New England Patriots: Pats positional review

Patriots positional review: Specialists

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
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Finishing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots' specialists.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski
Age: 30
2013 highlights: Set a career high in terms of field goals made (38) and field goal percentage (92.7). Was a Pro Bowl selection and consistently good.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Punter Ryan Allen
Age: 23
2013 highlights: Planted 29 punts inside the 20-yard line and finished with a gross average of 45.9 yards per punt (39.9 net). After winning punting competition in camp, had a promising rookie year. Also was the holder for the field goal operation.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Long snapper Danny Aiken
Age: 25
2013 highlights: Handled long snapping duties on both punts and kicks. Had an errant snap in playoff win against Indianapolis but was largely solid otherwise.
Current contract runs through: Restricted free agent

Coverage player Matthew Slater
Age: 28
2013 highlights: Slater deserves to be mentioned on this list after another standout season as a coverage player. Had 14 special-teams tackles in 12 games and impacted field position every week. A captain and a Pro Bowl selection.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

POSITIONAL NEED: The Patriots have a decision to make on Aiken, a restricted free agent, but if he is re-signed, the team will return its trio for next season. Gostkowski enters a contract year in 2014 and could well be an extension candidate (base salary of $2.9 million). After finishing with the top special teams in the NFL last season (according to Rick Gosselin's Dallas Morning News rankings), keeping this trio intact would be a worthwhile investment for next year and going forward.

Patriots positional review: Safety

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots safeties, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Devin McCourty
Age: 26
2013 status: Played and started 15 games, missing the regular-season finale with a concussion. Led the safeties with more than 89 percent of the snaps played.
2013 highlights: McCourty was the ironman among the safety group and played extraordinarily in a captain role. Was named a second-team All Pro after recording 69 tackles to go along with an interception. Consistently minimized big plays and was an on-field communicator for the secondary.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Steve Gregory
Age: 31
2013 status: Played in 14 games, starting 11. Missed two games with a broken thumb.
2013 highlights: A steady veteran who led all secondary players with 79 tackles. Was responsible for wearing the green dot as an on-field communicator at times with Jerod Mayo out. Played more primarily as a rolled-up, strong safety rather than as a deep field defender. Lauded by teammates for his intelligence.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Duron Harmon
Age: 23
2013 status: Started three games out of 15 played during the regular season, filling in for both McCourty and Gregory.
2013 highlights: Had a steady rookie season, showing himself capable of playing both free and strong safety. Recorded interceptions in consecutive weeks. With both McCourty and Gregory entering the final year of their contracts, Harmon is a critical player in the secondary.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Tavon Wilson
Age: 23
2013 status: Played in 13 regular-season games without a start. Logged just 18 regular-season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Wilson has essentially become a core special teams player, making taking him in the second round last season look like a reach. He doesn’t have the requisite reactive athleticism to play as a deep, middle-of-the-field safety. Did not show signs of on-field defensive development from year one to Year 2.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: Nate Ebner (five defensive snaps in 2013), Kanorris Davis, Adrian Wilson (injured reserve).

POSITIONAL NEED: While safety may not be a major area of need for next season -- the Patriots were able to rely on the trio of McCourty, Gregory and Harmon in 2013 -- it’s an area to keep in mind for the future. McCourty strikes us as a possible extension candidate and a cornerstone defender for the franchise. But if he and Gregory are not signed to deals before next year’s free agency, the Patriots are at risk of losing one or both. Davis and Ebner are both special teams players, while Adrian Wilson could be a possible salary cap casualty given that he is coming off of an Achilles injury and would save the team $1.2 million. Adding another young safety seems plausible to help build insurance in case one of the two starters bolts next offseason.

