Since assessing the New England Patriots off-season needs back in February, the defending champions have made a plethora of acquisitions in order to strengthen an already talented roster. With the bulk of free agency in the rear view mirror and the NFL Draft commencing next Thursday, it’s time to make some more assessments about how the Patriots team can get better in the draft.
New England Patriots 2017 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
Due to the free agency acquisitions of Brandin Cooks (via New Orleans Saints) and Kony Ealy (via Carolina Panthers), the Patriots won’t make a selection until the fourth-round. Additionally, it looks like the team will also lose a fifth-round pick after signing restricted free agent Mike Gillislee, previously with the Buffalo Bills to an offer sheet. If the Bills decide not to match, (and all indications are they won’t), the patriots would acquire the running back, thus losing the pick in a compensatory exchange.
With a lot of acquisitions made at the skill positions, and the signings at cornerback (Stephon Gilmore signing and Malcolm Butler signing his tender of $4.18 million), the Patriots specific needs get narrowed down significantly. The three most glaring needs that this team can address in the draft are offensive tackle, safety, and tight End.
Depth at this position is desperately needed. Nate Solder is approaching the wrong side of 30, and there are no logical replacements on the roster. In 2015, Soldier signed a 2-year extension, which will be up in 2018. Marcus Cannon is a rock for the offensive line, and in case of injury, would probably line up in Soldier’s stead.
However, because the argument has been made that the staff feels more comfortable with him at the right tackle spot, the lack of depth on the offensive line is readily apparent. Solder isn’t particularly losing his edge, but nevertheless, it would be foolish for the reigning champions to pass up on an opportunity to grab a promising tackle with one of their earlier selections after failing to add depth in free agency.
Safety should be a focal point for the Patriots after the departures at the position this off-season. The defensive backfield quietly became one of New England’s strongest position areas during their Super Bowl season. Since then a lot has changed: Logan Ryan departed and Gilmore joined New England, and rumors of a Butler trade still swirl around the organization now that he signed his tender.
But what hasn’t changed is the two core pieces at safety: Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung. Chung didn’t have the worst season statistically and made plays when it counted, but his overall play left something to be desired. Duron Harmon also had some bright spots last year, but increasing his playing time would be a major commitment by a Bill Belichick staff that is still unsure as to whether he can play the strong safety position. The Patriots have been burned here in the past when they made a flier pick on Jordan Richards in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and failed to get a major return on that investment. The Patriots need to draft a physical, versatile-style player for this secondary to be complete.
After writing about this position area back in February, not much has changed. Rob Gronkowski is making a steady recovery, but after some injury riddled seasons, it is unclear whether or not the star tight end can play an entire season without getting injured. Outside of Matt Lengel, there’s no depth behind the newly acquired Dwayne Allen and that shouldn’t be taken lightly by an offense that loves to diversify their offensive formations. If Belichick decides not to go tight end in the draft, that says a lot about his confidence in what Allen will bring to the table and Gronkowski’s ability to get and stay healthy.