By: Jonathan Reiter
Happy 32nd Day of Draftmas! To conclude our NFL Draft breakdown, we turn to the defending Super Bowl Champions.
The New England Patriots finished the season with a league best 14-2 record. Even with Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games of the season, the Patriots did not falter. The Patriots’ stellar season culminated with the raising of the Lombardi trophy after a 25-point comeback to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.
The Patriots are setting their sights on another title run this upcoming season, but there have been a few key departures which threaten the chances of defending their crown. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots saw Jabaal Sheard leave for the Colts and Chris Long went to the Eagles. Their defensive line is not getting any younger either with Rob Ninkovich entering his 13th season.
LeGarrette Blount still finds himself without a team. Patriots are still considering the possibility of bringing Blount back, but it would have to be at a discount rate with James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead already formulated into Brady’s offense.
The Patriots also may be looking into the possibility of an addition to the secondary. The Patriots resigned Super Bowl 49 hero Malcom Butler after he shopped around his services as a restricted free agent. Malcom Butler is still at the center of trade rumors, and he could be Bill Belichick’s ace-in-the-hole to trade into the first round.
New England also recruited some new faces to their title defense. Most notably, the Patriots traded for Brandon Cooks this offseason to add speed to Tom Brady’s spread offense. Rob Gronkowski found a new partner in crime in the veteran tight end Dwayne Allen. Martellus Bennett took on the work load at the tight end position after Gronkowski’s injury, but he will find himself playing at Lambeau Field with the Green Bay Packers next season.
Luckily for the Patriots they were able to re-sign Dont’a Hightower to lead the linebacker core for the defense. New England was also able to trade for Carolina’s DE Kony Ealy to help with the pass rush burden.
The Patriots fulfilled many of their key needs in offseason trades and free agency signings, but the kings of the NFL could use this 2017 NFL draft to solidify their spot as the Super Bowl 52 champions in 2018.
New England’s draft plan will have to wait until the third round this year unless they trade up into the first two rounds. Most teams’ plans would be hindered by such a late start in the draft, but the Patriots’ ability to find great, late round talent is unparalleled. The Patriots find themselves with less picks due to trades and sanctions of the “ridiculous” Deflategate.
Third Round: 72nd and 96th Picks
Fourth Round: 131st Pick
Fifth Round: 163rd and 183rd Picks
Sixth Round: 200th
Seventh Round: 237th Pick
The top priority for the Patriots is to solidify the defensive line. The Patriots will most likely find a player who works opposite of Kony Ealy at the defensive end position. New England’s rush defense was tied for 3rd best in the league last season, and an addition to the defensive line is key to keeping a top tier defense intact.
The Patriots also need to focus on a secondary option with the question surrounding Malcom Butler. A young cornerback is never a bad idea for a team with the youth needed at the position today. Even with the possibility of Butler staying on the roster, developing a rookie cornerback this year would be a great investment into the future of the defense.
Rob Gronkowski has a new counterpart in Dwayne Allen, but both tight ends have been prone to injury. Tight end by committee could be an option for this upcoming season if the Patriots take a tight end with a mid-round.
The Patriots do not have many needs on the offensive side of the ball with the trades and free agency signings, but they should invest for the future with a pick on the o-line. New England’s blind side tackle is in the last year of his contract, and the Patriots do not have anyone to fill his role after the 2017 season. The Patriots need to find someone in the draft to be groomed for the 2018 system. They need to find a reliable player in this draft to take over the role because protecting Tom Brady’s blindside may be the most important job in the NFL.
THIRD ROUND BREAK DOWN
72nd Pick: Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic
Hendrickson comes from a small school, but he turned heads at the NFL combine. He had 51 tackles last season with 13.5 of them being sacks.
96th Pick: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Jones, who was considered the top corner in the draft, tore his Achilles during his pro day with NFL scouts watching. Jones’ ability to be ready for this upcoming season is unlikely, but he could be the investment into the secondary the Patriots need for the future.
The Patriots are not in the ideal drafting scenario for 2017, but they will still be a top team for the upcoming season. If they can find the right players in the mid to late rounds of the draft to solidify the defense, the New England Patriots will be on pace for a second straight Super Bowl victory.
You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas here!
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