- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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One view of the Patriots' top five need areas entering the 2012 NFL Draft:
1. Safety -- The team's top player at the position, Patrick Chung, has battled some injuries over the last two seasons and is entering the final year of his contract. Bill Belichick attempted to revamp the position last year, but in part because of injuries, it turned in to a revolving door of personnel that even included receiver Matthew Slater playing there. Steve Gregory was signed in free agency, and Devin McCourty could be part of the mix, but more help is likely to be targeted.
2. Defensive end in even front (4-man line) -- Andre Carter and Mark Anderson held down this spot and combined for 22.5 sacks (including the postseason). Carter is still recovering from quad surgery, while Anderson has signed with the Bills. Free-agent signee Trevor Scott has been added to the mix, but similar to Carter and Anderson, he comes to town on a short-term deal (1 year).
3. Defensive end in odd front (3-man line) -- Richard Seymour manned this spot from 2001-2008, and since that time, the Patriots have rolled through a number of different players (Jarvis Green, Mike Wright, Vince Wilfork among them). Free agent Jonathan Fanene could potentially be part of the answer, but he was a part-time player with the Bengals and it seems risky to count on him for a full-time role.
4. Kickoff returner -- The Patriots ranked 29th in the NFL in kickoff return average, which meant the offense was often called on to drive a longer field. Danny Woodhead (20 returns), Julian Edelman (12), Stevan Ridley (7) and Matthew Slater (4) were the returners. Perhaps the answer is indeed on the roster and it's a case of better design and blocking up front, but regardless, this is an area to target for improvement in some form.
5. Offensive line -- Even with Matt Light expected to officially retire, the Patriots are well stocked with a youthful look at tackle with Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon and Matt Kopa. Vollmer's back injury, coupled with him entering the last year of his contract, makes tackle a spot the Patriots could address. Things trend a bit older atop the center/guard depth chart, and that's where developing a young prospect could also come into play.
JUST MISSING THE CUT: Receiver to develop ... Cornerback ... Sub linebacker.
One view of the Patriots' top five need areas entering the 2012 NFL Draft:1. Safety -- The team's top player at the position, Patrick Chung, has battled some injuries over the last two seasons and is entering the final year of his contract.