Note: This model assumes that all players who played for the Patriots last season will return for next season.
When looking at the Patriots' draft, it's easy to pinpoint a couple positions, like defensive end, outside linebacker, and offensive tackle, as needs for the Patriots. We've also discussed the difference between a need and a "need." Well, here's my attempt at determining what positions are a need and what position is a "need."
I went through the entire Patriots' roster and I gave each player a score between 1-10. Here's what each score stands for:
10 - Top 2 in the League
9 - Top 5 in the League
8 - Top 10 in the League
7 - Great Player
6 - Above Average Player
5 - Average Player
4 - Depth Player
3 - Roster Bubble
2 - Practice Squad
1 - Should Be Cut
Of course this is clearly subjective and all the scores are based on my opinion of the players. Feel free to comment on the scores and give your opinion!
Read the player scores and the rest of my analysis after the jump!
10s: Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Tom Brady
9s: Jerod Mayo, Wes Welker (slot receiver)
8.5s: Sebastian Vollmer, Stephen Gostkowski
8s: Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Matt Light
7.5s: Leigh Bodden, Dan Koppen
7s: Ty Warren, Brandon Meriweather, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Deion Branch, Tracy White (special teams)
6.5s: Gerard Warren, Pat Chung, Mike Wright, Gary Guyton, Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly, Alge Crumpler, Aaron Hernandez, Zoltan Mesko
6s: James Sanders, Kyle Love, Jarrad Page, Nick Kaczur, Kevin Faulk, Shayne Graham, Matt Katula, Kyle Arrington
5.5s: Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick, Dane Fletcher, Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Eric Moore
5s: Ryan Wendell, Matthew Slater, Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite, Myron Pryor, Brandon McGowan, Brian Hoyer, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman
4s: Sergio Brown, Mark LeVoir, Quinn Ojinnaka, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Taylor Price
3s: Tony Carter, Landon Cohen, Bret Lockett, Ross Ventrone, Marques Murrell, Rich Ohrnberger, Thomas Clayton
2s: Thad Turner, Kade Weston, Darryl Richard, Marlon Favorite, Josh Barrett, Steve Maneri, Thomas Austin, Jonathan Crompton, Carson Butler, Darnell Jenkins, Buddy Farnham
I made a basis for position evaluation after scoring the players. I grouped players into three categories: "Young + Improving", "Prime + Staying Strong", "Old + Declining".
I decided that in order to be a starter, the player would have to meet a certain score:
"Young + Improving" players would need to be a 6+ to warrant a starting position since it is expected that they would improve over the course of the season. If they aren't 6+, then they should remain back-ups.
"Prime + Staying Strong" players would need to be 7+ to have a starting position because it means they're a quality starter and that there isn't a pressing need to improve at that position. If they aren't 7+, then they most likely won't improve to become a great starter and the position can be improved.
"Old + Declining" players need to be 8+ to avoid drafting at that position because they're still playing at a high level. If they are considered old for their position and they have a score of under 8, then a future replacement should be drafted and groomed.
After applying these rules to my projected starting line-ups, the following positions that come to attention:
Offensive Tackle - If Matt Light is re-signed to a three year deal, then the Patriots can wait until next year to find an offensive tackle. If Light is signed for a two year or less deal, or not signed at all, then the Patriots will have to draft a tackle in this year's draft.
Offensive Guard - The first position of real need. The Patriots can improve at right guard since Dan Connolly seems to be better fit to be the top universal interior line back-up as opposed to a full time starter. If Logan Mankins doesn't re-sign, or if he gets traded somehow, the Patriots could use two guards. For now, I would say one guard is needed in the draft and Dan Connolly can still hold down the other guard slot for a season.
Center - Another position of need. Dan Koppen should be around for another couple seasons, but drafting a center would make for a more smooth transition.
Quarterback - Tom Brady is fine.
Running Back - BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead make for an excellent tandem, but they could use an additional back for the committee. This qualifies as a "need."
Wide Receiver - Deion Branch is getting on in years and neither Brandon Tate + Taylor Price have shown enough to prove they can replace Branch in the long run. Of course, both players are within their first couple of years so they have next year to prove that they can be NFL starters. If they can't start by the end of next season, then the Patriots will have to find a new wide receiver for 2012.
Tight End - Alge Crumpler is old, but he'll be around for another season as a valuable offensive piece. The Patriots could wait until next season to draft a Crumpler replacement.
Defensive End - Ty Warren's not getting any younger and Gerard Warren, if he comes back, is old as well. The Patriots need one defensive end and "need" two. This is a position they will address in the draft.
Nose Tackle - Not a position of need with Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright and Kyle Love holding down the fort.
Inside Linebacker - Another position of not-need. Spikes, Guyton, Fletcher, and Mayo will all just keep improving.
Outside Linebacker - A position of definite need. Jermaine Cunningham is the only outside linebacker with youth and, as a result, pretty much the only OLB with upside. Eric Moore could show more next season, but I don't think he's the answer. Cunningham was the only OLB who marked out over 6, which means that the Patriots need to draft an OLB who can make an immediate impact.
Cornerback - A position with little need. McCourty + Bodden make one of the best cornerback tandems in the league and Arrington is able to start in a pinch. There's no real need to address this position in the draft.
Safety - Another position with little need. There are a bunch of above average/solid safeties on the roster, but no real consistent game changers. This is a solid position where there is room for improvement, but the value added is extremely limited.
So to summarize, here's a list of the results:
Needs - Offensive Guard, Center, Defensive End, Outside Linebacker
"Needs" - Offensive Tackle (depends on Matt Light), Running Back
Needs - Safety"Needs" - Wide Receiver, Defensive End, Quarterback, Tight End, Offensive Guard
What do you think? Is this a fair representation of the needs of the Patriots?