By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots suffered from a lack of depth on the offensive line in 2015, but trouble on special teams also contributed to their downfall. The return game, in particular, bit the Patriots badly once they had to turn to their bench for guys to take the ball.

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In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Patriots looked to fix their lack of depth in that area. Although Julian Edelman is an elite punt returner when healthy and Danny Amendola has handled kick & punt returns admirably when called upon, keeping those two fresh and unscathed for the offense should be a top priority. In Week 12 last season at the Denver Broncos, with both players out and the Patriots leading 21-7, Chris Harper showed the importance of reliable returners when he committed the muffed punt that shifted momentum to the Broncos and helped lead the Pats to a 30-24 overtime loss.

It would behoove the team to add talent in the return game – or, just let someone else handle the job moving forward. That’s where second-round pick Cyrus Jones comes in. The former Alabama cornerback will challenge for the No. 3 corner spot behind Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, but Jones’ ability to return punts factored heavily into the Patriots’ decision to draft him.

Patriots draft pick Cyrus Jones, a cornerback out of Alabama. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Patriots draft pick Cyrus Jones, a cornerback out of Alabama. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio told reporters after drafting Jones that the team valued Jones’ return ability and wanted more depth at that spot after last season’s issues.

“[Returning is] a hard, I would say, skill and position to develop,” said Caserio. “So, if you have multiple players that can actually handle the ball then you can figure out, ‘OK, well maybe we can take his workload and redistribute it somewhere else.'”

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Jones isn’t just a competent punt returner. His four punt return touchdowns in 2015 led the nation and set a new single-season record for Alabama. One of his punt return touchdowns, a 57-yarder, came in the Cotton Bowl semifinal against Michigan State.

Jones isn’t the only player with return experience who became a Patriot last week. Undrafted free agent cornerback V’Angelo Bentley returned kicks and punts at Illinois and his draft profile says he could “challenge for a kick or punt return job early on.”

Whether it was to find a future starter or just add depth to special teams, the Patriots clearly put a premium on guys who can return kicks and punts – or, at the very least, protect the ball. If Edelman or Amendola aren’t handling the load in those situations, the team feels like they now have someone who they can rely upon in Jones.

It’s anyone’s guess which direction the roster takes from here, but one thing’s for certain with the Pats’ return game going forward: they don’t want another Harper out there.

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Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.