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Welcome to April: snow is falling & the NFL Draft is just 25 days away. By all accounts including Adam Schefter's persistence that no trade will happen, Jimmy G looks to be staying in Foxboro for the 2017 season. While next to nothing has changed on the Malcolm Butler front, the odds of him staying in New England for the 2017 season and playing under the RFA tender have gone up in the past week:
For the purposes of this draft preview, we will assume for now that Garoppolo & Butler will not be traded. We will first look at the projected offense & defense to highlight potential positions of need:
The Patriots offense has the potential to be record setting featuring a "Big 3" of Gronk, Cooks, and Edelman with great depth at every skill position. Burkhead looks to be the leader to start at RB (highest paid RB since 2010 for NE) but there will be a healthy competition for snaps. The OL is young and one of the Pats better units in the Brady/BB era. The offense looks set heading into training camp and should keep Goodell up at night.
- Will Amendola stay on the team on a restructured contract or be released? This decision may be determined on if the Pats draft a slot WR.
- Fresh off a contract extension, Cannon looks to build off his exceptional All-Pro season.
- Thuney's growth from year 1 to year 2 at left guard will be key to the overall offensive line play continuing to improve in 2017.
- A potential camp battle between Hogan & Mitchell for the third starting WR spot.
- Cooks' impact on the offense and potential to be the most dynamic WR since Randy Moss.
- Will the Patriots draft a developmental tackle with Nate Solder entering free agency in 2018?
The Patriots defense had one of their best seasons in recent memory culminating in shutting down the Falcons vaunted offense down in the fourth quarter of SBLI. Their 15.6 PPG against was good for #1 in the NFL and was their lowest points surrendered per game since 2006. They retained their core players in Hightower, Branch, and Harmon while replacing Logan Ryan with Stephon Gilmore. If Malcolm Butler stays, this defense could compete with the 2003 unit for the best defense of the Brady/BB era. If he leaves, CB will become a draft need and the defense's play will likely suffer.
- The biggest remaining story of the offseason: Where will Butler play in 2017?
- The Pats got away with a LB rotation of Roberts, Van Noy, & McClellin last season by playing the vast majority of the time in nickel with either 3 S or 3 CBs. However, the position remains a weak point. Roberts will need to step up his coverage abilities in order to start.
- At 33 years old, Ninkovich's best days are behind him. Ealy is a 2018 free agent & a wildcard to contribute next season. EDGE/pass rusher needs to be addressed in the draft.
- How will Flowers build off his monster second half of last season as well as a MVP worthy SB performance? Prediction: A double digit sack season & a pro bowl selection.
- Gilmore's impact as the team's new #1 LCB covering a tough slate of #1 WRs including Julio Jones & Mike Evans.
- Will the team address SS in the draft with Chung's inconsistent play & Richard's lack of development?
Positions of Need
1. Edge Rusher
The Patriots lack a talented pass rusher across Trey Flowers. While Ealy may be able to contribute as a situational player, the team still needs a longterm solution at the position. Don't be surprised if they double dip at the position considering the lack of needs and the depth of the pass rushers in this year's class.
Potential Draft Targets: Tarell Basham (Ohio), Tim Williams (Alabama), Daeshon Hall (Texas A&M), Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova), Avery Moss (Youngstown State)
The Patriots used Roberts/McClellin on early downs & Van Noy on passing downs at LB across Hightower. While they certainly could manage this core of role players again next season, an infuse of talent at the position is needed. How much the Pats invest in linebacker during the draft will likely depend on their evaluation of Roberts' potential to develop into a starting caliber LB.
Potential Draft Targets: Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), Ryan Anderson (Alabama), Duke Riley (LSU), Alex Anzalone (Florida), Dylan Cole (Missouri State)
Other Positions of Interest
3. Power RB
With Blount still unsigned, the Patriots have a void at their traditional 220+ lb. early down power RB role. With all three RBs in Burkhead, Lewis, & White all scheduled to be 2018 free agents, investing a mid to late round pick on a power RB would not be a bad idea. Pass protection is a must for nearly every Patriots RB.
