The New England Patriots are entering the 2018 NFL draft with needs on all three levels of their defense: The defensive tackle position needs more pass rushers, the edge more depth, the linebackers better rotational players, and the secondary a replacement for soon-to-be-gone cornerback Malcolm Butler. It is, as can be seen by this list of needs, hard to predict which way the team will ultimately go early on during next month's draft.
One thing appears to be certain, though: defense it will be. And it would therefore not be a surprise to see the Patriots go back to a familiar well when it comes to adding to their team, the Stanford Cardinal program run by head coach David Shaw. Since Shaw took over as head coach in 2011, the Patriots have invested two draft picks in players he used to coach: offensive tackle Cameron Fleming (2014) and safety Jordan Richards (2015).
And it is the latter player why New England might go back to the Stanford pipeline again in 2018. After all, the former second round pick did not live up to his draft position through his first three years in the NFL. Despite playing considerable snaps on defense and particularly special teams, Richards failed to meet the natural expectations that come with being the 64th overall draft pick.
Consequently, the Patriots are in need for more depth and youth – top two options Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung will both be 31 when next season starts – at the safety position. One of Richards' successors at Stanford might provide just that: Justin Reid, who met with New England's coaches during the combine and is projected to become an early round draft selection this year (unlike Richards, who was considered a reach at the time).
Reid would certainly fit the Patriots' profile. The younger brother of San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid is one of the most versatile defensive backs entering the draft: In his three years at Stanford, he played multiple defensive positions: Reid lined up as a free safety and strong safety, played cornerback on both sides of the field and in the slot and was used as a linebacker at times.
Reid was at his best in 2017, when he registered 99 tackles, five interceptions and a sack and was named All Pac-12. His junior season was no outlier; Reid also had productive campaigns in 2015 and 2016. One of the reasons for that is his outstanding intelligence, as his knowledge of the Cardinal's defense shows: “For 12 of our base coverages at Stanford, I can draw every single person,” Reid told NESN's Doug Kyed. “I can draw all 11 characters on the field and what each of their responsibilities are. I pride myself on being able to do that.”
This combination of smarts, versatility and past production makes Reid an intriguing prospect entering draft season. And while he comes with a few question marks – at 6'0 he still needs to add a little bulk to his frame –, he could be picked as high as the late first round seven weeks from now. Whenever he gets drafted, don't be surprised if it is Bill Belichick's Patriots that are the team to make him an early round selection.
Don't be surprised if the Patriots use another Stanford player to potentially replace the one they picked (too) early three years ago.