There was a point near the middle of last season when the conventional wisdom around the NFL was that the Patriots’ defense would stop them from making too much of their season. That didn’t look much like wisdom when the Pats won another AFC title, the fifth of the Bill Belichick era, and came within four points of winning the Super Bowl. The defense does need help, though, and it figures to get it after a free agency period devoted to the offense.
Pass Rusher: The Patriots have juggled their fronts a lot over the last few years so it is hard/meaningless to pin their need for pass rushing help specifically on a defensive end or a linebacker. With Mark Anderson gone and Andre Carter’s future with the team uncertain, they need the assistance regardless of the form that it takes. With four of the first 62 picks, the Patriots are well suited to pick up a couple of prospects to plug into their front seven. Names like USC’s Nick Perry, Syracuse’s Chandler Jones, Boise State’s Shea McClellin and Clemson’s Andre Branch are ones that could interest New England.
Cornerback: Adding help in the pass rush would also make life easier for a secondary that was exploited fairly often last season. Things got so bad that they turned to wide receiver Julian Edelman toward the end of the season. That didn’t work out well so the Patriots need to address the position once again and they will need to address it more than once if they plan on keeping Devin McCourty at safety. Will they gamble on the talented but troubled Janoris Jenkins?
Safety: If McCourty stays here, the need is lessened a bit. If he goes back to playing corner, however, this takes on a bit more importance. The Patriots have enough ammunition to move up and get Alabama’s Mark Barron if they are so inclined, but they could also probably grab Harrison Smith of Notre Dame without giving up any of their picks.
Defensive Line: Vince Wilfork is still a force in the middle, but he’s getting older and the team doesn’t have too many other dynamic playmakers up front. Grabbing a player who could provide strong work in all phases at tackle or end, depending on the front the Pats are using at the time, wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes, LSU’s Michael Brockers and Michigan State’s Jerel Worthy could all make New England more athletic and versatile at the point of attack.
There are spots where the Pats could use help on offense, but a defensive upgrade would make this team a lot more likely to finish the job in New Orleans next season. In recent years, they have sometimes prioritized loading up on picks over grabbing high-end players. They could do that again, but juicing up the defensive talent is a must in New England.