Welcome to another exciting edition of watch Sully make some educated guesses that make it look like he was never edumacated at all. In today’s futile gesture we’ll be reviewing the Patriots roster as currently constructed, while also taking a look at some viable draft targets in both the early and later rounds.
The Patriots currently have 8 draft picks heading into next weekend. Two in the first round, two in the second, a third, two in the sixth, and a seventh rounder just for kicks. For the sake of the roster and the salary cap they could use a solid return on this draft capital. Last year saw them select four players. Of the four, one was cut in training camp, two never played a down due to injury, and the other, Deitrich Wise Jr. earned his stripes as a regular member of the defensive end rotation. Undrafted rookies Adam Butler and Jacob Hollister also made contributions, but the team has to expect more out of this draft class.
With the picks, and then the presumed return to health of Derek Rivers, and Antonio Garcia who missed their entire rookie seasons, as well as the presumed return to health of Vincent Valentine and Malcolm Mitchell, who missed their entire sophomore seasons, the Patriots will be working players into the foundation of what will be the team that moves them past the Tom Brady era, an event that will land upon Foxborough sooner, rather than later.
Lets start with a review of the offense:
The Patriots currently have only two gunslingers on the roster. You can bet with certainty that they’ll conclude next weekend with more than that. It would not be shocking if they selected a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft and then looked to add a late round or rookie free agent addition next Sunday.
Current Players: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
The expectation here is that they will carry 3 quarterbacks on the roster this year. Brady for the purpose of winning the Superbowl. Hoyer as veteran insurance against Brady injury, and a rookie for the purpose of grooming Brady’s replacement.
With the draft capital they have, its not unfathomable that the Patriots could make the leap into the top 10 to grab a Josh Rosen from UCLA. They could also remain where they are and hope Lamar Jackson of Louisville or Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State falls into their laps.
My money would be on them waiting to use their first pick in the second round, pick #43 to select Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta. I mean, he has a background in lacrosse and his dad went to Navy, Belichick probably has pictures of him in his coaching spank bank.
Some other names to keep an eye on in the 3rd through 6th rounds would be Luke Falk of Washington State, Mike White of Western Kentucky, and Logan Woodside of Toledo.
While the unit doesn’t feature a flat out 3 down stud like a Le’Veon Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, it is a deep, and balanced group.
Current Players: Jeremy Hill, Michael Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Brendan Bolden, James Develin
They feature two strong downhill, between the tackle runners in Jeremy Hill and Michael Gillislee. Also featured are two outside, sure handed targets out of the backfield in James White and Rex Burkhead. Rounding out the room would be core special teams contributor Brendan Bolden and fullback James Develin.
While on the surface there wouldn’t appear to be a big need here, Jeremy Hill is on a one year deal after falling down the depth chart last year in Cincy. If he plays well, he likely prices himself out of the Patriots market next season, and if he doesn’t, well, then he likely plays himself out of the league.
Michael Gillislee, along with tight end Dwayne Allen are the two players most likely to be cut in training camp to ensure the Patriots have cap room to operate throughout the season.
Some players to keep an eye on here would be Jaylen Samuels from N.C. State in the middle rounds (think 3rd), maybe Royce Freeman of Oregon, or late round flyers on Alabama’s Bo Scarborough or Ole Miss’ Jordan Williams.
Samuels fits more of the Charles Clay mold where he may eventually end up as a move tight end. Think back to the early days of the Parcells regime and how he used Keith Byers.
The bad news is, from last year’s AFC champion squad, they’ve lost Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, two players who played no small part in the Patriots advancing as far as they did. The good news is that they get back Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell from injuries that knocked them out all last season, as well as the additions of Jordan Matthews and Cordarelle Patterson from this free agency period. Immediate need is not huge here, and in fact if a receiver was drafted in the early rounds it would certainly result in a quality receiver being on the trading block come the end of training camp. Long term is a consideration though. Mitchell is young, but already shown to be injury prone. Edelman is coming up on the twilight of his career (its amazing how fast that comes for a wide receiver in the NFL), Hogan is a good third receiver, and its unknown how Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, and Cordarelle Patterson all play in this system, that as shown by Chad Ochocinco, isn’t for just any receiver.
