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New England Patriots Need to Draft Defense First

Team Needs Help in the Secondary

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COMMENTARY | Defensive backfield is the area of greatest need for the New England Patriots entering the 2013 NFL Draft, but it's not the only area of need. New England currently has five selections in the draft, one in each of the first three rounds and two seventh-round selections. Here are five players who should be on the Patriots' radar:

Desmond Trufant, CB (Washington)

Trufant's stock rose during his senior season and at the NFL Combine, where he ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, and completed the three-cone drill in 3.85 seconds. Generally considered to be one of the top-four cornerbacks in the draft, Trufant could be available when the Patriots pick 29th overall. Trufant proved to be durable in college, where he started 45 consecutive games. New England's need for a cornerback became even more pressing when Alfonzo Dennard was found guilty of assaulting a police officer last month. He faces possible jail time as well as an NFL suspension. A larger void at the position will be created if the Patriots do not retain Aqib Talib.

Sylvester Williams, DT (North Carolina)

The Patriots like to grab defensive linemen in the draft, and could use someone on the interior who can pressure opposing quarterbacks. Good defensive linemen are plentiful in this year's draft, so Williams could still be on the board when the Patriots pick in the third round. His quickness and his ability to locate the ball are among his strengths. The knock on Williams is his lack of consistency. He can make game-changing plays, but also seems to disappear for long stretches. Measured in at 6-foot-3 and 313 pounds at the combine.

Matt Elam, S (Florida)

Elam is the trendy first-round pick for the Patriots among those who produce mock drafts. He was a two-year starter at Florida, where he also played on special teams (he was a gunner on the punt team, and the Patriots covet that type of versatility). Elam was an excellent run defender in the SEC, where he also displayed good coverage skills and showed the ability to deliver highlight-reel hits. He has played both free safety and strong safety, and could be the target in Round 1.

Tavon Austin, WR (West Virginia)

Austin is small (5-foot-8 and 174 pounds at the combine), but is another player who provides the versatility the Patriots love. He can return kicks and also ran the ball out of the backfield for West Virginia, a role tight end Aaron Hernandez has filled for New England. He had 572 all-purpose yards (second most in FBS history) during a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma last season. Projects as a slot receiver at the NFL level, which means the Patriots would still have to find an outside threat in the draft or through free agency.

Ryan Nassib, QB (Syracuse)

Originally projected as a first- or second-round selection, Nassib turned in a mediocre performance at the combine (5.06 40-yard dash, 28-5 vertical, 105-0 broad jump, 7.34 in the three-cone drill and a 4.53 20-yard shuttle). If he falls far enough, the Patriots may see him as insurance for Tom Brady (another QB who was less than impressive at the NFL Combine). Despite some below average athletic measurables, there are those who think Nassib's best football will be played at the NFL level. Brady won't be around forever.

Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader, and has been covering high school, college and pro football throughout New England since 1992.

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