The Patriots went into the draft with a specific list of needs (wide receiver, coverage linebacker, pass rusher, defensive tackle, defensive back depth) and they've almost checked off the whole list. Now the Patriots can either focus on taking the best possible talent available, players who could push the starters, or they can coast and try to fill the back end of the roster and improve the full 53.
Some might push for a player to push the starters and, with pick 102, I would heartily agree. It seems like the Patriots have starters penciled in at every position, with the only real position up for grabs being WR2, which second round pick Aaron Dobson is expected to fill.
The other positions that are being fought over by current players on the roster?DT next to Vince Wilfork- Tommy Kelly, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, and Armond Armstead will rotate- and SS next to Devin McCourty- Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Steve Gregory, and the newly drafted Duron Harmon will fight for time. Depending on your view of the offensive line, even Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon could be fighting over the starting right guard role.
So those positions already have full camp battles. So where can the Patriots focus their selection at 102? Let's take a look:
Wide Receiver: This position is still up for grabs, even with the selection of Dobson. Top talent players like Da'Rick Rogers, Quinton Patton, Ryan Swope, and Chris Harper are all still on the board. Rogers would be a perfect hedge to the selection of Dobson as both players fit the same role on offense. Swope would be another player in the mold of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman as pure "Z" receivers, providing ability in both the slot and outside. Patton and Harper are more unique when evaluating the current roster and would likely be competing with Donald Jones for a role on the outside; they would fill the shoes vacated by Brandon Lloyd quite nicely.
So do the Patriots need a wide receiver? Yes. It's just a matter of what type of receiver they want. I could see any of Rogers, Patton, and Harper being selected, with Harper being the result of a trade down.
Defensive End: The Patriots have been linked this off-season to veteran John Abraham, but Belichick isn't the type to wait for a veteran to come knocking without having a contingency plan. Top ends like Alex Okafor, Cornelius Washington, William Gholston, and Michael Buchanan are possibilities to add to the rotation with Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, and Jermaine Cunningham.
Of course, the Patriots could view newly drafted Jamie Collins as a defensive end instead of a coverage linebacker and this position could already be filled. Still, there's still plenty of room for improvement from the Patriots' pass rush and there are players who could step in and help from day one. Okafor was considered a second round talent, while Buchanan has been linked to the Patriots. If the Patriots trade down and pick up a 5th rounder, look for Buchanan's name to be called.
Interior Lineman: If you're in the camp that Dan Connolly should be moved back to top back-up and that the right guard position needs to be upgraded (or of the belief that since Connolly and center Ryan Wendell are both free agents after next season, the Patriots should start grooming the future), then there are still some talented players available. Linemen Brian Schwenke and Barrett Jones can play every interior spot and are both top talents- Jones was a late first/early second talent until news of his Lisfranc injury (foot) surfaced.
The Patriots could use Day 3 to take elite talent that has fallen, like Jones and Schwenke, to prepare for the future. Jones has been my binkie this draft and I would love to see the Patriots take a chance on him like they did with Marcus Cannon: stash him on the PUP until he's healthy and then let him fight for a role next season.
Quarterback: What? Hear me out. Let's say the Patriots find a way to flip Ryan Mallett to a quarterback needy team this year, prior to the trade deadline. Let's say that team offers the Patriots the second rounder that they've wanted- opposing teams just didn't want to give the Patriots another second in this draft. The top quarterbacks are still available for the Patriots to take. A player like Ryan Nassib (my top rated quarterback) could be a great replacement for Mallett as they take a first round talent early in the fourth. If the Patriots flip Mallett today for a future second and maybe a fourth today, who could complain if they took Nassib or Matt Barkley? Why wouldn't you make that trade?
Defensive Tackle: Jesse Williams from Alabama is still available; the run stuffing lineman has fallen due to leg injuries which have caused some teams to take him completely off their draft boards. Williams was a potential first round talent and could play alongside the Patriots, especially if they wanted to run an even more versatile defense. Picture Williams as the spell for Wilfork in the 4-3, or even playing next to him and allowing Wilfork to rush the passer. Now think about the 3-4 where Wilfork can kick to end in a Haloti Ngata sort of role, with Williams playing nose.
Now think about the Patriots embarrassment of riches at linebacker (Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, heck even Rob Ninkovich) and think about the Patriots fielding a 2-5 defensive in certain scenarios (Hightower and Ninkovich or Chandler Jones at OLB, Mayo and Collins as the ILBs, Spikes at MLB). Williams would be a solid depth addition if he can be healthy.
Unfortunately, the depth at defensive tackle is mostly gone, leaving mostly projects for the seventh round. Players like Akeem Spence and Montori Hughes, but there's not as much depth as there is at other positions.
Trade Down: As likely as any of the other possibilities, the Patriots could trade down and away from 102 and pick up a later fourth and a fifth round pick, or maybe a future selection. The draft is still open season and Belichick and Nick Caserio could a whole number of things before the day is over.
What do you want the Patriots to do?