With the NFL Draft approaching, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the needs of each club. Up next are the Patriots, fresh off another AFC East title and another trip to the AFC Championship Game. For the second year in a row, the Patriots lost that game, however, and we’ll be taking a look at the needs they should fill if they want to play one more game after the 2014 season.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski’s status for the start of the season is still up in the air, which has led the Patriots to kick the tires on former Jet and Dolphin Dustin Keller. Keller would fit as a move tight end alongside Gronkowski, but he’s coming off a catastrophic knee injury and the Patriots might opt to go for a rookie with a cleaner bill of health.
Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro is at the top of the list for the Patriots to consider and he’ll likely be available with the 29th overall pick. The Patriots could also choose to trade out of their pick, something Bill Belichick’s never shied away from, and gain another second-rounder that they could use to bolster the tight end spot.
Defensive Line: The Patriots hung on to Vince Wilfork after all, but he’s coming off a torn Achilles at 32. He turns 33 during the season and Tommy Kelly turns 34, so they should be looking for some younger bodies to work into the mix up front.
Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman and two Notre Dame players – Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix – could be fits in the first round. Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley’s talent puts him at the same level. A torn ACL last season creates both a cause for concern and a chance to get a talented player at a good spot in the draft.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are set at defensive end, but the addition of a pass-rushing prospect to compete with Jake Bequette and Michael Buchannan for a role wouldn’t be the worse idea.
Guard/Center: The Patriots re-signed center Ryan Wendell, but he didn’t play at a high level last season. Neither did right guard Dan Connolly, left guard Logan Mankins is 32 and there’s not much depth. That makes four good reasons for the Patriots to be looking for help on the interior.
USC center Marcus Martin, Colorado State center Weston Richburg, UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson are some of the top interior players who could be options on the first two days.
Safety: Adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner kicked things up a notch at cornerback. That makes it less urgent that the Patriots make the same kind of move at the safety spot alongside Devin McCourty, but more competition for Duron Harmon isn’t going to hurt them. Minnesota’s Brock Vereen should be around in the middle rounds and his brother Shane has served the Patriots well.
Running Back: Wasn’t someone just talking about Shane Vereen? Assuming Vereen is fully recovered from his wrist injury, he and Stevan Ridley give the Patriots two good options in the backfield. Brandon Bolden is also back, but the Pats did lose LeGarrette Blount as a free agent and Vereen’s pass-heavy role may have Belichick looking for a bruiser in Blount’s mold to round out the group.