Patriots Combine Preview: Wide Receiver, Linebacker Among Top Needs

Looking to put the disappointing end of the 2015 New England Patriots season behind you? We have some good news. NFL Draft season officially begins Tuesday as the NFL Scouting Combine commences.

Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and the New England Patriots’ scouting staff will be busy over the next week interviewing and scouting prospects in Indianapolis. However, neither Belichick nor Caserio will speak to the media at the combine.

The Patriots are fortunate enough to enter the offseason without any seriously pressing needs, but they could use depth at key positions. Here are the Patriots’ key areas of need going into the combine:

RUNNING BACK
The Patriots have uncertainty at running back for the second consecutive year. Dion Lewis is coming off of a torn ACL, and LeGarrette Blount, who was ineffective for part of the 2015 season, is a free agent. The Patriots also have sub back James White, special teams ace Brandon Bolden, fullback Joey Iosefa and Tyler Gaffney, who has missed his first two NFL seasons with injuries. Steven Jackson, who was signed late in the year, is unlikely to return.

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is the top running back in the draft, but he’ll likely be gone by the time the Patriots are picking at No. 60 overall. The Patriots could show interest in Utah’s Devontae Booker, Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon or Indiana’s Jordan Howard in the second round, depending on how they perform at the combine.

The Patriots typically look for bigger backs with solid agility scores, so pay close attention to the three-cone drill.

WIDE RECEIVER
The Patriots should look to add some youth and athleticism to their receiver corps this offseason. Veterans Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell aren’t guaranteed to return to the team because of their contracts. Julian Edelman will be a starter, Keshawn Martin likely will take over the No. 4 receiver role and Matthew Slater will be a special-teams ace. The Patriots also have Aaron Dobson and Chris Harper under contract.

The Patriots could look to fill their need in free agency, but it’s a shallow group of available receivers who could be overpaid. The top receivers expected to be available with the 60th overall pick are Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd, South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper and Rutgrs’ Leonte Carroo.

The Patriots place a heavy emphasis on athleticism when drafting receivers, so we’ll be able to narrow down their potential options after the combine.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Nate Solder will be back as the Patriots’ starting left tackle, but Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon aren’t certainties to return because of their contracts.

If the Patriots don’t plan to bring back one or both of Vollmer and Cannon, they could address their need through the draft. Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark, LSU’s Jerald Hawkins and Georgia’s John Theus could be available at the end of the second round. The Patriots typically look for above average explosion scores (vertical leap and broad jump) when drafting offensive tackles.

LINEBACKER
The Patriots are set with starters Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, but they need a versatile No. 3 option at the position. Jonathan Freeny, Jon Bostic, Darius Fleming and Dane Fletcher are solid reserves, but the Patriots like to have three starting-caliber linebackers.

The Patriots typically draft linebackers who weigh around 250 pounds. Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers, Arizona’s Scooby Wright, Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, Ohio State’s Joshua Perry and Wisconsin’s Joe Schobert fit the bill.

CORNERBACK
The Patriots currently have just three cornerbacks on their roster, so expect them to add some bodies through free agency or the draft. Justin Coleman, the Patriots’ 2015 slot corner, also is almost certain to be back as an exclusive-rights free agent.

The Patriots typically select smaller, extremely athletic cornerbacks. Mississippi State’s Will Redmond, Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez and Georgia Tech’s D.J. White could be potential fits depending on how they perform at the combine.

Thumbnail photo via Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Nov 28, 2015; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Leonte Carroo (4) makes a one handed catch during the first half of their game against the Maryland Terrapins at High Points Solutions Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

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