2017 NFL Draft targets for the New England Patriots at each position.
The New England Patriots had an extremely busy offseason. They went big in free agency, signing the top cornerback on the market in Stephon Gilmore and getting Dont’a Hightower back in the fold. The Patriots also made significant upgrades to their roster via big-time trades for guys like Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy and Dwayne Allen.
Cooks, Ealy and Allen will undoubtedly help the Patriots in 2017 and beyond, but they did not get them for free. Each deal was strong on its own, but all together, the Patriots gave up a ton of 2017 NFL draft capital. They can still make their mark in the 2017 NFL draft, but they currently do not hold a selection until the third round.
Which mid-to-late round prospects will the New England Patriots be targeting? It is difficult to predict, but I am going to give you a strong option for the team at each offensive and defensive position. Let’s kick if off with a quarterback.
The only way I see the Patriots taking a quarterback in the upcoming draft is if Jimmy Garoppolo gets traded. That is seeming more and more unlikely by the passing day, but it is certainly still a possibility.
If Garoppolo does end up being traded, the Patriots could get in the quarterback market to pair a young guy with Jacoby Brissett to battle to be Tom Brady‘s backup. Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman would be a strong mid-round choice.
Peterman is not the most physically gifted quarterback in this draft class, but he is an extremely tough and smart player who does not make many mistakes and steps up when his team needs him to the most. He is also an extremely accurate passer who can throw the ball well on the run as well.
Peterman is not a perfect prospect but he is an interesting developmental guy who would make sense for the Patriots in the fourth-round range.
Oct 8, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) runs the ball against Texas Longhorns cornerback Kris Boyd (2) in the game at Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots have an interesting mix of players at the running back position. James White is an elite receiving back out of the backfield, while Dion Lewis is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Rex Burkhead was brought in as an under-the-radar free agent addition and figures to play a large offensive role as well.
There probably are not many running back snaps available in New England at the moment, but they do clearly lack a power back. LeGarrette Blount has been that guy the past few years, but he and his 18 rushing touchdowns from last season remain unsigned on the free agent market. I could certainly see the Patriots bringing Blount back, but I would like to see them find a younger power back option.
Samaje Perine had an impressive college career at Oklahoma. He is a strong one-cut runner who can certainly mix it up on the inside. Perine shows impressive natural strength and power with the ball in his hands and has a surprising amount of quickness. He also does a nice job of finding the open holes up front.
Perine is a talented player who could bring some huge upside to the Patriots backfield. He could be under consideration for the team in the third round.
Nov 25, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes tight end George Kittle (46) celebrates after a touchdown catch during the second half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
After the Patriots traded for Cooks this offseason, I do not think they will be much in the market for a wide receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft. Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola make a solid group of receivers for Tom Brady. That being said, taking a flyer on a late-round guy with upside is never out of the question.
Robert Davis is a big (6-3, 219 pounds) and athletic (41-inch vertical leap and 11-foot-4-inch broad jump at the combine) receiver who has a ton of natural upside at the next level. Davis is extremely raw but he shows strong high-point skills and can catch the ball in traffic. He would be a nice late-round flyer for the Patriots at wide receiver.
After trading for Allen, I do not expect the Patriots to aggressively attack the tight end position. Allen teamed with Rob Gronkowski is one of the best duos at the position in the NFL. However, Gronkowski’s injury issues are well documented and it would not hurt to have more security at the position.
George Kittle is one of my favorite tight ends in this class and would be a great fit for the Pats. Kittle is an impressive blocking tight end who shows a bit of receiving upside. He was a reliable receiver in college but was not used a ton in Iowa’s running-based offense.
Kittle opened some eyes with his impressive performance in the combine. He ran an impressive 4.52-second 40-yard dash and had an 11-foot broad jump. Both totals were the third best for the tight end position as Kittle showed more speed and athleticism than expected. He is an impressive player who has some nice upside at the next level. At worst, he is a strong blocking tight end but he has a chance to be much more than that.
Mar 3, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Bucknell offensive lineman Julie’n Davenport squares off in the mirror drill against San Diego State offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Tackle: Julie’n Davenport, Bucknell
The New England Patriots have a solid group of offensive tackles. Nate Solder is an above-average starting left tackle and Marcus Cannon was elite at right tackle last season. Cameron Fleming is also a perfectly capable swing tackle for the team. However, I think the Patriots would benefit from some long-term security at the position and could look to find it in the draft.
Julie’n Davenport is an interesting prospect who would make a lot of sense for the team. Davenport has elite size for the position, at 6-7, 318 pounds. Even more impressive are his 36.5-inch arms. Davenport has ridiculous arm length which is huge for an offensive tackle in pass protection.
The Bucknell product is extremely raw, but he has the athleticism, size and overall skill set to be a strong pass protector at the next level. Davenport is far from perfect, but he has legitimate left tackle upside. With Solder set to hit free agency next offseason, the Patriots would be wise to get a left tackle project like Davenport into the mix.
I do not see the interior offensive line as being a major area of concern for the Patriots but you never know. Ethan Pocic is a guy who I could see them liking. Pocic has experience playing all five offensive line spots. He shows good quickness and athleticism on the interior and the intelligence to play center at a high level.
I could see the Patriots looking at Pocic as an upgrade over David Andrews at center. At worst, he could be a quality backup who brings a lot of versatility.
Mar 5, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tulane Green Wave defensive lineman Tanzel Smart participates in a workout drill during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
With Alan Branch and Malcom Brown leading the way, defensive tackle is not a huge concern for the New England Patriots. However, they could certainly use some quality depth at the position, particularly a guy who can attack the quarterback with speed from the interior.
