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Which 10 Patriots players would you protect in an Expansion Draft?

Related: #PostPulpit Mailbag: Exploring the Patriots’ path to the playoffs

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Las Vegas Raiders Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

I saw this tweet earlier in the week, and thought it was a great idea for an article:

Also, with the MLS expansion draft going on, it was the perfect opportunity to ask: What 10 New England Patriots players would I protect if there was an expansion draft in the NFL? A thing to remember before we start is that not protecting a player doesn’t guarantee that the are gone, but only that they might be selected by the expansion team.

Here are the 10 guys that I chose to protect.

S Kyle Dugger: Dugger is a second-round defensive back, which usually spells doom for the Patriots, but he has shown some real ability so far his rookie year. He plays like a missile, and, while his coverage needs some work, he has a ton of potential. His skillset has already paid dividends when trying to stop mobile quarterbacks, and he’s only going to grow in importance for this defense.

OT Michael Onwenu: Onwenu has been one of the most consistent rookies in the league this season. He has played both guard spots and is also the Patriots’ starting right tackle. The sixth-rounder looks like an absolute steal, and a stud who should be a stalwart along New England’s offensive line for years to come.

LB Josh Uche: Yes, another rookie. Uche has shown incredible explosiveness off the edge, and is exactly the type of player you need in today’s NFL. I’m holding onto him tight.

G Joe Thuney: Thuney is nothing less than a top-5 guard in the NFL, and is possibly the most important player along the Patriots’ offensive line. There is certainly an argument to be made for David Andrews or Shaq Mason, but Thuney is so talented that he was impossible to leave unprotected.

CB Stephon Gilmore: What? You thought I was going to leave Gilmore unprotected? Like he’s not one of the 10 best players on the team? He’s FAR too good a player to leave him without protection. It is possible that the Patriots trade him this offseason, but, even if they do, they will be able to get a big haul for him, as he is still at the very least a top-5 corner in the NFL.

CB J.C. Jackson: Another top cornerback. Jackson is simply fantastic, and will most likely become the CB1 for the Patriots in the foreseeable future. He was an undrafted free agent, but he has played like a top-10 pick since his rookie year. Heading into restricted free agency, Jackson is going to need a new contract soon and he is well deserving of one.

LB Chase Winovich: Winovich has certainly had some ups and downs in his two seasons with the Patriots, but he is exactly the type of player their defense needs. He is a force off the edge and improving as a run defender as well. Good pass rushers are difficult to find, and you don’t simply let them walk away.

S Devin McCourty: McCourty is older, and may not be in the team’s long-term plans for, but I simply cannot imagine a world without him in a Patriots uniform. He is a leader on and off the field, and arguably the most important player on the defense. He is “The Patriot Way” in human form, and he should never play anywhere but New England.

DT Adam Butler: Butler is a young star on the defensive line. He does a good job stopping the run, and is becoming great at getting after the passer as well. Butler is cut from the Akiem Hicks mold; Hicks left New England and was insanely productive with the Bears. I doubt the Patriots make the same mistake with Butler. Instead, they will build around him on the defensive line.

RB James White: White is a do-it-all back who has seen far fewer touches this year than normal. Obviously, there was a terrible tragedy earlier this year, but this offense simply doesn’t use him as much as it probably should. He is reliable, and does everything you want your backs to do. He’s a great pass protector, runs hard when the Patriots need him to, and is one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. He’s also a leader in the locker room, which, as we know, is incredibly important around New England.

There are, of course, some players who I hated leaving off this list, but some tough choices needed to be made.

First up is punter Jake Bailey. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that Bailey is a weapon and I love him, but at the end of the day — someone cover Bill Belichick’s ears — he’s “just” a punter. Bailey might be one of the best in the NFL, but they Patriots have too much talent elsewhere to protect Bailey. I’d be on pins and needles during the draft hoping he didn’t get scooped up, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Next is Shaq Mason. Mason is a stud who would almost certainly be scooped up in an expansion draft. However, I couldn’t protect three offensive linemen, and I prioritized Thuney and Onwenu over him. I’m just happy I don’t have to make this choice in real life.

Finally, there is Matthew Slater. Slater is one of the best gunners in the league, and a leader and captain for the team as well. He is exactly the type of guy you need in your locker room to be successful. However, like Bailey, he’s a special teams player, and, no matter how good he is at his job, I couldn’t justify keeping a 35-year-old special teamer over any of the 10 others I protected instead.

So, that’s my list. The good news for the Patriots is, as you can see, there’s a good amount of young and experience talent on the team. I didn’t even include players like Damien Harris (running backs are replaceable), Julian Edelman (who knows how many years he has left), or Lawrence Guy (went with Butler over him). I’m just happy that we don’t have to do this in real life, because I would hate to see some of these players go.

Now I want to hear what you think as well. Who did I leave off that you would’ve protected? Did I value some guys too much? What would your list look like? Leave them in the comments or join in on the conversation on Twitter.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.