The New England Patriots’ draft needs are coming into focus with free agency slowing to a halt.
The Patriots certainly lost more than they gained in free agency. That will help earn them some compensatory draft picks next offseason, but it won’t help them win games in 2015. The Patriots will need to re-stock their roster through the NFL draft, which is exactly one month away.
See which positions the Patriots could look to address through the draft on offense next month:
The Patriots could go into 2015 with their current running back stable, but Bill Belichick constantly is planning ahead.
LeGarrette Blount is expected to be the Patriots’ starter in 2015, but he’s entering a contract year. The Patriots have Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney behind Blount, but none of those players is a sure thing to carry an early-down load if Blount departs after 2015.
Gray was benched by the Patriots after rushing for 201 yards in Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts and received just 24 carries in New England’s next nine games. Bolden is a career backup whose true value resides on special teams. Gaffney has upside as a 2014 sixth-round pick, but he has yet to take an NFL snap.
The Patriots are showing interest in mid-round early-down backs such as South Carolina’s Mike Davis, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne and LSU’s Terrence Magee. They selected Stevan Ridley in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft and could look to take a similar prospect this offseason.
The Patriots have James White and Travaris Cadet to fill Shane Vereen’s old third-down role, but they still could look to add another pass-catching back.
Consider Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola as locks to make the Patriots’ 2015 53-man roster. After that, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Brian Tyms was the Patriots’ fourth receiver in 2015, and he could become a weapon with a full year in the system under his belt. Aaron Dobson is a 2013 second-round pick who couldn’t find the field in 2014. He’ll need a solid offseason to regain the team’s trust. The Patriots signed Brandon Gibson, who has experience in Josh McDaniels’ offense from their time together with the St. Louis Rams, on the first day of free agency. He was the Miami Dolphins’ fourth receiver last season.
After that, the Patriots have Josh Boyce, Kevin Dorsey and Jonathan Krause to fill out the position’s depth.
Amendola is unlikely to stick around past 2015 because of the way his contract is structured, and the Patriots’ don’t have a sure thing as their No. 4 receiver. They showed interest in signing free-agent receiver Stevie Johnson, indicating that they’re exploring an upgrade at the position.
The Patriots have bigger needs than receiver for early picks, but they could take one or two wideouts on the third day of the draft to plan for the future while also improving their 2015 depth.
This year’s draft is loaded with big, fast receivers who could give the Patriots a dangerous down-field threat.
The New England Patriots experimented after trading Logan Mankins, trying Marcus Cannon, Jordan Devey and Cameron Fleming at guard before settling on Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell. Connolly struggled while he played through injuries at left guard while Wendell was solid at right guard. Connolly is a free agent, and it’s still unclear if the Patriots will bring him back. Wendell certainly earned a starting job last season, but it’s unclear if the Patriots will be willing to hand it back to him in 2015.
The Patriots could go into next season with Connolly and Wendell as their starters, but it’s not ideal, since the offensive line struggled at times last season. If Connolly is brought back, it might only be to compete with Wendell for one starting job.
The Patriots’ other starting guard very well could be a rookie. The Patriots are unlikely to take a true guard in the first round of the draft, though they could take a converted tackle.
The Patriots drafted Bryan Stork in the fourth round of last year’s draft, and he almost immediately came in as their starting center. The Patriots could try a similar approach by filling their need at guard this offseason, using a mid-round pick on a player who hopefully could start from Day 1.
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