The New England Patriots had a fantastic season in 2011 that ended with a disappointing loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, but they should be among the NFL’s elite once again next year. Here are my thoughts on what are New England’s biggest needs going forward into the up-coming offseason.
1. Wide Receiver
The Patriots went out last offseason and got Chad Ochocinco, and he made pretty much no difference whatsoever this year, scoring only one touchdown in a blowout win against the Denver Broncos. What the Patriots need is a guy who can stretch the field on the outside to complement their big tight end targets as well as Wes Welker working the slot. Talking free agent-wise, a perfect fit could be a Vincent Jackson or a Brandon Lloyd, but the Patriots could opt to use one of their first round picks on that area.
2. Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
The Patriots run a hybrid front defensively, and while injuries were a big reason why this team wasn’t able to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks, I think depth, youth, and talent is a concern as well, specifically the outside linebacker and defensive end positions. I could see the Patriots targeting big, athletic defensive end prospects early in the draft, as well as looking at hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker type guys.
Patrick Chung is a pretty good player, but the Patriots struggled to find consistency at the safety position this past season, and I could see them looking into this position early in the draft despite it being a relatively poor class of players overall. If Mark Barron were to fall to their first round pick, it would be something I could see them looking at pretty seriously.
The Patriots continue to draft corners, and I continue to see guys getting playing time who were either late round picks or undrafted. They picked up Ras-I Dowling last year, but he barely saw the field at all in 2011. This is a position I could see them looking at in the second round, or maybe they turn to some veteran help here in free agency.