After winning their fifth Super Bowl, the New England Patriots look to stay on top. Here are 5 first round options for them in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft
The 2017 NFL Draft is approaching and the defending champs are hoping to stick to their winning ways. The New England Patriots haven’t had a losing season since 2000 when they went 5-11. Since then they have not only had nothing but winning years, but only failed to reach double digit wins once. That came way back in 2002, when they had a record of 9-7. That’s 14-straight seasons with at least 10 wins.
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During this time of dominance they have appeared in seven Super Bowls, winning five. They now enter the 2017 offseason as Super Bowl 51 champions after the biggest comeback in the NFL’s history in the Super Bowl. Head coach Bill Belichick says they are now several weeks behind the rest of the NFL in terms of preparing for the 2017 NFL season, but this isn’t foreign territory to them.
New England has a team full of guys who weren’t top draft picks, which is the norm considering they draft in the last several picks on a regular basis. Once again they are in that familiar position of picking last in Round 1, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find someone to make them even better going forward.
Here are five guys who could be available for them when they are on the clock when they make their decisions in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) makes a catch for a touchdown against Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Christian Campbell (1) during the third quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
5. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR — USC
Although the Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the big game, there was something the Falcons had that New England just didn’t. A big wide receiver who could make the catches even when they are covered.
Of course, their top receiver Julian Edelman kind of proved that wrong by making one of the most insane catches of all-time in the fourth quarter, but thanks to Atlanta receiver Julio Jones that almost didn’t matter. Jones was covered all game long but still managed to make some outstanding catches, including a toe-tapping fourth quarter grab that should have sealed the deal.
With the 32nd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Pats aren’t getting a Julio Jones. That kind of talent requires some massive trading up like Atlanta had to do. What New England can do though is draft a kid with excellent size like USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. The 6-2, 220-pound Smith-Schuster would give New England a great downfield target that can win the contested passes.
At just 20 years old, the early draft entrant still has a ton of room to grow as a player. He brought in 213 passes for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns in his career. They tried claiming former Arizona Cardinals first round pick Michael Floyd in hopes he would provide them a tall target. He ended up spending most his time inactive, so they may just look to the draft instead for such a player.
Nov 5, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley (4) tries to outrun Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris (91) during the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. South Carolina wins 31-21 over Missouri. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
4. Charles Harris, DE — Missouri
Another player who could be sitting there when the 32nd pick is being written down on a draft card is Missouri underclassman Charles Harris. The defensive end was a pass rushing expert who had nine of his career 18 sacks in his junior year for the Tigers. Harris is listed at 6-3 and 255 pounds and would provide them an alternative to veteran free agent Jabaal Sheard, who was a part of a rotational pass rush with Chris Long and Trey Flowers.
What scouts love about Harris is his quick burst and incredible spin move. He is able to shake off blockers with his athleticism and could be a feared pass rusher at the next level as he was able to work against elite talent in the SEC.
However, scouts aren’t too enamored with Harris’ ability to hold up against the run. In New England that may not be too huge of a concern because they tend to find ways to bring out the best in their players while masking their deficiencies.
Harris doesn’t have the upside or talent as some of the premier edge rushers like Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett or Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, but at pick 32 he would be an excellent choice.
Oct 1, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Desmond King (14) returns a punt against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
3. Desmond King, CB/S — Iowa
The Patriots have a very underrated defense. They are so good on that side of the ball that they were able to trade their best pass rusher, outside linebacker Chandler Jones, to the Arizona Cardinals before the season. They then traded arguably their best playmaker behind Jones away during the season. Linebacker Jamie Collins was shipped to Cleveland and the Patriots only got better.
Despite being so deep and talented on defense, they’re often viewed as a pass happy offensive team only. That’s not true at all as they’re probably the most complete team in the league which is why they just keep winning. In order to help keep their defense running like a machine, they could look for potential upgrades like at the safety position.
One player who could be an upgrade over current starting safety Patrick Chung is Iowa’s Desmond King. The 5-11, 203-pound King played cornerback for most of his career for the Hawkeyes but looks to be a safety at the next level mostly due to a lack of top-end speed. Other factors that make him an ideal fit as a safety would be his incredible toughness, instincts and overall football smarts.
King screams of a Patriots pick as he can serve as a cornerback, safety, and also was an effective return man as well in college. The senior defender registered 14 interceptions for Iowa, including an impressive eight in 2015. He went back for his senior season and may have hurt his stock as his number of tackles dropped from 72 the year before to 58 and his picks went down to three. If that dropped stock leads to him being picked by the defending champions, he will probably be just fine with it.
Nov 5, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
2. Carl Lawson, DE — Auburn
Again we look at defense for the world champions. The reason for that is because they are so good on offense simply by trotting out the ageless wonder Tom Brady at quarterback that they can just keep winning if they add more talent to their defense. That defense was so good they held opponents to a league low 15.6 points per game, but there was one area they weren’t outstanding in.
That would be in their pass rush. As a team they were decent, recording 34 sacks on the season, which put them in the dead center of the NFL as they tied with Atlanta and Philadelphia for 16th best. What could put them into the top ten would be getting an elite pass rusher to go along with their committee approach.
One player who would be a great addition is Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson. He has professional pass rushing skills, but struggled for two years with injuries. A torn ACL and cracked hip were the culprits as he missed all of 2014 and played just seven games in 2015. He was able to play in 12 games last season for the Tigers and had 9.5 sacks.
Teams will still be scared off by his previous health issues, but that hasn’t stopped New England from drafting players in the past. They took a flier on tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive lineman Dominique Easley despite injury problems. Gronk has become a beast, but still struggles with injuries whereas Easley is no longer on the team, although that had nothing to do with health. Moral of the story, don’t expect medical red flags to be a reason for the Pats to pass on Lawson.
Finally we look at an offensive player again for the New England Patriots. Despite running back James White going nuts in the Super Bowl and LaGarrette Blount leading the league with 18 touchdowns, the Patriots could be looking to upgrade the running back spot.
Blount was amazing as a red zone guy, but averaged fewer than four yards per rush. No one else got more than 64 carries, but they were slightly more effective as Dion Lewis rushed for 4.4 yards per rush and White had just 4.3. White made his mark mostly as a receiver, grabbing 60 passes (second most on the team) for 551 yards and five touchdowns. They could, however, decide to draft a player like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey who would be able to perform just as well in the run game as he would in the pass game.
A Heisman Trophy finalist in 2015, McCaffrey rushed for 2,019 yards as a sophomore. He added another 1,603 as a junior. He was incredibly effective catching the ball as well, grabbing 45 receptions for 645 yards in 2015 and 37 for 310 yards last year. He also has football in his blood as his father Ed McCaffrey played wide receiver for the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos.
Maybe the Patriots never fully turn to an every-down back style of offense, but if they wanted to McCaffrey would be an excellent choice. Even if they just used him in a committee, he would at least offer more of a balanced attack, similar to what they saw out of White in Super Bowl 51.