With the NFL Draft just over three weeks away, plenty of speculation surrounds the New England Patriots and their draft plans. New England’s first pick doesn’t come until the third round, and even with Jimmy Garoppolo garnering trade rumors, it appears the Patriots will stick with their current picks; two third-round (72 and 96), a fourth-round (131), two fifth-round (163 and 183), a sixth-round (200) and a seventh-round (239). Luckily, 2017’s draft class is deep enough for the Patriots to draft serious talent on Days two and three of the draft. Below are three players the Patriots could target with their first few selections.
New England Patriots Mid-Round Draft Projections
George Kittle, tight end, Iowa
Natural athletic ability and blocking instincts make Iowa’s George Kittle a viable mid-round option for New England. With the departure of Martellus Bennett and the uncertainty that always surrounds a newly acquired player like Dwayne Allen, the Patriots should capitalize on a deep tight-end draft class.
Despite his shorter stature, Kittle’s skills as a move-blocking tight end and his receiving ability make him a top-10 tight end prospect. According to Pro Football Focus, Kittle had the second-highest 2016 run-blocking grade (79.6) of all tight ends in this year’s draft class. He is fast enough to block effectively on the run, and strong enough to drive defenders away from the play. Kittle is a solid pass blocker as well, showing good timing and balance when confronting rushers.
Kittle’s speed and hands make him an adequate receiving threat, but his route running and coverage recognition are question marks. He was hindered by a foot injury in the second half of 2016, and at 6-feet 4-inches, 247 pounds, he is one of the smaller tight ends in the draft class. Kittle will likely be available when the Patriots choose on Day two and he could be a good fit. Watch some of his junior year highlights here.
Shaquill Griffin, cornerback, UCF
The 2017 draft is considered deep at many positions, including cornerback, which means there should be talent available when New England’s first turn to select a player rolls around. With Logan Ryan gone to the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots lost their top tackler and slot corner, and have a large void to fill.
UCF’s Shaquill Griffin fits the Logan Ryan mold, both physically and in play style. He stands just an inch taller than Ryan at 6-feet, and both are listed at 194 pounds. Griffin’s strength and size are his strong points, and he displays a powerful punch that makes him effective in press coverage. He is a solid tackler against both receivers and running backs, with 93 total tackles in his final two seasons.
The Patriots will need to replace Ryan’s 93 tackles as a slot corner, and someone like Griffin would fit well. But his vertical speed is only average, and his ability to read quarterbacks’ eyes needs improvement. He is strong to the ball, but only when he gets there on time. Griffin’s stock improved after a strong showing at the combine, but he will almost certainly be available in the third or fourth rounds. You can see his combine highlights here.
Ryan Anderson, outside linebacker, Alabama
There are a plethora of edge rushers in the 2017 draft class, and the Patriots have a knack for drafting serviceable players at the position. Trey Flowers and newly-acquired Kony Ealy show great athleticism in getting to the quarterback, but the Patriots need increased depth behind them to rotate their defensive ends efficiently.
Ryan Anderson from Alabama was a five-year player for the Crimson Tide, and built an impressive resume during his SEC career. He is experienced in 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, and would in fit well with the multiple schemes used by Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. His rushing technique is his strong suit; he has good handwork and timing, is physically imposing with the ability to control blockers, and he finishes tackles. Several scouting reports praise Anderson’s poise on the field and dedication to his assignments, traits that Bill Belichick often targets through the draft.
Anderson is not overly athletic, and plays straight up rather than with good body lean. He needs to sharpen his rushes to overcome NFL-level blocking. Closing speed is also a question mark, but Anderson’s high football IQ and other intangibles make him a potentially great fit with New England. Watch his highlights here.
Bill Belichick has never been predictable on draft day. But even coming off a Super Bowl win, there are definitely areas of the Patriots roster that must be addressed. The draft is plenty deep, and despite New England’s lack of picks, there should be plenty of talent available when the Patriots first choose on Day two.