clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL Draft 2023: Ranking the Patriots’ needs heading into the first round

New England has some holes to fill, and options to fill them on Thursday night.

Detroit Lions v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Unlike last year, when it was obvious they needed a starting-caliber guard, the New England Patriots do not have any glaring needs on their roster right now. That being said, they still have work to do and some top-level roles remain unspecified at the moment.

So, will they address those in this year’s draft? That appears to be likely; last year, for example, New England made major investments at both of their primary positions of need (interior offensive line and cornerback).

What are those needs in 2023? Let’s assess them one-by-one.

(*denotes projected starter)

12. Interior offensive line

Current depth chart: Cole Strange*, David Andrews*, Michael Onwenu*, James Ferentz, Kody Russey, Chasen Hines, Bill Murray

The Patriots brought back their entire interior O-line from a year ago, and the group projects as one of the better ones on the New England roster entering 2023. The only way to upgrade it would be by adding some depth options to compete against James Ferentz, Kody Russey, Chasen Hines and Bill Murray — something that probably should not happen before Day 3.

That is, of course, quite the change compared to last year.

Possible Day 1 targets: --

11. Offensive backfield

Current depth chart: Rhamondre Stevenson*, Pierre Strong Jr., Ty Montgomery II, James Robinson, Kevin Harris, J.J. Taylor

Despite losing Damien Harris in free agency, the Patriots’ running back position is well-set heading into draft weekend. That does not mean that upgrades would not make sense, especially as far as the receiving back role is concerned.

At the moment, it appears Pierre Strong Jr. and Ty Montgomery are the top options for that job. Both are unproven and had only a limited impact during their 2022 seasons; Strong Jr. was a rookie, Montgomery spent the final 16 games on injured reserve. In turn, the Patriots might invest in another player to upgrade the depth behind Rhamondre Stevenson.

In the first round, though? That seems unlikely.

Possible Day 1 targets: Bijan Robinson (Texas)

10. Interior defensive line

Current depth chart: Christian Barmore*, Davon Godchaux*, Deatrich Wise Jr.*, Lawrence Guy Sr., Daniel Ekuale, Carl Davis Jr., Sam Roberts, Jeremiah Pharms Jr.

Lawrence Guy is getting up there in age, while Christian Barmore is coming off an injury-riddled sophomore campaign. Nonetheless, the group as a whole is still a solid one with Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr. also part of the starter-level quartet atop the depth chart. New England might still bring in a rotational body to challenge the depth behind them, but all in all the need is relatively low.

Why is it ranked higher than running back, though? Positional value.

Possible Day 1 targets: --

9. Quarterback

Current depth chart: Mac Jones*, Bailey Zappe, Trace McSorley

If you are convinced Mac Jones and the Patriots have no future together, and that he will not become the long-term quarterback solution he was drafted to be, then this position group should rank a lot higher than No. 9; it should be No. 1. That said, it does not look like the team has reached that point of no return — at least yet.

Accordingly, the Patriots’ need at the position is comparatively small at the moment. New England is expected to add a passer in one of the later rounds and/or in rookie free agency, but the process of replacing Jones is not underway. He will get a chance to prove himself this season under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.

Possible Day 1 targets: Will Levis (Kentucky)

8. Special teams

Current depth chart: Nick Folk, Corliss Waitman, Joe Cardona, Tucker Addington

The Patriots have four specialist on their roster at the moment: kicker Nick Folk, punter Corliss Waitman, and long snappers Joe Cardona and Tucker Addington. Of those four, only Cardona is a lock to be on the team this fall after recently becoming the league’s highest-paid player at his position.

As for the others, the Patriots might be looking at some replacements this draft. Punter in particular is a need after the Jake Bailey fiasco; New England should not necessarily be counted on drafting one but Waitman being the only body heading into training camp also seems unlikely.

The same is true at place kicker, where 38-year-old Nick Folk might be on his last legs. Adding at least some competition would make sense.

Possible Day 1 targets: --

7. Safety

Current depth chart: Kyle Dugger*, Adrian Phillips*, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe, Brenden Schooler, Cody Davis, Brad Hawkins

Despite losing Devin McCourty to retirement, the Patriots have bigger needs than safety. For starters, their depth at the position is quite good even with the long-time captain no longer part of the equation: Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers are a solid top three, even though all of them are better suited for a box/“star” role.

That being said, if the Patriots’ secondary is one thing it’s versatile. Jalen Mills is a candidate to move over to safety, if only for certain packages, something that also is true for Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant.

The Patriots might still add a safety rather early in the draft. Not only would another body help bolster the overall depth, it also would give the team a contingency option in case Kyle Dugger leaves in free agency next year.

Possible Day 1 targets: Brian Branch (Alabama)

6. Off-the-ball linebacker

Current depth chart: Ja’Whaun Bentley*, Jahlani Tavai*, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson Sr., Chris Board, Calvin Munson, Terez Hall, Olakunle Fatukasi

The Patriots re-signed Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson in free agency, and added special teams option Chris Board on a two-year deal. Nonetheless, there is potential for improvement behind starter Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Jahlani Tavai, McMillan and Wilson all had their ups and downs in 2022, after all. Tavai looked the best among them, but he too has his limitations and does not offer true sideline-to-sideline ability required from the position in this day and age. With the off-ball linebacker group a relatively shallow one this year, however, New England is not expected to make any major investments.

