FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots head into the NFL draft with their usual needs at wide receiver and in the secondary.
Maybe Bill Belichick will make better choices than he did in his other 13 years as their coach.
He’ll have only five chances, the fewest picks in team history, barring trades, so there could be increased emphasis on signing players who don’t get chosen in the three-day draft that ends on Saturday.
“They’re always part of the equation,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said. “We’re going to be adding 20 more players to the team before we go to training camp. That could come from draft picks. It could come from undrafted free agents. Whether or not they play a larger role this year, possibly. There are still street free agents that are available. You’re always looking at a multitude of ways to put your team together.”
Two free agents, defensive lineman Justin Francis and running back Brandon Bolden, made contributions as rookies last year. BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the Patriots in rushing for two seasons after not being drafted and before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals a year ago.
But drafted players have a better shot at productive pro careers, even if that often hasn’t been the case with the Patriots. Five of the eight defensive backs they picked in the first four rounds during the past six years are no longer with the team.
At receiver, the Patriots have chosen four in the last seven years. Jeremy Ebert, a seventh-round pick in 2012, is the only one who remains. And with the departure of their top two receivers from last season, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots need help.
So how can they avoid the same mistakes?
“As a team, we look at everything that we do: on the field, off the field, strength and conditioning, draft, etc.,” Caserio said. “We’re always trying to find ways to improve our systems.”
The Patriots added veteran receivers Danny Amendola, Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins in the offseason as new targets for Tom Brady. But of the eight players they drafted at that position over the last 10 years, only Julian Edelman has made an impact, only as a backup.
Wide receivers who could be a good fit include DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, Keenan Allen of California and Markus Wheaton of Oregon State. In the secondary, they might choose among cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes of Florida State and Jamar Taylor of Boise State, and safeties Matt Elam of Florida and Eric Reid of LSU.
The Patriots also could use a speedy defensive end and might consider Damontre Moore of Texas A&M.
The secondary is considered a strong position in this draft.
“One of the things that’s probably unique about that position is you’ve seen a few more players have actually played multiple positions. Some of them have played safety, have played corner, some have played the nickel position, like the Matt Elam kid,” Caserio said. “You’re looking for guys that are versatile, can play multiple spots. Some of those players have played in more passing-oriented divisions and conferences.”
The receiving and offensive line groups also have good depth, Caserio said.
But the Patriots have just one pick in each of the first, second and third rounds and two in the seventh.