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Know your Enemy, Part 1: Divisional Foes

In a three part series, Know your Enemy will take a look at the possible draft strategy of some rivals/contenders that the Patriots should be on the lookout for this coming year. In part 1, we take a look at division rivals.

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft is 8 days away as of this writing, and at this point if you’ve been following along with the Pats Pulpit draft coverage, you should have a pretty good idea of what positions the Patriots are looking at, and some particular prospects they could be interested in.

Although it is easy to forget sometimes, the Patriots actually do have competition in the NFL. Somehow the NFL hasn’t decided to just give them an auto-bye to the Super Bowl, so they have to play 13 other teams in the regular season, plus at least 2 playoff match-ups before getting there. It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of some of these other key teams that could impact the Patriots attempt to be the first repeat champions since—well—the Patriots.

With a good draft that adds some key contributors, these teams could contribute to the Patriots downfall. As the first installment of a three part series, the only teams the Patriots are guaranteed to play twice—the division rivals—will get thrown under the microscope to see what they could be thinking over the course of the draft.

New York Jets

Picks (Round.Overall selection): 1.6, 2.39, 3.70, 3.107, 5.150, 6.191, 7.224

Needs: Literally everything except defensive end.

Overview: The Jets are in deliciously rough shape. Their roster is full of holes, and even the few areas that they have “talent”, their situation is far from locked in. They signed a potentially solid left tackle in Kelvin Beachum, but he’s two years removed from a torn ACL and was bad enough in Jacksonville last year that they felt the oft-injured 41 year old Brandon Albert would be a more reliable option. Eric Decker still isn’t a lock to stay on the roster.

Defensive end is their only real strength, but Sheldon Richardson is probably going to be off the roster by the start of the year, and there’s no telling what type of Muhammad Wilkerson will show up this year. Young star Leonard Williams is the only player on the roster they can hang their hat on at this point. Look for them to try and trade back in the draft, as the talent disparity from ~pick 10 through pick 50 is smaller this year than it has been in a long time.

For a bottom 3 roster, accumulating mid-round assets that can be immediate contributors will bring more value than getting one guy at 6th overall, especially where they are likely going to hit right at the talent drop-off and end up needing to reach for their guy. They could go any number of directions at 6 if they stay there, and look for them to be drafting best player available throughout the entire draft with the amount of holes they have.

First Three Picks Prediction: O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama/Budda Baker, S/NCB, Washington/Tarell Basham, EDGE, Ohio

Buffalo Bills

Picks: 1.10, 2.44, 3.75, 5.139, 5.152, 5.163*, 6.169

*If the Bills decline to match the Patriots offer sheet to RB Mike Gillislee, as expected, they will be awarded this pick from New England.

Needs: WR, C, TE, CB

Overview: The Bills have seemingly lost half their roster to the Patriots recently, and it looks like Mike Gillislee is going to continue that trend. All indications are that Buffalo is not going to match the Patriots offer sheet for the productive RB, and in doing so they add a 7th pick to their arsenal (3rd in the 5th round).

Their roster is in decent enough shape, and they just hired a promising new Head Coach in Sean McDermott. If things break the right way, and they add a couple necessary pieces next week, they could end the longest playoff drought in sports. Here’s the thing though: go back to the team needs—do you see QB on the list? Correct, you don’t. Tyrod Taylor is good, and even if they aren’t sold on him as the long-term solution (they should be), he’s good enough that they don’t need to be liquidating assets to trade up for a QB in this draft.

Naturally, in Bills fashion, reports are all over the place that they’re contemplating doing exactly that. The article mentions UNC’s Mitchell Trubisky, but they also reportedly like Deshaun Watson of Clemson. As mentioned in the Jets section, teams picking between 2-6 should be fielding calls from all over in an attempt to trade back and accumulate assets, and if the Bills are willing to be that team they should be able to find a partner.

They shouldn’t be targeting a QB. Per Bleacher Report’s Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq), the Bills are returning only 42 WR receptions from their 2016 team, and reports are they’re unsure if they want to pick up Sammy Watkins 5th year option. WR should be the pick early, someone like Western Michigan’s Corey Davis or Clemson’s Mike Williams, but the possibility of taking a QB at 10 or in a trade up are very real. In the later rounds, if they don’t take a passing weapon early that will almost certainly be a day 2 target, and with longtime center Eric Wood in a contract year at 31 years old, his replacement could be taken in the middle rounds as well.

First Three Picks Prediction: Deshaun Watson (at 10), QB, Clemson/Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State/Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado

Miami Dolphins

Picks: 1.22/2.54/3.97/5.166/5.178/5.184/7.223

Needs: OG, Off-ball LB, EDGE

Overview: The Dolphins have a young star in the making in Head Coach Adam Gase. In his first season as leader of Miami, he led the Dolphins to the playoffs despite losing QB Ryan Tannehill at the end of the year. Of the division rivals, the Dolphins are the best team and should be in contention for a wild card spot (though the idea they’ll sweep the Patriots is laughable at best). After trading Branden Albert to the Jaguars for Julius Thomas (technically two separate trades, but this was the idea), Laremy Tunsil can slide into the left tackle spot and be expected to lock it up for the next 7-10 years, but this leaves a hole at guard that they’ll still need to fill.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins desperately need linebackers. They locked up Kiko Alonso to a four year deal. Kiko Alonso is not good. Outside of him, they have an aging Koa Misi and something named Neville Hewitt slated to start as their outside linebackers. In Bleacher Report’s NFL 1000, the Dolphins outside linebackers that played enough to earn grades all finished in the bottom 7 at the position in all of football.

At this point it’s unlikely he’ll be there for them at 22, but Haason Reddick from Temple would be an excellent value pick for them as an athletic linebacker who can also rush the passer. If he’s gone, they could make a slight reach for someone like Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt, or target a guard or EDGE instead and come back to the position later. On day 2, look for them to address at least one of those 3 positions they passed on in the first round, with a WR or TE as a dark horse possibility.

First Three Picks Prediction: Forrest Lamp, OL, Western Kentucky/Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn/Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee

Check back in the coming days for a look at some AFC rivals/contenders!