Columnist Court Weston will be breaking down the team needs for all 32 NFL teams this off-season. Next up, the Patriots…
1. Wide Receiver – Part of the reason Wes Welker finished the season No. 2 in receiving yards with 1,569 on a league-leading 122 receptions was due to New England’s lack of depth at the wideout position. Welker, who was franchised by the team this offseason, plays the slot spot and makes most of his grabs on short, over-the-middle routes. Deion Branch is no longer the receiving threat he once was and Chad Ochocinco had his worst year as a pro in 2011. The Patriots made a Super Bowl appearance relying on their tight ends, but were unable to complete their championship run with limited deep threats on the outside. New England owns picks Nos. 27 and 31 in the first round and Nos. 16 and 31 in the second. Expect the Pats to use at least one of those four picks on a receiver.
2. Defensive End – Andre Carter had a team-leading 10 sacks before tearing his quadriceps in Week 14 against Denver. Carter is a free agent, along with fellow DEs Shaun Ellis and Mark Anderson. Re-signing Carter should be a priority despite the question marks surrounding how his injury will affect his play. Anderson tied Carter for the team lead in sacks and should also be re-signed, but will get a lot of interest from other teams throughout free agency. Ellis had a down season and might not return. Adding another pass-rushing defensive end would go a long way for a defense that ranked 31st against the pass in 2011.
3. Safety – Getting to the opposing quarterback is not the sole reason New England’s defense was so poor against the pass. The Patriots’ secondary needs improvement, starting with the safety positions. New England signed former Charger Steve Gregory, but Gregory is nowhere near an elite safety in the NFL. The free agent pool has been depleted somewhat, so taking one or two safeties in the within the first three rounds of the draft makes sense for the Pats.
4. Cornerback – In addition to the safety position, cornerback is a definite need for the Super Bowl runners up. Devin McCourty made the Pro Bowl in 2010, but did not play at the same level in 2011. Kyle Arrington finished in a three-way tie for the league-lead in interceptions with seven, but Arrington was the beneficiary of errant passes not thrown his way and his pass coverage was suspect throughout the season. Tracy Porter remains a free agent and could help in the development of Arrington and McCourty.
5. Quarterback – No, the starter is solid. The backup, however, may not be as sturdy. Brian Hoyer has backed up Tom Brady for the past three seasons, but is a restricted free agent. The Patriots have tendered Hoyer at a second-round level, but that does not make him untouchable. Teams looking to solidify their own quarterbacks might see Hoyer as being worth a second-round pick. If that happens and New England does not match the opposing offer, the No. 2 quarterback becomes a definite need. As 2008 taught us, Brady is not immune to injury, and if he were to go down again, the Pats need a capable backup to run the show as Matt Cassel did three years ago.
Previously: The San Francisco 49ers
Next: The New York Giants