Current Players: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, Cordarelle Patterson, Philip Dorsett, Riley McCarron, Cody Hollister, Matthew Slater
While I don’t think this position is a priority, you never know what the braintrust at Patriots Place is thinking. Some names to be aware of in the first round would be Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, SMU’s Courtland Sutton, and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk. In the 2nd and 3rd round you could be looking at TCU’s Dante Pettis, Oklahoma State’s James Washington, or UCF’s Tre’Quan Smith. If you’re looking at a late round, special teams/developmental type guy, someone who could be a nice practice squad addition, I’d point you towards Georgia’s Javon Wims.
This is certainly a need position for the Patriots, which is especially odd when you consider they retain one of the best to ever play the position in Rob Gronkowski. But between Gronk’s tendency to miss time, along with his advancing age (by NFL standards), and the cat & mouse game he’s played with returning this off season, it is a position in need of an infusion of talent.
Current Players: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Jacob Hollister, Will Tye
If in uniform, and healthy, Gronk is the clear answer as to who starts. If he isn’t, well then the crystal ball becomes very cloudy. Dwayne Allen was brought in last off season, and showed well as a blocker, but very little as a receiver. Overall his performance was fine, though not commiserate with his salary cap hit, for that reason he is primed to be cut in training camp. Add to that the fact the Troy Niklas was brought in last month from Arizona at a fraction of what Allen costs, and seems capable of providing the same type of production, and it seems Allen’s days are numbered.
Hollister was an undrafted rookie free agent, and showed a little last year, but not enough to think that he is the long term answer at the position. Will Tye flashed a bit a couple years ago for the Giants, but spent most of last season on the Patriots practice squad.
Some options here in the first couple of rounds would be Hayden Hurst of South Carolina who you’d likely have to use a first round pick on. Also look for Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State. His pedigree suggests he’ll need some time to adapt to the leap in level of competition, but his measurables shout that he’ll be an instant contributor. Mark Andrews of Oklahoma and Mike Gesicki of Penn State are possibilities in the late second or third round, though I’m not sure they possess the blocking acumen that Belichick covets in a tight end. Ian Thomas in the 3rd round out of Indiana is a name to keep an eye on, and Ryan Izzo of Florida State could be an option in the later rounds.
Overall the line is in a good place, as long as Dante Scharnecchia remains as their position coach. But there is a glaring hole on the left side of that line, a spot that’s been manned more than ably by Bruce Armstrong, Matt Light, and then Nate Solder going back over the last 30 years. Current in house options include swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, off season signee Matt Tobin, undrafted free agent Cole Croston, and 2017 3rd round draft choice (who missed all of last season) Antonio Garcia.
I think having those in house options puts the Patriots in a spot where they don’t have to position themselves in the draft from a point of weakness, but I can’t imagine they’re comfortable going into the season as is, and given the opportunity, will look to solidify the position in the first two rounds of the draft. Meaning they won’t reach in the first round on a guy with a 2nd or 3rd round grade, but if a guy worthy of a first is there, they’ll likely pounce.
Current Players: LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon, Matt Tobin, Antonio Garcia, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks, Matt Thuney, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Luke Bowanko, James Ferentz
Some tackles to look for in the top round would be Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchy if he falls a little, or UCLA’s Kolton Miller. In the second you could see names like Connor Williams (Texas), Brian O’Neill (Pitt), Martinas Rankin (Mississippi State) or Tyrell Crosby (Oregon). Orlando Brown is certainly possible too. He had an atrocious combine, but partially redeemed himself during Oklahoma’s pro day.