Patriots positional review: CB

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots cornerbacks, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Aqib Talib
Age: 27
2013 status: Played and started 13 games. Led all cornerbacks in terms of snaps, playing 73.4 percent.
2013 highlights: Talib had dominant stretches of the season, often being used to line up opposite an opponent’s top wide receiver. Dealt with a hip issue that contributed to him missing time and left the AFC Championship Game with a knee injury. Had 41 tackles and four interceptions, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Kyle Arrington
Age: 27
2013 status: Played in every regular-season game, starting 12. Played just more than 72 percent of the defensive snaps and was used both as a slot and perimeter cornerback.
2013 highlights: For the fourth straight season, Arrington played in every regular-season game despite working through injury issues of his own. Had some up-and-down moments but contributed a total of 62 tackles and an interception. He was used in anywhere from a second-to-fourth cornerback role, depending on the circumstances of the game and performance.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Alfonzo Dennard
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in 13 games, starting nine. Dealt with a knee issue that forced him to miss three contests.
2013 highlights: Blossomed in his second season, having strong stretches as the team’s No. 2 cornerback. Including the playoffs, finished with three interceptions. Dennard does not have the size and speed to be a pure No. 1 cornerback, but he does have what it takes to be a solid complementary option.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Logan Ryan
Age: 22
2013 status: Played in every game, starting seven regular-season contests. Contributed on special teams and played a total of 51.7 percent of the regular-season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Had a superb rookie season, leading all first-year NFL players with five interceptions. Returned one pick for a score and displayed strong ball skills throughout the year. An inside/outside cornerback, the third-round pick looked like the real deal in his first pro season. A bright spot for the secondary going forward.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Others on the roster: Justin Green

POSITIONAL NEED: Count Talib among the top priorities to re-sign this offseason, as it’s a debate between he and Julian Edelman. He’ll cost good money, but Talib has established himself as one of the dominant cornerbacks in football and will turn 28 later this month. Beyond Talib, the Patriots have very good top-four depth with Arrington, Dennard and Ryan, as both Ryan and Dennard have a chance to further evolve into standout players. Arrington provides toughness, durability and flexibility. If Talib returns, the secondary once again has a chance to be the strength of this defense.

Patriots positional review: LB

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here's a look at the Patriots linebackers, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Dont'a Hightower
Age: 23
2013 status: Started 14 of 16 games played, leading the Patriots in both snaps among linebackers (74.5 percent) and tackles (97).
2013 highlights: Thrust into a pivotal role with Jerod Mayo out for much of the season, Hightower became the on-field defensive quarterback for the Patriots. Often wore the green dot as the communicator of signals and play calls. He had some struggles in pass coverage, but came on late in the season. Should be better with the return of Mayo next year.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Brandon Spikes
Age: 26
2013 status: Played in every regular-season game, starting 11. Was placed on injured reserve in advance of the first playoff game, reportedly in part because of missing a day of work.
2013 highlights: Spikes was once again an impact run defender for the Patriots, racking up 86 tackles. Had major struggles against the pass, however, playing sporadically in sub defensive packages. As a free agent this offseason, it's fair to wonder if his days in New England are over after the decision late in the year to place him on IR, which was also tied into his balky knee.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Jerod Mayo
Age: 27
2013 status: Played in six games, starting them all. Was placed on injured reserve after tearing his pectoral.
2013 highlights: Mayo was his typical self when he was on the field in 2013: he gobbled up tackles with 55 in five-plus games, provided sensational on-field leadership and played virtually every defensive snap. His presence was sorely missed, but he worked hard as a pseudo-assistant coach when he went down.
Current contract runs through: 2017 season

Jamie Collins
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in every game, starting eight regular-season contests. Contributed on special teams and played a total of 25.8 percent of the regular-season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Collins was eased into defensive action as a rookie, but exploded in a playoff game against the Colts. His abundance of athleticism shows promise for the future. In a league where passing offenses force defenses into sub packages so often, Collins projects as a possible every-down linebacker in 2014 and beyond.
Current contract runs through: 2017 season

Dane Fletcher
Age: 27
2013 status: Played in 15 games, starting one. Was a core special teamer and played roughly 18 percent of the defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Fletcher continued to provide steady special teams production in 2013 while also serving as a rotational sub package linebacker. He started one game but had his best effort against the Broncos in Week 12, totaling seven tackles.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Others on the roster: Ja'Gared Davis, Steve Beauharnais (one defensive snap), Chris White (one defensive snap), Taylor Reed

