Entering the 2018 NFL draft, the New England Patriots had a relatively well-filled roster but still some holes that needed to be addressed. Colleague Doug Moore identified them as off-the-ball linebacker, defensive tackle, quarterback, the offensive line, and cornerback. Let's find out what New England did to add depth to those five positions.
Behind nominal top-two Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, the Patriots entered the offseason with no roster locks at linebacker. After a quiet free agency period at the position, the team did invest two draft picks in linebackers: New England selected Purdue's Ja'Whaun Bentley in the fifth round and Arizona State's Christian Sam one round later. Neither of the rookies is a safe bet to survive roster cuts but they still bring quality depth to the table.
The Patriots certainly addressed their need at linebacker, therefore, even though they did not do it by spending a high-round selection at the position: With Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds and Leighton Vander Esch all coming off the board too early for New England's liking, the team opted to wait until the third day of the draft to bring Bentley and Sam into the fold.
While the Patriots added two linebackers in the draft, they did not address the other parts of their defensive front-seven. At defensive tackle, this decision is an understandable one: After trading for former first-rounder Danny Shelton earlier this offseason and with Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy returning as starting-caliber players, the team did not feel the need to add more bodies to the rotation via the draft.
New England did bring two undrafted rookies on board, though, when it signed Frank Herron and John Atkins. The duo is expected to compete against depth defensive tackles Vincent Valentine and Adam Butler for practice reps and roster spots behind top-three options Shelton, Brown and Guy.
Despite Tom Brady coming off an MVP campaign and historic Super Bowl performance, the Patriots were in the market for quarterback depth entering the draft. But while multiple top options were linked to the team at some point leading up to the event – from Lamar Jackson to Mason Rudolph to Kyle Lauletta to Luke Falk – none of them eventually made their way to New England. Instead, the Patriots opted to go with Danny Etling in round seven.
While Etling might not be as “sexy” a pick as some of the other passers listed above would have been, he comes with a pro-ready arm and four years of starting experience (two at Purdue, two at LSU). And while should not be expected to become Brady's heir, he still fits what New England is looking for in a developmental passer and provides additional depth behind the soon-to-be 41-year old starter.
The biggest hole on the Patriots' roster entering the draft was at left tackle: With long-time starter Nate Solder leaving via free agency, the team was in need for a replacement. It potentially found one with the 23rd overall selection: Georgia's Isaiah Wynn. While undersized by NFL norms at 6'2, the 21-year old has been a standout as the Bulldogs' starting left tackle last year (and before that as the team's starting left guard).
Even though it still remains to be seen at which position the Patriots will use Wynn – both tackle spots and both guard spots are a possibility –, the team filled one of its major needs by picking the versatile blocker in the first round. As a result, New England's offensive line depth certainly looks a lot better now than it did before the draft.
While the Patriots had plenty of bodies at the cornerback position heading into the draft, only the top three players were relatively safe bets: Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, and recently acquired Jason McCourty. Behind the trio was a bunch of players either returning from injury (Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones) or being relatively unknown commodities (Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz). Hence, New England opted to bring more cornerbacks into the fold.
With their lone day two pick, the Patriots drafted Flordia's Duke Dawson – a slot corner that is projected to serve as the number four option behind the top options. On day three, New England furthermore invested a seventh-round selection in athletic Western Carolina defensive back Keion Crossen; all before signing two more cornerbacks – Ole Miss' A.J. Moore and Maryland's C.J. Jackson – as free agents.
All in all, the Patriots were active when it came to addressing their needs during the draft: The biggest question mark (offensive tackle) was addressed in round one before the team added depth at other positions. And while no “sexy” players projected to start from day one were drafted outside of the first round, New England still bolstered the top-to-bottom quality of its roster – especially at some of the lighter or less settled positions on the team.