With the NFL Draft just two days away, the New England Patriots have lots of holes to fill throughout their roster. The biggest question mark revolves around the quarterback position, which does not feature Tom Brady for the first time in 20 seasons (sorry to bring that up again).
Besides quarterback, the Patriots need to add talent to their offensive skill positions and have additional question marks throughout their offensive line. On defense, several positions need to be revamped, while others need an injection of youth.
With a deep draft class and their first selection coming at No. 23 overall, the Patriots will have plenty of talented to options to choose from. Here is one player from every position New England could select with their first-round selection:
QB: Justin Herbert, Oregon
Justin Herbert could be gone within the first five to ten selections, but it also wouldn’t be a shock if he fell all the way to the Patriots at No. 23. Herbert would need some grooming, but he’s an athletic prospect with a cannon for an arm. His downfield accuracy was an issue at Oregon, but perhaps could improve within a new system.
Who knows what the Patriots have in store at the quarterback position for the upcoming season. Last week, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported New England was “probably” going to use a “premium pick” at the position, which could set up the possibility of them selecting, or trading up for, Herbert in the first round. Herbert may not be better than Jarrett Stidham is right now, but he’s better at this stage of his career than Stidham was coming out of Auburn.
RB: D’Andre Swift, Georgia
It’s unlikely the Patriots go running back in the first round as their roster already consists of Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden. However, nobody saw them selecting Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 draft either.
If running back is the choice at No. 23, look no further than D’Andre Swift. Another Georgia Bulldogs product, Swift is a three-down back who has a unique blend of athleticism and acceleration. Swift’s best trait is pass catching, which could intrigue the Patriots as Sony Michel (19 receptions) has struggled in that area within his first two pro seasons. Swift was a major part of Georgia’s pass-catching game that has a full route tree available and solid hands.
WR: Justin Jefferson, LSU
With CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs likely off the board early in this draft, Justin Jefferson becomes the receiver New England should focus on if they chose to do so in the first round. Jefferson was part of LSU’s historic 2019 offense, leading the country with 111 receptions, second in receiving touchdowns (18), and third in receiving yards (1,540).
New England took a wide receiver in the first-round last year (N’Keal Harry) for the first time ever in the Belichick era, but Jefferson would immediately become the most complete receiver Belichick has ever drafted. He showcases terrific route running ability and is able to create separation through his pacing and acceleration. Jefferson’s main concern leading into the combine was his speed, which he shut down any doubts with a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. He can line up all over the field and will be an immediate contributor to any team that drafts him.
TE: Adam Trautman, Dayton
There really isn’t a tight end in this class that should be taken in the first round. However, with the current gap between their first and second selections (23rd to 87th), New England might be forced to reach at the position to get its guy.
Trautman is still new at the tight end position as he played quarterback in high school, but he dominated the FCS last season. He caught 70 passes for 916 yards and 14 touchdowns while also showing an impressive performance in the Senior Bowl. He is a real fluid route runner with wonderful size (6-foot-5, 251 pounds) and catch radius. He will need technical work as a blocker, but gives all-out effort and even was used as a lead blocker in a fullback form at Dayton. The Patriots certainly need to upgrade the tight end position and Trautman would be an ideal fit.
OT: Josh Jones, Houston
The Patriots’ offensive line enters the 2020 season with a handful of question marks. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn has struggled to stay healthy throughout his first two seasons in the NFL, while right tackle Marcus Cannon (31) is getting on the older side with a plus cap hit ($9.6 million). The team also drafted Yodny Cajuste in last year’s draft (No. 101 overall), who missed all last season with a quadriceps injury.
This year’s draft is littered with talented offensive tackles, but Jones is the one most likely to be available when New England is on the clock. Jones stands at 6-foot-5, 319 pounds and checks all the size boxes with 34-inch arms. He has athletic foot speed and lateral agility to slow down pass rushers, and his major flaws are easily coachable. New England tends to draft with the best long-term plan in mind, which could mean adding a new tackle to the roster.
IOL: Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
As the Patriots’ offensive tackles carry uncertainty heading into the 2020 season, the interior of their offensive line is even more questionable. Joe Thuney’s future with the team is up in the air as the two sides “haven't been close” on a current contract extension. While David Andrews is expected to return from blood clots that kept him out all of last season, and Hjalte Froholdt, last year’s fourth-round selection, is expected to return from a season ending shoulder surgery, New England should have a backup plan in place.
