- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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The dust has settled from the three-day NFL draft and the New England Patriots' roster now has a much different look to it.
What type of impact might the team realistically receive from its rookie class?
Let's go position by position and analyze (rookies in bold), while also assessing the team's level of need at each spot:
Analysis: The Patriots carried only two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster last season, and they remain encouraged with the progress of Hoyer in the No. 2 spot. When one considers how Indianapolis Colts quarterback Curtis Painter (2009 sixth round) struggled in his limited action at the end of last season, and how poised Hoyer (2009 rookie free agent) looked in his late-season action, it appears as if the Patriots found themselves a keeper in the competitive Hoyer. Robinson was a seventh-round draft choice (250th overall), and if he sticks on the roster, it's hard to see him as anything more than the third-stringer at this point.
RUNNING BACK (5)
Analysis: In what some might view as a surprise, the Patriots did not select a running back among their bounty of 12 draft picks, which paves the way for last year's committee of five to return intact. Taylor, Morris and Faulk all have contracts that expire after the 2010 season, so the Patriots have a longer-term need at the position. North Dakota State's Pat Paschall is expected to sign with the Patriots as a rookie free agent and he'll face long odds to earn a roster spot.
WIDE RECEIVER (11)
Analysis: While factoring in that Welker probably won't be ready for the start of training camp, and most likely the start of the regular season as well, the Patriots have loaded up at receiver. Price, a third-round draft choice out of Ohio, should make the club and at the least will occupy one of the final spots on the depth chart and could break through if he shines on special teams. Moss and Edelman are locks, and Aiken figures to be as well because of his special-teams captaincy. The Patriots are also high on Tate, while Holt should have a place as well. The competition at this position should be fierce and a player like Slater could be fighting for a job. Central Michigan's Bryan Anderson will reportedly sign a rookie free agent deal with the club.
Need: Low to moderate
TIGHT END (5)
Analysis: This position is set up to provide the greatest rookie impact as it was reshaped most dramatically by the draft, with the decisive trade-up to scoop the Baltimore Ravens for Gronkowski in the second round (42nd overall) and then the selection of Hernandez in the fourth round (113th overall). What looked like a position of weakness, primarily because of the Patriots' own decision-making following the 2009 season, now is filled with promise. While Gronkowski and Hernandez will have to prove they can play in the NFL, the Patriots have given themselves a chance to have the tight end re-emerge as a consistent pass-catching presence in the offense.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (5)
Analysis: The 6-foot-6, 307-pound Welch figures to be on the development track this season after being selected in the seventh round (208th overall), although it was notable to hear Bill Belichick say that the team was surprised to see him available at that point. In trading up for Welch, the Patriots were probably thinking about the future as Light's contract expires after this season.
Analysis: Larsen, a late sixth-round draft choice (205th overall), will have his work cut out for him to emerge with such depth in front of him, but Belichick also expressed surprise that he was still available that late in the draft. Another area to watch is if anyone from the group of Ohrnberger, Connolly and Wendell could rise up and challenge Koppen for the starting role.
NOSE TACKLE (3)
Analysis: Once the Patriots re-signed Wilfork to a lucrative five-year contract extension this offseason, this spot was solidified with authority.
DEFENSIVE END (9)
Analysis: Although they entered the draft with a question mark at Richard Seymour's old right defensive end spot, the Patriots didn't draft an end until late in the seventh round with Deaderick (247th overall) and Weston (248th overall). Both project as fringe players to earn a roster spot, but at the least would be natural candidates for the practice squad. That probably explains why the team quickly struck an agreement with Warren, a veteran free agent. Both Warren and Lewis, another free-agent signee, are newcomers to the system and thus their ability to adapt remains somewhat of a projection. Reports indicate that Dane Fletcher (Montana State), Kyle Love (Mississippi State) and John Wise (Illinois) will sign rookie free agent deals with the Patriots.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (7)
Analysis: With the Monday release of veteran Adalius Thomas, this position is one in transition and is probably the club's biggest question mark. Banta-Cain projects as one starter, but the spot opposite of him in the 3-4 alignment is wide open. Cunningham, one of the team's second-round choices (53rd overall), would have to make a big jump to emerge there. A more realistic expectation is for him to rush on third down and contribute on special teams.
Need: Moderate to high
INSIDE LINEBACKER (6)
Analysis: One scout said that Spikes' style of play reminds him of Pepper Johnson, as he's a big, physical presence who could complement Mayo well. He'll have to beat out Guyton, last year's starter, as well as the recovering McKenzie, the 2009 third-round draft choice coming off a torn ACL from last May. The Patriots have transitioned nicely at this spot over the last three years, adding some promising young talent.
Analysis: McCourty should slide right onto the 45-man game-day roster simply with his special-teams contributions and factor into the mix in sub packages. With Bodden holding down the right side, and Butler possibly ready to emerge as a starter on the left, this has the makings of a promising 1-2-3 punch atop the depth chart. Wilhite can still help as a fourth option, while Springs and Wheatley face a challenge to make the club.
Analysis: After using their top draft choices at the position with Meriweather (2007) and Chung (2009) -- and with Sanders signing an extension through 2011 and McGowan making an immediate impact in the first year of a two-year pact -- the Patriots felt well-stocked here. No rookies added.
Analysis: Mesko was the first punter selected in the draft (fifth round, 150th overall) and it would be a disappointment if his powerful left leg isn't swinging into action for the Patriots in the season opener based on the investment the team has made in him. The only question is the unknown of how a rookie will respond.
Need: Low to moderate
Personnel: Stephen Gostkowski
Analysis: Gostkowski is a powerful weapon on kickoffs and has been consistent on field-goal attempts. The Patriots got this one right back in 2006 when they invested a fourth-round choice in Gostkowski.
LONG SNAPPER (1)
Personnel: Jake Ingram
Analysis: A rookie in 2009, he handled every opportunity without a real bad snap. The Patriots showed sound judgment using a sixth-round draft choice to draft him.
After the draft filled several key holes, what's still on N.E.'s wish list?