We all know how good the Patriots are in the 2009 season depends on the health of Tom Brady's knee. It is doubtful that Kevin O'Connell could turn in a Matt Cassel-like performance as a second-year pro out of San Diego State.
The rest of the Pats roster looks completely stacked. Defensive back help was needed; Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs should deliver. The running game should be improved with the addition of Fred Taylor. All of these free-agent signings eliminate needs for the Patriots, who look to be the clear favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Let's get right to their draft range with the No. 23 overall pick:
Outside Linebacker: Mike Vrabel's play was falling off this past season and he was traded to Kansas City. A replacement is needed opposite Adalius Thomas. Everette Brown, Aaron Maybin, Larry English, and Clint Sintim could all be first-round options. I feel like Clay Matthews will be gone at this point, selected by the Texans at No. 15 overall. However, if they pass New England should be interested.
Rey Maualuga: Jerod Mayo won Defensive Rookie of the Year, but the Pats might want to add a younger linebacker. I think this is less likely because Gary Guyton had an adequately productive rookie season. Maualuga is the perfect fit in the 3-4 defense, so he might be in the discussions.
The second-round range presents the Pats with so many options. They might want to trade a pick to grab a 2010 first rounder. Maybe they package picks to move up back into the first round. There is an unlimited amount of possibilities, but let's target their main needs.
Free Safety: Brandon Meriweather had a very good sophomore year, but a talented ballhawk next to him could lead to more coverage sacks. Utah's Sean Smith might be an ideal fit with his ball skills and 6-3 height. Rashad Johnson of Alabama has the elite intangibles Bill Belichick loves; Nick Saban said Johnson was the smartest player he has ever coached. Darcel McBath is going under a lot of radars among draftniks, but he has play-making ability with range.
Wide Receiver: I love Wes Welker and Randy Moss - don't get me wrong - but a young receiver could keep this offense going once the veterans' careers die down. UNC's Hakeem Nicks, Ohio State's Brian Robiskie and Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias all fit this offense in the second round as possession receivers.
Offensive Line: The Patriots love to draft offensive linemen who can play multiple positions. This is why I consider Oregon's all-versatile Max Unger to probably be rated highly by New England. He can play center, guard, or tackle. In their system, he can play any position. I also think Arkansas Jonathan Luigs and South Carolina's Jamon Meredith could be options in the second or third rounds.
The Patriots really do not have many needs, so expect them to make a few moves up in the draft on Day 1. They have the ammunition to add a few big-time impact rookies to their roster to make another Super Bowl run.