While I don’t see the Patriots going this way after extending David Andrews, and receiving solid production from Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, they could look at Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), Will Hernandez (UTEP) or James Daniels (Iowa) along the interior of their line. Wynn and Daniels likely go in the first, while Hernandez might slip to the early parts of the second. With Shaq Mason in line for a big pay raise, it may be a consideration.
Moving to the other side of the ball, the team will proceed this seasons sans official defensive coordinator. It is expected that rising coaching star Brian Flores will handle a lot of the duties the position normally entails.
INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
This is a position that the team is both deep, and youthful at. With the diminished production of Alan Branch came a gapping hole next to young Malcolm Brown. To rectify that, the team made a move early in the off season, trading for former first rounder Danny Shelton. Both Shelton and Brown will likely have their options picked up, keeping them together in Foxborough another season.
Current Players: Malcolm Brown, Danny Shelton, Vincent Valentine, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy
Brown, Shelton, and Valentine fall under the category of traditional run stuffers, while Butler and Guy have more of an ability to kick out to the edges in a jumbo formation, and also stand their ground as interior pass rushers.
I would be shocked to see a high pick spent on this position this season. Maybe a 3rd rounder on a talented but enigmatic player like Da’Shawn Hand of Alabama. I thought Maurice Hurst had a chance to slide with his medical issues, but it looks like those have been resolved so I don’t see him being available at a draft position that the Pats would feel comfortable taking him. Maybe a late round flyer on Utah’s Lowell Lotulelei could happen.
DEFENSIVE END/EDGE RUSHERS
It can be very difficult to define who would fit well in the Patriots chameleon scheme. Are they a 3/4, or a 4/3, they’re more like a 4/2 really, and who knows what they’ll be next year in the ever evolving NFL landscape. For right now though we’ll group them all together, even though its not likely you’ll see Dietrich Wise dropping back into coverage too often.
Current Players: Trey Flowers, Dietrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Adrien Clayborn, Eric Lee, Geneo Grissom, Keionta Davis, Harvy Langi
You seemingly know what you’re getting with Flowers and Clayborn. Wise surprised some with how quickly he adapted to the NFL game. Eric Lee was plucked off the Bills practice squad and became a quick contributor. Rivers was their top pick a year ago, but missed his rookie campaign due to injury. Langi missed most of the year following a violent car crash. Grissom has been on an off the roster for a few years now.
In theory the quartet of Flowers, Clayborn, Wise, and Rivers would provide a nice rotation on the outside, but theories hardly ever work. If a quality option presents themselves on day two, or early on day three, they should absolutely pounce.
UTEP’s Marcus Davenport could be available when the Patriots are selecting in the first round, but I suspect its not a position they’re looking to address that early. Harold Landry of Boston College is considered a draft riser and not likely to be available, but if he were, has the talent that may make him irresistible.
In the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounds you should be seeing names like Rasheen Green (USC), Sam Hubbard (Ohio State). Josh Sweat (FSU), Malik Jefferson (Texas), Lorenzo Carter (Georgia), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma), Jerome Baker (Ohio State), and Jeff Holland (Auburn) sliding off the board. Its also possible Ohio State’s Jalyn Holmes, and Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa go that early as well. All would be viable selections with the 63rd or 95th selections.
In the later rounds where you’re also looking for special teams ability, and maybe a little more developmental, you could see a Kenny Young of UCLA, or a Leon Jacobs or Wisconsin pop up.
STAND UP LINEBACKERS:
The majority of the time, the Patriots seemingly played with two of these guys on the field. Ideally right now that’d be Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy was a former second rounder cast off by Detroit who has developed and thrived here in New England. Hightower is a stud linebacker who has difficulty staying on the field. While it hasn’t been spoken, there has to be a concern regarding how much longer Hightower can perform? They drafted Hightower to pair with Jerod Mayo for a bit, and I think plucking Hightower’s replacement this year would be a prudent move.
Current Players: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts, Nicholas Grigsby
Two players who should be available when the Patriots are on the clock come Thursday night are Alabama’s Rashaan Evans, and Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. Vander Esch comes with some health questions, and Evans plays for former Belichick protege’ Nick Saban in the SEC, edge Evans.
