The world has seemingly screeched to a halt since the coronavirus outbreak began. But the football world refuses to quit. The NFL went right ahead with free agency and will do the same for the draft as well. Here is what to expect from the draft itself, and of course from the Patriots as well.
How the Draft will look
For starters, the draft is going to look significantly different than usual. The public presentation will not occur. Instead, the league is going to create a virtual experience with the help of EA Sports. It will basically consist of each drafted prospect walking across the stage, with the avatar then interacting with Goodell in the way each prospect asked EA to do.
Additionally, each prospect will choose a high school program to receive a $2,500 grant for its football program, with the league having money to spend now that it won’t be used on live festivities. The draft will be held April 23 to 25, and the Patriots will be looking to strengthen a weaker than usual roster.
The Patriots’ needs can be broken down into three categories: what they desperately need, what they certainly could use, and where they need to get younger. With 12 picks in the draft, the Patriots certainly have enough picks to get it done.
The Patriots desperately need a good tight end, a pair of outside linebackers, and a kicker. Gronk has yet to be replaced, and it was clear last year how much the absence of a good tight end impacts the Patriots offense. As for the linebackers, they lost two of their starters in free agency, as Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins signed large contracts with former Patriots coaches. Following the release of Stephen Gostkowski, they now also look to draft the next Vinatieri once again.
The Patriots certainly could use another potential starting QB, as Stidham is still a big question mark. The defensive line could also use a good boost, whether it’s at tackle or end, as it would secure the position in case they lose a couple of starters in free agency next year. They also may want to look into the safety position, as Chung was seemingly the weakest point on the defense last year.
Lastly, as for where they need to get younger/prepare for eventual declines in production, I think the offensive tackle and safety positions would be smart choices. Isaiah Wynn looked much more comfortable by seasons’ end, and should become a key piece of the line next year. But Marcus Cannon has slowly been declining since 2016, and could possibly become a weak point in an otherwise strong line next year.
Devin McCourty is not declining like Cannon, but he is starting to get up there in age at a position that doesn’t favor the old. It’s better to draft potential replacements now than have to scurry around looking for it when it’s too late.
How This Could Look
I see Belichick prioritizing the linebacker position, and that is where they will look to with their first-round pick. The most likely option is Kenneth Murray, who is ranked the 25th prospect in the draft, and would replace a lot of what Van Noy was. Patrick Queen or Zack Baun are also options, and are likely if the Patriots decide to trade down in the draft.
Their next three picks are all in the third round. The Patriots have probably will then target the offense more, going with a tight end, quarterback, and maybe a safety. Adam Trautman, Cole Kmet, and Harrison Bryant should all be available in the third round. Kmet could be taken in the second, but if he falls to New England they should snap him up. His size is nearly identical to Gronk’s, and he has the potential to be just as impactful despite some blocking struggles.
Jacob Eason and/or Jake Fromm would be available with their next third-rounder, and Eason would be the likely choice. To me he is very reminiscent of a young Brady. He has the size, arm talent, aggressiveness, and accuracy, but does struggle with pressure and his athleticism. He would fit pretty comfortably in the current Patriots system. Julian Blackmon would be a good safety choice with their last third-rounder. He’s a hard hitter who reads the pass perfectly and looks a lot like how McCourty did in college.
To sum up the later picks, we should see an offensive lineman in the fourth round, a kicker, defensive end, linebacker, and another safety in the sixth, and a defensive tackle in the seventh. The last two seventh rounders will either be best available or traded away.
I don’t expect all of these choices to be correct, as I would be lucky if any are. But this is a model of how the Patriots will go about the draft. Belichick will look to ensure the defense is strong next year, and only then go after a couple of offensive steals, before finally looking to uncover more late-round offensive and defensive line talent. If there is one thing that is always certain, Belichick will not waste a pick if he doesn’t see any talent available.