Thanks for the discussions and opinions put forward in an earlier thread I put out with this title, as well as the discussions that went on in other threads regarding the draft. They helped to clarify what I feel are the biggest needs going forward into the 2014 draft.
Two needs were brought to light, (if they hadn't been already) in the Dolphins game last Sunday, the game was an example of what we might see them struggle with all season long in 2014 if they are not addressed.
OT and TE
The Patriots have serious concerns at OT - Solder with his concussions may not seem major right now,but we all saw how Wright's career came to an abrupt end because of them, and Vollmer with his broken leg and back issues certainly is no guarantee to return to form in 2014.
OT is not a position easily (or cheaply) filled through FA, good OTs are always in demand and always get the highest payout of any O-line position. The best way (and sometimes the only viable way), to fill a void at OT is through the draft.
When a team has the luxury of drafting players to develop behind well established veterans (like the Patriots did with Vollmer and Solder) they can afford to gamble and take an OT later in the draft.
But the Patriots aren't in that position. They have valid concerns for both OTs regarding their health, and they have no young players behind them in development. Cannon has proven to be, at best, an emergency short-term option to fill that role, not a long term solution or regular starter at the Tackle position.
TE is even a more pressing concern, after losing Hernandez, and with the uncertainty that Gronk’s health presents (knee, arm, back), there can be no certainty that they will have Gronk back to form for 2014, or that he will remain healthy for the duration of the season when he does return.
In both cases (OT and TE) we are talking about how it effects Brady’s protection and therefore Brady’s health, and therefore any chance the team has at making a run at a Championship in 2014… and therefore, IMO, the two most pressing positions to address in the draft.
The NFL is always evolving and changing, but one constant of the past few years has been if you can't find a way of stopping the opponents' pass rush, you won't win the football game.
Much like we have seen in the past, like when the Patriots couldn't protect Brady from the Jets pass rush in 2010 and they could not generate a pass rush of their own, allowing Sanchez so much time back there, that he resembled the second coming of Joe Montana in a playoff game the Jets won convincingly.
Which leads me to their third biggest need, a very athletic LB/SS hybrid Pass Rush specialist... a very athletic and fast player they can use to harass the QB and/or help cover the middle of the field.
While Hightower and Spikes clearly have strengths to their game, especially against the run, they are a liability in coverage, and aren't going to be running down Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick anytime soon either.
Finding that special kind of player that has the NFL intelligence/experience to be able to handle versatile roles, as well as the physical skills to pull it off, well... they aren't a dime a dozen. But there is one exceptional player in this year's draft that can fill that much-needed-to-be-filled nitch/need the Patriots have on Defense.
Boseko Lokombo OLB/ILB/SS/STer Oregon 6'3 230
Bo is a rare find, a player that can be swung out to the OLB position and rush the passer, a player that can be put in at SS and cover TEs and WRs the way we saw Talib perform this year against top talent, he has the size, speed and athletic ability to handle a lot of roles for a defense, and for a team like the Patriots that likes to disguise what they are doing, he gives them plenty of flexibility to do so.
When you watch the clip above, notice how they deploy him in a variety of ways, from covering space in the middle of the field, to rushing the passer from the outside.
Big plays, he makes them, sacks, INTs, TFLs, and this while showing the discipline to 'do his job' and not over-pursue or abandon his responsibility to try and make a play. I always find it interesting at this time of year, when I study a player like this, and see scouts currently have him earmarked as a 5th or 6th round talent... but in just a few months time, when the draft nears, Bo will have risen to at least a 2nd round prospect, because he is that good, and unlike most other OLBs and SSs I have looked at, has that much more upside than all the rest.
Arthur Lynch TE Georgia 6'5 255
I see a lot of hype and support on here for ASJ, I suspect that will reflect the type of hype we will see in this year's draft... similar to how we saw Jermaine Gresham hyped up back in 2010, while talents like Jimmy Graham and Gronk were being under-valued. With TEs and WRs... oftentimes the most hyped up players aren't half as good as the ones that are barely talked about, that go a round or two later.
Arthur Lynch is the best blocking TE of all the TEs I've looked at, he appears to be the most Patriots-system ready TE of all the players I've looked at as well, having played in a college system where shifts, and blocking assignments were more complicated than those asked of most other TEs in this draft.
In the clip above, you can see the complexity of blocking assignments he was responsible for, at times taking on the blocking assignment of the Tackle or Guard, or chipping and moving to the second level and taking on a linebacker, in addition, he has the ability to get downfield and make the catch, in space and in traffic.
You want to run the ball well? It helps to have a good blocking TE. You want to protect the passer? You need a good blocking TE. You want to score in the Red Zone? You need a big target with good hands that can make the catch in traffic. Lynch fills all these needs.
I am not a great judge of OT talent, but I am fully confident in Dante and the Patriots ability to scout and draft the right player... so whether they take one with their first selection, or their third, it doesn't really matter, I expect them to draft based on how much concern they have for the position going into 2014, as well as for the talent available.
That in a nut shell is where I see value for the Patriots, I expect they very well may trade out of the first round if they can, and take a stab at 2 or 3 second round prospects. I don't see them trading up this year, and I don't see them making any big moves in FA.