With the big chunk of free agency still over, the Patriots have turned a lot of their attention to the draft. That doesn’t mean they aren’t done signing free agents but given their cap is about $10M, the major moves are likely done.
Now that we have an idea of the Patriots roster heading into the draft, here are some players that could fit the team’s needs.
Offensive Tackle (Priority: High)
The Patriots lost their starting left tackle in Nate Solder and the guy they planned as a replacement in Antonio Garcia missed the season due to blood clots in his lungs. As a result, Garcia dropped 40 pounds and was just recently cleared to play football. The Patriots signed LaAdrian Waddle to handle the LT spot while the team works on the longer term answer. The Patriots shouldn’t head over heels to draft a tackle early, but they shouldn’t pass on the opportunity if it presents itself. In the event that Garcia is able to fully overcome his illness and become the quality bookend blocker we all thought he could be a year ago, then drafting a tackle early means a possible Cannon (who will be 30 this season) replacement long term as well.
Names to Consider: Brian O’Neill, Kolton Miller, Connor Williams, Joseph Notebloom
Off-The-Ball Linebacker (Priority: High)
The Patriots releasing Shea McClellin and signing no linebackers in free agency suggests the Patriots are taking the long term route at the position. The current penciled starters are Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy with Elandon Roberts or Marquis Flowers as the primary backup. Both players are signed past this season, although have a laundry list of injuries over the length of their careers so depth is important. The Patriots don’t typically draft college inside linebackers to take the role, with Brandon Spikes being the exception, but rather take on athletic and undersized edge rushers like Jamie Collins and Hightower. This draft is full of both inside linebackers and potential edge to linebacker conversion projects as well, so the Patriots aren’t pressed to draft their guy early. If they do draft a linebacker early, they probably will slot him in the third linebacker role and work him up to being the first or second in the rotation by the end of the season.
Names to Consider: Josh Sweat, Lorenzo Carter, Leighton Vander Esch
Safety (Priority: Medium-High)
The Patriots have two safeties on the wrong side of 30 in both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. The Patriots haven’t been able to find their long term answer at the third safety spot with Tavon Wilson and Jordan Richards flaming out spectacularly in their tenures in New England. The Patriots defense asks their safeties to do a lot with McCourty and Chung having to play a lot of man coverage type roles while Harmon plays the traditional free safety responsibilities. Given that the Patriots will play three, sometimes four safeties in certain sub packages, that would be a solid way to break in a younger player who will ultimately replace one of the two veterans in the future.
Names to Consider: Justin Reid
Cornerback (Priority: Medium)
The Patriots CB depth chart is mostly set for 2018. Gilmore is locked in as the number corner with Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe competing for the number two role. McCourty and Rowe become unrestricted free agents and Jonathan Jones becomes a restricted free agent (a first or second round tender should keep teams away) after the season. While there isn’t a need to play a rookie and cornerback is a mostly plug and play position, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots used a mid round pick at the position for a guy who can develop into a starter next season while also contributing on special teams.
Names to Consider: Tony Brown, Perry Nickerson, Grant Haley
Running Back (Priority: Medium)
Rex Burkhead and James White are the team’s top two backs, but they have Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee on basically non-guaranteed contracts for the season. While the Patriots seemingly have their potential backfield set up, the draft can change that. The team loves multi-dimensional backs, which is why Burkhead and White are the highest paid players at the position on the team. The Patriots could spend a day two pick at the position if a player they like falls right to them.
Names to Consider: Nyheim Hines, Sony Michel, Kalen Ballage