The Patriots entered the NFL draft this weekend with needs at several different positions. New England decided to draft offense early and often, so they helped solidify most of their holes on that side of the ball but they didn't address the defense until the later rounds.
The Patriots needed some youth at running back and filled that void by drafting Laurence Maroney from Minnesota. The team then did a masterful job of drafting when they traded up in the second round to select receiver Chad Jackson – a guy they almost took with the 21st selection – to help plug the hole they had at receiver. With their first two picks, the Patriots got players with top twenty talent who should contribute on offense for years to come.
With Christian Fauria signing with the Washington Redskins, the team needed a third tight end. They selected David Thomas – a great pass catching tight end - out of Texas to give Tom Brady another option in the middle of the field but they didn't stop there. With the next pick, the Patriots took H-back Garrett Mills out of Tulsa. Mills played tight end in college but was listed as a fullback coming into the draft. He really is an H-back type player like the Redskins Chris Cooley. Expect the Patriots to move Mills all around and take advantage of his versatility. Mills is also an excellent special teams player and that surely factored into the Patriots decision to draft him.
The Patriots also added depth along their offensive line when they selected California OT/G Ryan O' Callaghan in the fifth round and Notre Dame guard Dan Stevenson with one of their three sixth round picks.
After the Patriots stocked up on offensive weapons, they addressed the kicker position when they selected Memphis' Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth-round. Gostkowski was clearly the top rated kicker on the Patriots board, so they were willing to use a pretty high draft pick on him. With Gostkowski's strong leg, he should really push Martin Gramatica for the starting job in training camp.
While the Patriots did an excellent job filling holes on offense and special teams, they did little to upgrade their defense. Linebacker, defensive back and nose tackle were all areas of concern heading into the draft, and only nose tackle - late in the sixth round - was solidified by the Patriots.
The Patriots draft purely on value – not need – so there is a possibility the team would have addressed these areas if the draft had gone differently. However, since they spent most of their picks on offense, the Patriots still have some holes that need to be filled on the defensive side of the ball.
New England already signed a number of defensive backs this offseason, so that isn't a huge concern, especially if Rodney Harrison comes back earlier than expected. The team selected Baylor S/CB Willie Andrews with their last pick but he'll have to battle just to make the final roster. The one thing the Patriots don't have is a true No. 1 cornerback. However, it's been reported that the team has had discussions with former Patriot Ty Law about returning to New England. If Law comes back, the Patriots secondary will be loaded headed into the upcoming season.
The Patriots did add depth at nose tackle when they selected LeKevin Smith out of Nebraska. The big 300-pounder has experience playing nose in the 3-4 defense and should be a solid backup to Vince Wilfork.
Not selecting a linebacker in the first four rounds was probably the biggest surprise regarding the Patriots draft. With the loss of Willie McGinest and the starting linebackers all getting up there in age, most people thought the Patriots would look to get younger at that position in this draft. As usual when it comes to a Patriots draft, most people were wrong.
Jeremy Mincey out of Florida was selected in the sixth round and there's a chance he could play linebacker. He's 6-0, 263 and a good athlete but Mincey probably won't contribute much as a rookie.
The bottom line is the Patriots linebacking corps is pretty much the same now as it was before the draft started. One name to look watch out for is former Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Brooks was considered a top prospect going into his junior year but a subpar, injury-riddled season hurt his draft stock. He's since been kicked off the Cavalier football team and is expected to enter the supplemental draft in July. Brooks played for Al Groh at Virginia – who runs a 3-4 defense similar to the Patriots - so there's a possibility he'll end up in New England.
The Patriots still have some holes to fill, especially at the linebacker position but it's hard to argue with the talent the team added in this draft. If New England can bring back Law and maybe sign one more linebacker, they will enter the 2006 with no weaknesses. Even if they don't, the Patriots have done enough this offseason to be in position to compete for another Super Bowl title. That's what happens when a team knows how to use the free agency process and manage the draft. They stay on top for a long time and it appears the Patriots took another step closer to doing that this weekend.