FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots head into the NFL draft with their usual needs at wide receiver and in the secondary.
Maybe Bill Belichick will make better choices than he did in his other 13 years as their coach.
He’ll have only five chances, the fewest picks in team history, barring trades, so there could be increased emphasis on signing players who don’t get chosen in the three-day draft that ends on Saturday.
“They’re always part of the equation,” Patriots director of player personnel director Nick Caserio said. “We’re going to be adding 20 more players to the team before we go to training camp. That could come from draft picks. It could come from undrafted free agents. Whether or not they play a larger role this year, possibly. There are still street free agents that are available. You’re always looking at a multitude of ways to put your team together.”
Two free agents, defensive lineman Justin Francis and running back Brandon Bolden, made contributions as rookies last year. BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the Patriots in rushing for two seasons after not being drafted and before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals a year ago.
But drafted players have a better shot at productive pro careers, even if that often hasn’t been the case with the Patriots. Five of the eight defensive backs they picked in the first four rounds during the past six years are no longer with the team.
At receiver, the Patriots have chosen four in the last seven years. Jeremy Ebert, a seventh-round pick in 2012, is the only one who remains. And with the departure of their top two receivers from last season, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots need help at that position.
So how can they avoid the same mistakes?