Overview: Thanks to multiple trades in the past year, the Pats don’t have the stockpile of picks we’re used to seeing — they only have six picks this year, but all are in the first four rounds. And it would come as no surprise should the Pats pick up a couple of later-round picks. The focus is expected to be on defense, where New England ranked 31st last season. The Patriots have made it a habit of drafting a cornerback, and that tradition should continue. Bill Belichick’s drafts have been blasted in the past, but the last two years have shown positive returns.
Need No. 1: Safety
Anyone who watched the Patriots last season knew that the team had a revolving door at the safety position after it parted ways with Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. There is hope for Josh Barrett to become a contributor, and the team did sign Steve Gregory to pair with Patrick Chung, but the Patriots are still lacking the center-field-type safety desired to shore up the pass defense. Teams picked the Patriots apart over the middle of the field, and the corners could not rely on safety help over the top. Don’t expect New England to go after a safety in the first round, as it is a weak class, but it remains a top need.
Need No. 2: Edge rusher (outside linebacker or defensive end)
It’s not entirely clear what kind of defense we’ll see more from the Patriots in 2012 — a 4-3 or a 3-4 — but either way, they need a pass rusher. Mark Anderson, who had 10 sacks last season, is now a Bill, and Andre Carter, who also tallied 10 sacks, is unsigned and coming off an injury. The team added ex-Raider Trevor Scott but is very thin in that category, especially considering the team’s struggles getting after the passer and keeping opponents from moving the ball with ease. Looking at the pass rushers on the roster, outside Scott, the Pats have Rob Ninkovich and Markell Carter, who did not play as a rookie. Look for Belichick to add a versatile player who can function in multiple fronts, like Ninkovich can.
Need No. 3: Cornerback
Under the assumption that Ras-I Dowling, last year’s second-round pick, will win back the starting spot he had for two games before going on injured reserve, the Patriots don’t appear that thin at corner. Devin McCourty is a big wild card, coming off a sophomore slump of a season. Kyle Arrington had a nose for the ball last season but is not an ideal top corner. The Patriots have shuffled corners over the last several seasons and have relied on the draft to continue to add depth to the position. With so many struggles last season defending the pass and stopping teams on third downs, another boundary corner who can lock down physical receivers would boost Belichick’s defense.