Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.
Instant Debate: Most improved team?
Many teams build their rosters to compete within their respective divisions, but that's not the case with the New England Patriots. They've dominated the AFC East to the tune of 11 division titles in the past 12 campaigns. Instead, New England builds its team by looking at the conference as a whole -- a bigger picture that includes the reigning AFC champion Denver Broncos.
The first step in competing with Peyton Manning and Co. is building a secondary that can match up with a group of versatile receivers and sure-handed tight ends. The Patriots let cornerback Aqib Talib walk in free agency but acted quickly to bring in Darrelle Revisand Brandon Browner. I see the Pats bringing in even more talent through the 2014 NFL Draft to fill out the back end of their unit.
Although the Pats' most pressing needs are on defense, Tom Brady could certainly use some more playmakers. However, it probably won't be in the form of a receiver -- despite the talent in this year's class. I don't expect the Patriots to give up on their three second-year wideouts (Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins) just yet, and the team still has veterans Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and free-agent pickup Brandon LaFell.
Here are four positions of need for New England -- and four prospects who could fill them.
When you're competing against Peyton Manning for AFC supremacy, you can never have too many cornerbacks. The Patriots don't pick until late in the first round (No. 29 overall), which means they'll likely miss the first run of corners. But they might be able to land Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, who'd be a perfect complement to Revis. Fuller has the versatility to slide inside and cover slot receivers if needed, making him a valuable commodity for Belichick when Browner returns from his four-game suspension. If the Pats wait until the second round to grab Revis' partner, they might go after Bashaud Breeland. Although he ran a disappointing 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine (4.62 seconds), the Clemson defender has the size, length and ball skills to be a starter at the pro level.
New England's roster isn't short on safeties, but it does lack a playmaking centerfielder who can consistently disrupt passing attacks. I could see them spending a middle-round pick on a player like Terrance Brooks from Florida State, who would be an outstanding fit in Belichick's scheme. Another player to keep an eye on: Wisconsin's Dezmen Southward. The defender has plenty of size (6-foot) and speed to play at the next level.
2) Defensive line
The Patriots have an impressive defensive front, but Vince Wilfork (who's coming off a torn Achilles) and Tommy Kelly will turn 33 and 34, respectively, during the 2014 season. The team has some talented younger players, but it can still add more youth to the mix. At No. 27, the Pats should be able to land one of the two talented lineman from Notre Dame -- Stephon Tuitt or Louis Nix. The 6-foot-5 Tuitt played much better in 2012 than in '13, and as teams have gone back to watch his sophomore tape, his stock has started to rise.
3) Tight end
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Yes, Rob Gronkowski is still a New England Patriot, but his extensive injury history has created a need for a reliable alternative. Although Eric Ebron, the top talent at the position in this year's class, will surely be gone by the time New England picks, the team could go after Jace Amaro. Taking him at No. 27 overall would be somewhat of a reach, but if the Patriots have an opportunity to trade down and acquire more picks, I could see them drafting him early on Day 2. The Texas Tech tight end's production is off the charts, and, in the limited amount he was asked to block, I was impressed with his toughness and strength.
4) Running back
The Patriots are known for being ahead of the curve (Re: Dual tight ends in the passing game) when it comes to the next big football trend. As many other teams (excluding the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks) seem to be devaluing the running back position, I could see New England doing the opposite. Ohio State's Carlos Hyde and LSU's Jeremy Hill would both be upgrades over Blount. Both have the power to run inside and are surprisingly good pass catchers. Terrance West from Towson is another big back (5-foot-9, 225 pounds) worth considering, but the Pats should be able to pick him up with their second-round pick (No. 62 overall).
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