The New England Patriots love to draft top prospects that suffered an injury in college that forced them down the draft board. Now the team doesn’t have a first or second round pick, but there are four players that were regarded as first round talents before their injuries that could become available to the Patriots if things fall the right way.
Alabama LB Reuben Foster
Foster is considered a potential top 10 pick, but he’s suffered a series of off-season issues that could theoretically push him to the end of the first round. Foster required surgery on his rotator cuff (shoulder) and yelled at a hospital worker at the NFL Combine, causing him to leave the scouting event early.
Foster went back for a medical re-check and the results showed that he has not yet healed and could require a second surgery.
The most obvious comparable would be Clemson EDGE Shaq Lawson, who was also regarded as a top 10 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but suffered the same ailment as Foster. Lawson claimed he did not need surgery, but still fell to the 19th overall pick- and then subsequently underwent another surgery after the draft and missed the start of the 2016 season.
So when you combine the injury with the incident at the hospital, there’s an outside chance that Foster could fall to the end of the first round, where the Patriots could have a theoretical selection after a trade involving CB Malcolm Butler. Foster would be an ideal complement to Dont’a Hightower and could give the Patriots the three-down linebacker they’ve been looking for.
Washington CB Sidney Jones
Jones was regarded as a top 15 pick prior to tearing his Achilles at his Pro Day. Jones is expected to be ready to participate by the preseason, but would likely require a red-shirt year or at least some time on the physically unable to perform list.
Jones entered the starting line-up as a true freshman and held the job for three years, including two First Team All Conference performances as a sophomore and a junior.
The Patriots don’t need a cornerback at the start of the season with the likes of Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, and Eric Rowe, along with the potential of Cyrus Jones, but Sidney Jones could be a terrific addition to the secondary at the end of the second round or start of the third round.
Michigan TE Jake Butt
Butt was a possible late-first pick at the end of the college season due to his exceptional blocking and receiving ability, but he tore his ACL in the final game of his college career (Orange Bowl vs Florida State). Butt previously tore his ACL in the spring of 2014, but managed to return for the regular season.
Butt has 97 receptions for 1,200 yards and 7 touchdowns over the past two seasons and he’s one of the more polished blockers in the league. While he has traits that could make him a #1 tight end for other teams, he could be an ideal insurance policy for the Patriots with Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen on the roster.
The tight end is expected to fall into the third round and possibly even the fourth, due to the strength of the position in this draft.
Alabama DB Eddie Jackson
Jackson was a former top prospect at cornerback, starting as a true freshman in the excellent Alabama defense. Jackson tore his ACL in the spring prior to his sophomore season, but still managed to return and start at cornerback.
As a junior, Jackson moved to safety and was named First Team All SEC with 6 interceptions and was regarded as one of the top safety prospects in the country. As a senior, Jackson suffered a season-ending leg fracture in October and served as a player-coach for the remainder of the season.
Jackson can play pretty much every position in the secondary and would be an excellent addition to any team. He is likely an early day three selection, although a team might be willing to take a chance at the end of the third round.
The Patriots have Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon at free safety, but Jackson could be a similar player to Eric Rowe and could help the team in whatever match-up is necessary.