- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper held a conference call Thursday, and here were some of the things we learned that we'll pass along with a Patriots twist:
1. Potential for a lot of receivers in first round: The Patriots are unlikely to delve into the receiver pool after selecting Aaron Dobson (second round) and Josh Boyce (fourth round) last year, and also signing Kenbrell Thompkins as an undrafted free agent and seeing him emerge. But what could potentially help them with the No. 29 overall pick is that Kiper could envision a scenario where there are six to nine receivers selected in the first round. That would obviously push players at other positions to the Patriots, potentially creating value for them. Another note on the receiver class: With 19 underclassmen declaring at the position, it's also a deep class in which Kiper sees value into the third and fourth rounds.
2. Loading up on offensive tackles early: Similar to 2013, when there were five offensive tackles selected in the first round, Kiper sees as many as six selected in the first round this year. That could again push players at other positions down to the Patriots, who appear to be in good shape at offensive tackle with Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon. One factor to consider: If the Patriots decide to play Cannon at right guard, and factor in Vollmer's recovery from a serious leg injury, they could be enticed to select a tackle if one unexpectedly slides.
3. Closer look at interior offensive linemen: With starting center Ryan Wendell scheduled for free agency and starting right guard Dan Connolly set to earn a base salary of $3 million that the Patriots might deem too high for their liking, it's possible the club could eye interior offensive linemen early in the draft. Kiper doesn't see any pure centers or guards going in the first round at this time, but "there are a lot of centers and guards in the second- and third-round area.” Kiper mentioned Southern Cal center/guard Marcus Martin as an early to mid second-rounder, as well as North Carolina center Russell Bodine as a player to watch.
4. Getting a feel for the cornerback class: If the Patriots re-sign Aqib Talib, they would likely feel comfortable without selecting a cornerback in the draft; Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan are a strong top four, with developmental prospect Justin Green in the No. 5 spot. But if Talib lands elsewhere, the need at the position obviously increases and Kiper only sees two first-rounders at this time (Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard), with maybe a third sneaking in there by draft day. The sweet spot at the position looks to be in the second and third rounds. "Cornerback has turned out to be a pretty decent position overall,” Kiper said.
5. Getting a feel for the safety class: As for the general outlook at the position, Kiper said: "Safety depth is very average. If you want a safety, you may have to think first or second round. I don't see great safeties lasting into the middle rounds this year."
6. Teams in need of a defensive lineman might want to get on it quickly: Asked which positions on defense are deepest, Kiper said, "I don't think the defensive line is something you can wait on. There is not a lot of depth at end or tackle.”