This year's draft is just days away, and the New England Patriots are busy evaluating every last player who will be available once the process begins April 25.
The immediate need appears to be at wide receiver with Brandon Lloyd gone and Wes Welker now in Denver, having been replaced by the capable, yet oft-injured Danny Amendola.
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The good news about this year's class is there appears to be plenty of size available among the wide receivers, which has been a sore spot for the Patriots in the past. Lloyd (6-foot) is the tallest receiver the Patriots have had since Randy Moss broke the touchdown record in 2007, and they've always lacked that tall, deep threat who can outrun cornerbacks down the sideline or be durable enough to roam the middle of the field.
There might not be any Randy Moss-type receivers out there, but it's obvious the Patriots want to upgrade at that position, as evident by the fact they tried to pry Emmanuel Sanders away from the Steelers.
Some of the available names are DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, Chris Harper of Kansas State and Da'Rick Rogers of Tennessee Tech. None of them project as a No. 1 receiver based on their physical traits Harper and Hopkins are 6-foot-1, and Rogers is 6-foot-3 but they are among the top 40 on most teams' draft boards. The question is whether or not any of them are worth the 29th overall pick, which is where the Patriots will start Thursday, or whether or not they'll be available around that time.
There's also the possibility of the Patriots flip-flopping and using their early-round picks on a draft-day deal. Starting with the 29th pick, they have three selections within a span of 63 picks (29, 59 and 91). The Patriots do not currently possess any picks, however, in rounds four through six. They do have the 20th and 29th picks of the seventh round.
The Patriots have some leverage in that they could flip a couple of picks for an established veteran receiver, which, essentially is as good, if not better, than drafting someone without the proven skills and track record. Deals like this are rare, though, but if anyone can pull it off, it'd be the Patriots, who have been known to look ahead to future drafts by trading current picks for picks for upcoming years.
The only drawback with that for this year is they only have five total picks, perhaps the byproduct of so many previous draft-day deals, so there ability to manipulate the draft board might not be as great as it's been in the past.
Either way, the Patriots will be among the major players as they look to fill a variety of needs. Often, their best picks have come in the later rounds, so it'll be interesting to see what they do in the second and third.
There are some players on the roster whose windows are closing rapidly each day, and the time frame to win another Super Bowl with this collection of talent is a lot shorter now than it was two or three years ago, so it's important the Patriots make the most of these picks in order to land the right mix of veteran talent and promising youth to perhaps make one last run at a title.
Overview courtesy of team reports published by The Sports Xchange
New England Patriots' 2013 draft picks: 29, 59, 91, 226, 235
Primary Needs: WR, CB, DL, OL, S
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Five recent draft picks that clicked:
Five players who should be on the New England Patriots' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
DE Margus Hunt, SMU (40, 5): For all of the success the Patriots have had on the offensive side of the ball during their dominance of the AFC East under Belichick, make no mistake about his passion for defense ... not only as a coach but as a talent evaluator. Of New England's six first-round picks since 2006, five have been defenders with an offensive tackle (Solder, 2011) being the only exception. Belichick invested first-round picks in three defensive linemen in four years (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork) from 2001-2004. The 6-foot-8, 277-pound Hunt is an athletic phenom with remarkable upside.
CB Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut (58, 7): Despite investing heavily at cornerback via the draft (and trade for Aqib Talib), the Patriots' secondary remains a source of concern. Belichick turned heads by attending the Connecticut Pro Day in person and while many have suggested he focused on Huskies' cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Gratz is actually the more impressive player on tape. Among the more physical and competitive corners in the 2013 draft, he'd provide the club some security behind the inconsistent Talib and last year's seventh round gamble, Dennard, who played well but is facing 30 days in jail for assaulting a police officer.
WR Aaron Dobson, Marshall (117, 14): Based on the attention the Patriots paid to receiver in free agency, one could make the argument that New England believes adding pass-catchers to the roster is the top priority. Tom Brady's success throwing short and intermediate routes to slot receivers has made the Patriots one of the league's toughest offenses to defend but the club lacks length and speed on the outside. Dobson, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, was unable to run at the combine due to a hamstring strain but rewarded scouts for their patience at his Pro Day, clocking in at an eye-popping 4.42-seconds. The Patriots could be especially interested in Dobson (who also performed quite well at the Senior Bowl), considering the success they had with former Marshall standouts Randy Moss and Troy Brown.
OT Garrett Gilkey, Chadron State (202, 18): Gilkey operated at left tackle at Chadron State but while surprisingly athletic for his size (6-foot-6, 318), he does not have the lateral agility or flexibility teams prefer outside to handle NFL speed. Gilkey was moved inside at the Senior Bowl and turned heads with his ability to handle the jump in competition. With key backup Donald Thomas leaving the Patriots for free agent dollars from the Colts, expect the club to bolster their depth this weekend.
OLB Travis Johnson, San Jose State (250, 24): Belichick loves hybrid defenders and at this point in the draft he might find the ultra-productive Johnson intriguing. While not a highly regarded prep prospect (despite 38 sacks in his final two years of high school), Johnson quickly emerged as a star with the Spartans and leaves with a WAC-record 31 career quarterback take-downs. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder typically lined up at defensive end in college but demonstrated good overall agility and flexibility in linebacker drills. These traits, along with his high-running motor, physicality and instincts could help him surprise at the next level.