FOXBOROUGH – Through one round of the NFL draft, the long-time wish of Patriots fans has been acquiesced: Bill Belichick has addressed the pass rush.
Now, following Belichick and company selecting Syracuse’s Chandler Jones and Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower with the 21st and 25th overall picks, the team has to fill other glaring holes for both the short and long term.
Short term? Even with 13 free-agent signings this offseason, including safety Steve Gregory, the Patriots have to be concerned about their secondary. The NFL’s 31st-best pass defense – or for the pessimist, 2d worst pass defense – is in need of some quality talent. With Devin McCourty likely moving over to safety regularly, a top-flight cornerback could help ease the team’s woes, especially if Ras-I Dowling doesn’t pan out in his return from an injury that sidelined him most of his rookie season. Among the top corners remaining include North Alabama’s troubled but dynamic Janoris Jenkins, Central Florida’s Josh Robinson (5-10, 4.33 40), and Oklahoma’s Jamell Fleming (23 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press at the combine). Inject any one of these guys into the Patriots’ secondary and they’ll instantly improve in size, speed, or strength.
In the long term, they have to consider who is going to be catching Tom Brady’s passes in 2013. Seven of the 10 Patriots receivers are either on the last year of their contract or working on 1-year deals. Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd may already be gone, but there’s plenty of talent in the mid-second round. Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill is still on the board. At 6-4, 215 pounds, and a 4.36 40-yard dash, he has the rare combination of freakish size and speed most teams covet.
But if the Patriots are interested in versatility, look no further than Wake Forest’s Chris Givens, who played both receiver and running back in college. He sports a 4.41 40-yard dash and stands 5-feet-11, 198 pounds.
Then there’s LSU’s Rueben Randle, an All-SEC player who had 53 catches for 973 yards and eight touchdowns in the toughest conference in college football.
The Patriots have two picks in the second round at Nos. 48 and 62. If any one of those players listed above are within range, it would make an awful lot of sense to trade up for them, too. The value is there.