A closer look at the positions the New England Patriots could target at the NFL combine in Indianapolis:
Positions of need: Analysts rate this draft class as excellent on defense and the offensive line but closer to average at the offensive skill positions, which doesn't align with my view of the Patriots' top current needs at running back and wide receivers. But the draft is just one avenue to add talent, so the Patriots might elect to address those needs in free agency. As for this week's combine, the Patriots never focus on a specific position, but rather take a big-picture view of all the prospects while gathering critical medical information in a one-stop-shop setting that makes their overall draft operation more efficient. With that context as a springboard ...
Three players the Patriots could focus on at combine:
Jason Spriggs (OT), Indiana: The trickle-down effect of losing starting left tackle Nate Solder to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle on Oct. 11 was felt throughout the remainder of 2015, and Spriggs is the type of prospect who could develop as a left tackle of the future/insurance policy. Scouts have noted his size/length combination (6-foot-5¾, 301 pounds, 34½-inch arm length) as assets, but there are questions about how he might handle power in the NFL. It sounds somewhat similar to Solder coming out of the 2011 draft. Spriggs' athleticism is also considered a plus -- he was named the best offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl -- as he has some position flexibility.
Hassan Ridgeway (DT), Texas: He played alongside 2015 Patriots first-round pick Malcom Brown and enters the draft after his junior season. All NFL teams are doing some catch-up work on the juniors who declared for the draft, and that's what lands the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Ridgeway in this category. Conditioning and injuries are two things that have sparked some questions among scouts. From a traits perspective, however, he appears to check off several of the boxes that would be attractive to the Patriots.
Leonte Carroo (WR), Rutgers: The Patriots have five Rutgers alums on their current roster, which is easily an NFL high and reflects how coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and the rest of the front office respect the program (specifically from Greg Schiano's tenure). Carroo was the first player ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. mentioned when I asked him about the type of prospect who might be available to the Patriots when they pick late in the second round, where they currently own pick No. 60. He had a two-game suspension in college, and the NFL combine is a good place for Belichick & Co. to learn more information about that situation.