Tom Brady and the Patriots ended their season with a disappointing home playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, in a game that ended up exposing a lot of the Pats’ flaws. New England played without their freakishly athletic party machine, aka the Gronk, but that wasn’t the only reason they weren’t able to move onto the Super Bowl. Gronk’s absence showcased the lack of significant outside threats on offense, while Joe Flacco was the latest quarterback to expose the Patriots’ fragile secondary.
The Patriots are not a normal organization, and Bill Belichick is not your average coach. New England has remained elite for so long because they continually address their needs in the draft, and Baltimore proved that the talented Patriots roster could still use an infusion of young talent.
The two major problem areas for the Patriots are their secondary and their receiving corps. Not only did the Patriots 2012 roster not fully provide in those areas, but the return of several starters is far from guaranteed.
Wes Welker is a free agent, and with the Boston Globe reporting that the Patriots are unlikely to assign Welker the franchise tag, the odds are stacked against the quick slot man returning to Foxboro. Welker has eclipsed 100 receptions and 1000 yards in all but one season with the Patriots, and if he indeed walks then those numbers need to be compensated for elsewhere.
Between tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez the Patriots aren’t exactly deprived of pass catchers, but receivers Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, and Julian Edelman are also questionable to be re-signed. They will likely keep at least one or two receivers, but there is a potential overhaul coming in New England.
If Welker and Lloyd do not return, the Patriots need two new starting receivers. At least one is likely to come in the draft, and New England has apparently been wowed by Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The problem is that he is unlikely to fall to the Patriots at no. 29, so another option is California’s Keenan Allen. Allen is 6’4 and would give New England the big outside receiving threat they’ve been lacking since Randy Moss, so that is certainly a possibility.
The cornerback position is not as talented as previous years, but it is an area where the Patriots desperately need improvement. Among their potential prospects is Florida State safety/cornerback Xavier Rhodes. His versatility would be considered a liability to some, but Belichick values players who he can move around.
The Patriots have a lot of uncertainty on their roster, which translates into a difficult draft scenario to predict. Their needs depend on both the re-signing of current players and the recruitment of free agents, which potentially include Charles Woodson and Ed Reed. If they fail to re-sign any of their top receivers, moves in both free agency and the draft should be expected. As the offseason progresses and more roster decisions are made, New England’s draft needs will become clearer.