The New England Patriots made it to the AFC Championship game for a third straight season in 2013. They would come up short of the Super Bowl for a second straight year, which leads many to believe they just cannot get it done in the biggest of games any more. Tom Brady hasn’t been able to will his team over the top like he did in his first few seasons.
Almost every other team in the league would like to have New England’s problem. It is one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl year in and year out because of the way it conducts its business. Bill Belichick finds players who are in it for the team and not themselves, and they simply make it work every year.
The Patriots had a lot to deal with last season. It started with the murder arrest of tight end Aaron Hernandez in June. Had they known that was going to happen, they likely wouldn’t have let Wes Welker go, which eventually came back to haunt them in the AFC Championship loss to the Broncos.
Rob Gronkowski dealt with infection and multiple surgeries to his broken forearm last spring before undergoing back surgery in the summer. He would miss the first six games of the season before dominating in seven games in the middle of the season. Then, Gronkowski suffered a season-ending ACL tear, and the Patriots would never really recover.
It’s amazing that New England made the AFC Championship with the hand it was dealt last year. Brady was essentially without his top three weapons from the previous year, and Welker’s replacement Danny Amendola was never right after tearing his groin in Week 1.
Brady would make the Pro Bowl despite finishing with his worst completion percentage (60.5) since 2003 and his lowest passer rating (87.3) since 2006. He was also sacked (40) more times than any season since his first year as a starter in 2001.
Clearly, the Patriots will be looking to add some weapons for Brady heading into 2014. They were improved on defense last year, but must make up for some huge losses in the offseason like Aqib Talib, who pulled a Welker and signed with the enemy Broncos. Let’s take a look at New England’s biggest needs heading into the NFL Draft in May.
Patriots 2014 Draft Picks
1st Round – Pick 29, (No. 29)
2nd Round – Pick 30, (No. 62)
3rd Round – Pick 29, (No. 93)
4th Round – Pick 30, (No. 130)
4th Round – Pick 40, (No. 140, Compensatory)
6th Round – Pick 22, (No. 198, from Eagles)
6th Round – Pick 30, (No. 206)
7th Round – Pick 29, (No. 244)
CB Darrelle Revis
CB Brandon Browner
WR Brandon LaFell
S Steve Gregory
CB Aqib Talib
NT Isaac Sopoaga
ILB Dane Fletcher
RB LeGarrette Blount
Top 5 Needs
1. Tight End – The rest of the league has Bill Belichick to thank for revolutionizing the tight end position. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowki were the catalysts as the Patriots used both on the field at the same time to pick apart opposing defenses. Well, Hernandez’ career is over, and Gronk is rehabbing ACL and MCL tears. While the Patriots re-signed Michael Hoomanawanui in free agency, they need to use an early draft pick on a difference-maker at tight end.
2. Defensive Tackle – After ranking 30th in the league against the run, it’s clear that the Patriots need some help at defensive tackle. They were ruined up front when the 32-year-old Vince Wilfork tore his Achilles’ in September, and his cap number of $11.5 million doesn’t sit well. The 33-year-old Tommy Kelly also tore his ACL in Week 5 and was done for the year. There is a very good chance that New England spends a first-round pick on a defensive tackle as it can likely get a tight end a couple rounds later.
3. Guard – Left guard Logan Mankins just turned 32, and right guard Dan Connolly deserves to be a reserve, not a starter. The Patriots switched to a power-running game last year and could use a mauler between the tackles. At the very least, they need to add some depth and competition behind Connolly, while also grooming Mankins’ eventual replacement
4. Center – Brady was sacked 40 times last year, which as stated before, was more than in any other season except his first as a starter in 2001. The primary culprit of the poor pass protection was center Ryan Wendell. Sure, the Patriots re-signed him this offseason, but they would be wise to find a replacement after last year’s disastrous campaign.
5. Wide Receiver – The Patriots were very thin at receiver last year with the losses of Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Hernandez. The Gronk and Amendola injuries didn’t help, either. They had to rely on a couple of rookies in Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, and neither really stepped up. Julian Edelman played well and was re-signed, but this team could certainly use more help at the position. Brandon LaFell has been a disappointment his entire career in Carolina and is not the answer.
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