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What are the Patriots biggest remaining needs?

Posted by Erik Frenz  March 19, 2013 07:00 AM

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The offseason is far from over. There are still plenty of free agents on the market, and there's still a draft just over a month away.

It's a good thing, too, because there's still work to be done in improving the Patriots roster. Colleague Greg Bedard delivered his thoughts on the 15 positions on the roster the Patriots needed to fill. Here's the chart from his post:

bedard chart.png

Thus far, they have filled eight of the spots — swing tackle Will Svitek was added on Sunday and is not listed in the chart. That leaves seven holes on the roster.

Which ones are the biggest?

I asked fans to give their take on Twitter, and from the responses, it looks like we agree on several counts. Fitting, then, that this was one of the first responses I received.

1. X-Receiver

The Patriots offense has been one of the best in the league for years, despite lacking an elite boundary receiver. They've been missing a player like Randy Moss since they traded him to the Vikings in 2010.

lloyd's receptions by direction.pngThey thought they'd found an answer in Brandon Lloyd, but the Patriots opened up a hole at this spot by releasing Lloyd this weekend. Although they could still bring him back, they could also use an upgrade at the position regardless.

Lloyd was categorically not the same player in 2012 that he was in 2010 and 2011, when he broke out under Josh McDaniels, and there were some notable holes in his game including a lack of physicality and difficulty staying on his feet. He made some very difficult catches, though, and could very well find a groove in Year 2 with the Patriots if given another opportunity.

There are also plenty of options in the draft, with names like Terrance Williams (Baylor), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech) and DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) providing the best solutions from a size and skill set standpoint.

Tom Brady had the eighth-highest frequency of deep pass attempts in 2012, with 13.2 percent of his pass attempts traveling 20 yards or more through the air according to Pro Football Focus. His accuracy on such throws was only average, though, with catches and drops accounting for 40.5 percent of his deep attempts. Perhaps that number goes up with a better boundary threat to stretch the field.

2. Backup defensive tackle

The backup defensive tackle spot has been deteriorating for years.

  • In 2010 (Mike Wright's last year, with just 320 defensive snaps), the Patriots leaned on 543 snaps from defensive tackle Gerard Warren, along with a rotation of Ron Brace (285 snaps), Brandon Deaderick (258) and Myron Pryor (242).
  • In 2011, Vince Wilfork played 1,173 snaps and Kyle Love played 696 snaps. Shaun Ellis was largely ineffective in 421 snaps, and Deaderick saw his snap total rise to 383. Gerard Warren (371) continued to contribute, as well. Albert Haynesworth (134) was released after eight games.
  • In 2012, Wilfork (1,041) and Love (591) once again carried a significant load. The Patriots utilized defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (487) as an interior pass-rusher in some nickel packages. Deaderick (467) once again saw his snap total increase. Defensive ends Justin Francis (301) and Trevor Scott (289) were the only other defensive linemen to carry a significant workload in 2012.

Signing CFL defensive linemen Armond Armstead gives the Patriots one possible answer. He's a project, but Armstead is versatile enough to not only play in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, but to play multiple positions within those schemes.

Another move would help create a competition for the spot in training camp. Bears defensive linemen Israel Idonije is a name that comes to mind as a potential Patriots fit. He has played all over the line, having lined up at tackle and end spots in the 4-3 front over the years. He was the league's ninth-most productive pass-rushing defensive end in 2012, but at 6'7" and 290 pounds, he could play inside for the Patriots. His 20.5 sacks over the past three years are more than any Patriots defender in that span.

3. Situational defensive end

We don't agree on the order, but we do agree that all three of those are needs.

jonesbeforeandafterinjury_original_original.pngDefensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich ranked 25th and 31st respectively in pass-rushing productivity. An injection to the pass rush would be welcome, and the improved health of Jones (who was slowed down by an ankle injury) should also help.

The Patriots have been reportedly interested in free agent defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney, who have both visited Foxborough over the past week. New England has taken the veteran approach before, adding defensive ends Mark Anderson and Andre Carter prior to the 2011 season.

Abraham ranked sixth in pass-rushing productivity out of 43 defensive ends in 2012, and has been in the top six every year they've been keeping track of it back to 2008.


4. Right tackle

The Patriots have yet to re-sign free-agent right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and though bringing in Svitek helped address a need for a versatile backup tackle, they still lack a starter. Vollmer has been one of the best right tackles in the game, and ranked 22nd (out of 52) in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency (pressure allowed on a per-snap basis).

Why, then, isn't this need higher on the list? Quite simply, because of Dante Scarnecchia. So often, we've seen him work with a rough prospect and turn them into a serviceable starter. This has happened several times over the years at right tackle. In fact, the Patriots fielded four different starting right tackles from 2001-2004.

Vollmer figures to be their top in-house priority remaining on the market, but they could have competition now that Miami lost the services of Jake Long to the St. Louis Rams. They haven't been afraid to spend this offseason, but part of why they didn't re-sign Long was because of declining play and increasing injuries. It would be redundant to move on from one offensive tackle with an injury history to another offensive tackle with a different but similarly grim injury history.

5. Backup Z Receiver

The shakeups at wide receiver have been tremendous already for the Patriots, and more may be coming as they look for a backup to Danny Amendola.

They could go the flashy route with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots would need to forfeit a third-round pick for him, but it could be justified. The Z receiver is supposed to be versatile enough to stretch the field and pick up yards after the catch. Sanders' average of 5.1 yards after catch per reception was right in line with notable YAC receivers like Welker (5.7) and Ravens receiver Torrey Smith (4.9).

This spot is as easy to fill as re-signing Edelman. There have been no reported visits, interest or anything else that would indicate he's on his way out. He was in line for an increased workload at the start of the 2012 season, and his value might increase a bit now that Wes Welker is gone. WIthout Edelman, the Patriots would turn over their receiving corps completely from 2012 to 2013.

Bedard expects the Patriots to re-sign Edelman to be Amendola's backup. The Patriots sorely need depth here and could fill the spot with a player already familiar with the system.

If not, Stedman Bailey (West Virginia) could be a good choice in the second round of the draft. He's a little small at 5'10" but he had great production, leading the nation with 25 receiving touchdowns in 2012 and ranking third in receiving yards with 1,622. He is a versatile threat, lining up outside or in the slot, and makes hay after the catch. He is comparable in skill set, playing style and toughness to Panthers receiver Steve Smith.

Honorable mention: Cover linebacker

Well, Bill, that would imply the Patriots didn't get killed over the middle in their other games, when the truth is they ranked 29th against tight ends in coverage according to Football Outsiders.

This spot has been a revolving door for a couple of years now. It was Gary Guyton for a few years. Last year, it was Bobby Carpenter in training camp, and again for a few weeks during the 2012 season.

Khaseem Greene (Rutgers), Zac Brown (UNC) and Alec Ogletree (Georgia) all fit the profile of a versatile linebacker/safety type player who can line up in coverage on tight ends and still have the size to contribute against the run.

There's one hole, however, the Patriots can't fill.


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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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