The Patriots begin a new era without Tom Brady for the first time in 21 years. One big mystery is who their quarterback will be. They have been quiet obtaining players in free agency and have lost a few players. They still have a good defense, but seven starts will have turned at least 30 by opening day. Some are writing their demise, but Bill Belichick is still their coach.
The Pats have twelve picks in the draft, six in the last two rounds. They have their first, no second, three thirds, a fourth, fifth, four sixths, and two sevenths. As mentioned, the first round pick went to Minnesota. Their two sixth round and their seventh are not their own, but picks acquired in trades.
I list the needs below, including major, for depth, and areas they are unlikely to look at. I may add categories for a particular situation.
Major Needs (No Particular Order):
Quarterbacks: With no Brady, there is much speculation as to what the Patriots might do. Jarett Stidham and Brian Hoyer are the only two quarterbacks on the roster. It’s almost an impossible situation to replace someone of Brady’s caliber and it may take a guy after the successor to make the big impression. I do see a quarterback picked somewhere and it could be any round.
Wide Receiver: After Julian Edelman, there wasn’t much production out of this group. Edelman caught exactly 100 passes last year, no other wide receiver caught more than 29, but he is 34 years old. They do have two players entering their second year who can make splashes: first-round pick K’Neal Harry and undrafted Jakobi Myers. Harry missed much of the year with an injury, while Meyers caught 26 with a 13.8 average. South Brunswick alum Mohammed Sanu also had 26 receptions, but only averaged 8.0 yards a catch. Timber Creek alum Damiere Byrd was signed as a free agent from Arizona, where he caught 32 passes. Matthew Slater is a special teams ace who doesn’t contribute to the offense. Phillip Dorsett left for Seattle in free agency. A pick or two here can be an improvement and there is a good group of wide receivers to choose from. .
Tight End: The retirement of Rob Gronkowski left a major void. Tight ends combined for 36 receptions – a total that 22 tight ends surpassed by themselves. In addition, none of them could block on the level of Gronkowski. The tight ends on the roster are Matt LaCosse, Pope John alum Ryan Izzo, and Jakob Johnson, while Ben Watson retired. A tight end is needed and it may be addressed in rounds three or four, but this is not a great year for tight ends in the draft.
Offensive Line: Aside from guard Joe Thuney, the line struggled last year. Shaquille Mason, the other guard, did not play as well as he did the two previous years. Center David Andrews missed the season with a lung issue and it is not clear whether he will return. Tackle also had problems with Isaiah Wynn missing significant time for the second straight year and Marcus Cannon not playing well, dealing with injuries and illness. Two draftees from last year were unable to play in third round choice Yodny Cajuste and fourth rounder Hjalte Froholdt. Other backups are Jermaine Eluemunor, Korey Cunningham, and Najee Toran. Marshall Newhouse and James Ferentz are currently unsigned. This is a need for players and line coach Dante Scarnecchia retired, one of the game’s best and that may affect how the line plays. Expect at least one player chosen somewhere in the draft.
Edge Rusher: In the defensive line, the question is whether they play more 3-4 or 4-3. John Simon returns, while they lose the services of Kyle Van Noy (Miami) and Jamie Collins (Detroit) in free agency. Chase Winovich, a third-round pick, provided some pass rush – 5.5 sacks in rotational duty – and will likely have a full-time role. In reserve are free agent signing Brandon Copeland, Middletown North alum Shilique Calhoun, Immaculata alum Tashawn Bowers, and Brandon King. Simon can become a free agent next year. The Patriots will probably address another pass rusher or two in the draft.
Inside Linebacker: Don’ta Hightower made the Pro Bowl last year and has been a mainstay for them, but he could be a free agent next year. Ja’Whaun Bentley has shown promise in limited opportunities and he could end up starting. The only other player on the roster is Terez Hall. Elandon Roberts left in free agency. One of their draft picks could come for this area.
Safety: This is still in good shape with St. Joe’s (Montvale) alum Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, but both will be 33 when the season starts. Terrence Brooks is one of their backups, while they signed Cody Davis and Adrian Phillips in free agency – Phillips more for special teams. Not a short-term need, but a good, young safety can be very helpful, especially with advancing age in the starters.
Running Back: There is talent here. Sony Michel gained 912 yards, but only averaged 3.7 yards a carry and that may have something to do with the lack of receiving weapons last year, allowing teams to stack the box. Rex Burkhead and James White each gained over 300 yards, white White catching 72 passes. Also on the team are Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, and fullback James Develin. This is not high on the list of needs, but they could pick somebody.
Defensive Line: Some of this depends if the Pats stay with a 3-4 or move back to a 4-3 base. They are stronger with interior linemen, as opposed to outside ends. Lawrence Guy had a good year and Adam Butler played well in relief, while they signed Beau Allen from Tampa Bay in free agency to play nose tackle. They also have Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers who can play a 3-4 end or 4-3 tackle. Others on the roster are Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman, and Keionta Davis. Guy, Wise, and Rivers will be playing on expiring contracts. This is not their biggest need, but the right player can always be chosen.
Cornerback: They have one of the game’s best in Stephon Gilmore and he is paired with St, Joe’s (Montvale) alum Jason McCourty, but they will be 30 and 33, respectively, by opening day. Jonathan Jones played well when called upon, while JC Jackson played well in limited play and last year’s second-round pick, Joejuan Williams, could have a bigger role this year. It’s not a big need, but they like to have as many quality corners as they can.
*Information from various sources, including Pro-Football Reference, Sportac, and ESPN.