The NFL Scouting Combine went down last week, and nothing but personal workouts remain to judge potential Patriots by.
A sportswriter from New England looks at the combine with selective perception. For instance, the Arizona Cardinals need to really look at Quarterbacks. They had a couple of late-round picks fail with the job last season, after the retirement of Kurt Warner and the fail/trade of Matt Leinart.
The Patriots don't have to worry about such things. They have Tom Brady, who was the NFL's offensive MVP last year. Therefore, they most likely care very little about what Cam Newton is doing. We could take a late-rounder to groom as Brady's replacement in 3-7 years, but it's not something we need to stay awake nights worrying about.
However, the Patriots have plenty of holes to fill, and they have a pile of draft picks with which to address them. We'll go through the positions of need here in this column.
We've already covered the QB position. I'd guess at who we might snap up in round 6 or so, but I honestly don't feel that it is a crucial need. Therefore, we won't waste the bandwidth.
Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis did a fine job last season. BJGE had 1000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Woodhead ran well, and was a threat in the passing game. The banishment of former first-round pick Laurence Maroney and the injury/return of Kevin Faulk also factor into things.
Neither BJGE or Woodhead is a game-breaker, and both benefit from playing on a good team. BJGE actually has trade value, which will never be higher. I truly spend time wondering if an offer of BJGE and some 2nd and 3rd round picks might pry loose the 1st round pick of a team like Detroit or Seattle.
If it does, we can try to upgrade from BJGE to Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Whether he is capable of a BJGE season with 1000 yards and 10-15 touchdowns remains to be seen. However, the potential for a Corey Dillon 1300 yard season is there.
If he's gone or if we keep BJGE, the running back position is stocked and perhaps even overloaded.
WR became an issue last season, despite the 14-2 record. The trade of Randy Moss left us with no deep threat on the roster. Deion Branch and Brandon Tate are adequate, but- like our RBs- they aren't scaring anyone.
AJ Green is a star talent, but he's going long before we draft. Julio Jones might last to our #17 pick, but the hole here isn't as big as the holes elsewhere. A more likely pick might be a 2nd/3rd rounder for a guy like Randall Cobb from Kentucky.
TE was covered in the last draft, when we took Aarron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
OL remains our chief concern. They actually did a fine job last year. The issues are age and money.
Logan Mankins is very unhappy wth his contract. Matt Light is a free agent. Dan Koppen is 32. Stephen Neal may retire or be released. That makes a tackle, guard or center a distinct possibility come draft time.
A redwood-type tackle like Gabe Carimi, Derrick Sherrod, or Clint Solder might be taken to eventually/immediately replace Light. Mike Pouncey may be taken to replace Neal or Koppen inside. Two of our top 4 picks in the first 64 going to restock the O-line wouldn't be a shocker.
DE has been a problem since we traded Richard Seymour. This draft is deep in hard-to-find 3-4 defensive ends. Short of moving up into the top 5, we won't get Da'Quan Bowers, Marcel Dareus or Nick Fairely.
However, there is a fine Tier Two that features Cameron Heyward, Ryan Watt, Allen Bailey, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, and Marvin Austin. If we don't end up with one of those players, I'd be very befuddled.
NT Vin Wilfork has capable backups, and nose tackle is a low priority.
LB has been restocked recently, with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham being drafted recently. However, none of them is a pass-rusher. No quarterbacks have Tully Banta-Cain nightmares. We were about as low as a team can rank in pass-rushing stats.
Von Miller is the top OLB prospect, but he should be long gone by the time we pick. We may get a shot at Akeem Ayers, Robert Quinn, or Justin Houston. All have shown pass-rushing talent.
CB has had a lot of draft picks thrown at them recently, and only one (Devin McCourty) has shown talent. Recent high picks like Darius Butler and Terrence Wheatley haven't worked out.
If the right guy drops to us, we could land a starter. More likely, we get a guy in the second round who may be capable enough to play alongside McCourty.
Safety was addressed well recently, with Pat Chung looking like a potential star. There has been talk of bringing in former Colt Bob Sanders, who is All-Pro talent in a All-Injured List body.
Punter Zoltan mesko should hold his job for a decade, and K Stephen Gostkowski is one of the NFL's better kickers.