The 2019 NFL draft is still two months away, but the process of studying college players will be kicked into the next gear today as the scouting combine starts in Indianapolis. Over the next six days, 338 players from all over the country will showcase their talents and try to improve their draft stock. And even though the combine is only one piece of the puzzle, it is certainly the most intriguing one considering that all of college football’s top prospects are in the same place at the same time.
Looking at the event from the New England Patriots’ perspective, we find that some position groups will be more interesting to watch than others as the team is well-set at spots like running back, along the offensive line, and at cornerback. And while it will, of course, keep a close eye on all of the participants, we will now focus on the team’s needs at this point during the offseason: which positions need an infusion of talent?
1. Wide receiver
Players under contract: Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Braxton Berrios, Darren Andrews
Free agents: Chris Hogan (UFA), Phillip Dorsett (UFA), Cordarrelle Patterson (UFA), Cody Hollister (ERFA)
Despite including Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, the Patriots’ current wide receiver group is not up to NFL standards — especially with Josh Gordon indefinitely suspended. And even though the club could bring at least some of its free agents back into the fold, an infusion of talent and youth would certainly be welcome. Players like Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Georgia’s Riley Ridley, and Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow are just three of the potential candidates New England might take a closer look at over the next few days.
2. Defensive tackle
Players under contract: Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler
Free agents: Malcom Brown (UFA), Danny Shelton (UFA)
Both Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler are solid players at defensive tackle, but the depth behind them is literally nonexistent at this point in time and with both Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton headed for free agency. While both could still return, don’t be surprised if New England goes a different way and picks a defensive tackle high to fill the need. Clemson duo Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are two candidates that come to mind.
3. Defensive edge
Players under contract: Deatrich Wise Jr, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Ufomba Kamalu, Keionta Davis
Free agents: Trey Flowers (UFA), John Simon (UFA)
The reason why the edge ranks behind the tackle position is simple: despite two core contributors about to hit the open market next month, the Patriots do have depth at this spot. That being said, there is a clear drop-off in talent behind Trey Flowers — all while John Simon has been a valuable rotational player as well. If Flowers leaves New England, the club will have to invest in its defensive edge to bolster a somewhat deep but mostly unproven group.
4. Tight end
Players under contract: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo
Free agents: --
As opposed to the first three positions on this list, the tight end spot has no players headed for free agency. However, the group still faces plenty of uncertainty at the top: Rob Gronkowski is again contemplating retirement, while Dwayne Allen might become a cap casualty despite his value as a blocker. But even if both of them return in 2019, adding more young talent to the position has to be high up on the Patriots’ list of offseason priorities.
Players under contract: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
Free agents: --
As is the case at tight end, the quarterback position does not have any free agents this year. Despite that, the Patriots may opt to address it: with Tom Brady turning 42 in August and neither Brian Hoyer nor Danny Etling expected to be long-term options, the club would be smart to start looking for a developmental option as soon as possible. Whether this year’s quarterback group gives them an opportunity to do that remains to be seen: it does not feature many high-upside prospects, with Boise State’s Brett Rypien, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Duke’s Daniel Jones among the better players available.
Players under contract: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Obi Melifonwu, Nate Ebner
Free agents: --
The safety position is also one that looks good on paper but faces an uncertain future with both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung on the wrong side of 30: both will need to be replaced in the next few years. Whether 2019 will see the Patriots add to the group remains to be seen, though, especially with 2018’s second-rounder Duke Dawson and restricted free agent cornerback Jonathan Jones potential players to step in at safety as well.
The rest of the positions are fairly low on the list of needs, with offensive tackle possibly coming in at number seven considering the free agency status of Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle, as well as the uncertainty surrounding Isaiah Wynn. That being said, Wynn was a first-round pick for a reason and has the upside to replace Brown in case he leaves via free agency.
What’s the Patriots’ biggest draft need at the moment?
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