The Patriots find themselves on somewhat unfamiliar ground heading into the 2012 draft, having just six picks to work with to improve their team for next year.
Four of New England's six selections are in the first two rounds however, starting with number 27, after New England got extra picks from New Orleans and Oakland last year for moving down.
Their glaring need is on the defensive side of the ball, especially after their defense ranked 31st overall and against the pass last season. That defense also lost both of its top pass rushers in Mark Anderson and Andre Carter.
Look for the Patriots to target a player like Boise State's Shea McClellin or Zach Brown to bolster their pass rush. McClellin is a prototypical hard working player. He went to a somewhat unheralded school in Boise State, he's a farm boy from Idaho who knows how to handle livestock, and he has the aw-shucks good looks of an extra from Hoosiers.
On the field he has been a terror. He is 6'3, 260 pounds and played as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker for Boise. In New England he would spend a lot more time on the outside, but would be a nice fit to replace some losses.
Brown on the other hand is incredibly fast, but unpolished. The North Carolina prospect is 6'1 tall and weighs 244 pounds but ran the 40 yard dash in 4.50, second fastest time among linebackers at the combine.
Though he may not be an every down player right away due to concerns about his size and football sense, you can't teach the speed and athleticism that Brown has naturally, and that could make him a fit for New England.
The Pats might also look at a player like Andre Branch, another pure speed pass rusher type who led Clemson with 10.5 sacks last season. Though Branch played exclusively as a defensive end in college, he may be better suited to an outside pass rusher role in the NFL.
If the Patriots do decide to focus on their woeful secondary with their first selection, look for them to target players like Mark Barron, Harrison Smith, Dre Kirkpatrick or Stephon Gilmore with their first selection.
Barron may not be available to them as he is the top rated safety available in a very thin class. But Smith may be around for their pick at 27, or perhaps even their next two at 31 and 48. Smith is a 6'2 213 pound safety from Notre Dame.
Smith played close to the line for most of his college career and lacks a true cover back instincts, but he could come in and add some competition to a pretty poor Patriots backfield.
Kirkpatrick should bring shades of Brandon Merriweather to Patriots fans minds. He is a freak of an athlete who played with an incredible mean streak for the University of Alabama, but he has some notable red flags.
There are reports that Kirkpatrick has trouble with motivation, and he was arrested for marijuana possession late in 2011 but the charges were dropped. The friendship between Alabama's Nick Saban and Bill Belichick may give the Patriots reason to take a flyer on Kirkpatrick.
Stephon Gilmore may be a safer pick. He is a team leader kind of player who was a defensive captain at South Carolina. He has freak speed and started 40 games at corner over his four year career. There are questions about his ability to play strong man coverage, but he could definitely be what the Patriots are looking for.