NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS / 2013 TEAM NEEDS
QB Tom Brady engineers one of the league’s best offensive attacks, which added a strong rushing component last season when Josh McDaniels returned, helping RB Stevan Ridley put up big numbers. Brady attacks defenses over the middle of the field with ease, but he may be throwing to new pass catchers depending on the free-agent situations of his veteran wide receivers.
TOP 3 OFFENSIVE NEEDS
WR — The futures of Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, both free agents, are in question. Deion Branch, who was cut twice and brought back, is also a free agent. Brandon Lloyd is the only wideout under contract for 2013. On the outside, Lloyd has played well, but the Patriots would also benefit from a big-bodied receiver who could stretch the field.
OL — Don’t expect Bill Belichick to use an early pick on the interior O-line, but he could add some depth there behind Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell. Tackle is a curious situation, which hinges on the Patriots re-signing Sebastian Vollmer. Assuming they do, his injury history is still a concern, and Marcus Cannon struggled when thrust into action.
QB— Why not? The Patriots are pretty well stocked at running back and tight end, and if there’s a signalcaller on the board that Belichick and Josh McDaniels like, don’t put it past them to bring in another quarterback for camp. Ryan Mallett may be entrenched as the No. 2, but that by no means makes him the heir apparent to Brady.
Matt Patricia took over as coordinator in 2012, and the unit improved as the season went along, thanks in part to rookies DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont’a Hightower and CB Alfonzo Dennard. The Pats like to use disguises at the line and mix between 30 and 40 fronts. The secondary is still considered a weakness, but the run defense is stout. The D-line could stand to be deeper.
TOP 3 DEFENSIVE NEEDS
CB —Belichick has made a habit of drafting cornerbacks over the years, and expect him to go back to that well in April. Former first-round CB Devin McCourty has moved to safety, and Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington are free agents. Injury issues have followed 2011 second-round CB Ras-I Dowling to the NFL.
DL — Jones had a strong rookie season. Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork help form a solid group, but depth is an issue, especially on the interior. Brandon Deaderick eventually took a starting job from Kyle Love. As great as Vince Wilfork has been, he is 31, and the Pats may want to decrease some of his snaps to keep him fresh.
S — McCourty and Steve Gregory have stabilized the position, but an upgrade at the No. 3 safety position isn’t out of the question. Second-round rookie Tavon Wilson made some big plays in 2012, but was also beat a few times. If injuries pile up at corner, the Pats may want to be flexible and move McCourty back there and have a better option to replace him at safety.
2012 DRAFT REWIND
1st round (21): DE-OLB Chandler Jones / Syracuse (GP/GS: 14/13)
Skinny: Pass-rush force early on; slowed late by injury.
1st round (25): ILB-OLB Don’t’a Hightower / Alabama (GP/GS: 14/13)
Skinny: Versatile playmaker led the team in tackles for loss.
2nd round (48): FS-CB Tavon Wilson / Illinois (GP/GS: 16/4)
Skinny: Had four INTs but struggled in coverage. No. 3 safety.
3rd round (90): DE-OLB Jake Bequette / Arkansas (GP/GS: 3/0)
Skinny: A nonfactor, buried on depth chart.
6th round (197): SS Nate Ebner / Ohio State (GP/GS: 15/0)
Skinny: Special-teams stud tied for team lead in ST tackles (11).
7th round (224): CB Alfonzo Dennard / Nebraska (GP/GS: 10/7)
Skinny: Assumed starting CB role. Pleasant surprise.
7th round (235): WR Jeremy Ebert / Northwestern (GP/GS: 0/0)
Skinny: On the practice squad.
SUMMARY: Jones, Hightower and Dennard for quite the foundation on defense going forward.