POSITIONAL NEED: While Spikes is among the most notable free agents for the Patriots this offseason, a departure by the former second-round pick would not be crippling to this defense. With Mayo as the anchor and Hightower and Collins to flank him, the Patriots have a trio of solid front-line players. The return to health of Mayo and development of Collins are critical, as if Collins can consistently play on all three downs the Patriots will have a pair of dynamic athletes at the position. Beyond the projected starters, the Patriots have some depth in Beauharnais and Fletcher, but if Fletcher departs in free agency the team would serve itself well to add at least one more body to this mix.

Patriots positional review: DT

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the New England Patriots defensive tackles, ordered in percentage of defensive snaps played.

Chris Jones
Age: 23
2013 status: Started 11 of 13 games played after being claimed on waivers during Week 2 of the regular season. Played the second most snaps among rookie defensive tackles in the NFL with 786.
2013 highlights: There are two lenses to examine Jones through. One the one hand, he gave the Patriots much more than anyone could’ve reasonably expected, including 54 tackles and six sacks. Conversely, there were times when Jones was overwhelmed as an anchor. Nonetheless, he’s a piece of the puzzle going forward, as he’ll continue to learn from Vince Wilfork and grow within the Patriots’ system. He deserves credit for hanging tough given the unlikely circumstances surrounding his rookie season.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Joe Vellano
Age: 25
2013 status: Played in every game, starting eight in total. Played just fewer than 58 percent of the regular season defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: An undrafted rookie who worked his way on to the roster, Vellano, like Jones, exceeded expectations. He had flashes of both pass-rush and run-stuffing ability, but his modest size also left him susceptible to being run at by the offense. A player that is better suited as a reserve than a starter, but offers developmental depth going forward.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Tommy Kelly
Age: 33
2013 status: Started five of five games played, registering 2.5 sacks and playing 221 defensive snaps.
2013 highlights: Became an immediate starter alongside Wilfork after signing as a free agent last offseason. Provided size, girth and discipline along the defensive line to bolster both the run defense and interior pass rush. A reported ACL tear shelved Kelly for the final 11 games of the season, though he should be healthy by the time training camp rolls around, if not sooner. He was a big loss.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Sealver Siliga
Age: 23
2013 status: A late-season riser who ended up playing in the final five regular-season games, starting four. Also started each of the two playoff games.
2013 highlights: Siliga played the fewest snaps among the Patriots’ unheralded young defensive tackles, but by the end of the season he appeared to offer the most long-term value. He plays with a stout base and good leverage along the line of scrimmage, not getting his shoulders turned and not giving ground. Should benefit from learning behind Wilfork for a full offseason.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Vince Wilfork
Age: 32
2013 status: Started all four games that he played before going down with a torn Achilles’ tendon.
2013 highlights: Wilfork’s production according to the box score wasn’t anything to write home about, but the consistent message to convey with his play is that it transcends statistics. He’s a force at taking on double teams and clearing space for his linebackers. The injury ended his season and contributed to a run defense that struggled throughout the season. Has a big salary for the 2014 season, and the team could view him as an extension candidate.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Isaac Sopoaga
Age: 32
2013 status: Acquired via trade from Philadelphia, played in six regular-season games, starting two. Became an inactive player down the stretch.
2013 highlights: Desperate for bodies in the middle of their defense, the Patriots added Sopoaga via a trade. The maneuver didn’t cost them much (essentially about 25 draft spots), but Sopoaga had a limited on-field impact. With a big contract for the next two seasons, he seems like a likely cap casualty.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: Marcus Forston, Armond Armstead, Cory Grissom

POSITIONAL NEED: During an interview this past season, Bill Belichick referenced the team’s “top three” defensive tackles being on injured reserve. The first two -- Wilfork and Kelly -- were obvious, but the third was Armstead, a former Canadian Football League standout who had surgery on an infection just before training camp. If all three return next season -- each is coming off of a serious injury -- the Patriots will have very good depth and talent at the position. Wilfork and Kelly are both in their 30’s and entering the final year of their contracts, so this could still be an area where the Patriots look to add a young body. But while some might perceive this to be the first area of need for the team entering 2014, getting healthy would go a long way towards resolving the woes of the run defense from last season.

