Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio is the latest on the list of people in NFL circles to express upon the depth of the 2014 NFL draft class.
There are a record 98 draft-eligible underclassmen in this year's class, and according to Caserio, those underclassmen may be the very fabric of this draft.
"[They've] certainly added a degree of depth to the draft," he said in his annual pre-draft news conference at Gillette Stadium.
One other thing they've added is a degree of difficulty with regards to evaluation. First of all, some of the underclassmen are only 20 or 21 years old. Many of them have yet to fully mature, from a physical or personal standpoint. Caserio also mentioned that there is a shorter period of time to evaluate those players.
"You sort of have to fast forward everything, and you really have February-March-April to sort of get the information, make sure it's correct, and ultimately make the evaluation of the player."
That being said, once the evaluations have been made, the picture gets clearer.
"There are certain positions, like there are every year, of strength," he added. "The receiver position is a deep group, there's a deep group of running backs, I'd say there's a deep group of defensive linemen that are different types of players."
Running back is considered a position of long-term need for the Patriots this offseason, with Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden all entering the final year of their contracts in 2014. Defensive line is a need, as well, with question marks about the long-term viability of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, both over 32 years old and coming off season-ending injuries (Achilles for Wilfork, ACL for Kelly).
Wide receiver is not regarded as an immediate need, due to the drafting of both Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in 2013. Caserio was asked about that very subject, but said that previous decisions and players already on the roster would not prevent the Patriots from dipping into that deep pool of receivers if the opportunity presents itself.
"You never want to pass up a player," he said. "Look, if there is equal value, maybe you go to a different position. But if there's a good football player and he's head and shoulders above the rest, then internally we have to make that decision. You don't want to pass on a player just because he has a position where there might be numbers or volume or whatever the case may be."
There are several needs the Patriots could address in the draft, but Caserio expressed confidence in the players already on the roster.
"If you look at our team — just where we are today — if we had to go out there and play a game, we feel that we could field a competitive team. So, you try to go through, and in the end, you try to find the players that you feel fit best for your team, regardless of their position."
Teams that draft for need often find themselves drafting for those same needs a couple years later. The Patriots have used free agency to check off the boxes for their needs, while supplementing their roster with the most talented players available in the draft.
This could be a year where need and value walk hand-in-hand for the Patriots during draft weekend.