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NFL Draft

State of the Patriots

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 22, 2010

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No team currently has more than the 12 picks the Patriots have in the draft, which begins tonight. Bill Belichick and his staff could have a field day flipping picks into players or more selections in the future. Belichick has never been afraid to pull the trigger on draft-day trades. But might the Patriots be better served drafting young players to stock the roster or even trying to acquire a young but proven player from another club? They have major needs along the defensive front seven, and wide receiver and tight end are areas requiring attention as well. From the early returns, it appears New England did well in the 2009 draft, but there is still work to be done. This is the prime of Tom Brady’s career, and it only makes sense to put the best possible team around him before age starts to take its toll. A position-by-position look at the Patriots (players listed with the year their contract expires):

Quarterback
Tom Brady (2010)
Brian Hoyer (2011)
Jeff Rowe (2010)
Though Brady does not have an extension in place, owner Robert Kraft said in no uncertain terms last month that New England wants its franchise quarterback back, and Brady wants to remain with the team, so it is unlikely that No. 12 will be elsewhere any time soon. The undrafted Hoyer surprisingly was the last backup standing last year, surviving challenges from veterans and youngsters alike, and seems intent on keeping his place - as well as pushing Brady. The Patriots hosted Florida’s Tim Tebow during the predraft process and recently worked out former Boston College quarterback Brian St. Pierre, a career backup.

Offensive line
LT Matt Light (2010)
LG Logan Mankins (2010)
C Dan Koppen (2011)
RG Stephen Neal (2011)
RT Sebastian Vollmer (2012)
G/C Dan Connolly (2011)
T Nick Kaczur (2012)
T Mark LeVoir (2011)
G Rich Ohrnberger (2012)
C Ryan Wendell (2011)
OL George Bussey (2012)
There figures to be a shuffling of the line, with Vollmer - who looks as though he will be the gem of the 2009 draft class - supplanting Kaczur on the right side. Mankins has been a mainstay since the day he was selected in 2005, and hasn’t missed a game or practice over five years, though he has been away from the team as he waits for his contract to be resolved. Neal reportedly was close to retiring before deciding to return; Connolly started four games in his stead last year, and also stepped in for Koppen when he was hurt during a November game. Despite numerous injuries on the line last year, the unit allowed just 18 sacks, a team record for fewest in a 16-game season.

Special teams
K Stephen Gostkowski (2010)
P David King (2010)
LS Jake Ingram (2012)
The Patriots recently signed former Aussie rules player King, but they are expected to bring in another punter, whether through the draft (Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko, Virginia Tech’s Brent Bowden) or free agency. Gostkowski remains solid, and seemed to have no issues with Ingram last year. With Ellis Hobbs jettisoned before the season, the Patriots uncharacteristically struggled on kick returns all year, but a healthy Brandon Tate could be the answer.

Running back
Kevin Faulk (2010)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010)
Laurence Maroney (2010)
Sammy Morris (2010)
Fred Taylor (2010)
In a perfect world, Maroney would be the early-down back, Morris would serve as the short-yardage back, Taylor would work as the goal-line back, and Faulk, as always, would be lining up all over the field. But Maroney has been a disappointment, Morris always seems to get hurt just as he’s starting to pick up steam, and Taylor missed a large chunk of last season with an ankle injury. Then there is the age factor: Of the four running backs in the league who will be 33 or older on opening day, three play in New England (Faulk, Morris, and Taylor; the other is Miami’s Ricky Williams). The Patriots hosted Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty and also worked out Mississippi’s Dexter McCluster.

Tight end
Alge Crumpler (2010)
Rob Myers (2010)
Robbie Agnone (2010)
It would seem that this position has changed in recent years. Where Belichick spent two first-round picks in three years on Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson, now the team is without a pass-catching tight end; more often than not, the tight end serves as a sixth lineman. Watson left in free agency and the team surprisingly released Chris Baker just a year after signing him to a five-year contract. Weight and age have turned former Pro Bowler Crumpler into a blocker. Myers and Agnone spent last year on the practice squad. It will be interesting to see whether the Patriots take a tight end high in the draft; Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski or Miami’s Jimmy Graham could be a good second-round pickup.

