The New England Patriots have a need ... for speed.
On offense, their two most productive players — James White and Julian Edelman — are more quick than fast. And at 28 and 34 respectively, they aren’t getting any faster.
The other wideouts? Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers are — compared to the rest of the league — plodding. Harry ran a 4.53 at the Combine. Meyers ran a 4.63. I don’t know how fast their tight ends are. I do know they aren’t that good.
As a whole, the group is pretty easy to defend. Double Edelman. Put a corner or safety on White. Press the other guys. And feel free to creep the safeties up because nobody can run past them.
Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis
Slow on offense is not something you want to be in 2020.
Meanwhile, take a look at the two teams at the top of the conference — a place New England called home until last year.
The best regular-season team in the AFC last year was the Ravens. They became that because of the rare speed of Lamar Jackson. His speed didn’t just change games. It changed the balance of power in the conference. The Ravens were the best team in football for much of the season because they embraced Jackson’s speed and exploited defenses with it.
And the AFC team that went to the Super Bowl? The Kansas City Chiefs wouldn't have been there without the fastest in-game player in the NFL, Tyreek Hill. Last April, the Chiefs got even faster, drafting receiver Mecole Hardman who ran a 4.33.
Hardman was on the board when the Patriots drafted last season at No. 32 and took N’Keal Harry.
Also on the board? Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Parris Campbell, D.K. Metcalf, Myles Boykin and Terry McLaurin. Campbell, Metcalf, Hardman and McLaurin all ran in the 4.3s. Boykin, Brown and Samuel were in the 4.4s.
Basically, the Patriots overlooked Harry’s relative lack of speed and put their chips on his size, strength and ability to attack the ball in the air.
As it turned out, every single player I mentioned was more productive than Harry, who battled injuries as a rookie.
Could the Patriots have come back in the second round and doubled up at wideout getting a faster target for Tom Brady with more varied skills? Sure. When the Patriots selected again at 45, all those players were still on the board except Deebo.
But the Patriots took cornerback Joejuan Williams. He barely played.
On defense, where the players charged with stopping the Jacksons and Hills of the AFC reside, the Patriots aren’t lacking for wheels in the secondary. Devin and Jason McCourty are two of the fastest secondary players in the league. Patrick Chung and newly-added Adrian Phillips can fly. Their corner depth — Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson — have elite speed.
But the McCourtys and Chung have been in the NFL for a decade or more.
At the second level? Jamie Collins was their fastest linebacker and he’s gone to Detroit. Kyle Van Noy was their best pass-rusher. He’s in Miami. John Simon is probably the fastest guy now. As a group their speed is average. Which would be fine if they were trading that lack of speed for a crushing front-seven that choked out rushing attacks.
The way they closed their season — with Derrick Henry’s cleatmarks all over their sternums — showed that they aren’t at that level right now.
If they want to compete in an ever-quickening AFC, the Patriots need to get faster. In a hurry.