BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL Draft is two weeks later than usual this year, giving us all a few extra days to digest all the hype and mock drafts that usually mean very little when teams actually start making their selections.
Here’s a quick breakdown of where the New England Patriots will be selecting, what areas they have the greatest need, and what the “experts” think they’ll do when it comes time to make their picks in the 2014 NFL draft.
To start, let’s take a look at where the Patriots will be selecting:
1st Rd — 29th overall
2nd Rd — 62nd overall
3rd Rd — 93rd overall
4th Rd — 130th overall
4th Rd — 140th overall (compensatory pick)*
6th Rd — 198th overall (from Eagles)
6th Rd — 206th overall
7th Rd — 244th overall
*Cannot be traded
If there is one thing we’ve learned over his 14 years in New England, it’s that Bill Belichick loves having plenty of draft picks at his disposal. This year, he has just eight.
Belichick had even less when the 2013 draft kicked off, with just five picks to work with, but trading their first rounder to Minnesota gave them three additional selections over the weekend.
Belichick has 52 draft day trades to his name, so chances are New England will do something similar on either Thursday or Friday this year.
Needs In New England
The Patriots head into the draft in a very different situation than the one they faced in 2013. While there are still holes to plug on the roster, there are no glaring needs this time around. Last year, the Patriots entered the draft with giant holes on the defensive line and in the secondary, and a cannon-sized need at wide receiver.
This time, they still have needs but they are mostly from a depth standpoint.
Defensive Line: Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are both coming off an injury, as is newly-signed defensive end Will Smith. Not to mention, those three are kind of old.
The Patriots’ defensive line did their best when Wilfork went down early last season, but opponents were able to have long stretches of success running the ball against New England, and the Patriots struggled to put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
A rookie wouldn’t fix those issues, but the Patriots will likely be looking for some interior help on the line to rush the quarterback, and provide some more depth behind their aging defensive linemen.
Offensive Line: Keeping Tom Brady on his feet will always be a priority in New England, and last year the Patriots weren’t great at doing that. It’s not that they had a terrible year, but Brady didn’t always have time on his side, and he hit the ground hard much more than he would have liked.
The Patriots have a good young core on the line with the likes of Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon, anchored by veterans Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and All Pro guard Logan Makins. But health has been an issue with Vollmer, and the team could be looking at some more contract drama with Mankins next year, when he’s scheduled to earn $7 million and have a cap hit of $11 million.
It’s not a position they’ll address in the first few rounds, but the Patriots should be looking for some young talent on the offensive line.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski is hurt once again, and doesn’t even know when — or if — he’ll return. That leaves Michael Hoomanawanui as the only healthy tight end on the roster. Expect that to change this weekend.
Safety: Yes, even with the addition of Darrelle Revis, the New England secondary still needs some help.
It’s not as glaring a need as it has in years past, but some more depth at safety — or a safety that can really put a hit on opponents — would be a welcome addition.
The Patriots also had the 29th overall pick last year, and sent it to the Minnesota Vikings for four additional picks. Those became linebacker Jamie Collins (second round), corner Logan Ryan (third round) and receiver Josh Boyce (fourth round), while the fourth pick (a seventh rounder) was in the package that brought LeGarrette Blount to New England from Tampa Bay.
There’s a very good chance the Patriots do something similar this year, moving out of the first round again to stock up on picks over the following two days. It’s something Belichick has done twice in the last five drafts, and 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger & Massarotti took a look at those trades earlier this week:
But should Belichick and the Patriots keep their first round pick and make a selection around midnight Thursday, here are a few names being mentioned in those famous mock drafts:
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT Minnesota
The Patriots know their personnel and developmental plans better than I do, I have no doubts, but we both know the age of their best interior linemen is a concern, with Vince Wilfork 32 years old and Tommy Kelly 33. Hageman is the kind of player this coaching staff could turn into something special, and working in rotation this season he could provide some immediate impact as well. He has surprising athletic ability for a player of his size, with great initial quickness which can jolt blockers and disrupt plays from the inside. He also has a long frame and an impressive vertical and will disrupt passing lanes.
ESPN’s Todd McShay: Stephon Tuitt, DT Notre Dame
The Patriots could use some help along the defensive line, and Tuitt brings good versatility to the table. He is a top-15 player in this class based purely on talent, but there are some concerns with his motor and consistency. At this point in the first round, however, he’s worth the risk.
MMQB.com’s Peter King: Stephon Tuitt
Everyone I’ve talked to said some version of, “Oh, New England’s trading out.” Which I buy. I also would buy tight end Jace Amaro here. I do not buy Ra’shede Hageman. Too boom-or-bust. Tuitt’s a very strong Patriot kind of versatile tackle and 3-4 end with the ability to play outside, a la Vince Wilfork.
MMQB.com’s Greg Bedard: Xavier Su’a Filo, G UCLA
The Patriots need some size and youth on the interior of the OL, and with a possible contract issue with Logan Mankins coming next offseason, the Patriots always plan ahead.
CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
He is a pass-catching tight end who would fit nicely with Rob Gronkowski.
CBSSports.com’s Will Brinson: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
New England saw what happened when it didn’t have Vince Wilfork in the middle during the stretch run last year. The Patriots can add another wide body to their defense and let Nix learn from the best.
CBSSports.com’s Pat Kirwin: Ra’shede Hageman
Some feel Hageman has fallen out of the first round but Bill Belichick has a long history of taking big defensive linemen in the first round. Hageman’s motor may run hot and cold but at 6-6 and 320 pounds it’s worth a shot for a team with an old front.
RELATED: CBS Local Sports NFL Mock Draft
– New England also picked 29th in 1997, when they selected cornerback Chris Canty out of Kansas State.
– The Patriots have picked at No. 62 two times in team history, selecting LB Brandon Spikes from Florida in 2010 and CB Terrence Wheatley from Colorado in 2008. The Patriots also had the 62nd pick in 2012 but traded it to Green Bay in exchange for 2012 third-round pick (90th overall) and a 2012 fifth-round pick (163rd overall).
– The Patriots have selecting 93rd just once in team history, drafting defensive back Darren Anderson from Toledo in 1992. He appeared in just one game for New England.
– The Patriots have made one selection at 130th, picking defensive end Steven Clark out of Kansas State in 1981. Clark appeared in seven games in 1981, his lone season in the NFL.
– Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have traded down 16 times, traded up 17 times, and made 19 other trades involving players and future considerations during the draft.
Log on to CBSBostonsports.com Thursday night to follow our LIVE Blog of the NFL Draft’s first round!
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