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Patriots Talk: What are the Patriots looking for in the 2017 NFL draft?

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This table was used as the Patriots HQ at Radio City Music Hall during the 2013 NFL Draft. Picture was taken by Rich Arden of ESPN Images.

Patriots Talk: What are the Patriots looking for in the 2017 NFL draft?

by Stephen Hilton

The NFL Scouting Combine is coming February 28th and will last till March 6th. In that time period, over 300 athletes will be invited to prove themselves ready for the NFL. The question that remains is whom the Patriots will likely draft? The official 2017 NFL draft is not until April 27th so there is still about two months left before we will have a fairly good idea about who the Patriots will draft. (Mock Drafts are going to change massively by the time this is posted as the Combine is in less than 48 hours)

As of right now the Patriots draft picks consists of: (The bullets indicate each round for that pick)

  1. 32
  2. 64
  3. 96 and 103
  4. 138*
  5. 164 and 183
  6. N/A
  7. 241 and 252

* The 4th pick was technically still with the Patriots even though the Deflategate controversy required we give it up (The original selection was 137). Instead, the  Patriots forfeited the Seattle Seahawks’ 4th round pick (which they acquired) to keep the original 4th pick.

I have had time to think a bit on this subject and I will rundown from a scale of Low-Mid-High (low meaning unnecessary, mid means important for depth/additional roster spot and high means absolute priority). I think keeping it simple is important for everything to make sense in the big picture. So let’s get this started with the positions that will be the least needed in the draft.

Super Bowl Football   James Develin during Super Bowl 49. Photo was taken by Kathy Willens of the Associated Press.

Low

  • QB: Tom Brady is playing the best football of his career (especially for a QB going on 39) and after drafting Jacoby Brissett in last year’s draft this is little to no need for another addition to the team unless Jimmy Garoppolo is being traded, in which case they can always go into free agency for a 3rd stringer and make Jacoby the back-up behind Tom. (Many people are concerned about Tom due to age, but I feel that just keeping Jacoby as a back-up will be fine)
  • FB: James Develin will be an unrestricted free agent by next year but the Patriots will likely pay him due to how much of an effective blocker he is in the run game. Also, for needed depth, Glenn Gronkowski (Rob Gronkowski‘s younger brother) was recently signed for the 2017 season.
  • ST: People have been discussing about potentially cutting Stephen Gostkowski after his rocky start to the 2016 NFL season but I would say that Ghost is not an issue that needs to be addressed as he has managed  34 field goal attempts for 27 made which is 84.4 completion. (Let’s be real here: 2016 was not a good season for kickers period, just look at the Seahawks vs Cardinals Week 7 game to know what I am talking about) He along with Ryan Allen are a dynamic duo together and should stay on the roster.
davis_patsbills4A_sptsLeGarrette Blount during Week 8 against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Photo taken by Jim Davis of The Boston Globe.

