No. 2: starting left cornerback. The Patriots basically don’t have any cornerbacks beyond Alfonzo Dennard, who is facing jail time. This is a position where the Patriots like to have a big cornerback who can play man-to-man. Aqib Talib is a free agent. How to fill: Patriots would prefer to re-sign Talib, in whom they invested a fourth-round pick and who received 400 snaps. Beyond that, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles), Keenan Lewis (Steelers), Nnamdi Asomugha (Eagles), Antoine Cason (Chargers), and Cary Williams (Ravens) are among those who fit the prototype. Prudent to get this player early in free agency.
No. 3: starting outside “X” receiver. The Patriots have been searching for this player since they traded Randy Moss. Chad Johnson (complete bust) and Lloyd (average production) were not good enough to open up the middle of the field for the other weapons. How to fill: Draft a receiver in the first round, move Hernandez to X in the interim, and allow Jake Ballard be the second tight end with Gronkowski.
No. 4: third/slot corner. Kyle Arrington thinks he’ll get paid on the open market. Look for the Patriots to leverage him against a free agent slot player such as Brice McCain of the Texans. How to fill: re-sign Arrington and/or second-round pick.
No. 5: third receiver/backup outside X receiver. If Lloyd isn’t brought back, the Patriots have no legitimate receivers to start free agency. This doesn’t have to be a dynamic downfield guy (though that would help), just a good receiver who can contribute. How to fill: sign David Nelson (Bills), or another mid-priced free agent.
No. 6: Pass rushing defensive tackle. The Patriots tried to unsuccessfully fill this spot last year with Red Bryant (re-signed by Seahawks) and then ultimately Fanene (knee problem). Getting Armond Armstead from the CFL doesn’t make this a desperate spot, but they’d love someone. How to fill: compete for Desmond Bryant (Raiders).
No. 7: backup versatile Z receiver. This should be Julian Edelman’s spot if he doesn’t get the contract he thinks he should on the market. How to fill: re-sign Edelman.
No. 8: Third pass-rushing end. This would be higher on my personal list, but the Patriots have more pressing needs. How to fill: sign best veteran looking to trade money for a ring, such as Dwight Freeney (Colts) or Israel Idonije (Bears).
No. 9: Competition at right tackle. With Sebastian Vollmer expected to land a big contract on the open market, the Patriots have Marcus Cannon slotted at right tackle. Need to find a veteran to compete. How to fill: Let line coach Dante Scarnecchia pick a guy late and cheap in free agency, or via trade in camp.
No. 10: Competition at safety. Compared with some positions, the Patriots actually have players here, with McCourty and Tavon Wilson penciled in as starters, so it’s not a huge concern internally. But Ed Reed will be awfully tempting. How to fill: Draft, third round.
No. 11: Backup/competition guard. Nick McDonald is a solid, versatile guy to have around but he’s not a starter should Dan Connolly get hurt again. How to fill: late free agency.
No. 12: fourth cornerback. Patriots found this guy (Dennard) in seventh round and he wound up starting. Looking for a repeat. How to fill: Draft, seventh round.
No. 13: swing tackle. If Vollmer is gone, the Patriots have no one to back up at left tackle — which would make them like every other team. Ideally this would be filled by need No. 9, but more bodies are needed in any event. How to fill: Draft, seventh round or undrafted free agent.
No. 14: backup flex tight end. The Patriots probably have this guy coming back in Brad Herman, who was an undrafted free agent last year before getting hurt. But the Patriots never can have enough backups for Hernandez, who hasn’t stayed healthy yet. How to fill: undrafted free agent.