Ruiz would be more than a backup plan, as he is the best interior offensive lineman in this class. Ruiz would erase any question marks from the position, as he projects to be an elite talent who could be a starter for the next decade. He flashed a great combination of skill, athleticism, size, and nastiness at Michigan, where he was in charge on getting his line in order and calling the protections at the line of scrimmage. He is able to play all along the interior and could thrive in New England’s zone blocking scheme.
Taking an offensive lineman in the first round might be an unsexy pick to most, but a player like Ruiz would certainly be worth it.
IDL: Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
Kinlaw is one of the best interior defensive lineman this draft has to offer, and easily could be a top ten selection come Thursday. However, the chance he slides to New England at No. 23 could also be in the cards due to talent and depth this draft class offers.
Kinlaw would immediately add a starter to New England’s defensive line who has the ability to become one of the league’s best defensive tackles. He causes chaos up front with his dynamic skill set of power and burst, while his potential as a pass rusher is sky high. New England should be ecstatic if they found a way to land Kinlaw at No. 23.
EDGE: A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
Epenesa has Patriots written all over him as a strong-side defensive end that can play inside during passing downs. He’s a tailor made fit for their defense where he uses his length and hands to control the point of attack, which makes him the draft’s best run defender at the position.
First two seasons of college— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) May 28, 2019
Nick Bosa (7 starts): 13.5 sacks, 23 TFL, one forced fumble
AJ Epenesa (0 starts): 15 sacks, 22 TFL, five forced fumblespic.twitter.com/QdFQWjzeh6
His pass rush variety offers potential, even though Iowa often did not line him up inside to pass rush. He would be an immediate fit in New England’s defense and scheme that could become the anchor of their future front seven. Epenesa has received the NFL comparison to former Patriot Trey Flowers , and with the front seven being an area of need, it should be no surprise if the Patriots select the former Hawkeye in the first round.
LB: Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
Another major area of need for New England is linebacker. The Patriots saw Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, and Kyle Van Noy depart this offseason and Dont’a Hightower’s (30 years old) days could be winding down. If New England does chose an off the line linebacker, it would most likely come down to Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen. Murray gets the advantage here as his size (6-foot-2, 241 pounds) compares more to a prototypical Belichick linebacker.
Murray would provide an aggressive and physical defender to the Patriots second level. Pairing that with his explosive athleticism and outstanding range, Murray has the skills to be an excellent coverage linebacker. He will need some seasoning with his processing and decision making, but he projects as an impact starter in the NFL.
CB: Kristian Fulton, LSU
Cornerback could the Patriots’ strongest roster position currently, led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. New England was able to resign Jason McCourty, while still having Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson and 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams on the roster. It’s highly unlikely they go cornerback in the first round, but we do know how much Bill Belichick likes his cornerbacks.
With Jeffrey Okudah and C.J. Henderson likely off the board early, Fulton would be a solid fit in New England’s defense. The No. 1 overall recruit in Louisiana back in 2015, Fulton’s career at LSU was troubled by injury and suspension. However, in his first season as a full-time starter his senior year, he exploded onto the scene recording 38 tackles, one interception, and a team-leading 14 pass breakups.
Fulton (6-foot-0, 200 pounds) is a prototypical press man corner in a heavy man-to-man scheme. He is a late bloomer due to the issues he faced early in Baton Rouge, but has the upside and tools to be a high-end starting cornerback in the NFL.
S: Xavier McKinney, Alabama
Safety is another position of need for the Patriots; as Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung both sit at 32 years of age and Duron Harmon was dealt to Detroit this offseason. McKinney has game-changing talent for NFL defenses, as he pairs his strong football IQ with plus tackling and ball hunting skills.
He often showcased his versatility at Alabama, where he lined up in deep zones and man coverage from the slot or close to the line of scrimmage. His skills as a blitzer and run defender are also solid, which will allow him to stay on the field no matter what the situation. McKinney’s size, range, and processing skills will allow him to be a puzzle piece defender for teams that like to be matchup-specific with defensive backs.
McKinney would provide New England a do-it-all defender that can plug and play all over the field, while learning behind McCourty and Chung. And to get Coach Belichick even more excited, he easily can be a core special teams player.
Who do you want to see the Patriots select in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft? Leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter @iambrianhines.