The Patriots use the draft to develop young players who are to eventually replace veterans on the roster as the latter group of players become too old or expensive to keep around. While the Patriots’ draft record of late has been unlucky at certain spots, the team has continued to win regardless. As the core from the 2010 decade continues to age, the Patriots have a lot of draft capital to replace those players with 12 draft picks with 6 of them being in the Top 100. The Patriots should be looking at these positions when it comes to the NFL Draft.
Development QB: Medium
Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer probably aren’t leaving Foxboro pretty soon, although both players are scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2019 season. This year’s QB crop isn’t littered with high-upside guys who can start in a couple years, but rather quarterbacks who could end up seeing a long career as a backup. The Patriots have historically taken development QBs on the 2nd day of the draft between Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Mallett, Jacoby Brissett, and Kevin O’Connell. If that trend continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if they target NC State Ryan Finley on Day 2 as a QB to develop behind Brady and Hoyer before Finley takes over the backup job in 2020. Otherwise they will either go with a Day 3 QB for a camp arm similar to Danny Etling last season unless the organization believes Etling is worth developing as a player.
Potential Fits: Will Grier, Ryan Finley, Brett Rypien
Outside Receiver: High
The Patriots certainly are in need of pass catching talent. The team’s three most dangerous pass catchers are Julian Edelman, James White, and Phillip Dorsett. Edelman himself is coming off an MVP performance in Super Bowl LIII although the rest of the receiving corps (including RBs and TEs) is pretty lackluster or filled with situational players. Edelman and Dorsett are both scheduled for free agency after the season, which puts a priority on drafting an outside receiver to take over in 2020. The team cannot plan to have Josh Gordon available for the duration of the season although having him available is obviously a boost. The Patriots have never drafted a receiver in the first round under Bill Belichick, although they’ve been linked to Odell Beckham Jr. and Calvin Ridley in previous draft classes as well as being linked to AJ Brown, a likely first round pick in this year’s draft class.
Potential Fits: AJ Brown, Andy Isabella, Miles Boykin, David Sills, Riley Ridley, Deebo Samuel
Tight End: Medium-High
Rob Gronkowski’s retirement does not put any extra priority on the position, the team had already lost Dwayne Allen to the Dolphins prior to free agency. The top TEs on the depth chart today are free agent signing Matt LaCosse, 2018 7th round pick Ryan Izzo, and the oft-injured Jacob Hollister. Of those three, only LaCosse has proven he can play at the NFL level and he’s more of a move TE than an inline TE like Gronk or Allen. Izzo is in the mold of the latter and is a tenacious blocker, so he at the minimum could do Allen’s job of being a run blocker and reluctant pass receiver. The Patriots were linked to Jared Cook in FA before the latter decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints. With the Patriots making RB Sony Michel a focal point of the offense in 2018 and in the years to come, the team will definitely value TEs that can block at the point of attack like Gronk and Allen did last season.
Potential Fits: Jace Sternberger, Kaden Smith, Kahale Warring
Offensive Guard: Medium-High
Joe Thuney and Ted Karras are both headed for free agency after the season. While the team doesn’t necessarily need someone who needs to step in right away at the position, it is also worth having someone to mold into a starter next year and serve as addition IOL depth. The Patriots are set at the two other IOL positions with David Andrews and Shaq Mason locked up to at least the 2020 season.
Potential Fits: Chris Lindstrom
Offensive Tackle: High
The largest position hole on the roster is at the tackle spot. As of right now the scheduled starters are Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon, which isn’t bad on paper. However, Wynn is coming off an Achilles injury and Cannon has his own injury history on the other side. The team currently lacks depth at the position, which I expect to be addressed in the draft. I get the feeling they might trade for an expiring tackle contract like Trent Brown last season while drafting one to develop behind him. Wynn being able to fill in at left tackle answers that position long term at least, leaving whoever sticks from this year’s draft to take over at RT in a year or two.
Potential Fits: Kaleb McGary, Max Scharping, Andre Dilliard
Interior Defensive Line: Medium-High
The team saw some turnover at the position, with Malcom Brown gone and Mike Pennel replacing him. The team has a 3-deep rotation at the position between solid veteran starter Lawrence Guy, Pennel, and Adam Butler who is utilized more on obvious passing downs as a rusher. The team controls all three players for two more seasons, although Butler will hit restricted free agency after the season, so the priority isn’t too high. In a draft that’s pretty deep in front 7 talent, the Patriots may elect to wait until Day 2 to address the position because a likely starter talent will be there. The Patriots typically like size at the DT position with Guy at 320 and Pennel at 330 lbs respectively
Potential Fits: Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Renell Wren
Edge Rusher: Medium-High
The Patriots edge rusher position is in similar shape to their interior defensive line depth. They have 3 capable contributors at the position with Michael Bennett, John Simon, and Deatrich Wise Jr., with the team having control for two more seasons on all three players. Bennett is still productive in his 30s, but is now 34 years old while Wise and Simon have been mostly part-time players in their careers. In two seasons, Derek Rivers has contributed virtually nothing to the team although it should be interesting to see how he improves now that he will go through an offseason that doesn’t involve draft prep or rehabbing from a major injury. Regardless of how well Rivers progresses, having a young and moldable pass rusher certainly helps the team in the short and long term.
Possible Fits: Ben Banogu, Montez Sweat, Josh Allen, Justin Hollins
Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung will be 32 this season, necessitating that the team start looking for a potential successor while both players are still playing at a high level. Ideally, they find a successor who can come close to replicating McCourty’s skill set as a leader, eraser of mistakes, covering the deep parts of the field, as well as a threat to return interceptions for touchdowns. The team has struck out in the draft at the safety position the last two times they were looking for Chung’s replacement with Tavon Wilson and Jordan Richards not developing in NE before catching on with someone else. The Patriots don’t necessarily need someone to be able to play this year, but contribute in the kicking game and eventually take over when McCourty and Chung become too old.
Potential Fits: Will Harris, Marvell Tell, Amani Hooker