A closer look at Patriots' needs

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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Bill Belichick often says there are multiple layers to the team-building process, citing free agency, the draft and trades. One goal at this time of year is often to use free agency to bolster immediate "need" areas and fill out a roster so a team would have all areas accounted for if the season were to start today.

The Patriots, from this view, have done that.

That gives them the flexibility and the ability to think long range in the next phase of the team-building process, the draft, which is the ideal scenario. An example of this was the selection of offensive tackle Nate Solder in the 2011 first round despite already having solid players at the position in Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer.

With this in mind, after the Patriots' work in free agency, here's where we think they could use a boost from a longer-range perspective:

1. Defensive end. Is Michael Buchanan, the 2013 seventh-round draft choice out of Illinois, ready to graduate to a nickel rushing role? There is a notable drop-off after starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.

2. Defensive tackle. No shortage of personnel, and the restructured contracts of veterans Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly lessen some of the immediate urgency to address the position, but it's good business to draft and develop the big guys if the right player is available. One needs only to look at some of the big-money contracts in free agency (e.g. Linval Joseph in Minnesota) as to the reason why.

3. Tight end. D.J. Williams is the only pure "move" tight end on the roster. The only other tight ends under contract are Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui.

4. Coverage linebacker/special teams. Depth after the top trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins took a hit with the free-agent departures of Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher.

5. Running back. The top three players on the depth chart -- Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden -- all have contracts that expire after the 2014 season.

6. Safety. The Patriots created a bit of a void with the release of veteran Steve Gregory (who remains unsigned), with 2013 third-round pick Duron Harmon the projected starter next to Devin McCourty. Harmon, from this view, exceeded expectations in 2013.

7. Quarterback. Backup Ryan Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season.

8. Offensive line. The level of need is contingent on how the club views some of its young developmental types along the interior such as Josh Kline, Chris Barker and Braxston Cave.

9. Wide receiver. After adding three rookies in 2013, and layering the depth chart with veterans Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell, this area is pretty well accounted for at this point.

10. Cornerback. The position is well-stocked, but one must account for the fact Darrelle Revis could be a one-year rental.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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