- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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With free agency to begin March 11, and the draft from May 8-10, one thing NFL teams generally do at this time is marry the two to better assess the best approach to filling potential needs.
For example, if a team knows it’s a deep draft for top-quality offensive tackles (2014 is such), it might be less inclined to be as aggressive at that position in free agency. With this in mind, our plan is to look at each position in the coming days through a similar lens.
Next on the list: Defensive tackle
Draft: Not viewed as particularly deep. Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, Notre Dame's Louis Nix III and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman are among the top-rated crop of tackles, with Nix more in the mold of the big-bodied run-stuffer. Would think the Patriots would lean toward some of the bigger prospects at the position and someone like Penn State's Daquan Jones, given his background with former Patriots assistant Bill O'Brien the last two seasons, is one incoming rookie we're interested in learning more about as a potential fit. His height-weight measurables (6-foot-3 1/2, 323 pounds) look good on the surface and he projects as an early-round pick. In a draft stocked with underclassmen, Jones is a senior, which also gives more scouts more to evaluate.
Free agency: Oakland's Lamarr Houston and Baltimore's Arthur Jones are two of the best scheduled for free agency (based on where they would likely play in New England's scheme), while Green Bay space-eater B.J. Raji is a top option for teams looking for a big man in the middle. Former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, on Tuesday's ESPN Insiders program, spoke highly of Houston's Earl Mitchell as a potential under-the-radar option who could command a nice contract. One might say Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph also falls in a similar category. Echoing something Bill Belichick has said in the past, part of the reason there are so few quality defensive tackles available is that teams usually lock them up early because they are so valuable and hard to find.
Patriots perspective: If the Patriots keep both Vince Wilfork (32) and Tommy Kelly (33), it's hard to imagine they would sign another late-career veteran in free agency. With Armond Armstead, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga and Joe Vellano also part of the mix, there are no shortage of options, but this is still a position we view as one where a high-upside rookie would make a lot of sense with future considerations in mind. Thus, the draft looks like the more likely option for the Patriots to pursue.