Potential Draft Targets: Wayne Gallman (Clemson), Samaje Perine (Oklahoma), D'Onta Foreman (Texas), James Conner (Pittsburgh), De'Veon Smith (Michigan)
4. Strong Safety
Usually a position of scarcity, this year's draft class is loaded with talented safeties. The Patriots could choose to draft a strong safety to compete with Chung & Richards. With McCourty & Harmon signed long-term, they are set at deep FS. SS or hybrid safeties such as Josh Jones would be good fits in NE.
Potential Draft Targets: Josh Jones (NC State), Marcus Maye (Florida), Justin Evans (Texas A&M), Delano Hill (Michigan), Kai Nacua (BYU)
5. Developmental Tackle
Nate Solder & Cameron Fleming are set to be 2018 free agents. The Patriots and OL coach Dante Scarnecchia would be best served developing a mid-round tackle with the upside to compete for the starting LT spot in 2018.
Potential Draft Targets: Roderick Johnson (Florida State), Julie'n Davenport (Bucknell), Sam Tevi (Utah), Jylan Ware (Alabama State)
6. Cornerback Depth
With the premise that Butler plays for the Patriots in 2017, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, & Justin Coleman will compete for the depth CB spots. Considering Butler is likely gone in 2018, drafting a CB for competition & depth purposes makes sense.
Potential Draft Targets: Desmond King (Iowa), Teez Tabor (Florida), Sidney Jones (Washington), Cameron Sutton (Tennessee), Howard Wilson (Houston)
7. Tight End
One of the best love affairs of our time: Belichick & the TE. Since 2017 may be the best TE draft class of all time, don't rule out BB drafting one despite Gronk & Allen already signed long-term. They could use a move TE on their roster such as Iowa TE George Kittle.
Potential Draft Targets: Adam Shaheen (Ashland), Jake Butt (Michigan), Jordan Leggett (Clemson), George Kittle (Iowa)
2017 NFL Draft Top 50 Rankings
Our Most Undervalued Prospects: Desmond King, Tim Williams, Tarell Basham, Wayne Gallman, Chad Kelly, Ryan Switzer
Our Most Overvalued Prospects: Mitch Trubisky, John Ross, Haason Reddick, Dalvin Cook, Jabrill Peppers, Carl Lawson
- The Pats will only draft a QB late or if one falls considerably given the likelihood of Jimmy G staying. Kaaya offers a pro-style developmental skill set. Dobbs offers a mobile QB skillset, ran a 6.75 3 cone, & is a true student athlete majoring in Aerospace engineering in an honors program. Perhaps he could develop on the practice squad as a QB or at another position. Kelly is a wildcard with arguably the best arm talent in the draft. While we like his game, his off the field issues may steer teams including the Pats away from selecting him.
- Every RB listed is at least 210 lbs. and mostly considered between the tackle, power RBs. Notably, The Patriots met with the best RB in terms of ball security in Kareem Hunt (1 fumble on 856 touches) as well as a RB with fumbling problems in D'Onta Foreman (1 fumble every 74.3 touches).
- If the team drafts a WR, it will likely be one to compete with Amendola for the last spot on the roster. There are numerous options at slot WR in the draft in the late rounds including Northwestern WR Austin Carr. At 6'3 219 lbs., Georgia State WR Robert Davis put up freakish combine numbers and is an interesting mid to late round developmental option.
- The Patriots met with top 5 TE prospect Adam Shaheen at the combine. They would likely have to trade up from 72 overall to have a chance to take him. Leggett & Kittle are solid mid-round options as TE depth with starter potential.
- Drafting a developmental tackle at some point is likely due to the Pats meeting with a few mid-late round prospects at the position. Julie'n Davenport offers raw upside as a massive 6'7 tackle with 36.5" arms. Scarnecchia recently worked him out.
