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Which positions did the Patriots target with their pre-draft meetings — and does it mean anything?

New England had contact with plenty of prospects over the last few weeks.

Mississippi v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Later today, the first round of the 2019 NFL draft will take place in Nashville, and the New England Patriots will be the final team on the clock courtesy of their victory in the Super Bowl three months ago. Who they will ultimately end up picking is up in the air given their current needs, draft capital, and the fact that the club had some form of reported pre-draft contact with dozens of players throughout all positions.

Let’s take a closer look at those positions to find out which were the most active ones for the Patriots and who they have spoken to according to our pre-draft tracker — and what this might mean in the grand scheme of things. (S = Senior Bowl meeting; C = combine meeting; P = pro day meeting; W = workout; V = top-30 visit)

Wide receiver: 16

Hunter Renfrow, Clemson (S); Andy Isabella, Massachusetts (S); Terry McLaurin, Ohio State (S); Greg Dortch, Wake Forest (C); Riley Ridley, Georgia (C); Deebo Samuel, South Carolina (C+V); J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford (C); Marquise Brown, Oklahoma (C); Stanley Morgan Jr, Nebraska (C); Gary Jennings, West Virginia (P); David Sills, West Virginia (P); A.J. Brown, Mississippi (P+V); Miles Boykin, Notre Dame (V); N’Keal Harry, Arizona State (V); Mecole Hardman, Georgia (V); Jalen Hurd, Baylor (V)

The Patriots were active this offseason when it comes to upgrading their wide receiver position, but as their pre-draft activity shows they are likely far from done. All in all, the team had reported contact with 16 players over the last few weeks — including potential early round targets such A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, N’Keal Harry, Riley Ridley, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Beyond those five, combine standout Miles Boykin and slot targets Andy Isabella and Hunter Renfrow are names to watch.

Defensive edge: 16

Jalen Jelks, Oregon (S); Zach Allen, Boston College (S); Charles Omenihu, Texas (S); Ben Banogu, TCU (S+V); John Cominsky, Charleston (S); Anthony Nelson, Iowa (S); Austin Bryant, Clemson (C); CeCe Jefferson, Florida (C); Daniel Wise, Kansas State (C); Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan (C); Joe Jackson, Miami (C); Shareef Miller, Penn State (C); Darryl Johnson, North Carolina A&T (C); Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech (P); Jamal Davis II, Akron (P); Jesse Aniebonam, Maryland (P)

After parting ways with both Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn earlier this offseason, the Patriots have shown a keen interest in this year’s edge defender group. Potential first-round prospects such as Clelin Ferrell and Montez Sweat had no reported contact with the world champions, however, which could mean that the club would rather invest in developmental mid-round options.

Defensive tackle: 9

Byron Cowart, Maryland (S); Jonathan Ledbetter, Georgia (S); Isaiah Buggs, Alabama (S); Greg Gaines, Washington (C); Gerald Willis, Miami (C); Daylon Mack, Texas A&M (C); Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame (C); Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State (C); Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M (V)

New England’s defensive tackle group is solid as it stands right now — despite Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton no longer being a part of it — but players like Jerry Tillery or Dre’Mont Jones would still be good additions in rounds one and two, respectively. As is the case at the defensive edge, however, the bulk of pre-draft meetings were conducted with more developmental players.

Tight end: 8

Kahale Warring, San Diego State (C); Noah Fant, Iowa (C+V); Tommy Sweeney, Boston College (C); Caleb Wilson, UCLA (C); Irv Smith Jr, Alabama (C); Isaac Nauta, Georgia (C); Kaden Smith, Stanford (C); Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M (V)

The Patriots need to add talent to their tight end group after losing Rob Gronkowski to retirement last month — and their list of pre-draft contact reflects this. While top prospect T.J. Hockenson is not on the list, potential day one/day two options Noah Fant, Irv Smith Jr. and Jace Sternberger are. All three would add upside to the group, with Fant a particularly intriguing option given his outstanding pass-catching abilities.

Quarterback: 5

Tyree Jackson, Buffalo (S); Will Grier, West Virginia (S+V); Daniel Jones, Duke (V); Jarrett Stidham, Auburn (V); Clayton Thorson, Northwestern (V)

The Patriots don’t need to draft a quarterback with Tom Brady still showing no signs of slowing down. With the GOAT turning 42 in August, however, investing in a developmental passer would be a solid decision — especially if done in one of the mid or later rounds. That being said, spending a day two pick on Will Grier or Tyree Jackson could also pay dividends for the club.

