Patriots could use someone who can run a few sweeps now and then to
throw the opposing defense off balance, otherwise their running game
will become stale and predictable.
Offensive line: The situation on the offensive line is
tedious with Logan Mankins still fuming over his contract. His future
is in doubt, and if he goes, the Patriots become exceptionally thin up
front. Even if they don't go after a front-line starter, having a
versatile backup that can play both guard positions and fill in at
center would be a worthwhile commodity. They have had plenty of players
to fill this void in the past, and history shows they don't necessarily
have to find them within the first two or three rounds. Dan Koppen, who
has been their starting center since the infancy of his career, was a
fourth-round pick. With one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL
history on their side (Dante Scarnecchia), the Patriots can take
projects at this position and mold them into solid contributors.
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