Wide receiver
Randy Moss (2010)
Julian Edelman (2012)
Torry Holt (2010)
Wes Welker (2011)
Sam Aiken (2011)
David Patten (2011)
Matthew Slater (2011)
Brandon Tate (2012)
Isaiah Stanback (2010)
Darnell Jenkins (2010)
They were already in need of quality depth at this position, but with Welker on the shelf, likely for the fi rst couple of months of the season, the problem is even bigger. Moss remains a deep threat and Edelman showed fl ashes of potential. Holt has lost a step but is savvy enough that he should be able to get separation, and also is a crisp route runner, a big plus with Brady. Teammates are impressed by Tate, who may also prove to be the team’s best return man. Aiken had one impressive catch against Miami, but there’s a reason the special teams standout has only 47 career receptions in seven years. The Patriots hosted Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant, a potential first-round pick, and Notre Dame’s Golden Tate may be appealing in the second round.

Linebackers
OLB Tully Banta-Cain (2012)
ILB Jerod Mayo (2012)
ILB Gary Guyton (2010)
OLB Pierre Woods (2010)
OLB Adalius Thomas (2011)
OLB Shawn Crable (2011)
ILB Tyrone McKenzie (2012)
ILB Eric Alexander (2010)
OLB Rob Ninkovich (2011)
LB Marques Murrell (2011)
LB Bruce Davis (2010)
LB Thomas Williams (2010)
Yes, the Patriots traditionally play four linebackers, but as of right now, it is impossible to pin down the fourth starter. Thomas is on the outs and isn’t expected to be on the roster much longer. After getting some starts in 2008, Woods’s snap count decreased last year. And Crable hasn’t played a down in two years. New England is in dire need of a pass rusher; fans need only recall the amount of time Miami’s Chad Henne got to throw last November as Exhibit A. McKenzie, coming off a torn ACL, is an intriguing prospect at inside linebacker. The consensus is that Mayo rushed back from his early-season knee injury too soon; he should start the season at full strength. The Patriots could tap Texas Christian’s Jerry Hughes or Clemson’s Ricky Sapp, who had a six-hour private workout with New England.

Defensive line
DE Ty Warren (2013)
NT Vince Wilfork (2014)
DE Mike Wright (2012)
NT/DE Ron Brace (2012)
NT Myron Pryor (2012)
DE/NT Damione Lewis (2010)
DE Darryl Richard (2010)
DL Adrian Grady (2010)
DL Amon Gordon (2010)
For the New England defense to be at its best, the men in the trenches need to dominate the line of scrimmage - something that wasn’t always the case last year. Wilfork will remain the anchor of this group thanks to his new five-year deal. Warren and Wright continue to be mainstays as well. Pryor was an unexpected contributor as a rookie, seeing a number of snaps at nose tackle, while second-rounder Brace was inactive for most of the year; much is expected of the Massachusetts native. A strong locker room addition, the veteran Lewis will be learning how to play 3-4 for the first time in his career. Penn State’s Jared Odrick and Austen Lane of Murray State have the size and power the Patriots look for.

Secondary
B Leigh Bodden (2013)
S Brandon Meriweather (2011)
S James Sanders (2011)
CB Darius Butler (2012)
CB/S Shawn Springs (2011)
S Brandon McGowan (2010)
CB Jonathan Wilhite (2011)
CB Terrence Wheatley (2011)
S Pat Chung (2012)
CB Kyle Arrington (2010)
DB Bret Lockett (2010)
Retaining Bodden was a good move; New England had been searching for a top corner since Asante Samuel left town, and Bodden played well in his first year with the team. After some shaky play in the middle of the season, the secondary improved once Sanders returned to the starting lineup. McGowan has great energy but can be undisciplined. Springs had a difficult season, dealing with a lingering knee problem while practicing at safety but playing at corner during games; he could move to safety this year. Wheatley was in a strange sort of exile in ’09, though some teammates say he is a better corner than Wilhite. Overall, a solid group that depends on the front seven pressuring quarterbacks to be at its best.

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