If this need isn’t addressed in the first round, you could see someone like Iowa’s Josey Jewell selected, while he’s more instinctual, he isn’t nearly the athlete Evans is.
In the later rounds you could see Nick Deluca of North Dakota State selected. He’d be able to contribute on special teams while adjusting to the leap from the FCS level to the NFL. Another name to keep an eye on is Chris Worley of Ohio State. Solid, though unspectacular, he played for good buddies Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano at Ohio State.
Stephon Gilmore, as he grew more comfortable, showed to be worth every penny of his contract that paid him like a #1 corner. The other side is where the question lies. There are answers in house though. Many teams would be happy to have Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty ready to step in on the outside. Former undrafted free agent Jonathan Jones showed signs of being an able slot corner before going out injured.
Current Players: Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz
Though the “elite” options in this draft appear limited to Denzel Ward, and MAYBE a couple others like Jaire Alexander or Joshua Jackson, there are quality options deep into the draft. The result is that they may be able to find a future starter on day two or three.
I believe if they do take a corner it’ll be in the top 3 rounds of the draft. Developmental guys already on the roster include Cyrus and Jonathan Jones, along with Ryan Lewis who was a valued member of the practice squad last season. As such, I think they’re looking for a guy to instantly push Rowe/McCourty, or nothing.
Names that would fit that description would be Joshua Jackson of Iowa, Mike Hughes of UCF, Isaiah Oliver of Colorado, Donte Jackson from LSU, Carlton Davis of Auburn, Tarvarus McFadden of FSU, Anthony Averett of Alabama, or Duke Dawson from Florida.
This is always a tough position to gauge for the Patriots. They’ve got plenty of bodies on the roster listed as safeties, but players like Nate Ebner and Brandon King are last ditch options to put out downs 1-3, and make their living as special teams aces. Jordan Richards has been considered a bust thus far, and luckily Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon have, for the most part, remained healthy.
Current Players: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Jordan Richards, Brandon King, Nate Ebner, David Jones, DaMarius Travis.
This is a position where there could be some changes. Chung just earned an extension, Harmon re-signed last off season, and McCourty is invaluable as the general leading the defense, but the “special team” guys have all been getting new contracts lately, like Ebner and King that could lead the way to them being replaced by someone younger and cheaper.
In the second round Ronnie Harrison of Alabama has a lot of Patrick Chung in his game, and could be a natural replacement down the road. Justin Reid fits the mold of a heady “football player” coming out of Stanford, and could be a target if available late in round 2. Armani Watts of Texas A&M, or Kyzir White of West Virginia are names to watch in round 3. And a guy that just feels like a Patriot when I watched him for Northwestern was Godwin Igwebuike, and he could be a guy available in the 6th or 7th round.
I’d love to give an ideal draft for the Patriots, but that would involve Bradley Chubb falling to 23, Saquon Barkley being available at 31, and Sam Darnold falling out of the first round. All things that simply are not going to happen. So how about we give a draft for the Patriots that I’d be happier than a pig in shit to see, using draft selections they currently own.
#23: RASHAAN EVANS LB ALABAMA
#31: KOLTON MILLER OT UCLA
#43: KYLE LAULETTA QB RICHMOND
#63: OGBONNIA OKORONKWO DE/LB OKLAHOMA
#95: JAYLEN SAMUELS FB/H-BACK/TE N.C. STATE
#198: NICK DELUCA LB NORTH DAKOTA STATE
#210: GODWIN IGWEBUIKE S NORTHWESTERN
#219: RYAN IZZO TE FLORIDA STATE
Feel free to print this as you sit on your couch, beer in hand, cheese melting on your nachos flipping between the draft, the NBA playoffs, and NHL playoffs, it’ll be your own little personal cheat sheet to see who the Pats should select. Its just a present from You’re Ducking Right to you. You’re welcome.
- Jason Sullivan
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