Patriots positional review: OL

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the New England Patriots offensive linemen.

Guard Logan Mankins
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, including one at left tackle when Nate Solder suffered a concussion.
2013 highlights: The tone-setter. Mankins flexed his toughness throughout the year and showed his versatility in kicking out to tackle as well. A road grader in the running game who was named to the Pro Bowl. After nine seasons, Mankins remains one of the top interior linemen in the league.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Left tackle Nate Solder
Age: 25
2013 status: Played and started 15 games at left tackle. Also logged 22 snaps as a tight end during the regular season.
2013 highlights: Solder continues to blossom into one of the top young left tackles in the league. Has a compelling mix of length and power, but can continue to grow sturdier in his base. Was at-times dominant. Missed his first career game with a concussion.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season (team can exercise option through 2015)

Center Ryan Wendell
Age: 27
2013 status: Played and started every game at center.
2013 highlights: After an exceptional 2012, Wendell wasn’t quite as solid in 2013. He can be outmanned in the middle sometimes with his light frame, but he remains a solid technician. Smart, involved in the line calls and an accurate shotgun snapper, he’s a center you can certainly win with.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Right guard Dan Connolly
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game at right guard.
2013 highlights: After a down 2012, Connolly bounced back for a steady 2013. Offers unique versatility to play both guard spots and center. Not an overwhelm-er at the point of attack, but has good short area quickness and athleticism. If Wendell departs in free agency, Connolly could return to center.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer
Age: 29
2013 status: Played and started eight games before being placed on injured reserve after suffering a broken leg.
2013 highlights: Dominant when on the field. The towering right tackle was among the best at his position before the injury. Powerful and athletic, his loss was felt along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Guard/tackle Marcus Cannon
Age: 25
2013 status: Played in 14 games, starting six in place of Vollmer.
2013 highlights: The Patriots’ utility man along the line, Cannon took snaps at both tackle spots. He has experience at guard as well. As a starter, he was sufficient. Had some struggles against elite defensive ends but has continued to progress. Gives the Patriots insurance along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Guard/tackle Will Svitek
Age: 32
2013 status: Played in 13 games, starting two at right tackle when Cannon was out due to injury.
2013 Highlights: Another utility lineman who returned from injury after missing the entire 2012 season. Held up in spot duty at both guard and tackle. A veteran with positional versatility.
Current contract runs through: Free agent.

Guard Josh Kline
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in seven games, starting against Baltimore when Mankins played left tackle.
2013 highlights: Emerged as a young, developmental prospect. Went undrafted out of Kent State but could stick around as a player the Patriots can count on. Performed at a high level in start against the Ravens.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Guard Chris Barker
Age: 23
2013 status: Played in four games.
2013 highlights: A reserve who was active sporadically, seeing some time on the field goal/extra point team.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey, OL R.J. Mattes, OT Markus Zusevics

POSITIONAL NEED: Contractually, the Patriots have four of their five starters from 2013 in place for next season, as Wendell is the lone free agent. If the team brings him back, the 2014 starters may well mirror this year’s starting group. If Wendell doesn’t return, the team could shift Connolly back to center, use Cannon at right guard and form an altered starting five. Kline showed promise as a developmental prospect, while Barker, Cave, Devey, Zusevics and Mattes are lesser-known prospects. Given that Cave was claimed off of waivers from Cleveland at the start of the season, he could be a player the team has a preferred level of interest in. All told, the Patriots have options along the offensive line. The angle worth watching closely is the transition from longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo. Scarnecchia was simply phenomenal, both as an X’s and O’s coach and talent developer. This group had some struggles on the whole in pass protection this season, but can be a strength of the roster with a bounce-back season.

