Going into the 2012 NFL Draft the New England Patriots have two pressing needs that must be addressed. The first and most important one is the defensive secondary. The other need is on the defensive line and more specifically, a solid pass rusher.
Going into the offseason, the Patriots had three pressing needs. The only issue on offense was at wide receiver. After the 2011 season the Patriots only had three solid wide receivers in Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Chad Ochocinco. To make things worse Welker and Branch were free agents after the season and Ochocinco had an abysmal 2011 season. Questions arose about whether any of the three would return for 2012. However, early in the free agency period the Patriots solved those issues. First the team placed the franchised tag on Welker, re-signed Branch, and Ochocinco took a decrease in base salary creating more cap room for the team. Then the Patriots improved at the position by signing free agents Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth.
In 2011 the Patriots had the second-worst defensive secondary in the NFL and the worst in the AFC. In the 16 regular season games the Patriots defense gave up a total of 411.1 yards per game. Of those 411 yards, 293.9 per game were given up through the air. Both of those totals rank 31st in the NFL only ahead of the Green Bay Packers.
During the 2011 season, the Patriots had five defensive backs playing regularly during the season. The depth problem was such that the team was forced to move wide receiver Julian Edelman to the other side of the ball. To their credit, the Patriots have been attempting to build the cornerback and safety positions through the draft since 2009. However, with lack of depth and experience, the Patriots will need to look hard at those positions in the 2012 draft.
The other position that will need to be addressed early in the draft is on the defensive line. While the Patriots did accumulate a very respectable 40 sacks in 2011 which ranked 14th in the NFL, the Patriots will be looking for a solid pass rusher at defensive end. Playing a 3-4 defense, it’s likely the team will be looking for a player who can contribute to the pass rush at defensive end as well as play a solid outside linebacker.
The only veteran defensive end on the team going into the 2012 free agency period was Vince Wilfork who is now 30 and will be soon in need of a replacement. The Patriots did make a move in free agency signing 30-year old veteran defensive end Jonathan Fanene who has been in Cincinnati since 2005. Adding to the depth of the position will be a key in the 2012 draft.
Despite the problems that the Patriots have on defense, they are certainly one of the most complete teams in the NFL as proven by their AFC championship last season. Improving the depth of their defensive secondary and defensive line will only make the team more complete and move them closer to their goal of winning their fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.