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4 biggest areas of need for Patriots in 2014 draft

05.08.14 at 8:05 am ET

With the Patriots holding the 29th pick in the first round of Thursday’s draft, here are the four biggest areas of need for the team.

1. Defensive lineman

The fact that the Patriots went out and re-upped Vince Wilfork is a good thing, but it’s clearly time to start planning for the post-Wilfork era. The big bodies they’ve acquired over the last few seasons — guys like Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Joe Vellano and Isaac Sopoaga — all have been stopgap individuals. Nice complementary players, but hardly the types you can build a defense around. When New England has really invested up front, it has inevitably come away with a key player. Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Wilfork all have been key parts of the Patriots defensive front. And while Wilfork will be around for another few years, it’s time to start grooming the next great New England defensive lineman. That means going after someone like Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, Louis Nix or Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame or Florida’s Dominique Easley — versatile defensive linemen who not only show an ability to hold up at the point of attack against the run, but also penetrate into the backfield and get after quarterbacks and running backs. (We’re going to assume that Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan and Pitt’s Aaron Donald will be off the board.)

2. Tight end

With tight end now a question mark for the Patriots — and the possibility of New England adding a veteran like Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley — this area appears to still be a question mark for the Patriots. However, there are several draftable tight end possibilities for New England over the first few rounds, including the hyperathletic and versatile Jace Amaro from Texas Tech, a bruiser in C.J. Fiedorowicz from Iowa, the versatile Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington or Notre Dame‘s Troy Niklas. One wild card in the tight end process is Oregon’s Colt Lyerla — a tremendously athletic presence who has a ton of red flags because of off-field issues, and was later kicked off the team. Regardless, look for New England to focus on tight end on one of the first two days of the draft.

“Obviously [the Patriots have] had some age and injury issues on their interior defensive line with Wilfork and Tommy Kelly,” NFL Network Mike Mayock said of the Patriots. “[But] I also think a tight end would be intriguing there. A guy like Jace Amaro from Texas Tech, who I have a second-round grade on, kind of gives them another option at tight end with [Rob] Gronkowski. I find that intriguing, kind of playing that [Aaron] Hernandez role.”

3. Safety

It’s been a weird offseason for the Patriots at the safety spot. New England let Adrian Wilson walk after the vet spent the entire 2013 season on the shelf, and it released veteran Steve Gregory after two relatively uneventful years with the Patriots. Then New England re-signed Pat Chung, a former second-round pick who spent the 2013 season with the Eagles in Philly. There’s been talk about the Patriots moving Logan Ryan from corner to free safety, but you still figure that New England could be in the market for some help at the strong safety spot. That means Washington State’s Deone Bucannon, Minnesota’s Brock Vereen (the brother of New England running back Shane Vereen), Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri or Wisconsin’s Dezman Southward, all of whom are considered second- or third-day possibilities for the Patriots.

“I think the safety situation at some point needs to be addressed,” Mayock added. “As you know with Bill [Belichick], you never know what’s going to happen except for the fact he’s probably going to move down and around.”

4. Backup linebacker (specifically, a coverage linebacker)

Asked if they preferred rushing the passer or dropping into coverage on third down, both Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins both indicated this past week that they’d rather rush instead of dropping into coverage. While New England likely will look to play nickel coverage on passing downs (substituting an extra defensive back for a linebacker), the Patriots’ linebacking depth has taken a hit this offseason with the departure of Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher, and New England could not only use an extra body or two at the position, but a linebacker who can run with tight ends and running backs. It’s not an overwhelming priority, but given the fact that the Patriots lost Spikes and Fletcher, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them chase after a linebacker sometime on Day 3 or a couple of linebackers as potential underrated free agents when the draft is done.



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