- Meeting with so many EDGE rushers highlights the Patriots' interest in improving their pass rush. Tarell Basham had a private workout with Belichick & checks the size/athletic boxes of typical Patriot DEs. As previously covered in the Potential Patriots Series, Tim Williams is an elite talent with off the field issues. Hall, Rivers, Moss, & Kpassagnon are high upside developmental options either due to raw technique or playing against small school competition.
- The team is likely set at DT with Branch, Brown, Guy, & Valentine (as well as Hamilton). However, there are still some interesting mid-late round options. Dalvin Tomlinson is an underrated prospect that got lost in the shuffle among Bama's 1st round prospects. Wise is more of a 3-4 DE that checks their athletic profile. Pat Ricard is a local kid that posted an explosive 1.48 10 yard splits (faster times than some RBs/WRs) at his Maine pro day. The Patriots were one of few teams with representation at the event.
- While not as deep as EDGE or CB, the LB position offers many potential starters in 4-3 & 3-4 defenses. Belichick personally worked out Cunningham at Vanderbilt's pro day (another prospect that would likely require a trade up). Ryan Anderson is a do-it-all LB from Saban's Bama defense that could fit nicely in BB's hybrid defense. Duke Riley & Dylan Cole are potential options as coverage LBers and upgrades over Van Noy. Belichick reportedly has had interest in Harvey Langi in the past.
- The Patriots value 3 cone times for CBs above any other team. Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe, Justin Coleman, & Cyrus Jones were some of the top performers in the drill in their respective draft classes. Desmond King checks the boxes with an exceptional 3 cone time (6.67), high production, physical approach, & was also a team captain. After a poor showing at the combine/pro day, the team could draft a former top 10 prospect in the 3rd round they met with in Teez Tabor. Sidney Jones offers value in the 3rd round as a 2018 starter with his unfortunate achilles injury. Brandon Wilson is an athletic freak that scored 8 touchdowns combined on offense, defense, & special teams.
- Josh Jones offers versatility with the ability to play FS, SS, & CB. He showed strength in run support as well as plus coverage ability vs. David Njoku against Miami. Justin Evans is arguably the hardest hitter in the draft that showed elite athleticism at his pro day. Delano Hill is a complete SS enough coverage ability to start at the next level. Kai Nacua is a late round prospect that offers play making ability deep in the draft.
Patriots 2017 NFL Draft Big Board
These players are options for the Pats first pick at 72nd overall. The majority of them would contribute in their rookie year and may earn a starting spot sometime during the season. Some players including Shaheen & Cunningham likely require a trade up to the 2nd round. Gallman & Switzer are lower than other prospects despite being ranked in the top 50 due to the lack of need for a RB or WR.
These players are options for the 96th & 131st overall picks in the late 3rd-4th round. The majority of them would spend their rookie seasons as backups & may be gameday inactives while they develop. By the fourth round Chad Kelly is a worth a gamble for nearly every team including NE based on upside.
These players are options for the Patriots remaining 5th-7th round picks. The majority of them would compete for at training camp for a roster spot along with any undrafted free agents signed after the draft. At this point in the draft, a late round pick at RB or Developmental T likely have the best chance to make the team.
- Players ranked on the top 50 that do not appear on the list of Patriots Prospects is due to the likelihood that they will not be available at the 72nd overall pick.
Ex. Haason Reddick will be picked in the top 25. Barring a Butler/Jimmy G trade, the Pats do not have the draft capital to trade up into the first round and draft him with just their current 2017 picks.
- Guards/Centers weren't considered for a few reasons: the team has a long-term answer at interior OL in Thuney-Andrews-Mason, these positions are weak/lack depth in this upcoming draft, and based on what's been reported they have had minimal contact with them during the pre-draft process.
- Shout out to the Pats Fan Forum for information and discussion surrounding the 2017 NFL Draft. The forum can be accessed here:
- For more NFL Draft Coverage, check out The Rough Draft Podcast on twitter (@PodcastRD), SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/therdpodcast), & iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-rough-draft/id1210262994?mt=2)