Patriots positional review: TE/FB

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots tight ends (ordered by percentage of snaps played)

Michael Hoomanawanui
Age: 25
2013 status: Led tight ends in snaps (57.6 percent), started 10 of 13 games
2013 highlights: Had 12 catches for 136 yards and a receiving touchdown, making timely catches and displaying reliable hands. Made a more salient impact as a blocker. Hoomanawanui was thrust into a big role, and though his receiving production was modest, he did admirable work.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Rob Gronkowski
Age: 24
2013 status: Second among tight ends in snaps (32 percent), started 6 of 7 games. Placed on injured reserve after suffering torn ACL.
2013 highlights: After recovering from offseason back and forearm surgeries, Gronk returned and reestablished himself as the best tight end in the league. He had 39 catches in just over six games, making the Patriots' red zone offense substantially better and adding punch to the passing game. Ultimately, the injury against Cleveland defined the late part of his season, and the Patriots are hopeful his latest setback wont cost him any time to start the 2014 season.
Current contract runs through: 2019 season

Matthew Mulligan
Age: 29
2013 status: Third among tight ends in snaps played (22.9) percentage
2013 highlights: Made a critical touchdown catch against the Falcons in Week 4, one of two receptions this season. Largely a run blocking tight end.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

D.J. Williams
Age: 23
2013 status: Played 11 offensive snaps
2013 highlights: Had a minimal role after being added in the middle of the season.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

James Develin
Age: 25
2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback
2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions most primarily as a lead blocker in two back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.
Current contract runs through: 2014

POSITIONAL NEED: At this time last year, we would have declared the tight end position to be in as good of shape as nearly any other on the team. Gronkowski’s string of surgeries and the release of Aaron Hernandez casts a different outlook now, as this is, in our estimation, the greatest need for the Patriots to address this offseason. Even if Gronkowski returns fully healthy for the start of next season, a complementary tight end to play alongside him and provide insurance as a pass-catcher would be beneficial. With a deep draft at the position, it could be on the team’s radar.

Patriots positional review: RB

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
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Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots running backs:

Ridley
Ridley
Stevan Ridley
Age: 24
2013 status: Led backs in snaps (28 percent), started 6 games.
2013 highlights: Ran for 773 yards and scored seven touchdowns, though his season will be in many ways remembered for a string of three straight games with a fumble that led to being inactive for a game. Ridley has the most pure running talent on the team, but he must overcome ball-security issues.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Shane Vereen
Age: 24
2013 status: Second among backs in snaps (24.3 percent), started 1 of 8 games active
2013 highlights: Missed 8 games because of a Week 1 wrist injury, but became a pass-catching force in his return. Had 47 catches during the regular season, establishing himself as a top pass-catching back in the role previously held by Danny Woodhead. Had some critical drops, but realized potential in third pro season.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

LeGarrette Blount
Age: 27
2013 status: Third among backs in snaps (23.3 percent), started 7 games
2013 highlights: Came on like a freight train late in the season, surpassing 300 total yards during the regular-season finale. A bruiser who bounced back after a disappointing 2012 season in Tampa Bay. Not always electric, but flashed big play explosiveness down the stretch. Had 8 rushing scores in last four games (playoffs included).
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Brandon Bolden
Age: 23
2013 status: Fourth among backs in snaps (23.2 percent), started 2 of 12 games played
2013 highlights: Was a part of the running back rotation during the middle of the season, playing a critical role in the Week 12 win against Denver. Made more pronounced impact on special teams as a core coverage player.
Current contract runs through: 2014

James Develin
Age: 25
2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback
2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions primarily as a lead blocker in two-back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.
Current contract runs through: 2014

Others on the roster: Jonas Gray, Sam McGuffie (RB/WR)

Positional need: New England’s approach at running back has often been by committee, and 2013 was no different. Vereen cemented himself as the go-to option when the team pressed the up-tempo button, while Ridley and Blount were more of the bellcow types. While Blount’s performance late in the season makes him a player of interest to bring back, NFL teams are becoming judicious in paying big bucks to backs because of their "replace-ability." That being said, bringing Blount back would solidify the depth at the position, with three quality starter types and Bolden as insurance.

