clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2016 NFL Draft: The Patriots Should Wait For a 2017 Running Back

The New England Patriots have done a tremendous job of addressing depth issues at positions that could use a veteran presence. The team needed a tight end and a linebacker and went to Chicago to pick up Martellus Bennett and Shea McClellin. The team's needs in the draft are smaller than before.

The departure of Akiem Hicks and the age of Alan Branch means that the team could use a rotational defensive tackle. Cornerback could also benefit from a veteran signing to counter the youth of Justin Coleman and Daryl Roberts- and to serve as insurance if Logan Ryan departs in free agency after the year.

The signing of wide receiver Chris Hogan helps out the receiver corps, but the team could still benefit from a youth infusion. Offensive tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon are free agents after this season, so the short-term contract with LaAdrian Waddle doesn't change the future needs.

The Patriots would be smart to add a defensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, and offensive tackle at some point in the draft. Coincidentally, the Patriots have four picks in the top 100.

One position of need that shouldn't be addressed in this year's draft is running back- specifically at rushing back.

The Patriots divide their running back position into a rushing back (think BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and LeGarrette Blount) and a receiving back (think Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and James White).

The receiving role is sufficiently filled for camp with Dion Lewis (recovering from a torn ACL), James White, and Donald Brown. Brandon Bolden could even be included in this group.

The rushing role is devoid of proven talent. Tyler Gaffney is on the roster, as is Joey Iosefa, but Bolden would likely lead this depth chart. The Patriots can either fill this position in the draft or with a veteran free agent signing.

Lewis, White, Brown, and Bolden all have pretty strong cases to make the roster, whether it's due to performance (Lewis, White), contract (Brown), or special teams and versatility (Bolden). If the Patriots brought back LeGarrette Blount on a one-year deal, the position might be fine enough for the 2016 season.

Remember that the Patriots 2015 rushing attack was fine with Lewis and Blount in the line-up, and Brown will provide a better 3rd rusher than anyone on the roster last season.

Also, the projected 2017 running back draft class is far better than the 2016 class.

"I like some of those [running backs in the 2016 draft]," a college scouting director told Yahoo! Sports, "but I might be inclined to wait. The next year could be really special."

While the 2016 class features Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry, and Kenneth Dixon, there's a clear drop in talent behind that trio.

The 2017 class could include Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Wayne Gallman, Samaje Perine, Royce Freeman, James Conner (overcoming cancer and a torn MCL), Jalen Hurd, Elijah Hood, and Kareem Hunt.

That's just a collection of names right now; not all will come out in the next draft and some could suffer injuries or a decline in production. But from a talent and fit perspective (most of these players are of the 220+ lbs size, while the 2016 class is smaller), the 2017 class matches the Patriots needs.

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio will often say "the focus is certainly more short-term on draft day than it is longer term," but this upcoming draft is a case of where Blount is likely going to serve better in 2016 than any back outside the top three players, and then the 2017 class will ripe for drafting.

New England doesn't have to ignore running backs in this draft, but they would be better served to use their early picks on the other positions of need.

Players like Florida's Kelvin Taylor, California's Daniel Lasco, Georgia's Keith Marshall, Auburn's Peyton Barber, Marshall's Devon Johnson, and Northwestern's Dan Vitale could all be available in the last couple of rounds and could serve as cheap competition for Blount, while also offering potential to land on the team's practice squad.

Running back remains a position of need, but it would be best for the team to field Blount in the 2016 season and then find a replacement in the superior 2017 draft class.