The New England Patriots went through hell in 2013, having to cut star tight end Aaron Hernandez due to ugly off field issues, while also dealing with the loss of key free agents, Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead. Add in key injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen, and it was a minor miracle the Pats worked their way to 12-4.
When it was all said and done, Tom Brady and co. were back in another AFC title game and ultimately were probably a little better than people thought they were. Since the season ended, they’ve said goodbye to Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount, brought in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and survived a mini temper tantrum by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
With good healthy, they should be just as good, if not better, in 2014. With that said, they still have some work to do. Let’s break down their key draft needs as we countdown to the 2014 NFL Draft on May 8th:
Offensive Needs: TE, OL, RB
Rob Gronkowski hopes to be ready for week one but we all thought he would be last year and now he has a whole new injury. Suddenly the Pats are dying at tight end, making it a real priority. Wide receiver has somewhat been addressed by re-signing Julian Edelman and bringing in Brandon LaFell, so the focus could be on a guy like Jace Amaro at the end of the first round. Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be a name to watch, though, either at that same spot in round one or in round two (if he slides due to injury).
The Patriots also need to re-work their offense line in general. The immobile Tom Brady has taken more hits over the past couple of years and without a steady rushing game, his protection seems to deteriorate pretty quickly. They should be looking for quality talent at center and guard mostly for now, but if someone like Taylor Lewan did a free fall to them in round one, they should consider it.
Last, but certainly not least, is running back. The Pats let Danny Woodhead walk last year with the more explosive Shane Vereen in mind, and he needed wrist surgery after just one week. He returned and was awesome, but now LeGarrette Blount is gone and New England will have that long stretch of missed time by Vereen in the back of their minds. Add in Stevan Ridley’s fumbling woes, and it might be time for the Pats to add another back to the mix. They probably wouldn’t do it until the second or third round at the earliest, however.
Defensive Needs: DL, CB, ILB
Brandon Spikes is a free agent still. New England could hold onto him, but if they don’t they’ll want to take a look at some inside linebackers this May. Otherwise, their two biggest defensive needs are in their secondary and on their defensive line. Darrelle Revis is a fantastic get for one year, but they need to think down the road. That could mean taking a stab at a corner as early as round one, but they’ll definitely draft one at some point. Safety could also be looked at, although the healthy return of Adrian Wilson could make that less of an issue.
The biggest issue on defense for now appears to be the defensive line. On the interior, the 32-year old Vince Wilfork is coming off of an Achilles injury. He’s signed for the next three years, but New England needs depth at the minimum and possibly someone who can take over down the road. If the right inside presence falls to them, that could be where they go in round one. They also could add more pass-rushing help at defensive end, but this is more of a depth issue than a pressing upgrade issue.
*Photo credit – Mark Runyon | Pro Football Schedules