Patriots positional review: QB

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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With the 2013 season in our rearview mirror, the Patriots have quickly moved forward to preparing for next year, as was evidenced by Bill Belichick taking in practice Tuesday in Mobile, Ala., the site of the Senior Bowl.

But before we move full bore onto 2014, let's use 2013 as a springboard to identify areas of need for the Patriots, while also reviewing some pertinent highlights of last season.

We'll look at the roster by position, starting with the quarterbacks.

Brady
Tom Brady
Age: 36
2013 status: Starter
2013 highlights: Played every offensive snap for the first time in his career, throwing for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns. Endured a slow start to the season before a late tear that included 16 touchdown passes in a six-game stretch. Elected to Pro Bowl, though he has passed on playing.
Current contract runs through: 2017 season

Mallett
Ryan Mallett
Age: 25
2013 status: Backup
2013 highlights: Did not log a single snap this season.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Positional need: For the third time in four seasons, the Patriots carried just two quarterbacks on the active roster. That allows the team flexibility on the back end, while also serving as a sign of confidence in Mallett, a developing young player. While Mallett has reportedly generated interest as a trade chip in previous offseasons, our sense is this: The Patriots are always open for business (if the price is right), but aren't actively shopping Mallett. Given that he is due to be a free agent next offseason, the Patriots may look to add an arm to the pipeline, be it in the draft or otherwise. Brady continues to play at an extremely high level and though he'll be 37 by the start of next season, it's not time to ready a new starter. With a contract that runs for four more seasons, Brady has good football left in the tank.

Tight ends & Patriots draft

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
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We wrap up our position-by-position look at the Patriots as they head into the draft with an examination of the tight ends.

Current personnel: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Brad Herman (Note: restricted free agent Michael Hoomanawanui has yet to sign his original-round tender)

Need level: Low

Overview: Despite the persisting issues relating to Rob Gronkowski's forearm, the Patriots are in good shape at the tight end position for the short and long term. If Gronkowski misses any time during the upcoming season, the team has a unique option to replace him in Ballard, who started for the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. The 6-foot-6, 275-pounder is a reliable blocker and catcher who projects to be the top backup this season. Hernandez, the co-starter with Gronkowski, gives the Patriots one of the most versatile offensive players in football, and the key for both remains health. Missing each for a handful of games last season was a challenge the offense had to work around. Fells provides additional insurance, as will Hoomanawanui, assuming he signs his tender in the near future.

Scouts Inc.'s tight end prospects of note:

1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame. 6-6, 250 pounds. 2012 stats: 50 catches, 684 yards, 4 touchdowns.
2. Zach Ertz, Stanford. 6-6, 249 pounds. 2012 stats: 69 catches, 898 yards, 6 touchdowns.
3. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State. 6-6, 254 pounds. 2012 stats: 42 catches, 543 yards, 6 touchdowns.
4. Travis Kelce, Cincinnati. 6-5, 255 pounds. 2012 stats: 45 catches, 722 yards, 8 touchdowns.
5. Vance McDonald, Rice. 6-4, 267 pounds. 2012 stats: 36 catches, 458 yards, 2 touchdowns.

For additional information on these prospects and more, CLICK HERE to check out Scouts Inc.'s player database (Insider content).

Cornerbacks & Patriots draft

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
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We continue our position-by-position look at the Patriots as they head into the draft with an examination of the cornerbacks.

Current personnel: Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Marquice Cole

Need level: High

Overview: Later today we'll know what's in store for Alfonzo Dennard's future and whether he will face jail time stemming from an April 2012 arrest. Regardless of his status, cornerback is considered a top need this offseason despite the fact that both Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington were re-signed. While the Patriots have a core of players at the position, they would benefit from adding another playmaker in the secondary, particularly a cornerback with reliable man coverage skills. This draft is considered deep with starting-level talent at the position, although not filled with star power beyond Alabama's Dee Milliner, the consensus top cornerback.