Mid

  • WR: Right now, we already have Malcolm Mitchell signed and he shows that he has potential as he made the All-Star Rookie team (along with teammate Joe Thuney). Michael Floyd is unrestricted free-agent and his sentence will be for 120 days but considering his circumstances he is likely gone unless it’s under a 1 year deal. Danny Amendola has done talks about potentially restructuring his contract with the Patriots. Both him and  Julian Edleman will be an unrestricted free agents by 2017. Chris Hogan was a great off-season acquirement and was worth the money. Potentially a low-end pick needed here with so many possibilities happening.
  • OL: The Patriots offensive line was a very effective unit this year thanks to the return of OL coach Dante Scarnecchia.  Only free agent currently on the roster is Cameron Fleming but he is restricted. And with the possibility that Sebastian ‘Seabass’ Vollmer will be retiring after being on injury reserve the whole 2016 season, and considering there was no back up for OG at Joe Thuney’s position, this will be a need in the draft for added depth most certainly.
  • DT: Alan Branch is an issue if the Patriots don’t give him an extension as he is necessary for the Patriots’ run defense (However, he is turning 32 years old and him retiring is also likely). The Patriots will still have players; Malcolm Brown, Vincent ValentineDarius Kilgo or Woodrow Hamilton. There is some real issue with depth here if we are talking about potential ceiling rather than floor. 
  • RB: Legarrette Blount will be an unrestricted free agent next year and since he is already over 30 now, he will unlikely be able to get another chance at a huge contract.  However, he is the only power back that is available to the Patriots as both Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster are elusive backs. And while Tyler Gaffney can still do the power back role, he isn’t on the same level as Blount. Blount has hinted he likes being in New England and if he resigned, it would be for a cheap 1-2 year deal at best. Adding another RB here would be more for to fill Blount’s role rather than add more versatility to the roster spot.
  • S: With Duron Harmon an unrestricted free agent, we will likely need another FS in the draft to fill his position as he is solid player (he played mainly as nickel or dime behind Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung). However, he is a key Special Teams player and that is critical to fill in if the Patriots want someone to make an impact, but for overall depth, it shouldn’t be something that is absolute necessary if Jordan Richards was switched.  (In terms of speed, he is slower than Harmon but he knows the role)
Dont’aNFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta FalconsDont’a Hightower after getting a sack on Matt Ryan during Super Bowl LI. Article by Jaydeen Allen/Image was taken by Patswire.com.

High

  • TE: As much as it pain me to say it, Rob Gronkowski is not capable of staying healthy. Sadly, he is rather a luxury to the Patriots at this point in his career. Despite the fact that Gronk is undoubtably the most dominant at the TE position, his injury history is just too much of an alarm that can’t stop going off whenever gets hit. Christian Bullock made a very good article on this issue.  In addition, Martellus Bennet is more than likely gone as he is stated publically that ‘You know they overpay Super Champions’ (yes, they do Marty). Besides, Gronk’s injuries and Marty being himself, Matt Lengel will likely sign for cheap but he is too much of a drop-off from Gronk and that includes Michael Williams (who missed all of 2016 season with an ACL tear), so this will be an absolute need going into the draft.
  • CB: This is an interesting spot because Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent so the Patriots will have little trouble retaining him but Logan Ryan is a good CB2 and will be looking for a big payday. Jonathon Jones, Eric Rowe and Cyrus Jones are still relatively new to the Patriots and need a lot of work to improve this off-season. This is something that will be necessary if neither Butler or Ryan get resigned.
  • LB: This becomes priority number one if, any only if, Dont’a Hightower doesn’t get resigned (or in the worse case scenario, franchise tagged). The reality is that Hightower plays the most important role on the field as the Patriots’ MLB, he effectively is the quarterback of the  Patriots defense. Right now, trying to replace him is the most difficult task out of all of these positions. We have already lost LBs Jaime Collins and Chandler Jones, and losing Hightower would be three strikes and out essentially. At this moment, we have Jonathan Freeny, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, Trevor Bates  and Kyle Van Noy on the roster still for the 2017 season. While they are all decent, (Roberts, Bates and Van Noy are still new to the Patriots system) they can’t fill the void at MLB especially as signal callers. Rob Ninkovich isn’t getting any younger and is already  starting to seriously  decline since he will be 34 years old by next season.  This is a position that is filled but is also a huge concern because of the quality instead of quantity. 
  • DE/Edge: This is currently the biggest concern as Jabaal Shread and Chris Long are likely going to be leaving the Patriots (Long more likely to retire though). Only Trey Flowers would be left for the DE position and while he was a stud this season, he can’t be the only one to apply pressure on the QB as this is the weakest of all the positions on the Patriots roster. Drafting for one to fill the role of edge rusher is an absolute must if they want the defense to increase their ability to get to the QB.

At this time, this is where I feel the Patriots priorities should be at, but I am sadly not in the Patriots front office nor do I know the way Belichick thinks. All I know, is what I see. As far as I am concerned, the main problems are all on the defense more so then on offense, that much is a certainty.

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