With just two weeks to go until the NFL draft, most Patriots fans have found their favorite fix-all prospect that they believe the team should select at 29th overall.
While most could probably agree that with just five (and potentially four) picks, the Pats could likely trade down and out of the first round entirely, there are a select group of names that keep popping up, whether in mock drafts or just general fan discussion.
Here are five prospects Patriot fans seem to have the most interest in, along with our evaluation of how each player might fit in with New England.
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
When your pass defense has been near the bottom of the NFL for the past three seasons, it's not surprising to see many Patriots fans eying the cornerbacks in this year's draft class.
Desmond Trufant is arguably the most popular one, with four respected mock drafts put out in the past two weeks having Trufant going to the Pats.
Trufant has NFL size and quickness and the ability to play both over the slot and on the outside. That versatility is something that always appeals to the Patriots. He also has the confidence required to play corner in the NFL, and with two brothers already in the league, he should be well prepared to make the leap to the pros.
But with both Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib re-signing, just how big is the need at corner? Alfonzo Dennard, the team's best corner in 2012, could be facing jail time and/or a suspension, but he should return at some point as well. Should they replace him entirely regardless?
Talib did have injury issues, and even if he has a stellar season in 2013, he could very well cash in with another team next year. And let's not forget corner's a position that always seems to be hit by injuries, so depth is important as well.
There's no question that the Pats could still use some talent in the pipeline, even with oft-injured 2011 second-round pick Ras-I Dowling still a possible contributor down the road.
Adding a player like Trufant would give them even more flexibility and depth to deal with the elite NFL passing offenses that have shredded them in recent years. But it also seems possible that they can afford to wait until after the first round and get better value with a player like David Amerson, Jordan Poyer or Leon McFadden.
If the Patriots do add Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, it's possible cornerback could be their biggest need entering the draft. It will just be a question of where they see the best value in this talented defensive back class.
Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
Another name that has popped up a lot for the Patriots is Margus Hunt, a 6'8", 277-pound Estonian defensive end. While Hunt's size is intriguing, he's still a raw prospect who would require time to develop.
Still, there's no denying that his upside has some Pats fan salivating.
Historically, the Patriots are willing to take a chance on a player who might need time to develop, but there are some concerns regarding Hunt's fit.
He's likely restricted to the left defensive end position, one currently held by Rob Ninkovich. Does Hunt have the versatility required to switch in and out of odd and even fronts like the Patriots like to do so often? And how athletic is he in space? Ninkovich has shown some ability to stand up and occasionally drop into coverage, and the Pats would look for the same out of Hunt.
Ninkovich has already earned two contract extensions from the Pats, and could be in line for a third as he enters the last year of his deal. It seems clear he's a player that the Pats like, and at 29 years old, he's still in his prime. That doesn't necessarily eliminate Hunt from consideration, but you have to wonder if a long-term third defensive end is really worth a first-round pick.
Could Hunt, Ninkovich, and Chandler Jones all fit together somehow in a way that makes picking Hunt worth the risk? That's likely what the Patriots are asking themselves. There's no question that Ninkovich, while often clutch, can also be inconsistent. He also lacks the ideal size for the left defensive end position, though he still manages to do a good job setting the edge.
But Hunt's elite size and athleticism might take the Patriots to the next level at the position. And he might make an outstanding long-term bookend opposite Jones. That's what makes him so appealing to Patriots fans, but whether or not the Patriots consider him is largely tied to how they feel about Ninkovich long term.
Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
I've been beating the need for a defensive tackle the entire offseason, so I have to mention one potential target, even though many Pats fans don't seem overly interested in adding to the position. Defensive tackles are never sexy, big-splash picks, but they are involved in so many defensive snaps, and the right one could make a tremendous immediate impact for the Patriots.
The Patriots have already addressed the position this offseason, adding Armond Armstead from the CFL and Raider castoff Tommy Kelly. Armstead could be a solid addition, especially in passing situations, but Kelly is 32 years old and seemingly on a downward trend after a one-sack season last year in Oakland, though Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com thinks Kelly still has something left in the tank.
With Vince Wilfork turning 32 years old in November, and Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick entering the final years of their deals, there's still a need for young talent at defensive tackle, especially in the base defense next to Wilfork.
