Have Patriots upgraded their D?

New England focused on defense in the draft, but is it truly upgraded?

Originally Published: May 4, 2012
By Matt Williamson | Scouts Inc.
Robert Kraft, Chandler Jones, Dont'a HightowerAP Photo/Charles KrupaChandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower will be expected to contribute for the Patriots.

I was recently asked to do a post-draft NFL power rankings for Todd McShay's extremely early 2013 mock draft. In those rankings, I put the New England Patriots first. With the easiest schedule in the NFL next season, a return trip to the playoffs seems likely. But the question remains: Did they do enough to shore up their defense?

As the league goes to more teams with a base 3-4 defense, the Patriots went to more 4-3 looks last season -- when the NFL zigs, Bill Belichick zags. But either way, New England is always going to remain a defense with multiple fronts and Belichick will demand versatility and a high football IQ from his defenders. Against the run, New England was decent, but its 4.6 yards per rush allowed is concerning. The Patriots pass rush was middle-of-the-road last season, but the coverage overall was lacking. Most important, 17 defenses allowed more points than the Patriots' in 2011. New England gave up a lot of yards, but buckled down in the red zone.

Led by Vince Wilfork, the Patriots' big guys are an effective group. Wilfork is the obvious superstar of the bunch, but Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Myron Pryor and Ron Brace help make up a solid group of pluggers that can occupy the line of scrimmage as defensive tackles in the 4-3 or as nose tackles and ends in the 3-4. The pass rush isn't their collective forte, but they are difficult to move off their spot. Newly signed Jonathan Fanene isn't quite like these others; he lacks the extreme bulk of those listed above, but he also has some skills as a penetrator. Fanene might help the pass rush as an interior force on throwing downs. Pryor has also flashed some interior pass-rush ability and could surprise this year.