New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio spoke with the media about the upcoming NFL draft and answered a question about the team’s current needs on the roster. Caserio’s answer could reveal a little bit about the Patriots draft strategy.
“I think our philosophy has always been that we want to put good football players on our football team, regardless of position,” Caserio said. “We’ve kind of talked about in years past the Nate Solder example – we had Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer and we drafted Nate Solder in the first round. Do we need a tackle? I don’t know but Nate – a jumbo tight end – and he played right tackle, which he never played before, in his rookie year. Our job and our focus is to try to get good football players, put them on the team and as we get them then we’ll figure out what to do with them once we have them here.”
I think there are two main takeaways from this response.
First, Caserio says that his goal is to “get good football players,” which sounds like a non-answer but is actually important when discussing the current roster holes. Where are the Patriots currently weak? If the Patriots obtain RB Mike Gillislee from the Bills, then there is no real weakness with the starters and just a few holes at top back-up positions.
This is important because it’s an intentional way that the Patriots have built their team in free agency. The Patriots fill their roster with quality players at the starting position and at the top back-up roles, which allows New England to approach the draft with the “best player available” strategy- the Patriots are simply going to draft the best football players, regardless of position.
Second, Caserio’s response shows that the team wants to be ready a year early in case of an aging veteran or an upcoming free agent. So where are the positions that have these types of decisions on the horizon?
Offensive line is a big option at all three positions, with Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming free agents and David Andrews a restricted free agent after 2017, and with Ted Karras not a lock at guard and quality depth on the line an absolute necessity.
The Patriots also need to look at edge defender and linebacker, with Kony Ealy and Kyle Van Noy free agents after 2017 and Rob Ninkovich getting older, and at strong safety with Patrick Chung getting older, too.
So look to the offensive line, the defensive front seven, and at strong safety as the Patriots make their picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.