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2012 Patriots NFL Draft Needs: Fan Draft Preview

Yahoo Contributor Network

For any fan who has followed the New England Patriots during Bill Belichick's tenure, there's one that we know for certain heading into this year's NFL Draft.

It's very simple. Expect the unexpected.

Coming off of a season that ended in a trip to the Super Bowl, the biggest area of need really seems to be on the defensive side of the football. That's where most experts expect Belichick to target, and it's tough as a fan not to believe they'll try and address some of their weaknesses that ultimately hurt them in that disappointing loss to the New York Giants.

Once again they'll need to address their pass rush, and linebacker along with the defensive line seem to be the positions most mock drafts have them targeting. They finished the season with 40 sacks, with half of them accounting from career years out of Andre Carter and Mark Anderson. The bad news is they'll have to face Anderson twice next season after he left for Buffalo via free agency, and Carter is coming off of a season ending injury and is a free agent. As a result, they're left with trying to figure out how to potentially replace them.

Their secondary is also an area of concern, with the safety position still somewhat of a question mark as the team looks to find someone to compliment Patrick Chung. The good news is during the regular season the Patriots' secondary did a good job creating turnovers, finishing tied for 2nd in the league with 23 interceptions. Unfortunately during the postseason, they managed just one interception and weren't able to stop Eli Manning and the Giants in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl. Luckily with two picks in the first round, the opportunities are certainly there to inject some young talent into their defense.

On the offensive side of the ball, finding a talented young receiver wouldn't be a bad idea. So far they've added Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth, but at this point they don't have a receiver under the age of 30 who could be considered a "threat" in this offense. They've struck out on Taylor Price and Brandon Tate in recent years so they haven't exactly had the best luck in developing young receivers. However, one would have to believe they'll get it right at some point - and hopefully this is the year it happens.

The runningback position is another possibility after seeing BenJarvus Green-Ellis head off to Cincinnati via free agency. It's obvious that the Patriots weren't completely satisfied with what Green-Ellis gave them after they selected both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in last year's draft. Ridley had a solid rookie campaign after carrying 87 times for 441 yards (5.1 avg) and accounted for six of the team's 10 longest rushes of the season. Vereen meanwhile wasn't much of a factor, and with Green-Ellis gone and Kevin Faulk also potentially set to retire, it's possible they could draft another player.

As we head into the Thursday night's start of the NFL Draft, here's a look at five players that we could see selected in the first round that could potentially be a good fit here in New England.

SHEA MCCLELLIN, LB/DE, BOISE STATE - Belichick loves players who offer versatility, and that's something that McClellin would definitely give them. He's a player who is familiar with both the 3-4 and 4-3, and considering how the Patriots tend to vary their schemes, having a guy who can give them that type of flexibility would certainly make him a good fit. Some experts have even compared him to Clay Matthews, which if that's the case the prospect of adding that type of player should get any Patriots fan excited.

CHANDLER JONES, DE, SYRACUSE - Tom Brady was mic'd up during the Super Bowl, and the subsequent feature on NFL Network caught him talking about the fact that trying to throw over the long arms of New York's defensive line was a big problem. That's something the 6'5" defensive standout out of Syracuse would give them. Most scouting reports note his arm length and his terrific ability to shed blockers, and he seems to be someone who could be a great fit in this defense.

VINNY CURRY, DE, MARSHALL - Some analysts feel that Curry could do a good job taking over the role that Mark Anderson played last year, and he's a guy who appears to have a lot of upside. Curry totaled 23 sacks and 40 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons, and is someone who can be disruptive. Belichick also likes guys who are leaders and as a captain at Marshall, Curry fits that bill.

HARRISON SMITH, S, NOTRE DAME - Smith's name has been spotted on many of the mock drafts, and it's an intriguing idea considering he and Chung would make a great duo. He's another tough player, with one scouting report even saying he plays more like a 'small linebacker'. From what we've seen Belichick has been trying to solidify that part of his secondary, and it will be interesting to see if he addresses this position in Round 1.

MARK BARRON, S, ALABAMA - While we've seen New England trade down in recent years, several other analysts have suggested they could move up in the first round and go after a guy like Barron. He was great in coverage and had 12 interceptions over his collegiate career, and he's also a tough guy. He played through separated cartilage in his ribs, and despite that he still played at a high level for the top-ranked defensive team in the country. Considering Belichick's connection to Nick Saban, it will be interesting to see if they would value Barron enough to move up to get him.

As we know what Belichick will decide to do is anyone's guess, and we'll see how it all plays out over the next few days.

.Ian Logue has been covering the New England Patriots for over 13-years and is the owner and senior editor for PatsFans.com - an independent media site and fan community,

Sources:

1) NFL Stats and Information -

http://www.nfl.com/

2) Patriots 2011 Stats Database -

http://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/stats/2011/

2) ESPN Boston -

http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/new-england-patriots/post/_/id/4717587/sound-fx-on-super-bowl

3) NY Times -

http://fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/20/scouting-the-draft-notre-dames-harrison-smith/
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