With the top QBs possibly going Top 15 and a QB depth chart featuring Jimmy Garoppolo as the backup and Jacoby Brissett as a developmental QB. Without the need for a developmental QB, the Patriots will likely avoid the position anyway. If one falls in the draft, they can leverage the pick for a desperate team.
The Patriots have elected to use free agency to attack the RB position for 2017 and 2018. Even though that means passing on guys like Christian McCaffrey, although he was unlikely to land in the Patriots range, or Alvin Kamara, the Patriots will have better value at other positions. With James White under contract through 2020 and the Patriots planning on adding Mike Gillislee through 2018, should the Bills not match a 2/$6.4M offer sheet, a RB isn’t a pressing need. In a crowded backfield that will also include Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead in contract years.
The only WRs worth drafting in the first round are Corey Davis and Mike Williams, but both will likely be taken in the Top 15 picks. I listed Cooper Kupp as a possibility at 32, but I’m more convinced his draft range is in the 40s than the 30s. The Patriots have already spent a first round pick to acquire Brandin Cooks from the Saints, so I don’t think they use another first on a WR.
TE: David Njoku, Evan Engram
Njoku and Engram are both receiving TEs that present matchup problems for linebackers and defensive backs. Njoku is a more willing and capable blocker than Engram, but both players would put up huge numbers in the Patriots offense as an F TE. Given that both Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen have a history of injuries, having a 3rd useful TE could be a huge difference. However, I don’t see the Patriots spending a premium pick at the position with more pressing needs. I can see them addressing the position in the middle rounds.
OT: Garrett Bolles, Cam Robinson, Ryan Ramczyk
The Patriots clearly have a long term need at the LT spot. Nate Solder is in a contract year, along with backups La’Adrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming. Waddle was extraneous depth last year, so his exit opens up a 53-man spot should the Patriots draft a tackle high in the draft. Robinson is the consensus top OT in a draft class that doesn’t have a lot of impact talent. Ramczyk’s injury history is a wild card and could be enough of a red flag for him to drop into the bottom third of the first round.
IOL: Dion Dawkins, Forrest Lamp, Pat Elflein
Dawkins and Lamp were tackles in college, but project to play inside in the NFL. That would allow the Patriots to play their best 5 players on the OL, but punts on the LT need. Lamp and Dawkins would project to play at LG and slide Joe Thuney to center with David Andrews relegated to a backup role. On the other hand, Elflein is the top center in the draft class and is a more 1-to-1 change as would potentially displace Andrews at center while keeping Thuney at LG.
DL: Montravious Adams
The DL draft class isn’t that spectacular at the top, but it does have a decent amount of depth in the middle rounds. Adams is the only one at the top of the class who I’m high on and the Patriots should avoid drafting Malik McDowell because of his inconsistent motor and bad attitude. Adams is a better fit for their scheme due to his power and explosion traits. A lot of SEC OL cite Adams as one of their toughest blocks.
EDGE: Taco Charlton, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris, Jordan Willis
In a deep draft class on the edge, the Patriots have a shot at blue chip talent at the end of the first round. Barnett will fall a bit due to bad testing numbers that may have been a result of him being sick at the combine. Charlton reminds me a lot of Carlos Dunlap, who the Patriots infamously passed on for his teammate, Jermaine Cunningham, who turned out to be a bust. Harris may be the best upfield rusher of the group with a diverse set of moves, with the spin move being his best. Jordan Willis may be the best fit of the group as an edge rusher that is strong against the run and pass. Willis also finished as PFF’s #1 edge rusher of the draft class and tested extremely well at the combine. His athletic numbers fits very well with what the Patriots have drafted in the past.
LB: Haason Reddick, Zach Cunningham, Raekwon McMillan, Tyus Bowser
Reddick is a fast, but undersized defensive end that projects to a linebacker role in the NFL. Reddick could go as high as 13 and as low as 25 in the draft. Reddick would move to LB in the Patriots scheme where his 4.52 speed and 11’ broad jump makes him a potential lethal blitzer on 3rd downs. Cunningham is another player in a similar mold to Reddick, but is more experienced at the role he’s going to play. However Cunningham is a very inconsistent tackler, which is a big no-no in the Patriot defense. McMillan is the easiest projection of the 3 as he’s already a solid early down run player. His coverage could improve with time, he has the athleticism for it. The highest ceiling player of the group is Houston’s Tyus Bowser. Bowser can rush the passer from the edge and drop into coverage like a true 3-4 OLB.
CB: Chidobe Awuzie, Gareon Conley, Kevin King
Chidobe Awuzie is the perfect replacement for Logan Ryan in the slot, which is a need long term with Malcolm Butler being potentially on the way out. Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones are the in house candidates to play from the slot, although neither guy has the same coverage skills that Awuzie brings. Unless the Patriots are facing a slot WR with deep speed, the slot CB will often be left on an island and Awuzie’s ability to stick with WRs is valuable.
S: Josh Jones, Marcus Williams
Outside of the top 3 safeties, the Patriots have a shot at anyone in the draft class. I’m not a fan of players who testing numbers are better than on-field production, which is why both Jabrill Peppers and Obi Melinfowlu are off my board here even though they will both likely be available at the end of the first round. Josh Jones is the most interesting player, a Height-Weight-Speed demon who did have a solid senior year of production. His range allows for the Patriots to disguise their coverage a bit more, although his best position is playing in the box where his near-LB size is an asset. Marcus Williams is somewhat extraneous with Duron Harmon returning in FA to a very reasonable deal.
Most likely Patriots: CB Chidobe Awuzie, OT Ryan Ramczyk, LB Tyus Bowser, EDGE Jordan Willis