- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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With free agency and the draft forthcoming, much of the talk surrounding the Patriots is about areas where the team needs to improve (justifiably so).
But on the other side of the coin are areas where the team has established depth, and thus don't figure to be central points of focus this offseason.
Here are a few positions where the Patriots are well-stocked for 2013 and beyond:
Defensive end. With Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, the Patriots have two quality starters on the edge of their defense. Add in depth with players such as Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, and 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette, and the Patriots have five players who project to be on the 53-man roster again next season. If recent pick-up Armond Armstead proves to be more of an edge player than an interior lineman, the group grows stronger.
Running back. Stevan Ridley became the workhorse in 2012, but there was a mini-stretch when Brandon Bolden looked ready to become a factor back as well. Following a four-game suspension, Bolden's offensive role evaporated. Nonetheless, with both Ridley and Bolden, the team has power backs to earn yards between the tackles, as well as Shane Vereen, who flashed dynamic athleticism in a smaller role. Another name to keep in mind is speedster Jeff Demps, who could prove to be more of a return man than an offensive player, although it's too soon to tell. Should Danny Woodhead return in free agency, the Patriots will have a full cabinet in the backfield.
Tight end. The Patriots are top heavy at tight end with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but 2012 was a lesson in the need for extreme depth. The Patriots have Daniel Fells under contract for two more seasons, and Michael Hoomanawanui is a restricted free agent they can probably have back if they want him (due to the system in place for tendering free agents). Jake Ballard was added last offseason with the idea in mind that he could use 2012 to recover from a major knee injury, and assuming he is healthy, he should be a useful addition as both a blocker and receiver next season. Despite the injuries to Gronk and Hernandez last year, the tight end was a critical part of the offense last season.
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