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New England Patriots 7-Round Mock Draft: Post Combine Edition

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New England Patriots 7-Round Mock Draft: Post Combine Edition

New England Patriots
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL combine is running on all cylinders as we speak, signaling that the countdown to the 2014 NFL Draft has begun. It is imperative that the New England Patriots have a successful offseason in order to make a legitimate run at their first Super Bowl title in nearly a decade.

New England needs to draft players that can make contributions to this team right away. Bill Belichick cannot afford to swing and miss with his draft choices. The Patriots' fans are sick and tired of being so close to a Super Bowl, but falling short every time for the last nine years. To make a serious run, drafting the right players is critical.

As evidenced in the loss against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship, the Patriots need to improve their defense in order to make that leap. Many say that the team needs to surround Tom Brady with more weapons. While that is partly true, the Patriots do a fine job moving the ball up and down the field with the offensive personnel they have. While it may be nice to add pieces on the offensive side of the ball, New England lost to the Broncos because of their defense, plain and simple.

Having a strong, physical defense is a necessity in order to reach the ultimate goal, winning a championship. Ask the Seattle Seahawks. Heck, ask the 2001, 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots. Did you see anyone get after Peyton Manning in that game? Were any of the defensive backs making plays? Nope. It is essential the Patriots improve their defense by drafting players that can get after the quarterback and players that can make plays in the open field.

The Patriots' top needs (assuming Aqib Talib is signed) include: defensive lineman, defensive back, pass-catching tight end and extra pass rusher. Here is what the Patriots’ 2014 draft may look like if they don’t trade out of the first round; and that is a big if.

Michael LeDuc is a Boston Celtics writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @mike_leduc, and add him on Google.

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7. Round 7 Pick 221-LB Jamal Merrell

Jamal Merrell
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You know Belichick has to draft a Rutgers player eventually. Line back is a need, so Merrell is an appropriate choice. He's 6-foot-4 at 225 pounds and has the speed to be a coverage linebacker someday. Obviously being a seventh-round talent means he has many weaknesses, but he is a steady tackler and has potential to be something.

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6. Round 6 Pick 189-WR Cody Hoffman

Cody Hoffman
Jody Gomez-USA TODAY Sports

You can never have enough big targets on your team and the 6-foot-4, 225-pound wide receiver is excellent value for the sixth round. He has raw talent and is in my opinion, underrated. His combine results weren't bad for a projected late-round pick. He could join the young group of receivers and possibly emerge into something reliable on offense. Tom Brady needs receivers that can catch the ball down field and be a presence in the Red Zone.

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5. Round 6 Pick 182-DE Michael Sam

Michael Sam
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

With a less-than-stellar performance at the combine coupled with his recent announcement of his sexual orientation, Michael Sam's stock is steadily dropping. Sam is a fourth or fifth-round talent who will most likely, whether for the right reasons or not, be available in the sixth round or beyond. He is undoubtedly a perfect fit in New England and could essentially thrive under Bill Belichick. If there's a locker room that can handle such a distraction, it is the Patriots. Don't forget the SEC Defensive Player of the Year has some talent.

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4. Round 4 Pick 125-QB Aaron Murray

Aaron Murray
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Admit it Patriots fans, the time to think about the "post-Brady era" has come. His window is closing and he most likely has two or three more years of elite-level ability. Murray could be the perfect apprentice to Brady. He may be short for the position at six-feet tall, but the Georgia product moves in the pocket similar to Brady, has a nice and quick delivery, above-average deep-ball skills and terrific pocket awareness. Murray could be Brady's successor, similar to the Favre-Rodgers situation in Green Bay.

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3. Round 3 Pick 93-TE C.J. Fiedorowicz

C.J. Fiedorowicz
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Now it is time to focus on the offensive side of the ball. Since Rob Gronkowski has proven to be unreliable and Aaron Hernandez is an alleged murderer, I'm sure Tom Brady would love to have another pass-catching tight end to throw to. Fiedorowicz, a product of Iowa, is a massive target at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds. He has soft, big, "Mickey-Mouse" hands and fights for the ball. He's an attentive blocker and doesn't risk getting injured in the open field like Gronk does.

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2. Round 2 Pick 61-S Deone Bucannon

Deone Bucannon
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

History shows the Pats have done an atrocious job drafting defensive backs in the second round (Tavon Wilson, Ras-I Dowling, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler and Terrence Wheatley). But, this team is desperate for a play-maker in the secondary. Bucannon, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound player from Washington State, would be a perfect fit. He imposes his will with devastating hits on receivers and runners and forces a number of fumbles. Steve Gregory is okay, but he just doesn't cut it.

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1. Round 1 Pick 29-DT Ra'Shede-Hageman

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Numerous Experts have chalked TE Jace Amaro in as the Patriots' first-round pick; however, it is vital that New England uses their first pick to strengthen their team on the defensive side of the ball. Plus, the tight end position is deep this year.

Even if they have to trade up, the Pats need to draft Ra'Shede Hageman, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound DT from Minnesota. He's versatile and can play anywhere on the defensive front. Not only does he stuff the run, but he gets after the quarterback like an edge rusher and draws double teams. He could take over Vince Wilfork's duties.