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Chief Thoughts: Previewing the 2019 draft class ahead of the combine

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The pre-combine edition of the Chief Thoughts.

NFL: Combine Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Well that happened. Any hope of the Patriots experiencing a drama free offseason were torched when Robert Kraft was caught on camera receiving certain services in a massage parlor. That’s the bad news. The good news is none of that drama is related to the on-field product and the Patriots are still a franchise coming of its sixth Super Bowl and boasting as much draft capital as a team picking eighth overall in the draft. In other words it is still a great time to be a Patriots fan.

Let’s get started.

Accountability

One of the fun things to do is to take a look back at the offseason articles you wrote and see how your prediction stacked back with what happened. It is especially fun when you got most of them right. While none of my prediction were as impressive as say Michael McDermott nailing three of the Patriots draft picks a few years ago, it should act as some assurance that I have a basic idea of what I am saying.

My Take: Trent Brown will be the Patriots’ best move of the offseason

What Happened: Trent Brown was the best move of the offseason. He slotted in at the second most important position on the team and played better than his franchise predecessor at 1/15 the salary cap cost.

My Take: Sony Michel is a good not great running back who needs major development as a receiver but has a special talent for delivering in big moments.

What Happened: Michel had a good not great season and offered next to nothing as a receiver. He would have go on to have one of the best postseason runs by a running back in NFL history, including the sole touchdown in Super Bowl 53.

My Take: Kein Crossen should make the roster despite the extremely high odds stacked against him

What Happened: Crossen made the active roster and became a core special teamer for the Patriots.

My Take: This was the last best chance for the Patriots to win a Super Bowl

What happened: The Patriots won the Super Bowl.

My Take: Patriots could have a top 5 offensive line

What happened: The Patriots probably did not have a top 5 offensive line during most of the regular season but they were the best in the NFL down the stretch.

There are definitely some regular season takes I would like to have back but going through my offseason articles I just couldn’t find a major prediction that was inaccurate. Hopefully, my predictions this year will be just as fruitful. But knowing the nature of football predictions I highly doubt it...

Pre-Combine Draft Primer

Here are my preliminary thoughts on the draft as it stands before the scouting combine and how it matches up with the Patriots’ needs.

Wide Receiver

There should be an abundance of wide receivers available in this draft. This is good news for the Patriots because their wide receiver depth is atrocious right now.

Outside of D.K. Metcalf there is no elite talent on paper. Even Metcalf comes with question marks regarding a season-ending injury and concerns about his long speed. He is not the only receiver with this issue: there were a lot of productive receivers this seasons with big question marks surrounding their speed. Wide receiver and cornerback are the two positions where 40 times can matter significantly and the combine will bring some clarity to this situation. I still predict a lot of variety in how franchises grade certain talents, though.

In theory, this would be a blessing because the lack of elite talent could improve the chances of the Patriots getting a steal by making it easier to trade up for a receiver. Alternatively, one slips to them under the radar because other teams don’t want to take the risk associated with a prospect they are unsure about. The bad news is that the Patriots have a fairly bum record of drafting wide receivers. It’s also important to note that outside of Julio Jones — a probable Hall of Famer — it’s rare to see any rookie receiver come in and dominate his first season. I would be shocked if the Patriots do not draft a wide receiver in the first three rounds but I do not expect them to rely solely on the draft to address the receiver issue.

Interior Defensive Linemen

Though there is markedly less talent here than I think many expected due to some surprising decisions from some players to go back to school, there are still some quality tackles to be had in the first two rounds. Jeffrey Simmons is my current steal candidate: he registered only a single sack, struggled with consistency, suffered a major injury preparing for the combine, and has a character red flag regarding an assault on a girl who was assaulting his sister. In other words he has a lot of reasons why he could slip in the draft. All that being said I think he could be an absolute monster with proper coaching and provide that across the board pressure the defensive line hasn’t had since Akiem Hicks.

Offensive Tackle

This is probably the best class for tackles in years with a handful of guys that could disappear in the first round. The problem is that the tackle class is top heavy and after the first five or so guys are off the board there is a massive drop off in talent. I think this mostly bodes well for the Patriots. There should be enough guys available that if the team needs to go for a starter caliber tackle it can, although I do think it will require trading up.

Defensive Edge

A solid class. The big names will all be gone by the top 15, leaving plenty of developmental prospects in the second round. I don’t think it’s a very deep class compared to say 2017, though, when you had quality talent as late as the fourth round and the Patriots actually double dipped at the position that season.

Tight End

This is a good class for tight ends. The 2019 draft may not have the high-end talent of the 2017 class but it could easily produce more starting caliber tight ends. This tight end class should have two or three prospects with high ceilings in every round all the way down to the fourth.

Interior Offensive Line

The interior offensive line prospects pale in comparison to last year’s class, which had a wealth of guard talent. That being said it’s not terrible: there are a couple of guys who could potentially go in the first or second rounds.

Quarterbacks

Like the interior offensive line class, the 2019 group of quarterbacks pales in comparison to its predecessor. Surely one of them will surprise with NFL success but right now my favorite quarterback is 5’9 and less than 200 pounds. That should tell you how bad this class is on paper. This is why you always draft a top quarterback when the option is available, right New York Giants? Saquon Barkley could be a Hall of Famer and it still will have been a bad choice to draft him.

Cornerback

A bad group of corners. Thank God the Patriots don’t need one.

Safety

Not a top heavy class but there is some depth here. New England might even be able to find an heir to Devin McCourty or Patrick Chung here. Nassir Adderly is an interesting prospect who could be available at 32. If nothing else I doubt he is drafted in the first fifteen which would mean he should be in striking distance for a trade-up.

Linebacker

Mediocre linebacker class. Someone will overdraft Devin White because their linebackers are trash and he has the highest ceiling. Like the cornerback position, however, if you really need to address your linebacking core don’t expect this draft to immediately fix any problems. There are is no one like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds this year.

Summary

I think the draft matches up decently with New England’s needs. There will be a plethora of receiver candidates available throughout the first three rounds. I am nervous because of the Patriots’ draft record regarding receivers and I do not see a home run guy they are liable to get at this juncture. Still, the talent is there if the team can figure out how to evaluate it correctly. If it absolutely must draft a starting caliber tackle the talent is there as well and the firepower to get one is also present. Furthermore, there are some interesting interior defensive line guys available.

I think the big flaw in this draft from the Patriots’ perspective is the lack of readily available talent to replace Trey Flowers in case he walks in free agency. Edge rusher has been minimized in the New England scheme but it remains one of the most important positions in football and there may be better than even odds the club won’t boast a single above average edge defender when the season starts. That final criticism aside, the Patriots should be able to get some quality talent out of this draft. The meat of it is in the second round with a plethora of defensive linemen, wide receivers, and tight ends with a good ceiling.

Like most drafts there will be plenty of arguments for trading up or down the board. If the goal is to keep accumulating capital for a major quarterback pick, I’d argue trading back is smart, especially when the Patriots aren’t likely to miss out on any surefire elite talents. On the flip side, the lack of consensus I am predicting in rounds 20-75 could create a ripe opportunity for an easy trade up. It’s just a matter of trusting the evaluation. Think of the Chiefs, who only gave up two basement firsts and a third to go draft Patrick Mahomes. The lack of consensus drove him down the board and the Chiefs trusted their evaluation. They got a massive steal and ten franchises are left wondering what might have been.

Picking the right projects out of that chaos will be key. It’s not inconceivable New England could walk out with three quality starters at positions of need in this draft.