This offseason there seem to be more holes than usual in the New England Patriots' personnel. With the departure of both starting cornerbacks and long-time stalwart Vince Wilfork, as well as questions at guard and unproven depth at running back, the Patriots could have a number of rookies immediately step into starting slots.
The other concern is at linebacker, where both Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower are recovering from injuries and might not be ready to go at the start of the season. The Pats pursued Rolando McClain to reinforce the position, but he ended up re-signing with Dallas.
Usually the Pats have at least a serviceable starting 22 by the draft, but now, in early April, questions still remain.
Here are five potential draft picks that would be great fits in New England.
1. Eddie Goldman - DT - Florida State
The Patriots drafted defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the first round last year and he showed some promise before being shut down to get fully recovered for the 2015 season. Easley is a penetrator and would make a great pairing with Goldman, one of the top defensive tackles in this year's draft class. Goldman is not Wilfork, but has the size to be effective both as a two-gapper and getting up field after the quarterback.
Versatility is key in Bill Belichick's defensive scheme, where the base nickel package has two space-eating defensive tackles at the heart of it. Stopping the run with a six-man box is vital, and Goldman would immediately become a significant part of a rotation with Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and veteran Alan Branch.
2. A.J. Cann - OG - South Carolina
There might not be another position in more need of a youthful talent infusion than guard and this draft class is rich with prospects who could immediately step in. With captain Dan Connolly still taking free agent visits, the need at the position is almost unheard of at this point in the offseason. Cann could immediately step in and start at left guard, just as Logan Mankins did a decade ago.
Cann's experience, disciplined play and toughness all check key boxes for the Patriots' draft requirements. He would instantly solidify a huge need and form one of the best young interior offensive line tandems with second-year starter Bryan Stork at center.
3. Byron Jones - CB - UConn
With the departure of both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner many are now clamoring for a cornerback in the first round, but the Patriots' standards are extremely high. The last cornerback they took in the first round was Devin McCourty, thought by many to be more of a special teamer than cornerback prospect at the time. However, what he turned into was a four-down player who made the Pro Bowl both as a cornerback in this rookie year and as a safety last season.
Jones has shot up the draft boards with impressive performances at both the combine and UConn's pro day. He's the ultimate leader, something the Patriots definitely look for in prospects. Like McCourty, he could be a four-down player and contribute immediate value, even if he doesn't immediately lock down a starting spot on defense. His athleticism and size would be a welcome addition to the secondary.
4. Duke Johnson - RB - Miami
With Stevan Ridley's likely departure, the Patriots do have some need at running back, although second-year player Tyler Gaffney, plucked off of waivers from the Carolina Panthers, should compete for a role. LeGarrette Blount is a solid piece, but the Pats prefer a committee of running backs and Blount won't be asked to carry the load.
Enter Duke Johnson, an explosive running back, who would immediately bring a new dimension to the Patriots' backfield. Johnson is a downhill runner who will break initial contact and pick up extra yards. He's also a capable receiver and while his protection skills might keep him off the field early in his career, he'll be protected in this respect via the backfield-by-committee philosophy.
5. Bernardrick McKinney - ILB - Mississippi St.
With Mayo and Hightower questionable for the start of training camp, and no experienced depth behind Jamie Collins, the Patriots must bring in some talent to their linebacker corps. They will continue to look at free agent options, but they'll also look at the rookie crop long and hard.
McKinney isn't a flashy choice, he's the kind of player that plays within the defense and makes plays. He has excellent size and length, and runs well enough to not be a major liability in the passing game. While it's always preferable to ease a rookie linebacker in, McKinney would carve out a role even with the eventual return of Mayo and Hightower.