Tanzel Smart is an interesting defensive tackle prospect who I would specifically like to see the Patriots target. He is just a tough and physical football player who is consistently around the ball. Smart goes hard on every single play and knows how to make an impact both against the run and the pass.
Listed at 6-1, 296 pounds with 32.875-inch arms, Smart does not have great size for the position. His lack of bulk and length can get him in trouble at times. That being said, he explodes off of the ball with regularity and shows great overall quickness. Smart also uses leverage extremely well, consistently staying lower than his opponent.
The Tulane product is not a perfect NFL prospect, but he is a guy who will give it his all on every play and can make an impact both as a run defender and interior pass rusher. Smart makes a lot of sense for the New England Patriots who have to be looking for value with their few valuable picks.
Nov 5, 2016; Manhattan, KS, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Jalen McCleskey (1) runs away from Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Jordan Willis (75) at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. The Cowboys won 43-37. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive end is probably the biggest overall need on the New England Patriots roster. Trey Flowers really emerged for the team down the stretch but he is still largely unproven. Rob Ninkovich is a rock-solid veteran but his upside is certainly limited in the later stages of his career. Kony Ealy is an exciting talent but has been far too inconsistent.
The three players mentioned above make a solid mix of edge defenders but the Patriots could certainly use some more playmakers to add to the mix at the position. Losing both Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard could hurt this team.
If Jordan Willis is available when the Patriots go on the clock early in the third round, I think he should be the pick. Willis is a tough and physical edge defender who is extremely aware on the field. It is difficult to fool Willis as he constantly does a great job of staying home. He is also an active pass rusher who can create pressure from the outside.
Willis is not an athletic freak on the edge, but he shows a great combination of quickness and power that will play at the next level. Willis is a smart and hard-working player who would fit in extremely well with the Patriots.
Nov 5, 2016; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats linebacker Elijah Lee (9) celebrates a fumble recovery during a game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. The Cowboys won the game, 43-37. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Once the New England Patriots were able to get Dont’a Hightower back in free agency, linebacker dropped far on the list of positional needs. Hightower is the leader of their defense and guys like Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Shea McClellin fill in well around him. However, it would be nice to see them add another impact player to the linebacker mix.
Elijah Lee was a baffling exclusion from the NFL Scouting Combine. He had an extremely impressive career at Kansas State and is a fair bet to be selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. However, he was not invited to the combine for some reason.
Lee is a bit on the small side and does not show a lot of power in his game, but he is a rangy and athletic linebacker who will make plays on a consistent basis. Lee ranges from sideline-to-sideline extremely well and has good man-to-man coverage skills. The Kansas State product is not the most consistent player but he has an exciting skill set that could play at the next level.
At worst, I think Lee’s speed and athleticism will make him a weapon on special teams. The Patriots value special teams higher than most teams. Even if they do not think he can have a huge defensive impact, I could see the Patriots taking a shot on Lee’s upside because of his ability on special teams.
Other Linebacker Options: Connor Harris-Lindenwood, Blair Brown-Ohio
Nov 19, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Cameron Sutton (23) defends during the second half against the Missouri Tigers at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee won 63-37. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback is another position that I expect the Patriots to address at some point in the 2017 NFL Draft. How aggressively they attack it probably depends on what happens with Malcolm Butler. If Butler is back, him, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Cyrus Jones is a strong group. But without Butler, the Patriots’ cornerback situation leaves plenty to be desired.
Cameron Sutton is an impressive cornerback prospect who I would like to see the Patriots target whether Butler comes back or not. If Butler is gone, Sutton would be as good of a bet as anybody on the roster to pair with Gilmore on the outside. If Butler comes back, Sutton’s ability as a slot cornerback could certainly come in handy if Jones continues to struggle.
The Patriots love their players to have versatility and Sutton shows a ton of it. He was primarily an outside cornerback in college, playing the position at a high level. However, Sutton showed great skills in the slot and even at safety at the Senior Bowl. He has the quickness and overall coverage awareness to play all over the secondary.
In his final season at Tennessee, Sutton suffered a fractured ankle. He came back from the injury quickly but was not the same player for the Volunteers down the stretch. This hurt Sutton’s draft stock but it is important to go back and watch him in previous years. Sutton is an impressive cover corner whose skills will play at the next level. Do not worry about his play at less than 100 percent last season.
Mar 6, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Boston College defensive back John Johnson goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
There is probably a Rutgers safety that Bil Belichick will fall in love with and take too high but we are not trying to go that route again. The Patriots are in pretty good shape at the safety position with the trio of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon leading the way.
McCourty and Harmon are both strong coverage safeties, while Chung is the jack of all trades who primarily plays in the box. I doubt that safety is high on the draft priority list, but Boston College’s John Johnson is a specific prospect who I like a lot.
Johnson played both cornerback and safety at Boston College, showing a ton of upside at both positions. He has the natural man-to-man ability to be a cornerback on the outside but was probably a stronger player as a coverage safety for the Golden Eagles.
Johnson has fantastic natural coverage skills and field awareness. He is also an extremely athletic player who ranges the back-end of the field well. Johnson can make plays from sideline-to-sideline and can be an elite coverage safety at the next level.
The Patriots do not have a ton of use for a player like Johnson at the moment, but his athleticism and versatility can make him a strong weapon for the team. He should not be a priority, but I could see Johnson being in the draft plans.