Trying to predict what the New England Patriots will do in the draft is a futile endeavor: no team in the NFL is as unpredictable as the reigning world champions — a club that is known to zag when the rest of the league zigs. And with a league-high twelve selections in its hands this year, the team again has plenty of ammunition and by extension options despite being scheduled to pick at the end of round one for the sixth time this century.
What the Patriots and head coach/general manager Bill Belichick plan for tonight’s event is therefore anyone’s guess. One person with knowledge of the organization and its inner workings, however, recently shared its thoughts about pick #32 and how New England might approach it: former Patriots assistant to the coaching staff Mike Lombardi joined the Next Pats Podcast and mentioned the team’s urgency to get high-quality talent on day one.
“I think the thing about the Patriots is they realize that they have got to get a good player at 32,” Lombardi told host Phil Perry when asked about his prediction for the first of the team’s selections. While the long-time Belichick confidante did not go on to name a particular player he can see the team pick, he mentioned three positions that the club might be after — and the first of which is an interesting one, to say the least.
“If it’s a [cornerback] that they like, that can come in and play a role for them this year, I think they can pick the corner,” Lombardi said. “If there happened to be a linebacker or a defensive end that can rush, they could do that. I think that’s more of the area. I think it’s all going to be what the player’s skill set is, what he can do this year, and what impact you could utilize with him in there.”
While the defensive line certainly is on the radar as a position to be addressed by the Patriots at #32, both linebacker and especially cornerback would classify as surprising choices given the club’s current depth at both positions as well as its long term outlook. As colleague Rich Hill states in his story about New England’s needs heading into the draft, there is virtually none at linebacker for 2019 and “only the smallest need for 2020 at this point in time.”
After all, the team’s core is still young and coming off a productive season: Dont’a Hightower rebounded nicely after missing most of 2017 due to injury, Kyle Van Noy turned into a three-down playmaker, and Elandon Roberts had the best season of his three-year career. And while the latter two are up for free agency after 2019, the depth behind them — especially 2018 rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley — looks promising as well.
The situation looks even better at cornerback, one of the deepest positions on the team: Stephon Gilmore was the NFL’s best corner last year, with Jason McCourty and undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson also playing at a high level. Beyond their top-three, the Patriots also have 2018 second-round draft choice Duke Dawson under contract as well as slot corner/core special teamer Jonathan Jones — the lone question mark beyond the 2019 season.
Even though a team can never have enough talented defensive backs, adding another high draft pick to the cornerback group seems somewhat unnecessary when looking at the current roster and its outlook beyond this year. Then again: if there is one team to defy expectations, it is the Patriots under Bill Belichick. Everything seems possible, and for Lombardi this also includes a trade-down for additional selections.