NFL Network's Mike Mayock is one of the two or three most respected draft experts out there, so when he's talking, we're listening.
With the NFL Combine getting underway in a week, the network made Mayock available on a conference call to discuss teams' needs and players.
He was asked a general question about the Patriots' needs, and to Mayock, their opening picks should be focused on one side of the ball.
"They’ve got two picks in the first round, what a surprise," said Mayock, who played at Boston College. "Bill (Belichick) is a master at letting the board come to him, so I don’t even think Bill will know really until that last week prior to the draft what specific players he’s interested in, but the way I look at it is, it’s got to be all about defense.
"You’re sitting there with two picks, with the ability to move up, down or stay at 27 and 31, and in a league where it’s a pass-first league – and we all, I was kind of happy to see the return of defense in the playoffs and the Super Bowl, but let’s be honest about it, there’s a lot of teams, including the Patriots, that want a track meet every week, which means you’ve got to rush the quarterback and you’ve got to defend on the back end and I think those are the two areas of need that cry out for some help in the draft for the Patriots."
Would a back-end player be a cornerback or a safety?
"The way I see it is who’s the best player available in those slots? Because you need help everywhere," he said.
And if New England were to try to bolster its offense, Mayock agrees with many a Patriots fan: stretch-the-field receiver.
"Probably at wide receiver. (Wes) Welker has had career years and those two tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) are exceptional, which has kind of changed the way a lot of people look at offense in this league and I think you have to give Bill and his coaching staff a lot of credit for crafting what they’ve crafted with that offense.
"However, having said that, Welker and the tight ends, they’re based in the middle of the field more than they are vertically and I think a vertical wide receiver could really help them."