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  • May 24, 2015

Despite signings, still plenty of holes to address on defense - The Sun Chronicle : Patriots

Despite signings, still plenty of holes to address on defense

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Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2014 11:15 pm

FOXBORO - The temptation is strong to suggest that this part of the job has already been done.

The Patriots had needs on the defensive side of the ball prior to the 79th annual NFL Draft, which begins Thursday and extends through Saturday. But in a series of bold strokes, most of the more pressing needs disappeared - including those that were exposed in the Patriots' 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in last year's AFC Championship Game.

With the signing of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (from Tampa Bay) and Brandon Browner (from Seattle), the Patriots may have the best cornerbacks they've ever had on the field at one time. Then, not long after the foundation of team harmony was rattled by the signing of Revis to a huge contract, the Patriots placated angered tackle Vince Wilfork by giving him a salary cap-friendly contract extension.

But there are still plenty of question marks to be addressed on defense.

The linebacking corps is shorthanded with the losses of Brandon Spikes to Buffalo and Dane Fletcher to Tampa Bay, and with Jerod Mayo looking to return from the injured-reserve list. Safety is a question mark with Duron Harmon the best candidate to replace the released Steve Gregory. And depth is needed everywhere, as was proven last year when the Patriots had to keep going to the well to find warm bodies off the street for an injury-ravaged defensive line.

The Patriots enter the draft with five selections inside the first 140, which should give them enough flexibility to fill in the blanks at a few positions. They have No. 29 to start, which they had last year and traded away to Minnesota in exchange for four lower-round selections, followed by the 62nd (second round), 93rd (third round), 130th (fourth round), 140th (fourth round), 198th (sixth round), 206th (sixth round) and 244th (seventh round).

The following is a position-by-position look at the Patriots' roster entering the draft, and potential additions:

DEFENSIVE LINE

There a lot of bodies, and just as many questions.

Wilfork and Kelly aren't spring chickens, and they're both coming off injured reserve. Chandler Jones is seen as a superstar in the making, and Ninkovich is the ultimate warrior among them; he may not be flashy, but his effort is consistent and his hard work is rewarded with productivity.

Beyond that, it's amazing that the Patriots made it to the next-to-last game of the season with some of the puzzle parts that were picked up off the street over the course of the year. The most impressive of the lot was Siliga, although there was no shortchanging the effort made by Chris Jones and Vellano. They may have been overmatched at times, but not because they didn't try. Buchanan also showed some flashes.

Bequette, a third-round pick, has "bust" written all over him. And no one knows what to make of Armstead, the former Southern Cal and CFL standout, who missed all of last year with a mysterious infection.

A pass-rushing end and more speed and strength in the interior could be priorities. As is always the case, some of the smaller and quicker defensive end prospects could be targeted for conversion to pass-rushing outside linebackers.

POSSIBLE SELECTIONS

PICKS 29-62: NT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame (6-21/4, 331); DE Dee Ford, Auburn (6-2, 252); DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina (6-53/4, 272); DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota (6-53/4, 310); DT Kony Ealy, Missouri (6-4, 273); DT Ego Ferguson, LSU (6-23/4, 310); DE Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (6-3, 252); DT DaQuan Jones, Penn State (6-31/2, 322), DT Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina (6-31/2, 297); DT Will Sutton, Arizona State (6-01/2, 303).

PICKS 93-140: DT Anthony Johnson, LSU (6-21/2, 308); NT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee (6-61/2, 352); DE Demarcus Lawrence, LSU (6-23/4, 251); DE Will Clarke, West Virginia (6-6, 271); DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA (6-4, 252); DT Josh Mauro, Stanford (6-53/4, 271).

BEST OF THE REST: DE Deandre Coleman, California (6-41/2, 314); DT Ben Gardner, Stanford (6-4, 275), DE Taylor Hart, Oregon (6-6, 281).

LINEBACKER

Priorities at this position have changed since the Patriots have committed themselves to a 4-3 alignment, but they are in dire need of agile linebackers that can drop into coverage as well as run-stop - a skill that 2012 first-rounder Hightower has yet to develop to his fullest.

They also are seriously in need of depth. Many of the Patriots' core special-teamers have come out of the linebacking corps in the past, and with the departure of Fletcher, that well is close to running dry.

