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2016 NFL Draft Aftermath: Rookies that Could Make an Impact This Year

Potential spots where the players chosen by the Patriots last weekend could fit on Offense, Defense, and Special Teams

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl
Cyrus Jones heads the Patriots 2016 Draft Class
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots made nine draft selections in the 2016 Draft. Of the nine picks, the top five are guaranteed locks to make the 2016 Roster. The Patriots don't have very many spots where they need a rookie to step up unless they prove that they're ready to compete at the NFL level. The Patriots made picks that mostly address potential roster holes in the future, although a few of them could be able to contribute to the team in 2016.

Cyrus Jones: The Patriots have a fairly deep group at the cornerback position in 2016, although the two boundary corners Malcolm Butler (restricted) and Logan Ryan (unrestricted) are set to become free agents after the season. The Patriots can retain Butler using a high draft pick tender for 2017, although Cyrus Jones is more suited to replace Ryan at RCB or wind up in the slot. With the addition of Jones, the Patriots now could have an interesting camp battle on their hands in the slot between him and Justin Coleman. I listed Jones as a Top 10 fit in the draft overall because of his ability to play all 4 downs. Jones returned 4 punts for a touchdown for Alabama in 2015 and the Patriots can certainly use those skills in the kicking game whether he's returning or covering kicks.

Joe Thuney: The Patriots drafted Thuney, who played all over the place at NC State, but the team will have him play on the interior. The Patriots are clearly looking for an improvement in their guard play come 2016, spending two draft picks on the position. Thuney could be liable to start at either guard or center, as he allows the Patriots to go with their best 3 IOL for the season. I'm fairly confident that Thuney can win a starting guard role considering he's the most athletic IOL on the team and is a sound technician coming out of college. His athleticism and ability to block in the open field also makes him a candidate on kick returns where he can help man the 2-man wedge.

Vincent Valentine: The Patriots drafted Valentine more with the future in mind. In 2016, the Patriots have Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton and Alan Branch as their man nose tackles, although both are set to become unrestricted free agents after the season. If the Patriots are healthy at DT, Valentine plays 20% of the snaps at most in the defense. As a long term project, Valentine is a big nose tackle with impressive athleticism and strength for the position. Valentine is likely to replace both Branch and Knighton after the 2016 season as one of the main rotational pieces on the defensive line.

Malcolm Mitchell: The Patriots paid Chris Hogan $12M, with a front-loaded cap hit of $5.5M for the 2016 season, so it's very unlikely that Mitchell gets the starting nod over Hogan. However, Danny Amendola could be a potential cap casualty due to the Patriots drafting Mitchell and Hogan can play the slot when the Patriots go 3 or more WR. Even though Mitchell is a lock for the 2016 roster, he needs to earn opportunities to be on the field in camp and during preseason games. Mitchell's experience with Option Routes at Georgia should help ease the transition to the Patriots offense this year. Mitchell also is capable of returning kicks if he's unable to get on the field as a receiver.

DJ Foster: Foster is the only undrafted player in this group, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he has a very good shot at making the roster. Foster is a running back/slot receiver hybrid who is very good in space with the ball. Foster posted strong speed (4.46 40/1.50 10) and agility numbers (4.07 SS, 6.75 3C). He's not going to power through a lot of tackles as a rusher, but put him in space against a linebacker and he'll make things happen. He's very much like James White, although with more upside as a receiver out of the backfield. Foster is a guy that will force his way onto the roster this preseason.