The Patriots are in great position at this point in the off-season. They've managed to resign almost all of their free agents and have picked up some new blood in key spots. While there will be a clear adjustment time going from Wes Welker to Danny Amendola, the Patriots are ready to go.
It's important to note that the Patriots don't address the draft as a way to fill immediate needs. They have the benefit of having such strong depth that they can always look to the future of the team, while still improving on the now. We've looked at how the Patriots like to team their top draft picks with savvy veterans who are winding down their careers, but the Patriots don't really have that type of player on the roster.
Of the projected 2013 starters, only quarterback Tom Brady, guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and strong safety Adrian Wilson (who is a debatable projected starter) will be over the age of 30. Include that all five of those players are locked in on the roster through the next two seasons and you have a strong core projected for the roster.
Brady has Ryan Mallett, but Brady isn't going anywhere. Wilson has Tavon Wilson as a protege. Mankins and Connolly have Marcus Cannon and Nick McDonald. The future is already grooming.
The spot for opening? Next to Vince Wilfork on the defensive line. A lot of factors point to the Patriots drafting a defensive tackle in this upcoming draft:
1) Wilfork needs a strong player next to him as both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, while consistent players, are unable to consistently push the pocket next to Wifork.
2) There is a clear need to upgrade the talent at defensive tackle.
3) Both Deaderick and Love have contracts that end after the 2013 season.
Groom for the now, prepare for the future.
The Patriots are in luck as this draft as there are six players who could warrant first round consideration. This draft isn't as strong as 2011, with Marcell Dareus, J.J. Watt, Nick Fairley, Muhammad Wilkerson, and three other first round defensive tackles, but there is talent.
Florida's Sharif Floyd is gaining steam and is considered a top 5 pick, while players like Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, and Jonathan Hankins all could be selected in the top 20. If none of those players fall to the end of the first, look for the Patriots to look for Kawann Short or Sylvester Williams as potential penetrators to pair next to Wilfork in the middle of the trenches. Point is, there's plenty of talent available early for the Patriots to improve their defensive line.
Additionally, while there is a dearth of mid-round talent at defensive tackle, there's plenty of boom/bust players that could be worth a seventh round flier or a camp invite. A.J. Francis and Jared Smith have great size and potential, while Will Pericak has plenty of experience.
While I still believe the Patriots will double dip at WR, don't be surprised if they make the double plunge at defensive tackle.
Looking elsewhere on the roster, the Patriots are full at Quarterback, Running Back, Tight End, Offensive Tackle, and Linebackers. Unless a top prospect falls down and is the undisputed best player available (BPA), don't expect the Patriots to make a run at the top prospects at those positions.
One could consider New England full up at both defensive back position and at the defensive end position, but don't be surprised if the Patriots try to take advantage of a falling value player in the middle rounds. Plenty of top talent, like defensive backs Dwayne Gratz, Robert Alford, Robert Lester, and Shawn Wiliams could fall to the third or fourth rounds, while defensive ends Malliciah Goodman, Cornerlius Washington, and Devin Taylor are all quality rushers with developmental upside.
The one true position of need is at wide receiver and this draft is stacked. While studs like Tavon Austin probably won't fall to the end of the first, there is plenty of talent like Justin Hunter, Ryan Swope, Markus Wheaton, and Da'Rick Rogers who could be available in the second. Additionally, late round pick-ups like Jasper Collins, Tavarres King, and Mark Harrison could all provide quality value and depth.
The Patriots two main positions of need are defensive tackle and wide receiver. Luckily, this draft is full of high quality receivers, while top heavy at defensive tackle. Expect the Patriots to take a defensive tackle early, following by a receiver in the second. Look for them to go with the top defensive back or defensive end in the third, while double dipping at receiver and defensive tackle in the seventh.
Of course, that won't happen. But it's fun to imagine.
We'll go further in-depth at each position as the draft draws near.