The 2012 campaign was a season with highs and lows for a team that missed the Super Bowl by one game.
The New England Patriots sported the top offense in the league, while being at or near the bottom in defensive performance at the same time.
It was universally accepted that New England's secondary was porous, yielding equal big plays to what Tom Brady and the offense inflicted on opposing defenses.
But the rest of the story involves an offense that struggled through a revolving door of injuries to many key players, while others stepped-up to carry the load.
Add in free agent losses, including Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and Patrick Chung, and this team may find it difficult to produce the gaudy numbers that have marked the last few seasons of the Belichick era.
With all these factors in mind, here are some scenarios that we may see the Patriots employ during the Draft.
I'll start with the obvious: Belichick could very likely pull-off one or more trades to gain additional picks in the middle rounds.
One popular theory has him packaging current backup quarterback Ryan Mallett with another player to pick up as many as two or three picks anywhere from round one to round four depending on perceived value in a quarterback-starved draft class.
Belichick is also fond of trading out of the first round, although last year saw him trade up to reinforce the defensive front line. The former would gain at least one extra pick, probably in the second round; the latter could cost the team dearly.
So here is my ultimate mock draft considering all factors:
Round one: Belichick stays put and selects the best cornerback available at that time (Trufant, Rhodes, or Banks).
Round two: Belichick finds a high bidder for the Mallett trade and takes the top receiver available in the top half of the second round (probably Justin Hunter, DeAndre Hopkins, or Quinton Patton).
Round two (pick 59): The Patriots take Tyrann Mathieu (CB/S LSU), or the next best corner available, such as Jamar Taylor (Boise State), or Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut) or even Darius Slay (Mississippi State).
Round three: The Patriots look to bolster the offensive line with Kyle Long (Oregon).
Round four: (also gained via trade for Ryan Mallett, etc): Belichick jumps to the defensive side of the line and goes after Joe Kruger* (DE, Utah) who looks like one of the best pass rushers at this point in the Draft.
Their last two picks come in the final round:
Round seven: I'd bring in a safety and another receiver at this stage - perhaps Brandan Bishop (S, N.C. State) will still be available, and I like Jasper Collins (WR, Mount Union) if he's still around, or Brandon Kaufman (WR, Eastern Washington) who I featured in an earlier article.
The Patriots will most likely bring Brandon Lloyd back, and even could consider Donte Stallworth, giving the receiver corps a plethora of talent to compete for Tom Brady's attention.
The defensive line already got a shot in the arm with three additions in free agency, so it was not a big focus of this Draft. Belichick also brings in rookie free agents, where the offensive line would get some competition as well.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.