The 2020 NFL draft is still two months away, but the process of studying college players will be kicked into the next gear this week as the scouting combine starts in Indianapolis. Until next Monday, 337 players from all over the country will showcase their talents and try to improve their draft stock. And even though the combine is only one piece of the puzzle, it is certainly the most intriguing one considering that all of college football’s top prospects are in the same place at the same time.
Looking at the event from the New England Patriots’ perspective, we find that some position groups will be more interesting to watch than others as the team appears to be well-set at spots like running back and cornerback. And while Bill Belichick and company will, of course, keep a close eye on all of the participants this week, we will now focus on the team’s needs at this point during the offseason: which positions need an infusion of talent?
1. Tight end
Players under contract: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
Free agents: Benjamin Watson (UFA)
The Patriots’ tight end group struggled big time in 2019, with the three-headed monster of LaCosse, Izzo and Watson being unable to adequately step in for offseason departures Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. New England is therefore expected to completely overhaul the position over the next few months, and adding a developmental tight end to the equation via the draft should be high up on the team’s list of to-dos. Players such as Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins, and Dayton’s Adam Trautman are potential candidates to keep a close eye on.
Players under contract: Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, Brandon King
Free agents: Kyle Van Noy (UFA), Jamie Collins Sr. (UFA), Elandon Roberts (UFA), Shilique Calhoun (UFA)
Even if the Patriots are able to re-sign a large portion of their free agency class at the linebacker position, the group would benefit from an infusion of young talent on manageable contracts. Ja’Whaun Bentley is still a developmental option entering year three, after all, while the depth behind him and Dont’a Hightower is quasi non-existent — especially on the edge. LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson and Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos are intriguing options, with Akeem Davis-Gaither out of Appalachian State a developmental mid-round prospect.
3. Interior offensive line
Players under contract: David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Hjalte Froholdt, Najee Toran
Free agents: Joe Thuney (UFA), Ted Karras (UFA), James Ferentz (UFA), Jermaine Eluemunor (RFA)
Joe Thuney and Ted Karras entering free agency, as well as the the medical statuses of David Andrews and Hjalte Froholdt, leave this group’s outlook for 2020 somewhat murky. If the latter two can return to full strength and potentially fill in for Thuney and Karras, the position would not be that big of an immediate need. Considering all its question marks at the moment, however, the Patriots might be smart to invest in their center and guard depth. Lloyd Cushenberry III out of LSU and Ben Bredeson out of Michigan come to mind as potential targets with starting upside.
4. Wide receiver
Players under contract: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross
Free agents: Phillip Dorsett II (UFA), Matthew Slater (UFA)
The Patriots have plenty of depth at their wide receiver position heading into the offseason, but the upside remains a question after a disappointing 2019 campaign. A lot hinges on the development of last year’s first-round pick N’Keal Harry, but the depth behind him and fellow roster lock Julian Edelman might need to be addressed in case neither Mohamed Sanu nor Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski are seen as part of the solution to the team’s issues in the passing game.
Players under contract: Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Malik Gant
Free agents: Devin McCourty (UFA), Nate Ebner (UFA)
Safety is not just a need because of Devin McCourty’s upcoming free agency: like Patrick Chung, he will be 33 on opening day, and with Duron Harmon being 29, the position might benefit from some high-upside youth being added to it. Alabama’s Xavier McKinney and LSU’s Grant Delpit are popular mock draft options, but a player like Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. cannot be underestimated as well. Either way, New England needs to address its safety position sooner rather than later.
Players under contract: Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
Free agents: Tom Brady (UFA)
The quarterback position — and the offense as a whole — hinges on the status of Tom Brady. If the six-time world champion is re-signed, New England has no direct need for the moment with Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler both developmental depth options, and even if he leaves the team might be better off to just roll with Stidham than another rookie. Still, the long-term outlook at the position behind a soon-to-be 43-year-old Brady remains unclear regardless of Brady’s status. The Patriots investing another mid-round selection in the position might therefore very well be on the horizon.
The rest of the positions are fairly low on the list of needs, with defensive tackle possibly coming in at number seven considering that Danny Shelton and Adam Butler are unrestricted and free agents, respectively. Butler, however, is expected to get tendered by New England to return alongside stalwart interior lineman Lawrence Guy and second-year man Byron Cowart. Some long-term, high-upside help might be needed, though.
What’s the Patriots’ biggest draft need at the moment?
This poll is closed
Interior offensive line
Other (please name in comments)