The New England Patriots have a lot of draft capital this year as they pick 23rd, 31st, 43rd, 63rd, and 95th before taking a break and then pick 198th, 210th, and 219th.
There are rumors of trading up for quarterbacks, clear vacancies in the starting lineup in the wake of free agency, and some needs to preemptively fill with eyes on the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
So what are the Patriots going to do? They have plenty of options. I’m going to try and parse through what we know about the team’s habits, the current state of the roster, and the top prospects in the draft to create an action plan for New England.
First, we know that the Patriots won’t want to sit out for that 100 selection window between 95th overall and 198th overall, so they will trade down from one of their first four picks and add some third and fourth rounders (they don’t really care for fifth rounders).
Second, New England only has Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell under contract at wide receiver beyond the 2018 season, while only Stephon Gilmore and, uh, Cyrus Jones will be under contract at cornerback. The Patriots will add players at these positions, unless they have eyes on an extension for those currently on the roster, like Chris Hogan or Jason McCourty.
Third, Shaq Mason and Trey Flowers will be free agents after 2018 and the Patriots typically like to add contingency plans if they aren’t able to reach an extension with their top-tier players. Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers are contingency options for Flowers, while Adrian Clayborn is under a multi-year deal. There is no solid alternative to Mason.
Both Mason and Flowers were not able to sign extensions until the start of the 2018 NFL Season Calendar, so there is still a chance that something is in the works and could be executed ahead of the season.
Fourth, the Patriots need a starting left tackle now, unless LaAdrian Waddle is their solution. All it takes is one injury at the position, which seems to happen every year, and there is no great alternative. Tackle, especially, but also linebacker and tight end are three positions that could use some talent in case there is an injury to the starter.
Fifth, oh, yeah, Tom Brady needs an heir, too, and the expectation is that they take one, depending on how the draft board plays out, in the first two rounds.
Sixth, the Patriots have Cyrus Jones, Joe Thuney, Vincent Valentine, Malcolm Mitchell, Elandon Roberts, Ted Karras, Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, and Deatrich Wise from their past two drafts. We could also argue that Kyle Van Noy, Dwayne Allen, and Phillip Dorsett are products from trading draft capital from these years, too. Undrafted players like Jonathan Jones, Adam Butler, Cole Croston, Jacob Hollister, and Harvey Langi can be included, too.
Thuney and Van Noy are starters. Roberts, Wise, Allen, J. Jones, Butler, and Hollister are rotational players. All others are either back-end of the roster players or coming off serious injuries. This is not a great yield from two years of drafting and the team could really benefit from some standout young players on rookie contracts.
So how do all of these pieces come together?
I expect the Patriots to trade down with one of their top four picks, to add another third rounder and some selections early in day three of the draft. I expect them to draft a quarterback, offensive tackle, and linebacker with the other three selections. I would project the Patriots to add a cornerback, wide receiver, and tight end with their third and fourth round picks.
I don’t expect the Patriots to package up picks to trade up and add a player because they need a youth infusion- with one exception being if a top prospect surprisingly falls into the late teens and the Patriots could move up from 23rd without giving away too many picks- or even making a pick swap (ex: 23rd and 63rd for 19th and 137th).
A sample mock draft would be:
23rd overall: Louisville QB Lamar Jackson or Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
31st overall: Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown, UCLA OT Kolton Miller, Texas OT Connor Williams, Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey, Western Michigan OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby
43rd overall: Alabama LB Rashaan Evans, Clemson LB Dorian O’Daniel, South Carolina LBs Darius Leonard or Skai Moore, Texas LB Malik Jefferson, Southern California LB Uchenna Nwosu
63rd overall: Trade down for additional third and fourth round picks.
Third and Fourth Round Options:
Wide receiver: Maryland WR D.J. Moore, Penn State WR Daeshan Hamilton, Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
Tight end: Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews, N.C. State TE Jaylen Samuels
Cornerback: North Carolina CB M.J. Stewart, Stanford CB Quenton Meeks, Alabama CB Levi Wallace, LSU CB Donte Jackson, Florida CB Duke Dawson, Wisconsin CB Nick Nelson (just tore his meniscus), West Virginia CB Kyzir White
The Patriots could trade down from 31st for a pick early in the second round if those tackles are all still available, or they could trade down from 43rd if a lot of those linebackers are on the board. Both of those moves could add additional mid-round picks.
New England’s top draft picks align with the draft depth at the quarterback, offensive tackle, and linebacker positions, while there is plenty of depth in rounds three and four for other skill players on both sides of the ball. The Patriots have few holes on their roster, but they also have a real chance to address all of their needs with an eye on the future.