Possible Day 1 targets: --

5. Tight end

Current depth chart: Hunter Henry*, Mike Gesicki, Matt Sokol, Scotty Washington

This year’s tight end class is one of the deepest in recent memory, which should bode well for the Patriots when it comes to finding talent in one of the later rounds. And doing so would make sense: Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki are both entering contract years, while Matt Sokol and Scotty Washington project as little more than depth pieces.

Finding a tight end — ideally with some longer-term potential — has to be a priority for the team. Will it recognize it by drafting one in the first round? Probably not, though.

Possible Day 1 targets: Michael Mayer (Notre Dame), Dalton Kincaid (Utah)

4. Wide receiver

Current depth chart: JuJu Smith-Schuster*, DeVante Parker*, Kendrick Bourne*, Tyquan Thornton, Tre Nixon, Lynn Bowden Jr., Matthew Slater, Raleigh Webb

You probably expected wide receiver higher up on this list, and the argument for that is not a hard one to make: the group lacks any game-changing talent and has to perform better than it did in 2022. That being said, it would not be a surprise to find out that the team has a different opinion on the position than those assessing it from the outside.

Yes, a top-four of JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton is not a top-tier supporting cast on paper. The team has high hopes in Thornton, though, and the other three players bring proven production to the table: Smith-Schuster performed well in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, while Parker and Bourne had some promising moments since their arrivals in New England in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

The Patriots are expected to add to the wide receiver group, and would benefit from both a big-bodied X in the mold of Parker and Z/slot options similar to Smith-Schuster, Bourne and, to a degree, Thornton. They might even address it in Round 1, although possibly not at No. 14.

Still, the short- and long-term outlook at the position looks a bit better than the other three positions below. You could name it 3b, though, compared to 3a, the defensive edge.

Possible Day 1 targets: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State), Zay Flowers (Boston College), Jordan Addison (USC)

3. Defensive edge

Current depth chart: Matthew Judon*, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, DaMarcus Mitchell, Ronnie Perkins

Matthew Judon is a Pro Bowler and Josh Uche coming off a breakout season, so why is the defensive edge/outside linebacker spot ranked No. 3 on this list? Because the group faces three big unknowns:

1.) Contract outlook. Both Uche and Anfernee Jennings will enter free agency next year and are not guaranteed to return (Uche in particular could become too expensive).

2.) Judon’s age. While he is one of the most disruptive players in the NFL, Judon will turn 31 in August and also is only under contract for two more seasons.

3.) Overall composition. Judon is a clear starter; Uche is more of a role player still; Jennings is OK as an early-down option but there is room for improvement; DaMarcus Mitchell was used as a special teamer only in 2022; Ronnie Perkins has yet to play an NFL snap.

Add all of those up, and you can see why New England might entertain the idea of adding to its edge rather early in the draft. The position certainly is a need, even though it might be flying a bit under the radar compared to wide receiver and the other two spots ranked No. 2 and No. 1.

Possible Day 1 targets: Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech), Nolan Smith (Georgia), Lukas Van Ness (Iowa), Myles Murphy (Clemson)

2. Cornerback

Current depth chart: Jonathan Jones*, Jack Jones*, Marcus Jones*, Jalen Mills, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, Quandre Mosely, Rodney Randle

The Patriots’ cornerback position is an enigma. On the one hand, the group looks the same as it did last year with Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant as the top five — a group that generally held up well in 2022. However, there are plenty of questions especially in regards to how Jonathan Jones, Mills and Bryant will be used, and who will start on the outside.

On paper, the Patriots would probably go with Jack Jones and either Jonathan Jones or Mills opposite him. It is entirely possible they feel good with that setup, but the fact remains that — with Mills’ future usage and spot on the team uncertain — only Jack Jones might be a true perimeter option.

Luckily for New England, the draft is deep at that particular spot. That might lead to an early-round investment, possibly as early as the first round.

But no matter the when, adding to the group’s overall depth and playmaking ability in particular against bigger-body receivers is a must.

Possible Day 1 targets: Christian Gonzalez (Oregon), Devon Witherspoon (Illinois), Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State), Deonte Banks (Maryland), Emmanuel Forbes (Mississippi State)

1. Offensive tackle

Current depth chart: Trent Brown*, Riley Reiff*, Calvin Anderson, Conor McDermott, Yodny Cajuste, Andrew Stueber

The “glass half full” perspective is that the Patriots’ offensive tackle group looks better right now than it did at the end of the 2022 season. Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson were added, while Conor McDermott was re-signed and Yodny Cajuste tendered as a restricted free agent.

The “glass half empty” perspective, however, is that the group still is a major question mark at the moment. Trent Brown is coming off his worst season as a Patriot; Reiff and Anderson are unproven in the system; McDermott is a serviceable starter but better suited as a backup; Cajuste has yet to put it all together after three injury-filled seasons; Andrew Stueber missed all of his 2022 rookie season with injury.

The urgency is real: the Patriots need to add at least one tackle in this year’s draft. Adding to that is the fact that Brown, Reiff and Cajuste are not under contract beyond this upcoming season.

New England did pick a good year to have a need at the position, but they have to be vigilant. Plenty of teams need offensive tackle help, and by No. 14 the best options might already be off the board — something that might become an issue given that there is a drop-off between the top-tier guys and the rest. If you want a Day 1 starter, it is probably best not to wait.

Possible Day 1 targets: Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State), Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), Broderick Jones (Georgia), Darnell Wright (Tennessee), Anton Harrison (Oklahoma)