The New England Patriots have to think about life without Malcolm Butler and he could definitely be replaced in the 2018 NFL Draft. ESPN’s Todd McShay believes the Patriots could address the cornerback position in the very first round to add a top flight talent. Check out McShay’s latest mock draft here.
31. New England Patriots: North Carolina CB M.J. Stewart
Given his Super Bowl controversy, it certainly seems as if New England will move on from Malcolm Butler. Spending an early pick on a CB makes sense, especially with Stephon Gilmore on the other side. Stewart is underrated and an experienced player, with adequate height (5-10 5/8) and very good top-end speed. He’ll also support the run.
Stewart is the fourth cornerback off the board in McShay’s mock draft, after Ohio State’s Denzel Ward (9th to the 49ers), UCF’s Mike Hughes (18th to the Seahawks), and Iowa’s Josh Jackson (28th to the Steelers).
The 5’11 Stewart “turned heads at the Senior Bowl” and looks capable of playing inside and outside, a perfect complementary player to Stephon Gilmore. He played as a true freshman and started for his final three seasons at North Carolina and holds the school record for pass break-ups with 41. Those 41 rank as the most in the ACC since 2005 and the fourth-most in the NCAA.
The Patriots love defensive backs that get their hands on the football and are aggressive against the run and Stewart certainly qualifies (11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks) and could be a Logan Ryan-type player in the NFL. Stewart also adds value as a punt returner.
There is a valid question of value at the position, though, as there are three cornerbacks considered a cut above the rest in Ward, Jackson, and Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick (McShay has Fitzpatrick as a safety going 7th overall to the Buccaneers). There’s a whole host of cornerbacks in the next tier in Auburn’s Carlton Davis, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, LSU’s Kevin Toliver II, Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver, and Hughes. Stewart is considered to be in the third tier of cornerbacks due to his size.
McShay’s previous Patriots pick: TCU’s EDGE Ben Banogu