The initial burst of signings is over in free agency, the Patriots lost four key players and brought in four of their own new players while resigning a few of their own free agents. So, now the question is, where are they at this point in free agency and what are their needs right now with still plenty of free agents still out there before the NFL Draft starts.
They’ve already addressed some of their needs early in free agency. That doesn’t mean that they’re done at any position per se, we would still expect them to double down on some positions in the draft.
With that said, after the initial free agency period what the are the Patriots biggest needs moving forward that can be addressed in free agency, the draft or both?
Left Tackle: No one wants to downplay the losses of Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler or Dion Lewis, but the loss of Nate Solder arguably hurts the most because the team, at least initially has no replacement in place. With Marcus Cannon on the right side, the Patriots need a left tackle. Their two backup swing tackles, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are free agents. Ideally, the team would like to get both back.
There are also some players on the roster that they’ve stashed from 2017 Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks. They just signed Matt Tobin, who was a backup swing tackle from Seattle. Last season the Patriots moved up in the draft to snag Antonio Garcia in the 3rd round of the draft. But Garcia missed the season with an illness where he lost 40 pounds. He’s now cleared to resume his football career but will he be ready?
This year’s draft isn’t a great one for tackles and the one most associated with New England seems to be UCLA’s, Kolton Miller. And I’m not a fan of this if that is who they are targeting. He tends to play too upright and to me is too much of a finesse player which reminds me of last year’s pick also from UCLA Connor McDermott. Croston beat him out for a roster spot.
How they approach the next few weeks and the draft will tell a lot of how they feel about their current situation. If they resign Waddle or Fleming and then don’t draft a tackle high, then they believe that Garcia will be their guy and Waddle is insurance. If they go for a tackle early in the draft, then that answers that question.
Linebacker: The Patriots front seven needed a big upgrade this offseason. They will be getting back Dont’a Hightower, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers, and Harvey Langi off of IR so that already increases the depth. But then they added a big defensive lineman in Danny Shelton, a two-gapping space eater who can take on the double teams and allow the linebackers to stuff the run. And they added Adrian Clayborn, a 280-pound defensive end that can set the edge in the running game and get pressure on the quarterback.
Now they need a linebacker inside with better athleticism than they have. The two guys in free agency that we liked, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were quickly signed elsewhere.There are some very intriguing names in the draft. The Patriots usually like their linebackers big, although the trend is going smaller, faster and more athletic. One big guy who is intriguing is Leighton Vander Esch. Bill Belichick was just at Alabama and they have a very impressive backer in Rashaan Evans but he’ll probably be gone before they pick at #31.
Belichick also scouted South Carolina’s Skai Moore, an undersized, smaller type player who led his team in tackles for four years. He’d be a mid-to-late round guy. Some others in that vein are Joe Ostman a DE/OLB from Central Michigan and Jack Cichy from Wisconsin.
Quarterback: So, do the Patriots like any of these quarterbacks in this season’s draft? Everyone is assuming that they’re going to draft one early and look for the successor to Tom Brady but would I be shocked if they pass? No. They always seem to do the opposite of what everyone is predicting for them.
Trying to predict which quarterback the Patriots will pick is another difficult proposition. The ones who seem to fit what they do are Kyle Lauletta from Richmond who was a mid/late round prospect until his Senior Bowl performance turned some heads.
Other guys rumored to be on the Patriots radar are Luke Falk and Logan Woodside. But something to keep in mind if he’s still around when the Patriots pick is Louisville QB, Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals play in the same system, the Erhardt-Perkins system that New England uses.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski is still slated to return this season. But we haven’t heard any confirmation on that. His agent had said that he was contemplating retirement. Regardless, the Patriots need to begin planning for his replacement, as crazy as that sounds with a 28-year old tight end who is still at the top of his game.
Dwayne Allen remains as does Jacob Hollister. Allen has a $5 million dollar contract and was a terrific blocker but offered very little in the passing game. Hollister flashed the ability to make some tough catches and to attack the seams but will need to make a big second-year step up in his play.
There are some good tight ends in the draft. The Patriots have met twice now with South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst. The former professional baseball pitcher is already 24 and maxed out physically but is an impressive player. He has excellent hands and above average speed. His production suffered from poor QB play on many occasions, having watched most of SC games.
Other excellent options in the draft include Dallas Goedert from S.Dakota St., Mike Gesicki, from Penn State, and Mark Andrews from Oklahoma among others.
And of course, Martellus Bennett may reappear on the scene. He hinted on social media that he may return to the Patriots at a lesser amount. But they should look to get younger at the position but it never hurts to have a player of his ability on the roster either.
Running Back: The Patriots resigned Rex Burkhead and added Jeremy Hill to a very team friendly contract and seem like they are well stocked. Hill and Mike Gillislee will battle it out for the big back, short-yardage role. James White is the passing back, strictly third down option while Burkhead can do a bit of both. Brandon Bolden is the depth piece who plays special teams.
I’d still believe that the Patriots need a younger back to add to the puzzle to build for the future. And this draft is chock full of them. Some running backs slotted for the 2nd round or later include, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines, and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams.
The Patriots met with Hines at the Combine and then recently attended NC State’s Pro Day and have been speaking about how he feels he fits with New England as others have told him also…which usually means the team won’t touch him.
The team will probably also dip into the draft for an edge player as well. With Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler coupled with the return of Hightower and Derek Rivers, they have much better depth than the team that went to the Super Bowl just in February.