NFL Draft: Patriots Team Needs Updated

What positions do the Patriots need to address? Here are at least three areas New England would do well to upgrade through the Draft.

   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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