2014 NFL Draft primer: New England Patriots
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This is the latest primer in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit. The draft begins Thursday, May 8.
PICK NO. 29: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2013 record: 12-4
Key offseason acquisitions: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, WR Brandon LaFell.
Key offseason departures: CB Aqib Talib, MLB Brandon Spikes, RB LeGarrette Blount.
Biggest holes: Tight end, defensive line, interior offensive line.
On paper, 2013 looked about the same as it usually does for the Patriots. They won the AFC East and made it all the way to the AFC title game. Ho hum.
But Tom Brady didn't look quite same without his usual two tight end threats, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. His 25 touchdown passes were the fewest in a full season since 2006, when he had 24. His 4.0 touchdown percentage also was a career-low. With Hernandez in prison and Gronkowski unable to stay healthy, the Patriots need to get Brady another big target.
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro likely would be the pick if the Patriots went that route. Amaro, like Gronkowski and Hernandez, is a "joker" tight end who can line up anywhere on the field - in-line, as a flanker or in the slot. His 6-5, 265-pound frame makes him too big to cover with a cornerback or a safety in the slot, yet he's too quick for linebackers to cover in-line. He did struggle a little with catching the ball at the Combine, but he did catch 106 passes during his junior season.
There aren't many other tight ends worth a first-round pick here, so it's possible that the Patriots could wait until the middle rounds to address the need, as they did with Gronk and Hernandez in 2010. Their next biggest need is more about planning for the future: nose tackle. Vince Wilfork will be 33 in November and is coming off a torn Achilles. He re-negotiated a three-year, $23-million deal in the offseason, but the final two years are options, so it's more like a one-year deal.
Notre Dame's Louis Nix is a prototypical nose tackle and would be a great replacement for Wilfork when his time is up. Nix is 6-2 and 331 pounds but moves very well for a guy of his size. He's a space-eater who uses his strength to drive blockers back. Of course, he may not slide this far in the first place. There are a few teams ahead of the Patriots who need a nose tackle as well.
Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman also may be an option. He has excellent size at 6-6 and 310 pounds, has 34 1/4-inch arms and put up 32 reps on the bench press. He has the versatility that the Patriots seem to look for in defensive linemen - he can play inside or as a five-technique defensive end. Hageman is raw and disappears at times on film, but he would be afforded a chance to develop in Bill Belichick's defense.
The Patriots also could look for help along the offensive line, particularly inside. Longtime guard Logan Mankins is 32, and Dan Connolly will be 32 in September. Marcus Cannon is currently a reserve option, but the Patriots could use another young guard to groom behind those two.
Nevada's Joel Bitonio would be a good pick here. Bitonio was a good tackle in college, but shone as a guard during Senior Bowl workouts and is best suited there in the pros. Still, his ability to play either inside or outside in a pinch is a positive. Bitonio is athletic, tough and intelligent. He could sit and learn the nuances of playing guard until he's ready to supplant Mankins or Connolly, whenever that may be.
UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo also may be an option here. He's the most NFL-ready guard in the draft and uses his athleticism to get to the second level or pull on running plays. He's also strong enough to open up holes in the run game. If the Patriots are looking for more of an immediate replacement on the line, they'd be better off with Su'a-Filo.
Possible second- or third-day picks include Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas, Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, Delaware defensive tackle Zach Kerr, Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers, Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort and Furman guard Dakota Dozier.