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New England Patriots Team Needs

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New England Patriots Team Needs
By: Robert Davis

After back to back Super Bowl titles, the Patriots were unable to get back to the big game this season. Age and injuries took hits to the teams depth, and they have to address some holes on the team through the draft.

At the moment, wide receiver appears to be the most glaring need. Bethel Johnson and Deion Branch are the only names of note under contract for next year. Branch is a free agent next season, and Johnson has been a bust to date during his career. The starter opposite Branch is David Givens, and he is a UFA seeking big money that the Patriots will likely not offer. At least two quality receivers must be added to this unit, at least one likely via the draft.

After wideout, all the needs appear to be on even ground. The Pats have some players at their positions, but lack depth and age may catch up to them soon at these positions.

Running Back
Corey Dillon will be 32 years old this season, and is coming off an injury riddled season. The lack of depth at RB killed the Patriots this year when Dillon was out. Kevin Faulk is not an every down back, and Patrick Pass is a fullback. The team must find a back that can step in if Dillon goes down again and give the team some depth. A back to take over for Dillon in the future may also be needed. If one of the three first round talents at RB(Williams, White, Maroney) after Reggie Bush are on the board, the Patriots may seriously consider taking one. If not, a back on Day One looks like a safe bet considering the Pats have four picks in the first three rounds.

Inside Linebacker
This is a position that many people have labeled a need for many years, and this year it may be the year the team finally addresses the position via the draft. Tedy Bruschi was a boost coming back this season, but he is 33 years old, and will not play forever. Alongside him is Mike Vrabel, who is better suited outside, and two newcomers this past season; Chad Brown and Monty Beisel. Neither player made the impact expected. A player to learn from Bruschi and play in the rotation is a definite need. Belichick prefers veterans so this may be addressed in FA, but the team does need to inject some youth here at some point. Unless Chad Greenway is on the board at 21, the Pats will not address this need until later in the draft. He is a player that could project inside or out in a 3-4 defense, so his versatility may make him an attractive target if available.

Outside Linebacker
Rosevelt Colvin is back from his hip injury, but is not quite the same player. He is a solid player, but opposite him, the Patriots have a lot of question marks. Willie McGinest looks like he may not be back, which is a terrible thought to any longtime Patriot fan. Even if Willie is back, he will be 35 years old and cannot be expected to maintain his level of play forever. Tully Banta Cain will be entering his fourth year in the league, but may only be a reserve. Mike Vrabel and Chad Brown can both play here as well, but it takes away from the inside depth. The Patriots have to get a young player that can provide some speed and pass rushing ability on the outside. Manny Lawson of North Carolina St. and Mathias Kiwanuka of Boston College would help in the first, but they may not be on the board, and there may be better value later in the draft after them.

Injuries killed the Patriots at corner this year. They will return three solid youngsters in Asante Samuel, Randall Gay, and Ellis Hobbs, but none of them are true #1 corners. The team could use a bigger, all around playmaker at the spot. With the young talent, the Patriots may look to address this spot in free agency, but a #1 corner will command a big money contract. If a talented corner is to the Pats liking in the first two rounds, do not be surprised to see them select him.

Rodney Harrison is 33 and coming off a season ending knee injury. It is very difficult to count on him returning to his old self. At free safety, Eugene Wilson is a solid young safety, so he looks safe at that spot. Behind them though, the Pats have had to use street free agents to play key roles, and it just did not work. The Patriots 3rd rounder in 2004, Guss Scott, has shown some promise, but has had both NFL seasons end with a knee injury. Last years fourth round James Sanders was a project pick, but was forced into action last year, and still needs more time. If Belichick is concerned about Harrison coming back, this years draft is loaded with safety talent, and he could very well look for another body to throw into the mix.

Punt returner
This skill will ideally come in a WR, RB, or CB they select in the draft, but it is a big need in itself for the Patriots. Their punt return game is terrible, and must be upgraded.

As obvious as the team needs may look, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli never tip their hand at which way they will go in the draft. They are one of the tougher teams to project on who they will draft. With six picks in the first four rounds, and nine overall before compensatory picks, the Patriots may be very active on draft day.

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