With starters Solder and Vollmer and Cannon as a swing tackle, New England is strong on the ends of the line, and the starting three in the middle— Mankins, Wendell and Connolly — isn’t too shabby, either. Svitek was brought in for veteran depth, and Zusevics may be in future plans. If there’s a place the Patriots could use a pick here, it’s at guard/center, where there isn’t much beyond the current starters. Tennessee’s Dallas Thomas or Alvin Bailey, who protected Mallett at Arkansas, could be fits.
DEFENSIVE LINE: DE Chandler Jones (2015), DE Jake Bequette (2015), DE/DT Armond Armstead* (2015), DE Jason Vega* (2015), DT Vince Wilfork (2014), DE Justin Francis (2014), DT Tommy Kelly* (2014), DT Marcus Forston (2014), DE Tracy Robertson* (2014), DT Kyle Love (2013), DE Rob Ninkovich (2013), DT Brandon Deaderick (2013), DE/DT Jermaine Cunningham (2013), DE Marcus Benard* (2013).
With as many players as there are on the roster here, there could still be some additions. When Jones went out of the AFC title game early, there wasn’t a credible pass rusher opposite Ninkovich. Toward the top of the draft, Southern Methodist’s Margus Hunt, who only began playing football four years ago, or Texas’s Alex Okafor, noted for his high motor, could be intriguing. The Patriots might also look for young depth at defensive tackle, perhaps a player who could be Wilfork’s successor. Before a heart attack in 2011 essentially ended his career at Southern Cal, Armstead was crafting a good career for himself; health concerns led to him playing in Canada last year.
LINEBACKER: Jerod Mayo (2017), Dont’a Hightower (2015), Jeff Tarpinian (2014), Brandon Spikes (2013), Mike Rivera (2013), Dane Fletcher (2013). Niko Koutouvides (2013).
The starting trio of Mayo, Hightower, and Spikes has promise as a unit, but there really isn’t much behind them. Mayo is a field general and one of the players Belichick most trusts, and a healthy Spikes showed how effective he can be against the run. The team will be looking for Hightower to take that second-season step forward. Rivera and Tarpinian played very limited roles on defense last year (19 snaps each). Fletcher was a spot starter in 2011 but lost the entire 2012 season to a torn ACL. Connecticut’s Sio Moore, a smart, athletic prospect, had Belichick in attendance for his pro day last month.
CORNERBACK: Kyle Arrington (2016), Alfonzo Dennard (2015), Ras-I Dowling (2014), Aqib Talib (2013), Marquice Cole (2013).
The Patriots still need another cornerback. If Talib is healthy, he has one side of the field, and Dennard was solid in his rookie season. Arrington’s work ethic and reliability were rewarded with a four-year contract, and he seemed to shine at the “star” or slot position when he was moved there later in the year. With just eight games under his belt over two seasons, Dowling remains a mystery. Every top corner in the draft — Washington’s Desmond Trufant, Houston’s D.J. Hayden, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor, and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks — has been predicted as a potential Patriots target. At this point, it seems, Patriots fans will take any player who can help.
SAFETY: Tavon Wilson (2015), Nate Ebner (2015), Adrian Wilson (2015), Devin McCourty (2014), Steve Gregory (2014), Malcolm Williams (2013).
Keeping McCourty at safety, giving Tavon Wilson a larger role, and signing veteran Adrian Wilson makes this position look better than it did a year ago. Gregory had his share of ups and downs, and could see his role altered. Belichick made the call on making Tavon Wilson a second-round pick last April, so he believes in what he can become. McCourty is excited to have Adrian Wilson aboard, both for his wealth of knowledge after 10-plus years in the NFL and for his hard-hitting style. Director of player personnel Nick Caserio did mention Florida’s Matt Elam by name Monday — did he tip New England’s hand?
SPECIALISTS: K Stephen Gostkowski (2014), P Zoltan Mesko (2013), LS Danny Aiken (2013).
Gostkowski almost always has a small slump at some point in the season but he is otherwise a model of consistency. He was particularly strong from 45 yards and longer last year, going 7 for 9, and was third in the league in touchbacks on kickoffs. Mesko was a bit inconsistent, though he isn’t called upon nearly as much as some of his counterparts around the league. Aiken never has a bad snap — and that’s all Belichick wants from his long snapper.