Ranking New England Patriots' Top 5 Draft Needs

James Ermilio@jimmyermilioCorrespondent IIIJanuary 23, 2014

Ranking New England Patriots' Top 5 Draft Needs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    With another offseason upon us, it's time to focus on how the New England Patriots can revamp a roster that came within a game of the Super Bowl. With a laundry list of needs in advance of next season, the Patriots have work to do if they hope to get back to the AFC Championship Game and beyond in 2014.

    Let's zoom in on the upcoming 2014 NFL draft and look at some of the Pats' biggest needs, ranked in ascending order of importance.

5. Wide Receiver

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The Pats have already invested a lot in the receiver position through the draft and rookie signings.  Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and T.J. Moe are all among the players drafted or signed at the position since the beginning of last offseason.  

    Still, with Julian Edelman a free agent and with lingering injury issues to Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins, the Pats may decide to reload again at WR.  Don't expect a first-round pick at the position when the team has more prevalent needs, but New England could opt to use a mid-to-late-round pick on the position in lieu of overspending in free agency.

    Possible targets at the position include Rutgers giant Brandon Coleman or Notre Dame's TJ Jones in the fourth or fifth round.  

4. Defensive End

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    After an AFC Championship Game in which the Patriots didn't record a hit on Peyton Manning, it is increasingly evident that they need to bolster their pass rush.

    2012 first-rounder Chandler Jones was a surefire hit, but he's the only player along the line that can be counted on to win one-on-one battles.  Rob Ninkovich is a strong, versatile three-down player but he is inconsistent as a pass-rusher, and he turns 30 on Feb. 1.

    The Patriots may look to move Jones inside and unleash him as an interior rusher at times next season, but that would only exacerbate the need for another DE.  Even if they keep him on the outside, Jones needs a partner in crime who can get after the quarterback.  

    If the Pats want to invest highly at the position, they could look at a player like Stanford's Trent Murphy in the first round.  Otherwise, expect at least a mid-to-late-round pick on a pass-rushing specialist like Dee Ford of Auburn.

3. Tight End

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Just last offseason, it seemed like the Pats were stacked at the tight end position for the forseeable future with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.  

    How quickly things change. 

    With Hernandez incarcerated and Rob Gronkowski tearing his ACL midway through the season, the Patriots would be wise to add depth and talent through the draft at this position.  

    With all due respect to Hulk Hogan, Matt Mulligan just isn't going to get it done at the TE position for the Patriots.  

    I expect the Patriots to invest a mid-to-high-round pick on the position.  It will be interesting to see if they opt for a pure pass-catching TE option to replace Hernandez like University of North Carolina TE Eric Ebron (a sure first-rounder) or if they want a player in the Gronkowski mold like Iowa C.J. Fiedorowicz (a second- to fourth-round pick).

2. Offensive Guard

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    With Logan Mankins on the wrong side of thirty and Dan Connolly a possible cut candidate, the Patriots will almost certainly draft an interior lineman.  

    Guards don't typically go high in the NFL draft, so the Patriots won't need to use a first-rounder on this position unless they want Stanford's David Yankey.

    Another option is to draft a solid left tackle who projects as an excellent interior lineman, which the Patriots did with Mankins when he came out of Fresno State. The Pats could take a player like Joel Bitonio out of Nevada with the intention of having him now provide depth at tackle before converting to guard for the long term.

1. Defensive Tackle

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly both coming off season-ending injuries—and both being possible cut candidates due to cap considerations—the Patriots have a huge need in the interior of their defensive line.

    The addition of Sealver Siliga from the Patriots practice squad bolstered the defense's stoutness in the middle, but the Patriots need much more depth at defensive tackle to run their base 4-3.  

    Don't expect a player like Louis Nix III, who should be gone by the middle of the first round, but the Patriots could take a look at an athletic interior player like Will Sutton of Arizona State (who may slip due to character concerns).

    If they want to draft a DT in the first round, they might consider Aaron Donald out of Pittsburgh.