The NFL draft is weeks away, and the New England Patriots appear to be eyeing improvements on defense, which makes sense given their struggles last year.
The Patriots are in a prime position this year because they've got two picks toward the end of the first round, No. 27 and 31, which have been prime spots for them through the years.
The consensus is they'll look for help on both the defensive line and in the secondary. Inexperience and injuries both played a factor in last year's lack of production, though some of the younger players who struggled early came on strong toward the end of the season.
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There are so many mock drafts to sift through, and each one has the Patriots targeting different players with their respective first-round picks. One of the names surfacing with the 27th pick is Penn State defensive lineman Devon Still, who is billed as a dynamic pass rusher.
This makes sense considering the Patriots had major problems last year rushing the passer. They've tried their luck on the free-agent market with pass-rushing linebackers, but those experiments brought more failure than success. The trend now appears to be playing more 4-3 than 3-4, meaning the emphasis will be on building depth up front rather than trying to convert former college defensive linemen into stand-up linebackers.
The beauty is the Patriots can grab two solid players within several picks of one another, so they could hit the jackpot both at defensive line and at safety in the opening round. Since both picks are toward the end of the round, there's far more reward and far less risk financially -- the Patriots wouldn't be forced to front serious dollars for a high-round player who may or may not be worth it.
The other benefit is those picks are hot commodities, so if the Patriots don't see something they like late in the first round, they could trade out and build their depth in the second or third rounds, where they already have three other picks (Nos. 48, 62 and 93).
This is no accident; the Patriots have been liberal for years in terms of trading in and out of draft slots to build depth for future years, and a lot of that is based on projections going forward. For example, if they think there are better players coming out in 2013, they'll gladly trade picks this year to have selections next spring.
As is often the case, there's no telling what the Patriots are thinking as they approach this year's draft, but their moves on Day 1 will tell part of the story.
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