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2017 NFL Draft: Patriots showing a lot of interest in University of Florida safety

The Patriots are going to add another second round defensive back to the roster.

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The New England Patriots don’t have many needs, which means the team can afford to make some high-upside selections in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Patriots can plan for the future and the team is getting ready for life after S Patrick Chung slows down.

Chung was one of the most outstanding safeties in the league during 2014 and 2015, but took a step back in 2016 due to some early season injuries. The Patriots have tried to replace Chung numerous times over the years with the likes of Tavon Wilson and Jordan Richards, but Chung has overcome all challengers.

Don’t be surprised if the Patriots take another crack at the position, per NFL Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline.

“Safety Marcus Maye is another Florida Gator likely to be selected earlier than most project,” Pauline writes. “The senior had a great visit with the Dallas Cowboys last week and is receiving a ton of interest from the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. The other team showing big interest in Maye is the New England Patriots.

“At present time the Patriots won’t be called to the clock until the 72nd selection of the draft, but the feeling from those I’ve spoken with is that New England will make a move into the early or middle portion of the second round by trading Malcolm Butler or via some other maneuver.

“I’m told the pre-draft grade given to Maye is better than the one received by Keanu Neal a year ago. Neal was eventually selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the 17th pick of Round 1.”

Chung is extremely valuable to the Patriots defense because he can play against the run in the box, he can cover receivers and tight ends in the slot, and he can drop back into cover two schemes. Maye brings a similar type of versatility.

The 6’0, 207 pound Maye played four years at the University of Florida, starting two games as a red shirt freshman before ascending into a starting role for his final three seasons. Maye was projected to be a potential first round prospect, but suffered a broken left arm with four games left in 2016.

Maye has experience in the slot, in the box, and playing deep. In his three years as a starter, Maye has accumulated 4 interceptions, 17 passes defended, and a ridiculous 7 forced fumbles. Pro Football Focus notes that Maye was the second-best safety in the SEC against the run in 2016.

The Patriots met with Maye at the NFL Combine.

Pauline notes that Maye is in the third tier of safeties in the draft, with LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker considered top 10 prospects, and with Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and Washington’s Budda Baker in the second tier. Maye joins N.C. State’s Josh Jones, Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu, and Texas A&M’s Justin Evans in the next tier.

The clear problem with connecting Maye to the Patriots is New England’s lack of draft capital in 2017. They will have to trade CB Malcolm Butler, as Pauline suggests, because packaging the Patriots entire 2017 draft could only move the team up into the 40s.

There are a lot of safeties that could interest the Patriots in this draft. Don’t be surprised when the Patriots take another swing at finding Chung’s heir.