With little more than three weeks remaining until the NFL draft on April 20-21, the talk of where the top college players will go is heating up.
In New England, predicting who the Patriots will get in the first round will be quite difficult this year since the team picks last in the round. After holding the sixth overall pick a year ago, the Patriots won't have nearly as good an idea which players are likely to be available with the 32nd pick.
That hasn't stopped prognosticators from attempting to nail New England's top choice. Some of the latest predictions cover a wide range of possibilities. Unlike a year, New England doesn't have the numerous glaring holes to fill, but there are definitely areas that could use depth.
The biggest spot may be the spot New England went after first last year, defensive line. The Patriots are older at defensive end, with veterans Anthony Pleasant, Bobby Hamilton and Willie McGinest are in place. Richard Seymour showed his worth at defensive tackle as a rookie and could use another strong, young player to build a foundation on the line. With this in mind, the Ourlads' Scouting Service is picking Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney as the Patriots first selection.
Behind the line the Patriots could go for help in the linebacking corps. Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Ted Johnson all appear to be set for next season, though Johnson's future was tenuous until a recent restructure. Still, his health is always a question. Even if Roman Phifer returns, the team lacks potential at the position. Northwestern linebacker Napoleon Harris is being tagged for New England by both Lone Star Football and the Great Blue North Draft Report.
There is always a chance the Patriots could go for offense with the first pick, though it seems less likely. Joel Buchsbaum of Pro Football Weekly is putting his money on Auburn guard Kendell Simmons. With all but reserve tackle Grant Williams returning to the line, it seems unlikely New England would go after an lineman.
Finally, NFLdraftcountdown.com has the Patriots going after Florida State wide receiver Javon Walker. New England bolstered its receiving corps by signing free agent Donald Hayes, but could use depth behind Hayes, Troy Brown and David Patten. Fred Coleman got some experience and is a solid special teams player, but with the departures of Terry Glenn and Charles Johnson, bodies are a bit scarce. Head Coach Bill Belichick hasn't drafted a wide receiver in two drafts with New England, but that should change this year.