Scouts Inc.'s cornerback prospects of note:

1. Dee Milliner, Alabama. 6-0, 201 pounds. 2012 stats: 54 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions.
2. Desmond Truaft, Washington. 6-0, 190 pounds. 2012 stats: 31 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception.
3. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn. 6-1, 195 pounds. 2012 stats: 46 tackles, 1 interception.
4. Jamar Taylor, Boise State. 5-11, 192 pounds. 2012 stats: 51 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 interceptions.
5. D.J. Hayden, Houston. 5-11, 191 pounds. 2012 stats: 61 tackles, 4 interceptions.

For additional information on these prospects and more, CLICK HERE to check out Scouts Inc.'s player database (Insider content).

Safety & Patriots draft

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
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We continue our position-by-position look at the Patriots as they head into the draft with an examination of the safeties.

Current personnel: Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Malcolm Williams

Need level: Low

Overview: The feeling here prior to the Adrian Wilson signing was that safety wasn't a major need for the Patriots, as McCourty would be paired with either Gregory or Tavon Wilson as the starter in base packages. But with Adrian Wilson on board, the Patriots have good depth and a veteran presence that has been lacking in recent seasons. Tavon Wilson played well to start the 2012 season, but his regression in the second half ended up with him playing primarily as a nickel or dime safety. With a full offseason this year, he should have the opportunity to further familiarize himself with the defensive playbook and earn back the trust of the coaching staff. The elder Wilson's role is yet to be determined, but the element of toughness he adds is something to keep an eye on.

Scouts Inc.'s safety prospects of note:

1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas. 6-0, 214 pounds. 2012 stats: 91 tackles, 2 interceptions.
2. Matt Elam, Florida. 5-10, 208 pounds. 2012 stats: 76 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 sacks.
3. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina. 5-11, 208 pounds. 2012 stats: 79 tackles, 2 interceptions.
4. John Cyprien, Florida International. 6-0, 217 pounds. 2012 stats: 93 tackles, 4 interceptions.
5. Eric Reid, LSU. 6-1, 213 pounds. 2012 stats: 91 tackles, 2 interceptions.

For additional information on these prospects and more, CLICK HERE to check out Scouts Inc.'s player database (Insider content).

Linebacker & Patriots draft

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
5:00
AM ET
We continue our position-by-position look at the Patriots as they head into the draft with an examination of the linebackers.

Current personnel: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont'a Hightower, Dane Fletcher, Niko Koutovides, Mike Rivera, Jeff Tarpinian, Marcus Benard (could play end too)

Need level: Moderate

Overview: As it relates to the Patriots' base defense, it would be no surprise to see Mayo, Hightower and Spikes once again serve as the starters in 2013. But it's not so much the Patriots' base defense that ties into their need for a linebacker; it's about the sub defense, where both Spikes and Higthower struggled alongside Mayo in some coverage opportunities in 2012. The Patriots need to find a counterpart to Mayo who can ably defend running backs from the backfield and tight ends, something that hurt them down the stretch in 2012 and in the AFC Championship Game. Spikes is also due to be a free agent after next season, and the Patriots are one of the very best in the NFL in developing depth at a position with an eye toward the future. Finding a coverage linebacker who can play in space and on special teams would serve the team for both 2013 and beyond.

Scouts Inc.'s linebacker prospects of note:

1. Alec Ogletree, Georgia. 6-3, 242 pounds. 2012 stats: 99 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception.
2. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame. 6-1, 240 pounds. 2012 stats: 101 tackles, 1.5 sack, 7 interceptions.
3. Kevin Minter, LSU. 6-0, 246 pounds. 2012 stats: 130 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception.
4. Sio Moore, UConn. 6-1, 245 pounds. 2012 stats: 72 tackles, 8 sacks.
5. Arthur Brown, Kansas State. 6-1, 241 pounds. 2012 stats: 91 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions.

