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The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, and the New England Patriots approach it with just five picks, as a result of having traded their fourth-round pick for Aqib Talib, their fifth-rounder for Albert Haynesworth and their sixth-rounder for Chad Johnson over the last two years. The Patriots received Tampa Bay’s seventh-round selection in the Talib trade, giving them two picks in the final round, but will have no compensatory selections this year. All in all, these are the Pats’ five picks:
1. Round 1, Pick 29
2. Round 2, Pick 27 (59 overall)
3. Round 3, Pick 29 (91 overall)
4. Round 7, Pick 20 (226 overall, from Buccaneers)
5. Round 7, Pick 29 (235 overall)
Let’s take a look at the three positions the Patriots most urgently need to address in the Draft, and some of the players they could target come Thursday. Today, we look at defensive back.
The Patriots twice got good news on the cornerback front this offseason, starting with the resigning of Talib, who made an immediate impact on the secondary after being acquired from the Bucs last season, returning an interception 59 yards for a touchdown in his first game as a Patriot. His importance was made even clearer during the playoffs: he had 10 tackles in the Divisional Round beatdown of the Texans, and his injury in the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens the following week left the secondary very vulnerable in the loss.
The Pats also dodged a bullet with the sentencing of Alfonzo Dennard, who will only serve 30 days in jail for assaulting a police officer and will not miss any playing time. Still, the constant injuries to Ras-I Dowling and Devin McCourty‘s move to safety leave the team thin at CB, and Kyle Arrington saw a decrease in his production in 2012 (no interceptions after recording seven in 2011).
While the top two CBs in the Draft, Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, should be long gone by the time the Pats make their first pick, New England might still be able to find some solid talent. Washington’s Desmond Trufant (the younger brother of former Seahawks Pro Bowler Marcus Trufant) was widely considered to be the third-best corner of this year’s class, but D. J. Hayden of Houston is rising up draft boards fast, even after he suffered a life-threatening injury during a practice last year which forced him to miss the last four games of the season.
The Bears and Vikings are two teams that pick ahead of the Patriots and might go after Hayden and Trufant. That could still leave Boise State’s Jamar Taylor or Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks available for the taking.
The Patriots could also choose to take a safety in the first round, even though they added five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson in free agency. In this case, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien, Florida’s Matt Elam and LSU’s Eric Reid are among the top names that should be on the board at the end of the first round.