Running back: 5

Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M (C); Miles Sanders, Penn State (C); James Williams, Washington State (C); Tony Pollard, Memphis (C); Marquis Young, Massachusetts (P)

With Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden all under contract, the need to invest in another running back is a small one. Nevertheless, the Patriots did meet with some potential targets that might become interesting in one of the later rounds.

Offensive tackle: 5

Dalton Risner, Kansas State (S); Greg Little, Ole Miss (C); Tytus Howard, Alabama State (C); Aaron Monteiro, Boston College (P); Caleb McGary, Washington (V)

While the Patriots face plenty of uncertainty at offensive tackle after losing Trent Brown in free agency, they have been relatively quiet when it comes to working out players at the position ahead of the draft. The biggest name among the five reported meetings certainly is Dalton Risner, who could come off the board on day one and would give the Patriots insurance in case 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn is not yet fully recovered from his Achilles injury.

Cornerback: 5

Rock Ya-Sin, Temple (C); Xavier Crawford, Central Michigan (P); Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt (V); Lonnie Johnson Jr, Kentucky (V); Derrick Baity, Kentucky (W)

Just like running back, cornerback is a deep position on New England’s current roster: Stephon Gilmore was an All-Pro last year, while Jason McCourty and rookie J.C. Jackson both played at a high level. The Patriots also have 2018 second-round draft choice Duke Dawson and slot corner/core special teamer Jonathan Jones under contract, which means that the position is pretty set for 2019 and — with the exception of impending free agent Jones — beyond. The Patriots still took a look at some cornerbacks during the pre-draft process, however, with Rock Ya-Sin as the biggest name on the list.

Linebacker: 4

Terez Hall, Missouri (P+V); Bobby Okereke, Stanford (P); Joey Alfieri, Stanford (P); Blake Cashman, Minnesota (V)

None of the linebackers who met with the Patriots this offseason is expected to be drafted early, and it would be a surprise if the team picked a player at the position in the first two rounds. After all, New England has a solid and still young core led by Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy together with Elandon Roberts and 2018 rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Safety: 4

Taylor Rapp, Washington (C); Nasir Adderley, Delaware (C); Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State (V); Mike Edwards, Kentucky (W)

Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp, and Johnathan Abram are three of the top safeties in this year’s draft — and as such players to watch on the first two days of the event. While different in style, all three would be intriguing additions to New England’s group as rotational options and even potential heirs to Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, respectively.

Offensive guard: 3

Nick Allegretti, Illinois (P); Chris Lindstrom, Boston College (P); Nate Davis, Charlotte (V)

While right guard Shaq Mason is under contract through the 2023 season, his counterpart is scheduled to hit free agency next year. Consequently, the Patriots might opt to invest in a guard early this weekend to find a long-term replacement for starting left guard Joe Thuney. If doing so, Chris Lindstrom would be a logical target as one of the best interior offensive linemen the draft has to offer — a player who could also kick outside to play tackle.

The main question with pre-draft meetings, at least when it comes to projecting what the Patriots will do, is whether or not they mean anything. Let’s take a look back at the last three years to find out how much pre-draft contact actually led to the team investing a draft pick or free agency check in a player.

Last year, the Patriots drafted nine players — five of them had pre-draft contact with New England: first-round selection Sony Michel spoke with the club at the combine, while Duke Dawson, Christian Sam and Braxton Berrios all were brought in for top-30 visits. Furthermore, Keion Crossen was worked out privately by the club as well.

While the team was in touch with the majority of its draft picks, it did not have any reported form of contact with a member of its undrafted rookie class.

In 2017, New England drafted a league-low four men and spoke with half of them before the event: the team brought offensive tackle Antonio Garcia in for a top-30 visit and worked out defensive edge Derek Rivers at the Youngstown State pro day. Both Garcia and Rivers were later drafted in the third round.

Besides meeting with the two future draft picks, New England also had contact with three players who would join the team as undrafted rookie free agents: defensive backs Damarius Travis and D.J. Killings both met with the team at their respective pro days, while defensive tackle Josh Augusta was brought in for a visit.

In 2016, the Patriots were more active on draft day and picked a total of nine players. Of those nine, three met with the team before the draft: wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien as well as cornerback Cyrus Jones. Tight end Bryce Williams, later signed as an undrafted free agent, also had pre-draft contact with New England.

As can be seen, the majority of players picked in the two previous drafts never had any reported meetings with the Patriots. Last year, however, was different as five of nine draft choices was in contact with the club at one point during the process. Could 2018 be an outlier or a general change in the club’s pre-draft behavior? We will find out over the next few days.