For additional information on these prospects and more, CLICK HERE to check out Scouts Inc.'s player database (Insider content).

Extra Point: On a recent conference, we asked ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. to identify top coverage linebackers, and his response can be found HERE.

Defensive ends & Patriots draft

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
5:00
AM ET
We continue our position-by-position look at the Patriots as they head into the draft with an examination of the defensive ends.

Current personnel: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette, Armond Armstead, Marcus Benard (could play linebacker too), Jason Vega

Need level: Moderate

Overview: While the Patriots have plenty of bodies at the defensive end position, the team could stand to add one more pass-rushing presence to complement the strong play from Ninkovich and Jones, who combined for 14 sacks last season. The team already has hosted both John Abraham and Dwight Freeney for free agent visits, and while neither veteran was signed, it was an indication of the team's interest in adding a player capable of generating consistent pressure. Both remain on the market, so the Patriots have options to address the defensive end spot through the draft or free agency. A consistent pass rusher who could play in a situational role in sub packages would help the Patriots improve their total of 37 sacks from 2012 and create more disruption from the front seven. At the recent ESPN Boston draft preview event, ESPN college football analyst Trevor Matich noted that this draft is deep with pass rushers, which could open the door to the Patriots adding an impact player at pick 29 or later.

Scouts Inc.'s defensive end prospects of note:

1. Ezekiel Ansah, Brigham Young. 6-5, 271 pounds. 2012 stats: 62 tackles, 4.5 sacks.
2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU. 6-4, 241 pounds. 2012 stats: 33 tackles, 4 sacks.
3. Bjoern Werner, Florida State. 6-3, 266 pounds. 2012 stats: 40 tackles, 13 sacks.
4. Margus Hunt, SMU. 6-8, 277 pounds. 2012 stats: 31 tackles, 8 sacks.
5. Tank Carradine, Florida State. 6-4, 276 pounds. 2012 stats: 80 tackles, 11 sacks.

For additional information on these prospects and more, CLICK HERE to check out Scouts Inc.'s player database (Insider content).

Running back & Patriots draft

April, 7, 2013
4/07/13
12:00
PM ET
We continue our position-by-position look at the Patriots as they head into the draft with an examination of the running backs (fullbacks included).

Current personnel: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Leon Washington, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, Tony Fiammetta

Need level: Low

Overview: It was just two years ago that the Patriots invested a pair of draft picks in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The results have been fruitful, as Ridley was the NFL's seventh-leading rusher in 2012 and Vereen's unique athleticism was on display on several occasions (health has been an issue with him, however). With Danny Woodhead gone, Vereen could be expected to take on a larger role in 2013, while veteran Leon Washington will be counted on to absorb some of Woodhead's snaps as well. Brandon Bolden gives the Patriots depth as a between-the-tackles back, and he was running extremely well prior to a four-game suspension last season. Throw in Jeff Demps and his world-class speed and the Patriots have a unique mix at running back. Develin and Fiammetta are fullback options, though we saw in 2012 that tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was capable of taking on a fullback/H-back role within the offense.

Scouts Inc.'s interior running back prospects of note:

1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama. 5-11, 231 pounds. 2012 stats: 204 attempts, 1,322 yards, 17 touchdowns.
2. Montee Ball, Wisconsin. 5-11, 214 pounds. 2012 stats: 356 attempts, 1,830 yards, 22 touchdowns.
3. Andre Ellington, Clemson. 5-9, 199 pounds. 2012 stats: 212 attempts, 1,081 yards, 8 touchdowns.
4. Le'veon Bell, Michigan State. 6-1, 230 pounds. 2012 stats: 382 attempts, 1,793 yards, 12 touchdowns.
5. Christine Michael, Texas A&M. 5-10, 220 pounds. 2012 stats: 88 attempts, 417 yards, 12 touchdowns.

For additional information on these prospects and more, CLICK HERE to check out Scouts Inc.'s player database (Insider content).

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