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2018 NFL draft: Patriots' top 5 needs heading into the draft include linebacker, quarterback

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Which positions and players could be high on New England's list of priorities?

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We made it – it’s draft day! To some, it’s a second Christmas. And to others, the months of waiting are over and can finally see what their teams do regarding their future. Every team is coming into this draft with many needs and only so many draft picks at their disposal. For close to two decades now, the Patriots have stood near, if not at the top of the NFL. One reason why is because of how well they draft. This year is different though with so much emphasis put on what they may do at the quarterback position, among other storylines coming into this three-day event.

With that being said, we will take a look at the team’s top draft needs overall and who the team may select.

Off-Ball Linebacker

Linebacker was arguably the team’s weakest position group last season. After losing Dont’a Hightower early in the season, production from linebacker position was scarce. Kyle Van Noy eventually stepped up but it only made a small dent in regards to performance from the entire position. Hightower has struggled with injuries for a good majority of his NFL career and may not be someone the team can fully trust to be their unquestioned leader at linebacker, let alone their entire defense. Van Noy showed some above average play at the position overall but it was clearly evident that the team needs more.

Besides Van Noy & Hightower, the Patriots have virtually no other depth worth mentioning. Harvey Langi is someone the team is high on but he went undrafted last season and didn’t play at all in large part due to injuries suffered in a car accident. Elandon Roberts is nowhere close to a solid linebacker and Nicholas Grigsby is simply depth. The team needs help at the position and it’s a need that has to be addressed immediately.

Potential Targets: Rashaan Evans (Alabama), Josey Jewell (Iowa), Christian Sam (Arizona State), Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State), Malik Jefferson (Texas), Skai Moore (South Carolina), Fred Warner (BYU), Jerome Baker (Ohio State)

Defensive Tackle

Despite the addition of Danny Shelton last month, the Patriots are still in major need of defensive tackle help. Both Shelton and Malcom Brown have pending fifth-year options that will have to be addressed right after the draft. While they could pick up both of their options, neither are contenders for extension currently. Brown has been serviceable, at times above-average since being drafted by the team in 2015. Shelton is still a wild-card since being acquired and it’s unknown how he will perform in 2018. And beyond Shelton & Brown, the team’s depth at the position is scarce.

Lawrence Guy is locked in for another three years on his contract and played well in his first season with the team but he isn’t enough by himself. Besides Guy, Vincent Valentine will be coming into his third season but coming off a lost 2017 season where he didn’t play one down for the team. And Adam Butler is a second-year undrafted free agent who was a bright spot at times but may never be anything more than a rotational defensive lineman.

Potential Targets: Maurice Hurst (Michigan), Taven Bryan (Florida), Da’Ron Payne (Alabama), Kendrick Norton (Miami), Deadrin Senat (South Florida), Trenton Thompson (Georgia), Andrew Brown (Virginia)

Quarterback

It’s no secret that the Patriots will need to address the quarterback position during this year’s draft. Tom Brady will be 41 years-old before the start of the 2018 season. He is the reigning NFL MVP but New England needs to find his potential successor. After trading away both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett during last season, the team is back to square one in the “young & developmental” quarterback department. Luckily, this year’s draft class has some pretty solid prospects in it that could fit exactly with what the team is looking for.

And especially with how the next two quarterback classes are shaping up, this has to be the year the Patriots invest serious draft capital into the quarterback position.

Potential Targets: Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Kyle Lauletta (Richmond), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Luke Falk (Washington State), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Mike White (Western Kentucky)

Offensive Line

I say offensive line here because while the Patriots have a need at left tackle with Nate Solder’s departure, there are some questions about the long-term outlook of their offensive line. Shaq Mason will be a free agent after next season, Joe Thuney the season after that and Marcus Cannon is coming off an injury-shortened 2017. David Andrews signed a three-year contract extension last offseason with a year remaining on his deal, so he is locked in through the 2020 season. Cannon is under contract through the 2021 season.

But much like Solder this offseason, Mason could find a much more lucrative deal next offseason and ultimately sign with another team. Their left tackle situation is unclear with 2017 third-round pick Tony Garcia is finally over blood clots in his lungs that caused him to lose 30 lbs. and miss all of last season. LaAdrian Waddle is also in the mix but would likely be average at best. So not only is left tackle still an issue, right guard could be too, soon. Luckily, the first two rounds is pretty well-rounded with both offensive tackles and interior offensive lineman for the Patriots to choose from.

Potential Targets: Connor Williams (Texas), Kolton Miller (UCLA), Tyrell Crosby (Oregon), Will Hernandez (UTEP), Frank Ragnow (Arkansas), Jamarco Jones (Ohio State), Austin Corbett (Nevada)

Cornerback

After losing Malcolm Butler in free agency, the Patriots were able to soften the blow by acquiring Jason McCourty from the Browns. McCourty should fill in as the other starting cornerback for the Patriots opposite Stephon Gilmore in 2018 as it stands right now. But McCourty, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones are all free agents after 2018 (Jones is a restricted free agent). Cyrus Jones is coming off a major knee injury that forced him to miss all of 2017 and wasn’t necessarily playing well prior to the injury either.

Besides Gilmore, the cornerback position after the 2018 season is almost non-existent at this point. After Gilmore, J. Jones, C. Jones, E. Rowe & J. McCourty, the only other cornerbacks on the roster are Jomal Wiltz and Ryan Lewis, who are nothing more than depth at this point. Luckily, the cornerback position has some strong prospects in the first couple of rounds for the Patriots to look at and help solidify for the position for seasons to come.

Potential Targets: Jaire Alexander (Louisville), Josh Jackson (Iowa), Isaiah Oliver (Colorado), Mike Hughes (Central Florida), Quenton Meeks (Stanford), Carlton Davis (Auburn)