Bill Belichick has traditionally been reluctant to commit high draft choices to linebackers, although Mayo has certainly paid off on the investment and Hightower has shown flashes. Spikes was a disappointment from a commitment sense, although few doubted his raw ability. Thus, it's more likely that the Patriots' focus in this position group won't be on the early rounds.

POSSIBLE SELECTIONS

PICKS 29-62: Trent Murphy, Stanford (6-51/4, 250); Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (6-1, 237); Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6-3, 243) .

PICKS 93-140: Prince Shembo, Notre Dame (6-11/4, 253); Carl Bradford, Arizona State (6-01/2, 250); Marcus Smith, Louisville (6-31/4, 251); Chris Smith, Arkansas (6-1, 266); Christian Kirksey, Iowa (6-11/2, 233); Trevor Reilly, Utah (6-41/2, 247); Telvin Smith, Florida State (6-3, 218); Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (6-3, 247); Christian Jones, Florida State (6-3, 240); Chris Borland, Wisconsin (5-111/2, 248); Shayne Skov, Stanford (6-2, 245); Max Bullough, Michigan State (6-31/2, 249); Adrian Hubbard, Alabama (6-6, 257); Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA (6-4, 235); Devon Kennard, USC (6-3, 249); Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut (6-2, 246), Lamin Barrow, LSU (6-11/4, 237).

BEST OF THE REST: Jordan Tripp, Montana (6-2 1/2, 234); Michael Sam, Missouri (6-2, 261).

CORNERBACK

The fireworks of the offseason took place in this position group, and that gives the Patriots the freedom to concentrate their drafting efforts elsewhere.

The addition of Revis gives the position group instant credibility. Browner will be missing for the first four games of the season as he serves a league-imposed suspension, but the Patriots should survive with Alfonzo Dennard (his debt to society in Nebraska having been paid), Kyle Arrington or Logan Ryan available to pick up the slack.

Most likely, any selections here will be to bolster depth.

POSSIBLE SELECTIONS

PICKS 29-62: Darqueeze Dennard, Michigan State (5-103/4, 199); Jason Verrett, Texas Christian (5-91/2, 189); Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (5-111/2, 190); Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5-11, 194); Jaylen Watkins, Florida (5-111/2, 194); Keith McGill, Utah (6-31/4, 211); Phillip Gaines, Rice (6-01/4, 193); Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State (5-93/4, 189).

PICKS 93-140: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska (6-21/2, 218); Terrance Mitchell, Oregon (5-11, 192); Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (6-1, 198); Walt Aikens, Liberty (6-01/2, 205).

BEST OF THE REST: Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame (5-113/4 , 195); Victor Hampton, South Carolina (5-9, 197).

SAFETY

McCourty has emerged as a top player at the position, but there's reason for concern elsewhere as Gregory (a solid player who was nonetheless out of position more often than he should have been) was released, and Adrian Wilson never got a chance to play a regular-season down for the Patriots.

Second-year veteran Duron Harmon has the depth-chart edge over disappointing third-year vet Tavon Wilson (a reach of a second-round pick that has yet to pan out). The return of Chung, who was an ongoing disappointment both here and in Philadelphia, is seen as little more than training-camp insurance and possible special-teams opportunity.

There is supposedly not a lot of quality at the position in this year's draft, so if the Patriots are going to get a potential contributor, it's going to have to be early.

POSSIBLE SELECTIONS

PICKS 29-62: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (6-11/4, 208); Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois (5-101/2, 193); Ed Reynolds, Stanford (6-1, 207).

PICKS 93-140: Terrence Brooks, Florida State (5-103/4, 198); Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State (5-8, 184); Brock Vereen, Minnesota (5-111/2, 199); Marqueston Huff, Wyoming (5-11, 196); Ahmad Dixon, Baylor (6-0, 212); Dion Bailey, USC (5-111/2, 201).

BEST OF THE REST: Craig Loston, LSU (6-01/2, 217); Sean Parker, Washington (5-91/2, 193); Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky (6-21/2, 190).

INFORMATION FROM the Ourlads Scouting Service and NFL.com analyst Nolan Nawrocki was used in this report.

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