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Know your Enemy, Part 3: NFC Contenders

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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 the final part, we take a look at the NFC contenders looking to dethrone the Patriots.

NFL: 2016 NFL Draft Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft starts today 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. In the final installment of a three part series, the NFC contenders looking to meet up with New England in the Super Bowl are examined.

Seattle Seahawks

Picks (Round.Overall selection): 1.26/2.58/3.90/3.102/3.106/6.210/7.226

Needs: OL, CB, potential S of the future

Breakdown: The Seahawks talented core that was playing on rookie contracts have grown, and they’ve started to experience the squeeze of the cap as many of their core players have come up for big contracts at the same time. Seattle’s defensive scheme requires them to be able to consistently find talented defensive lineman on cheap deals, so they can afford to pay their secondary and inside linebacker. Despite having Michael Bennett and Chris Avril, with Frank Clark behind them, don’t be shocked when they choose an EDGE prospect on day 2, because in order to sustain their model they need to be throwing darts at the board as often as possible.

In the secondary, they can be expected to try and grab one of the many corners that fit their scheme in the mid-late rounds, as Jeremy Lane can be cut after this season, and Dashawn Shead is on a one year deal. At safety, Kam Chancellor is in the final year of his deal and will be 30 next year, and Earl Thomas flirted with retirement last year after his injury. Targeting a safety early shouldn’t shock anyone.

Offensively, their issues remain the same they’ve always been: They need offensive lineman. They signed Luke Joeckel in the offseason, but in reality they could stand to upgrade 3/5 of the offensive line spots. Unfortunately for them, this is a weak offensive line class, and given that they don’t seem to value lineman too strongly, I could see them waiting until day 2 for one if a safety of the future presents themselves in round 1.

First Three Picks Prediction: Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn/Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan/Ethan Pocic, IOL, LSU

Dallas Cowboys

Picks: 1.28/2.60/3.92/4.133/6.211/7.228/7.246

Needs: EDGE, CB, SS, TE, RT

Breakdown: The Cowboys rookies took the league by storm last year, as Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott basically partook in a 2 man race for Rookie of the Year, that had both in the MVP conversation for much of the year. Perhaps the most talented player they selected last year, however, hasn’t even played a down. LB Jaylon Smith out of Notre Dame was a consensus top 10 talent before sustaining a horrible ACL injury in ND’s bowl game. Smith sustained nerve damage, and the chances of him ever being the player he could’ve been are stacked against him, but 85% of what we thought he could be is still a damn good player, and he should see the field this year.

As has been the case for seemingly a decade, the Cowboys still need to improve their defense, namely the secondary. The Cowboys have trouble rushing the passer and covering receivers—a pretty terrible combination to have for a defense. Expect the Cowboy’s to attack defense early and often, and possibly target an offensive lineman to help round out their line, either by placing them at RT or drafting a guard and moving La’el Collins to RT.

First Three Picks Prediction: Takkarist McKinley, EDGE, UCLA/Jabrill Peppers, S (yes, he’s a S, not a LB), Michigan/Corn Elder, CB, Miami

Green Bay Packers

Picks: 1.29/2.61/3.93/4.134/5.172/5.182/6.212/7.247

Needs: CB, NT, LB, WR

Breakdown: The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers is one of the two best QB’s in football. Aaron Rodgers is one of the most talented QB’s of all time. The Packers will always be good as long as Aaron Rodgers is active. Look past him, though, and you will find a flawed team who has missed a chance to build a dynasty by constructing a flawed roster. The defense is a sieve and the offensive scheme is only bailed out thanks to Rodgers brilliance. Their best players are aging, and they’re desperately in need of an infusion of young talent.

Look for them to attack EDGE and CB early, with a RB as an early wild card. They should also be planning for the WR position post-Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The Packers are in a weird position where they should be looking to rebuild on the fly, because they will always be contenders with the other #12 at QB, but the team as currently constructed is nowhere near good enough to win a SB without Aaron Rodgers being the LeBron James of football.

First Three Picks Prediction: TJ Watt, EDGE, Wisconsin/Cordrea Tankersly, CB, Clemson/Zay Jones, WR, ECU

Atlanta Falcons

Picks: 1.31 (28-3!!)/2.63/3.95/4.136/5.174/7.249

Needs: EDGE, RG, TE, Secondary depth/future starters

Breakdown: So close, yet so far. The Falcons had it wrapped up, and all they needed to do was run out the clock to become Super Bowl Champions, and their first pick would be 32nd overall, not 31st. As is the life of an Atlanta sports fan, however, they blew their chance at ultimate success and finished the 2016 campaign as runner-ups. Making the Super Bowl is really hard, and making it after losing the year before is even harder (shoutout to the 90’s Bills for doing this 3 times), but the Falcons have an extremely talented young core and an opportunity to build on it here.

Their defense was not good last year, but it was full of young contributors who have less than 3 years in the league. There is no reason to anticipate this defense to be worse than league average this year, and with the right pieces and development, could become a force. Atlanta needs an EDGE across from Vic Beasley, and they could use a depth piece in the secondary to account for future movement, but this is a low-priority need.

Offensively, it will be interesting to see how the offense runs now that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left for the 49ers. Steve Sarkisian, most recently the Alabama OC, took his spot, and inherits and incredibly talented unit. They need to upgrade their RG position, and they could stand to add a move tight end to add yet another dimension to their passing game, but even if they didn’t add a single offensive player in the draft they should still be looked at as one of the 5 best offenses in football.

First Three Picks Prediction: Jordan Willis, EDGE, Kansas State/Dion Dawkins, OL, Temple/Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama