Patriot Priorities For 2015: Most Pressing Need
The day any of us can predict what Bill Belichick will do is the day hell freezes over AND Robert Kraft comes by our house and asks our advice on drafting the next Randy Moss or Tom Brady. It's the day that that letter arrives in the mailbox saying that Roger Goodell would like to pass the mantle of the NFL Commissionership to us.
It's hard enough to evaluate all that raw talent coming out for the draft each year, taking into account character concerns and the difference between game tape and combine performance, not to mention pro-days...
As much as so many would like to see the Pariots grab some elite talent at wide receiver to "stretch the field" for Brady, or a bruising running back to lock-in a dominant running game for the first time in over a decade, the real question that BB will answer on day one is: what is the biggest hole in the Patriot's roster right now?
And the answer to that question is different depending on whom you ask. Fewer analysts are mocking either of the aforementioned positions to the Pats, in favor of one of the less glamorous positions.
Here's my take on the most pressing need.
The bottom line is that the Patriots let their two top starting cornerbacks walk away, which was as surprising as sunrise this morning. We knew that Revis was in it for the ring, and a boat-load of money. The Patriots were not going to ante-up. Browner wasn't much more of a mystery.
While the Patriots have always managed to get by with "lesser talent" on the back end of the defense, the drop-off seems too big to ignore this time. For 2015 to not be a disaster, help is needed here. The depth is decent at the CB position, but the Patriots should seriously consider using their first pick on the best corner available.
2. Defensive line.
The next biggest hole created by free agency was the departure of Vince Wilfork. We all were aghast at this decision, but the deed is done and we have to move on with the team. With Alan Branch, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, and Dominique Easley in the rotation up front, I am optimistic that the middle of the line is in good shape.
The addition of Jabaal Sheard helps to provide depth behind Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, which was a concern last year. That could even free Ninkovich to shore-up the inebacking corps some of the time if Jerod Mayo or Dant'a Hightower aren't 100%.
If Belichick likes what he sees at #32, then he may very well take a flyer on the next big thing (Wilfork prototype) at nose tackle. Carl Davis from Iowa and Eddie Goldman from Florida State could fit the bill nicely. Who is available at that point may decide Bill's choice of biggest need.
This is a perfect opportunity for Bill to do what has almost become known for and trade out of the first into the second round. I don't see that happening since the bigger hole is on the corners.
If tackles are the hot commodity on day one, then there are some good options to fill-in for Revis Island. One intriguing prospect in Trae Waynes from Michigan State. Except for being a little light at 186, Waynes would be able to join the mix right away with his speed (top performer at the combine) and ball skills.
But it is unlikely he would slip to the Patriots, so keep your eyes on Jalen Collins of LSU and Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest. Along with a handful of decent corners, the possibilities are pretty good that Belichick finds a contributor in this class.
The key will be how Belichick and Matt Patricia scheme the defense. I'd like to see a better pass rush, but a healthy Easley along with Sheard spelling Nink and Jones on the end might just provide the push they need there.
Without a true lock-down corner (unless they get lucky and land Waynes), I don't see New England staying with man-coverage. They will be facing some dangerous units, namely Dallas and Indy, with Dez Bryant and Andre Johnson on tap. And the AFC East got a little tougher this off-season. The Bills, especially, did a good job bringing in some talent, most notably LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay. It remains to be seen if Matt Cassell is the spark they need to compete with the Patriots.
But the Patriot's ship is not sinking, and as long as Tom Brady is onboard, and Belichick keeps significant pieces like Devin McCourty on the crew, they are bound for the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Of the two positions of concern, I have to lean towards corner being the most, pressing need.
When we look back at the ten-year dearth in title hopes, the common denominator, though not necessarily the only lack, was a lock-down corner. As much as I would love to see Alphonzo Dennard and/or Logan Ryan reemerge as the top corner, the reality is that another piece will at least push the rest of the unit to higher levels of play.
2014 showed us the difference an island makes. In the 2015 draft, Belichick could ground at least one side of the field every week.