The New England Patriots entered the 2014 NFL draft with needs at almost every position, but it was obvious which area of the team head coach Bill Belichick believed needed to be addressed most.
The Patriots came out of the draft with three offensive linemen to help protect quarterback Tom Brady — and eventually his successor, second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo.
There might not be many impact rookies for the Patriots during the 2014 season, other than their first-round pick, Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley, but they did a nice job of filling in depth and addressing needs.
Easley could be a starter in 2014 if his torn right ACL — suffered in September — is fully healed by training camp. The Patriots took a risk on Easley, but he likely would have been the top defensive tackle drafted if he was able to stay healthy at Florida.
The Garoppolo pick drew the ire of Patriots fans, but it was a necessary selection and great value for a player with the Eastern Illinois product’s skill set. Tom Brady is 37 years old, and Ryan Mallett has only one year left on rookie contract — the Patriots needed a QB.
Florida State center Bryan Stork came as a surprise in the fourth round, but the Patriots needed to address the position, given starter Ryan Wendell’s struggles in 2013. Stork could be a future starter, as soon as this season.
Wisconsin running back James White was a great value and fills a major void at running back. The Patriots needed someone who can block and catch on third down and work between the tackles on first and second down, and White proved he could do that in college.
The Patriots grabbed offensive linemen at No. 140 (Stanford tackle Cameron Fleming) and No. 179 (Florida guard Jon Halpio). It’ll be a crowded group in training camp, but a little competition never hurt anyone, and it can only help with a new offensive line coach, Dave Deguglielmo, in New England.
The Patriots needed training camp depth on the defensive line and at defensive back, which they filled with Concordia end Zach Moore and Georgia Tech cornerback Jemea Thomas. Both players can line up at multiple spots and could find roles on special teams. Thomas could be used similar to how veteran Marquice Cole was last season.
The Patriots finally added more depth at wide receiver in the seventh round with Michigan slot man Jeremy Gallon. He’s not guaranteed to make the roster, but a strong training camp could push one of last year’s rookies off the team.
The glaring area that the Patriots failed to address was tight end, but if they sign free agent Dustin Keller, who’s better than any player they could have selected after C.J. Fiedorowicz was drafted by the Houston Texans, then all could be forgiven. The Patriots would have had to reach or trade up to draft one of the top five tight ends, and Belichick obviously believed it wasn’t necessary.
The Patriots also failed to draft a linebacker who can help out in coverage, but they could look to the talented group of undrafted free agents to fill that need.
Overall, it was a slightly boring haul for New England, but that’s what happens when three offensive linemen are selected. The Patriots believed they had an obvious need up front on offense, and at least one of those players should contribute in the future.
The Patriots’ draft class won’t make any “draft winners” columns, but it could pay off if New England is dealt as many injury blows as it was in 2013.