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2011 NFL Mock Draft: Patriots Should Target Offensive Linemen, Pass Rush In First Round

With New England's season having come to an abrupt end on Sunday, Patriots fans have largely turned their attention to the upcoming draft. Richard Hill over at Pats Pulpit is no different, and has taken it upon himself to draw up plans both general and specific for the Patriots come April 28.

Given the recent failures of the Pats in the postseason, Hill has turned his focus towards the pass rush--both in applying it to opposing quarterbacks, and keeping it off the back of Tom Brady. This is apparent in his top positions of need:

1. Offensive Guard
2. Outside Linebacker
3. Center
4. Defensive End
5. Offensive Tackle

as well as on his draft board, where 30 of the 50 players listed fill those very positions.

While the last couple of years have shown that the Patriots have been lacking in the trenches, really the failures extend back to the disastrous conclusion to New England's attempt at a perfect season back in 2007-2008. Blame Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs all you want, but Super Bowl XLII was the game where an offensive line with three pro-bowlers fell apart and exposed a vulnerability against good pass rush teams that would continue right up through Sunday.

Of course, as with any draft board, there are plenty of pipe dreams. Alabama's Marcellus Dareus, for instance, is a lot more likely to be knocking Brady on his back for the Bills than getting him the ball back.

While SB Nation's most recent 2011 NFL Mock Draft has the Pats picking up Buckeyes DE Cameron Heyward, Boston College's own Anthony Costanzo is, at no. 9, the highest ranked player on the board that the mock draft expects to be available come the Patriots' first pick at no. 17. The offensive tackle would presumably be the heir apparent to the aging and increasingly suspect Matt Light. Heyward, for his part, comes in at no. 15.

Of course, that assumes that the Patriots pick at no. 17 at all. When was the last time that Bill Belichick didn't make a first round trade?