The New England Patriots don't have a 2016 first round pick, but that doesn't mean they won't find one.
In fact, they've already found four.
In a bizarre offseason, the Patriots have acquired former 2nd overall DE Chris Long, former 7th overall OG Jonathan Cooper, former 19th overall LB Shea McClellin, and former 27th overall RB Donald Brown.
How's that for a first round?
Of course, all of these players were available for a reason. Long is aged and struggles as a run defender, so he'll likely be the 3rd defensive end in the rotation. Cooper was unable to crack the starting lineup with the Cardinals and will compete with Josh Kline and Tre Jackson for a starting spot opposite of Shaq Mason. McClellin couldn't find a role that fit him in the NFL until his cap hit became far too large for the Bears to keep around. And Brown...well.
God dammit, Donald.
But factor in former 2nd round Bears tight end Martellus Bennett and it's clear that the Patriots are trying to pick up as many players that offered high upside in the past, with hopes that they could pull it all together with the Patriots.
All of the Patriots trades- shipping Chandler Jones to the Cardinals for Cooper and a 2nd; sending a 4th to the Bears for Bennett and a 6th- have left the Patriots with a pretty interesting draft order:
1st round: No Picks
2nd round: 60th, 61st (Cardinals, Jones)
3rd round: 91st, 96th (compensatory for CB Darrelle Revis signing with the Jets)
4th round: No Picks
5th round: No Picks
6th round: 196th (Texans, Keshawn Martin), 204th (Bears, Bennett, but originally the Patriots from trading for LB Jonathan Bostic), 208th (compensatory), 214th (compensatory), 221st (compensatory)
7th round: 243rd (Texans, Ryan Mallett), 250th
So in total, the Patriots have two 2nd rounders, two 3rd rounders, four 6th rounders, and two 7th rounders.
The 2016 NFL Draft has the reputation of lacking a strong class of elite talent and the depth isn't fantastic. The Patriots have four picks in the top 100 to take advantage of the early depth that should fit the team's needs, and then can treat the six late picks like "spaghetti at the wall" and hope that one of them will stick.
The Patriots have done a great job of addressing some clear needs in free agency by finding a great tight end in Bennett and some quality depth at linebacker in McClellin and Ramon Humber. This means that the needs of the Patriots will be focused on development or rotational players.
The team needs a wide receiver and offensive tackle to develop.
Both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will be in their 30s and Chris Hogan, while younger, hasn't proven anything in the system. Perhaps Hogan and Keshawn Martin are the Edelman and Amendola of the future, but the team could really benefit by taking advantage of a really strong 2nd tier of wide receiver in the draft.
There are only a couple of receiver prospects viewed as top flight talent, but there is definitely a large number of players projected to thrive as a #2 receiver, or even as a #1B player (a la Emmanuel Sanders or Golden Tate).
And while the Patriots still have Marcus Cannon under contract, and have signed LaAdrian Waddle to a multi-year deal, the team would be smart to draft a possible replacement for the aging Sebastian Vollmer who will be a free agent after this season (as will Cannon). There is strong depth with developmental tackles in this draft.
The Patriots could also benefit from a rotational running backs and a defensive tackle.
The acquisition of Brown comes with a hefty $250,000 in guaranteed money, so it appears that he's close to a roster lock, and a return for LeGarrette Blount is still a distinct possibility. That said, the Patriots could really use a between-the-tackles runner that can pick up short yardage and close out games. There are some quality players available in the early rounds that fit that title.
The departure of Akiem Hicks doesn't really leave the Patriots with a hole in the roster since Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, and Alan Branch are still under contract, but the team prefers to run four-deep at the defensive tackle position and drafting a possible replacement for Branch would make a lot of sense.
The only other position of need would be at cornerback where the depth is thin and there is a lot of youth. Picking up a veteran free agent might make more sense than using an early draft pick on a cornerback.
It seems that the Patriots are planning for this draft to be weaker in the later rounds and have positioned themselves to take advantage of the top talent that will be gone in the early rounds. The Patriots have four picks in the top 96- only the Los Angeles Rams can say the same. Bill Belichick is ready to go to work.