The Patriots won 12 games during the regular season and advanced to the AFC Championship Game before losing to the eventual-Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. This came a year after the team made it to the Super Bowl in 2011. So, when it comes to glaring needs in terms of personnel, the Patriots have far fewer than most.
Still, all teams are looking to improve and even the best have areas in which they feel are in need to help. The Combine is set to kick off next week in Indianapolis (Andy and Paul will be there to provide the most comprehensive coverage of the Patriots) so this feels like a good time to identify the particular area the Patriots should be focusing on.
We've already discussed how free agency could impact some of the team's future moves, so for this week's debate well look solely at the draft. Which position should be the Patriots No. 1 priority in the draft?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
The Patriots have invested heavily in the defense – with varying degrees of success – in recent years. That's made for a young, inexperienced unit that needs to mature and come together. The offense, though, is a pretty proven, veteran unit that's shown an ability to produce – at least in the regular season.
The one thing the attack is lacking is a real down-field threat on the outside. Chad Ochocinco/Johnson didn't work out. Brandon Lloyd didn't work out. The need is still there. And the only way that New England hasn't tried in terms of filling that outside void at receiver is with a first-round pick.
There are some intriguing playmakers in this year's draft class, a number of them likely to go at the end of the first round. Finding a fast, playmaking wide receiver to develop would not only give the offense a boost in the short term, it would be a nice long-term investment. Trying to go after a speedy outside receiver in free agency is a huge investment that comes with huge risk. Obviously there is a risk drafting a receiver in the first round – especially given New England's inability in the last decade to develop a young receiver – but I'd still like to see Bill Belichick target an athletic talent at the position in the first round and try to give his offense a boost that might bring huge dividends.
As Tom Brady's career heads down the back nine, give him a new, explosive toy to work with. Draft a receiver in the first round, Bill, please!
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
There are several choices here – pass rusher, cover linebacker, cornerback, safety ... see where I'm going here? The answer has to be on defense, and I think specifically it has to go to the secondary, where the team has struggled over the past several years.
Offensively the Patriots have more than enough pieces. Few teams boast the kinds of weapons Tom Brady has at his disposal and the unit has put up more than 500 points routinely as of late. But the defense hasn't always been able to support that firepower, and even though Bill Belichick has tried in the past, he needs to keep at it until he succeeds.
The Patriots added a starter at corner in Alfonzo Dennard last year. He looks like a potential staple in the lineup for years to come. Now it's time to find his partner (assuming Aqib Talib leaves via free agency. If Talib stays, then safety becomes my top priority).
It's no secret the team's pass defense has been lacking in recent seasons. Depth in the secondary is one major reason for that. When Talib was injured against the Ravens the Patriots didn't have enough able-bodied cover men to deal with Baltimore's receivers. In truth, the team probably needs to add more than one young secondary piece given the problems New England has had trying to deal with even the most pedestrian passing games.
Adding a young, physical corner who can cover has to be the team's priority come April, and this time the Patriots need to hit on the pick.
**Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.