While the sour taste of Super Bowl LII has yet to dissipate in the collective mouths of Patriots Nation, the business of 2018 is set to begin. This offseason will be interesting, to say the least. The New England Patriots find themselves in need of immediate help on the field, as well as an injection of youth into the team’s life force.
While the Patriots did make a run to the Super Bowl, sustaining long-term success has always been the primary goal in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Those that are misguided and uninformed may see this type of drive as ‘fear-based.’ However, those that actually know the inner workings of the Patriots organization know this to be business as usual.
In leaving 2017 in their rear view, the Patriots must now look ahead to the next items on the agenda; upcoming free agency and the NFL draft.
For today’s preview, let’s examine the latter.
2018 Patriots’ Draft Selections (as of February 13, 2018*):
Round 1: 31st
Round 2: (from San Francisco) 43rd
Round 2: 63rd
Round 3: 95th
Round 6: TBD
The Draft Battlefield
Due to the Patriots’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, the team will pick 31st in the first round. With the October 2017 trade of Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Franciso 49ers, the Patriots landed what they had hoped would be a high second-round pick. However, the 49ers’ late-season success means the Patriots will instead pick 43rd overall with the Garoppolo pick. In the process, it also helped Jimmy GQ to land one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history. Although much of Pats Nation is happy for Jimmy’s success, they would be remiss if they did not mention that it did weaken the Pats’ draft prospectus for 2018. To round out the second round, the Patriots also hold pick number 63.
In addition to their first and second rounders, the Patriots complete their draft package with the 95th pick of the third round, as well as a pick in the sixth round (which has yet to be determined, based on the status of compensatory picks). While that selection still remains a question mark, remember that the New England Patriots are certainly no stranger to finding success in the sixth round. (see Brady, Tom)
Currently, the Patriots do not hold a draft choice in the fourth, fifth or seventh rounds. They lost their fourth-rounder in the trade that brought Eric Rowe to New England and their fifth-rounder (along with a previously-acquired seventh) in the Cassius Marsh trade with the Seahawks. The Patriots also surrendered their seventh-round pick to bring in OLB Marquis Flowers prior to the start of the season.
Biggest Offseason Needs
While depth at the quarterback position is likely to be a hot topic for debate, the focus of this preview will be the most pressing needs for the Patriots on the field. Here are some of the positions which the Patriots might look to address:
Both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead are free agents. That leaves James White and free-agent Mike Gillislee in the backfield. While there is some uncertainty surrounding Lewis, it seems likely that Burkhead will be brought back. However, if one or both leave in free agency, the Patriots will have to bring in talent at the position one way or another. Here are a couple of names the Pats might target at the running back position:
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Michel appears to be the type of running back Belichick loves. He has amazing flexibility in his lower legs and ankles, which allows him to execute impressive cuts at any point of his run. He was an accomplished runner at Georgia and has the downfield speed to hit the big play.
Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa
Wadley was a star in the backfield over the past two seasons for the Hawkeyes, amassing over 1,300 yards from scrimmage in both 2016 and 2017. At just 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds, what Wadley lacks in size, he makes up for in outstanding shiftiness and agility.
On the offensive line, left tackle Nate Solder is a free agent and figures to be a priority re-signing. However, there are rumblings that family obligations might cause Solder to retire. Should he do so, here are a couple of potential New England targets:
Martinas Rankin, OL, Mississippi State
Rankin is one of the most fundamentally sound offensive line prospects in this class. He may be viewed by some teams as a guard at the next level, but he won’t have to learn proper hand placement and punch timing, kick-slide footwork or balance when on the move as a run-blocker.
Mike McGlinchey, OT Notre Dame
While his greatest strength would be in run blocking, McGlinchey looked like a natural as a pass-blocking left tackle for the Fighting Irish. He has solid feet and quickness to get depth in his kick slide and cut off edge rushers. He also displays a nice ability to bend at the knee, and that in combination with his feet, keeps him from having to reach after edge rushers very often.
The Patriots already have a fairly formidable front-seven. However, they could bring in depth at defensive end to give Trey Flowers more help in the pass rush. The Patriots struggled to stop the run in 2017 and might look for help on the defensive line, as well as at linebacker to accomplish that goal. Keep a sharp eye on these prospects as the Draft approaches:
Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest
Ejiofor has often been compared to former Patriots pass-rusher, and current Arizona Cardinal, Chandler Jones. He’s long and uses his hands extremely well. Against the run, Ejiofor is strong enough to consistently set the edge. He’s a versatile defensive lineman who’d fit well in New England.
Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
Phillps is quite the run stopper and a very capable tackler. His 103 tackles this season led the Cardinals. It was also a remarkably high total for a defensive lineman. The Patriots could use some help in that area. Phillips might pair nicely with Malcom Brown on the defensive line.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
After the injury to Dont’a Hightower this season, the Patriots prospects at linebacker looked grim. They did get impressive play from Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy at the linebacker spots. Evans is a throwback-type player who would be a perfect complement to Hightower on the inside.
The biggest need on defense comes at cornerback. One time Super Bowl XLIX hero, Malcolm Butler seems all but certain to exit via free agency. Bill Belichick has seemed to prefer the veteran route to fill the void at corner. However, here are a couple of names that might appear on his draft board within the coming weeks:
Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan
Phillips was a play-making machine at Western Michigan. He defended 35 passes and had five interceptions in his final three seasons with the Broncos. He also has the speed and reflexes to cover some of the quicker receivers at the next level.
M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina
Stewart was underrated during his time with the Tar Heels. Along with experience, he is adequately sized at 5’10” and can be helpful in supporting the run defense. Stewart’s top-end speed make him a great complement to Stephon Gilmore.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the AFC East. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC.