After a season in which the team carried a 31st ranked pass defense all the way to the Super Bowl, defense is going to be a particular focus for the New England Patriots this week during the NFL draft.
The Patriots fixed their greatest weakness on offense carrying over from last season when they made multiple additions to their wide receiving corp. The addition of Brandon Lloyd gives the team a viable number one receiver who can stretch the field while the return of Donte Stallworth adds another burner to their ranks.With We Welker, Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco also returning, with potential contributions from Anthony Gonzalez also, Tom Brady should have plenty of weapons to put points on the board with next year.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis may have been a casualty of free agency, but Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will be expected to step up into the void at the position while Kevin Faulk could potentially return. The team also has some issues to deal with on the offensive line but carries the required depth to move forward without any further additions. Robert Gallery is expected to slot in for the injured Logan Mankins at left guard, while Matt Light's replacement, Nate Solder, proved his quality as a rookie last year.
The offense was reloaded in the off-season and while there were some additions to the defense, this draft is set to be completely focused on that side of the ball.
With two picks in the first round, two in the second, one in the third and another in the fourth, the Patriots have six opportunities to bring in prospects who can improve their defense. After adding Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott in free agency, Bill Belichick signaled his desire to improve his front seven without actually adding the pieces to completely revamp it. Fanene and Scott should be good role players but won't be expected to completely change the fortunes of the front.
After missing out on big names such as Mario Williams and Cliff Avril in free agency, with Mark Anderson leaving Boston behind for Buffalo, the Patriots are all but guaranteed to pick up a pass rusher at some stage this week. As seen in this article yesterday on the Sports-Central blog
, Nick Perry, a pass rushing defensive end from USC, is a recurring name being linked with the team by draft experts. Perry wasn't the only name who scouts suggested to improve the team's pass rushing prowess and each of those mentioned in the article are versatile rushers who would provide the team with scheme flexibility.
Finding a pass rusher is a must, but the Patriots had two Pro Bowl caliber pass rushers last year in Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. The Patriots biggest need to improve against the pass lies int he secondary.
With Devin McCourty struggling, Patrick Chung's injuries and Belichick's persistence to cut talented players who don't play disciplined football, the Patriots' secondary last year really struggled. Kyle Arrington was the team's best cover corner, and while he did play excellent aggressive football, it is always worrying when your best cornerback is so diminutive. Arrington is best suited to playing the slot covering such receivers as Victor Cruz and Antonio Brown who cannot overwhelm him physically. When the Patriots offense went against Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks in the Super Bowl, they struggled to contain the rangier receivers and ultimately lost the game for that reason.
Physicality should return to one part of their secondary at least with Ras-I Dowling entering his second season. Dowling missed all but one game last year through injury as a rookie. He was drafted as a tall physical cornerback who could match up to the Brandon Marshalls, Stevie Johnsons and Plaxico Burresses in the division. Even though two of those receivers don't currently reside in the division, Dowling should provide a major boost to a team in desperate need of cornerback help.
The Patriots are in need of a safety and cornerback in this draft depending on how good Devin McCourty figures to be next year. If McCourty is seen as a starting cornerback by the team, adding a safety will be a priority, if they want to move McCourty to safety, then drafting a cornerback in the first round becomes a likelihood. Building the secondary doesn't just mean adding starters as depth will also be very important to the team moving forward. In today's NFL, you can never have too many defensive backs.
After last season, the Patriots should understand that better than anyone.