It's an interesting year for defensive tackles in the draft. There are 1-gappers, 2-gappers and combinations of the two, all representing good value in the late-first to mid-second round.
Jesse Williams is the most interesting choice for the Patriots, because he can do multiple things, and when used in conjunction with Wilfork, could be part of a monstrous and devastating duo. He could also be Wilfork's long-term replacement as the anchor on the inside.
Said respected analyst Greg Cosell of Williams (via Shutdown Corner):
I really like this kid. I think he can transition to the NFL at multiple positions, in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 front. I don't think there's a big difference between him and Lotulelei. I think he's probably athletic enough to be a three-technique tackle when push comes to shove, but he's so versatile, I almost think you could line him up anywhere in a three-man or four-man base, and he can play really well.
At 6'3", 323 pounds, Williams' size fits perfectly with the "double nose" base defense the Patriots ran in 2012. But, most importantly, Williams also has the quickness and strength to push the pocket, something the Patriots desperately need from their base defense.
There are other more traditional 3-4 defensive tackles like John Jenkins of Georgia, or more traditional 4-3 ones like Sylvester Williams of North Carolina, but Jesse Williams has the size and versatility to fit the multiple-front defenses the Patriots like to run.
Given time to develop under top-notch NFL coaching, Williams could team with Wilfork to form an impenetrable interior wall, while also adding another level of depth to rest Wilfork on occasion.
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Our final two prospects are at the Patriots' biggest area of need, wide receiver. Even if the Pats add Emmanuel Sanders, the need for more talent at the position remains.
We begin with Justin Hunter, who has all the makings of a true X-receiver, something the Pats have lacked since Randy Moss left.
Hunter tore his ACL in 2011, and while he returned for the 2012 season, he was not the same player, as is often the case with that injury. But the bonus for teams like the Patriots is that it will likely send Hunter to the bottom of the first round, whereas a player with his talent and measurables would usually be a top-15 pick.
Hunter was knocked for his drops in 2012, but as we saw with Wes Welker in 2010, drops are often prevalent with players coming off a major ACL injury. That inconsistency has left some observers questioning Hunter as a first-round pick, but his size, speed and leaping ability suggest that Hunter can develop into a premiere outside receiver, and there's nothing the Pats need more.
The biggest question about Hunter will come down to his football intelligence. With the Patriots system, it doesn't matter if a player has all the right dimensions and measurables. If he can't determine and execute the routes he's running, he won't last in New England.
The Patriots have dug this hole with their inability since 2007 to develop any receivers via the draft or free agency. Now they must fix it.
Ideally, they could find a perfect X-receiver to balance the offense around Danny Amendola, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but ultimately they just have to find one such receiver capable of picking up their offense regardless of how tall they are or how fast they run.
Still, in a perfect world, Hunter makes a lot of sense.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Finally we have the most popular prospect amongst fans and pundits alike. DeAndre Hopkins may not have the ideal size of a Justin Hunter, but he's still a solid 6'1", 214 pounds and is the more well-rounded of the two wideout prospects.
Hopkins also appears to be the more NFL-ready prospect. Blessed with strong hands, Hopkins is physical with the ball after the catch. He would not be a rehash of Brandon Lloyd at the outside receiver position in New England, as his blocking and toughness stand out in ways that are sure to be appreciated in Foxborough.
Simply put, Hopkins plays the game like the Patriots would like their receivers to play the game. Hopkins is a more-talented throwback to someone like David Givens than to Randy Moss.
But again it will come down to how well Hopkins can read defenses and how fast he gets on the same page with Tom Brady. Also, Clemson's history of receivers in the NFL certainly gives one pause when considering taking him with a first-round pick.
We can be sure that the Patriots extensive list of private workouts with receivers this spring, which included Hopkins, is accounting for everything. Hopkins has all the physical tools, but his grasp of offensive concepts is a mystery to everyone outside of those workouts.
There's no question the Pats need receivers, and given those left on the free-agency market, it seems all but certain they will take at least one in the draft this year, whether it's Hopkins, Hunter or another player that no one yet sees coming. In any case, New England cannot afford to take another Chad Jackson.
Tom Brady's shot at a fourth Super Bowl just might hang in the balance. It's clear that spending a first-round pick on a receiver makes the most sense for the team.
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