There are three clear needs and it only makes sense based upon the roster turnover. Of the Patriots starting 22, only four players are no longer on the roster:
Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner
Defensive Interior Vince Wilfork
Offensive Interior Dan Connolly
While Connolly remains a candidate to return, it's clear that most believe the Patriots should do their best to improve the interior lineman position, regardless of whether or not he signs back with the team.
The poll results align with the above departures; Cornerback leads the way with 35% of the vote, with Offensive Interior close behind with 34% of the vote. Defensive Interior holds 21% of the vote, meaning that all other positions sum up to 10% of the vote.
When planning for the draft, it's important to not conflate draft need with draft timing. While there could be a great argument that finding a starting guard is the most important hole to fill on the roster, it's also important to note that Bill Belichick has only selected one interior offensive linemen (IOL) inside the top 100 picks, and Logan Mankins was a converted tackle.
Belichick believes that he can get an IOL starter in the middle rounds, so perhaps taking a different position in the first and second rounds, while nabbing an IOL in the third round is still addressing a top need. It's about allocating draft capital, and mid-round IOL have more success than mid-round cornerbacks.
So the Patriots can bypass an opening round IOL and still have success, and that's what I believe will happen.
Our friends over at On The Clock offer a mock draft simulator where you can run the Patriots draft for yourself. I'm only running the first four rounds out of personal preference, but also because Belichick and company view the later rounds as a chance to grab their preferred free agents. Here's my result.
32. CB Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest - The Patriots grabbed Jamie Collins from one of the worst teams in college football and Johnson fits the bill. He's versatile enough, and smart enough, to play press, off-man, and zone coverage. He has the best break on the ball in all of college football. He's a future top cornerback and he's a great fit.
64. DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State - Cooper is one of the most athletic defensive linemen in the draft and he offers a skill set Belichick would love. He flashes Cameron Heyward, who has developed into a cornerstone for the Steelers defense, and plays in every line role of both the 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.
96. OL Donovan Smith, Penn State - Smith is a beast with plenty of experience at left tackle. There were times where he didn't play to the whistle, but he offers strength and size that could become a top mauling right guard.
98. RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama - This was a value pick as there are a bunch of running backs that fit as 2nd round prospects. I have Yeldon as a late 2nd as one of the most well-rounded prospects (he can run, block, and catch) and he'd be a perfect fit in New England's rotation.
128. WR Breshad Perriman, Central Florida - Another value pick as Perriman could be a steal at receiver. He flashes big mitts (the way he attacks the ball reminds me of Rob Gronkowski) and he has athleticism and route running ability that fits the Patriots offense. There is little trust at the wide receiver position behind Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, so all depth is up for competition.
So use the comments to talk about mock drafts, prospects, and more. It's draft season!