With the preseason favorite New York Jets standing in the way, the New England Patriots were unable to capitilize on having won the division crown and the league’s best record at 14-2. Like every team, the Patriots enter the uncertain 2011 offseason with plenty of questions that could keep them from another run at the Super Bowl.
Fortunately for the New England faithful, Bill Belichek has once again orchestrated an exceptional crop of draft picks, and with history on their side, the Patriots look to make out like bandits with one of the league’s best draft in 2011.
Here is NFL Soup’s and Gridiron Grit Contributor’s Kevin Roberts’ take on New England’s first four rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Note: Mocks and team predictions can/will change all the way up until the draft. My team predictions on G/G do not necessarily impact each new mock draft we distribute or vice versa.
Round 1 (Pick 17): Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia
The Patriots were clearly more active and efficient on the defensive side of the ball in 2010, but due to a young and fairly inexperienced secondary, the bend-but-don’t-break unit still could use some upgrades. Improving the pass rush will go a long way in helping their young corners grow, and the versatile and athletic Justin Houston could be the perfect prize at the 17th pick.
Round 1 (Pick 28): J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
After shoring up the pass rush with the addition of Houston, New England adds more meat to its defensive line, picking up the strong and athletic 3-4 DE J.J. Watt, who will help against the run and gives the Pats a solid pass rusher on the line.
Round 2 (Pick 33): Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State
Sure, the duo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead got the job done in 2010, but the Patriots offense might have a chance at being even more effective if they had a more established every-down back.
This pick could make Green-Ellis expendable and at the very worst gives an already solid position outstanding talent and depth. Thomas is a tough inside runner with adequate speed and athleticism and could really grind it out for the Pats come playoff time.
Round 2 (Pick 60): Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
The Patriots already have some exciting young corners, but if there’s one thing New England has done a great job at, it’s adding depth to strong positions.
Dowling has the talent and physicality to push the current starters and could instantly help the secondary in nickel and dime packages.
Round 3 (Pick 74): Cliff Matthews, DE/OLB, South Carolina
New England could opt for a speedy wide receiver here, but instead they get another versatile pass rusher to add to the mix. Defense is the name of the game this year for the Patriots, and Matthews gives them their second stud outside rusher in the first two rounds.
Yeah, it’s pretty unfair that New England has all these picks and is adding all this fresh talent, but then again, it’s plain old smart.
Round 3 (Pick 92): Joseph Barksdale, OT, LSU
The Patriots got some major needs and a couple of luxury picks in their first 100 selections in the first two rounds, and with their final pick of the third round, they land a potential stud offensive tackle in Barksdale. The Patriots offensive line isn’t quite what it used to be, so adding some fresh talent on their line is crucial to continued success.
Other possibilities: Brooks Reed, Sam Acho, John Moffitt
Round 4 (Pick 124): Greg Little, WR, North Carolina
They don’t get a ton of speed in Little, but they do get an athletic playmaker with some interesting potential.
Randy Moss could still always come back to New England, but even if he does, the Patriots could still use a talented receiver to work opposite Deion Branch while Wes Welker continues to man the slot.
There’s no guarantee that Brandon Tate will develop into a full-time starter, so adding some talent and depth at receiver is a good move in the fourth round.
Other possibilities: Brandon Fusco, Mason Foster, Andy Dalton
The Patriots are still a very efficient offensive team that simply needs some upgrades on the offensive line and some minor depth additions at the skill position. On defense, they’ll need to make some adjustments to enhance the pass rush to assist an improving pass defense.
With a plethora of picks in the first four rounds, New England will likely be no stranger to some draft day trades, but no matter the direction the Pats go in, they should once again be in for a solid overall draft.
Take a tour through Gridiron Grit for more extensive 2011 NFL Draft coverage and head over to NFLSoup.com.