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2017 NFL Draft: Patriots interested in eventual strong safety heir to Patrick Chung

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The Patriots need to start thinking about the future.

New England Patriots SS Patrick Chung was one of the most valuable safeties in football in 2014 and 2015. He was playing under an incredibly cheap contract, he covered in the slot, he played linebacker, and he dropped back as safety. He was one of the cornerstones of the Patriots versatile defenses.

Well, Chung turns 30 years old in August and while he’s under contract for the next two seasons, the Patriots appear to be interested in drafting a potential future replacement for when Chung is 32 years old in 2019.

The Patriots have tried to replace Chung over the years with Tavon Wilson in 2012 and Jordan Richards in 2015, but neither have been up to the task (with Steve Gregory also playing the spoiler for Wilson in 2013). There’s a real chance the Patriots could be interested in adding another potential replacement if their reported draft contacts are of any value.

The Patriots have met with a few top prospects and a handful of mid-round options.

UConn SS Obi Melifonwu is 6’4, 224 pounds with a 4.40s 40 yard dash, 11’8 broad jump, and a 7.07s three cone time. He can play in the box, he can play deep, and he can play cornerback on the perimeter, which is important as more and more teams flex their tight end to the boundary. The Massachusetts native is regarded as a late first, early second round prospect.

N.C. State SS Josh Jones is 6’1, 220 pounds with a 4.41s 40 yard dash, 11’0 broad jump, and a 7.05s three cone time. He has played free safety, strong safety, linebacker, and cornerback, just like Chung, and he offers plenty of upside. He is regarded as a second or third round prospect.

Utah FS Marcus Williams is 6’1, 202 pounds with a 4.56s 40 yard dash, 10’8 broad jump, and a 6.85s three cone time. He started as a true freshman and has three years under his belt. Williams has impressive ball skills but offers less versatility than Melifonwu and Jones. He is also considered a second or third round prospect.

Florida FS Marcus Maye is 6’0, 207 pounds with a 4.47s 40 yard dash, 9’10 broad jump, and a 7.07s three cone time. Maye broke his arm in November of 2016 and is returning to form. Maye played in the slot and has a tendency to force a big play with seven forced fumbles and 5 interceptions over the course of his career.

Other possible safety-and-slot prospects include Iowa DB Desmond King and Tennessee DB Cam Sutton, and they should be on the radar. The Patriots have also looked at potential day three picks like Michigan FS Delano Hill, Nebraska SS Nate Gerry, BYU FS Kai Nacua, and USC SS Leon McQuay III.

The Patriots current safeties are Chung, Richards, FS Devin McCourty, and FS Duron Harmon, along with special teamers Nate Ebner and Brandon King. While Chung, McCourty, and Harmon are locks, Richards is on the fringe, while the team might continue to view Ebner and King as more special teams-type players.

New England doesn’t appear as set on acquiring an early-grade safety as they are on adding an early-grade pass rusher, but if a player with the right value presents themselves, don’t be surprised if the Patriots draft another safety in 2017.