Patriots Expected to Seek Defensive Help on Front Seven If They Don’t Trade Earlier Picks

The New England Patriots will have two first-round picks in the upcoming NFLdraft, which probably makes a lot of AFC teams nervous.

2012 NFL Draft – Draft Position – Ryan Tannehill (QB Texas A&M) 

Over 8 -150
Under 8 -110

If the Patriots stay in their spots at 27th and 31st, there's a great chance they'll be adding two quality players –- if not starters — to a team that won 13 games last season and fell just short in the Super Bowl. On the other hand, the Patriots could trade both selections and move up to aim for the superstars. After all, they don't exactly have many holes to fill.

There's a number of intriguing draft stories with Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill being one of the biggest talking points, but a quiet storyline will be the Patriots, who have the opportunity to beef up a defense and improve an already Super Bowl worthy team.

Starting off with needs, most people will point out that the Patriots defense is the side of the team that needs the most help. While that's true, one area where the Pats may want to address (not necessarily in the first round) is running back. BenJarvus Green-Ellis departed via free agency and while he's not a flashy runner, he's extremely dependable. He was money-in-the-bank on short yardage carries and has never fumbled in his NFL career. Second-year runners Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen might have potential but neither can be deemed as steady as Green-Ellis was -– at least not yet.

But the Patriots worked out a trio of veterans (Tim Hightower, Joseph Addai and Ryan Grant) last week and it wouldn't be surprising if they opted to address the depth at this position via free agency.

Where the Patriots really need help is on their defense.

Some will point to the cornerbacks and say that the Patriots had a really tough time covering elite receivers. Devin McCourty regressed, Kyle Arrington is a question mark and Will Allen is a shot in the dark. The problem is that the Patriots are in somewhat of a dead zone when it comes to defensive backs.

LSU's Morris Claiborne and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore will be off the board early while Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick is likely gone in the early 20s. The Patriots could have a shot at Kirkpatrick if they decided to trade up, though.

After that trio, Montana's Trumaine Johnson and North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins are graded in the second round.

So that likely means the Patriots will be boosting their front seven with their two picks, which is never a bad thing. After all, if the Pats were able to better rush the passer, it might hide some of the inefficiencies of the secondary.

Defensive end could be a priority considering Mark Anderson departed to Buffalo and Andre Carter missed the end of the season due to injury and is an unrestricted free agent. That's 20 of the team's 39.5 sacks potentially gone.

Hybrid linebacker/defensive ends are likely to be the name of Bill Belichick's game come pick No. 27. Boise State's Shea McClellin fits that mold. He can stay on the field regardless of whether the scheme is a 3-4 or a 4-3, and Belichick loves versatility. Alabama's Courtney Upshaw would also be a good fit as he did a great job setting the edge against the run as well as rushing the passer for the BCS national champs. Illinois' Whitney Mercilus also fits the mold and the Patriots would love to have his playmaking abilities after 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles last season in the Big Ten.

Most mock drafts have the Patriots landing defensive tackle Kendall Reyes with their second pick of the first round. The UConn product would also add versatility as he can play the end in a 3-4 or set up at tackle next to Vince Wilfork.

Other options could be USC's Nick Perry, Cincinnati's Derek Wolfe, Penn State's Devon Still and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy.

In any case, if the Pats don't trade up or down, expect them to target immediate help for their front seven in the 2012 NFL draft.

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