The 2018 NFL draft is finally upon us! Later today, the spectacle's first round will be kicked off and the New England Patriots enter it with two selections. Who they will pick is up in the air considering the team's needs – everything from linebacker to offensive tackle to quarterback seems possible –, current draft capital, and the fact that it had contact with dozens of players at all positions.
Let's take a closer look at those positions to find out which were the most active ones for the Patriots and who they have spoken to according to our pre-draft tracker (C = combine meeting; P = pro day meeting; W = workout; V = top-30 visit).
Running back: 11
Sony Michel, Georgia (C); Akrum Wadley, Iowa (C); Mark Walton, Miami (C); Darrell Williams, LSU (C); Chase Edmonds, Fordham (C); Nyheim Hines, N.C. State (C); Ito Smith, Southern Missisippi (P); Derrius Guice, LSU (V); Ronald Jones, USC (V); Kalen Ballage, Arizona State (V); Kerryon Johnson, Auburn (V)
The Patriots were most active when it came to talking to running backs and wide receivers. This year's running back class – led by Penn State standout Saquon Barkley – is a deep one, which is why New England could very well opt to target one of the players above on days two or three.
Wide receiver: 11
Trey Quinn, Southern Methodist (C); Keke Coutee, Texas Tech (C); Richie James, Middle Tennessee State (C); DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State (P); Vyncint Smith, Limestone (P); James Washington, Oklahoma State (W); Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist (W); Christian Kirk, Texas A&M (V); D.J. Moore, Maryland (V); Braxton Berrios, Miami (V); Calvin Ridley, Alabama (V)
New England has a deep wide receiver group on its current payroll – but one that could look drastically different due to the expiring contracts of Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kenny Britt. Adding a rookie, presumably in one of the middle rounds, could therefore be on the Patriots' agenda.
Defensive edge: 10
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State (C); Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama (C); Kylie Fitts, UCLA (C); Jalyn Holmes, Ohio State (C); Matt Dickerson, UCLA (C); Harold Landry, Boston College (P); Dorance Armstrong, Kansas (W); Josh Sweat, Florida State (V); Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest (V); Breeland Speaks, Ole Miss (V)
Two of the weaknesses of New England's 2017 defense were pass rush and setting the edge. Seeing the team therefore add more bodies to the rotation – especially with Trey Flowers entering a contract year – should be expected. The question is when: Could the Patriots target top players like Landry; or are they content with adding a mid-round option like Ejiofor or Speaks?
Lorenzo Carter, Georgia (C); Josey Jewell, Iowa (P); Bo Bower, Iowa (P); Ben Niemann, Iowa (P); Jermaine Carter Jr., Maryland (P); Rashaan Evans, Alabama (V); Rasheem Green, USC (V); Christian Sam, Arizona State (V); Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State (V)
The linebacker position as it is is currently one of the weakest on New England's roster. In order to address this need, the team has multiple options – some of which have been in pre-draft contact with the team. Among the group to visit New England were first-round prospects Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch and day-two projection Lorenzo Carter. Any of the three could very well end up in Foxboro.
Chad Kanoff, Princeton (P); Alex McGough, Florida International (W); Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State (W); Mike White, Western Kentucky (W); Luke Falk, Washington State (W); Kyle Lauletta, Richmond (W); Lamar Jackson, Louisville (V)
While the Patriots have the NFL's best quarterback on their roster, finding a backup to develop behind Tom Brady appears to be rather highly on the team's current list of needs. Louisville's Lamar Jackson appears to be the hottest name on the list of pre-draft contacts but lower-tier prospects are certainly possibilities as well. The quarterback search will definitely be one of the most intriguing draft storylines for New England.
Josh Jackson, Iowa (P); Keion Crossen, Western Carolina (W); Tremon Smith, Central Arkansas (W); Isaiah Oliver, Colorado (W); Tyrin Holloway, Western Illinois (W); Duke Dawson, Florida (V)
Even though the Patriots are currently set at the top of their cornerback depth chart, adding another player to groom behind Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty would be a smart move.
Offensive tackle: 5
Rick Leonard, Florida State (C); Brandon Parker, North Carolina A&T (P); Connor Williams, Texas A&M (V); Kolton Miller, UCLA (V); Tyrell Crosby, Oregon (V)
The lone big hole in the Patriots' current starting lineup is at the left offensive tackle spot: With Nate Solder leaving via free agency, the team lacks a clear-cut player to fill his shoes. Connor Williams and Kolton Miller, both projected to go in round one, could do just that – but the team could very well hand the keys to Brady's blindside over to last year's third-round selection Antonio Garcia.
Tight end: 5
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma (C); Hayden Hurst, South Carolina (P); Tommy Myers, Connecticut (W); Alec Bloom, Connecticut (W); Dalton Schultz, Stanford (W)
After two months of speculation, Rob Gronkowski recently announced that he will be back in New England this year. As a result, tight end is no immediate need for the team but it could still opt to invest a mid- or late-round selection in another player at the position.
Defensive tackle: 3
Andrew Brown, Virginia (C); P.J. Hall, Sam Houston State (W); Bilal Nichols, Delaware (W)
New England acquired Danny Shelton via trade this offseason and generally appears to be well set at defensive tackle. It is therefore not surprising that the team only had a handful of reported player meetings at the position. Still, that does not mean that New England will not invest if a player like Maurice Hurst, for example, fell into its lap.
Ronnie Harrison, Alabama (C); Justin Reid, Stanford (W)
Ronnie Harrison and Justin Reid are two of the better safeties in this year's draft class. With Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung getting up there in age, both could very well be on the Patriots' board this year.
Drew Brown, Nebraska (C); Matthew McCrane, Kansas State (W)
With Stephen Gostkowski still one of the league's better kickers, the Patriots are not expected to invest a draft pick in a player at the position. Brown, McCrane or other kickers could very well be brought in via free agency, though.
Ryan Anderson, Rutgers (W)
Punter and kicker are similar in regards to the Patriots: Neither position is expected to be addressed by the team through the draft even though some camp competition might be brought in after round seven concludes on Saturday.
The main question with pre-draft meetings, at least when it comes to projecting what the Patriots will do, is whether or not they mean anything. Let's take a look back at the last two years to find out how much pre-draft contact actually let to the team investing a draft pick or free agency check in a player.
In 2017, New England drafted a league-low four players, with four of them having reported pre-draft contact with the Patriots: The team brought offensive tackle Antonio Garcia in for a top-30 visit and worked out defensive edge Derek Rivers at the Youngstown State pro day. Both Garcia and Rivers were later drafted in the third round.
Besides meeting with the two future draft picks, New England also had contact with three players who would join the team as undrafted rookie free agents: Defensive backs Damarius Travis and D.J. Killing both met with the team at their respective pro days, while defensive tackle Josh Augusta was brought in for a visit.
In 2016, the Patriots were more active on draft day and picked a total of nine players. Of those nine, three met with the team before the draft: wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien as well as cornerback Cyrus Jones. Tight end Bryce Williams, later signed as an undrafted free agent, also had pre-draft contact with New England.
Overall, though, the majority of players picked over the last two years never had any reported meetings with the Patriots. So while the list above contains some intriguing names, expect no more than two or three of them to actually end up in New England when it is all said and done.