The New England Patriots don’t know their exact draft needs just yet. That picture won’t come into focus until after free agency begins next week and the team can see which of its current players are staying and which are leaving.
But the Patriots already know they’ll need to bring in reinforcements at one position: pass rusher. And luckily for them, the 2017 NFL Draft is chock full of them.
“It’s as good a pass rusher draft that I can remember,” Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, via Bengals.com. “As far as inside guys, outside guys, linebackers, where guys are well schooled with moves and hands.”
Draft experts agree. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock told Peter King of The MMQB it wouldn’t surprise him to see seven or eight pass rushers drafted in the first round alone.
“I think it’s one of the best defensive drafts I’ve seen, and I think the defensive edge rusher (spot is promising), whether it’s 4-3 or 3-4,” Mayock later said in a conference call with reporters, via NJ.com. “You can get an edge guy in the second or third round. This defensive draft at edge and corner is outstanding. Also at safety.
“In this year’s draft at edge, corner and safety, there is great quality at the top, but there is depth throughout. There is talent throughout for the edge-rush group.”
Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett is the cream of this year’s draft crop — he’s the overwhelming favorite to be picked first overall — but he’s far from the only potential stud.
Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Alabama’s Tim Williams and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt all have been mentioned as potential first-round picks, and others could join that group with strong combine performances this weekend.
With Chris Long set to leave in free agency and Jabaal Sheard possibly following suit, the Patriots need to restock a pass-rushing unit that — with the exception of sack leader Trey Flowers — struggled to get after the quarterback in 2016. Flowers, Rob Ninkovich and special teamer Geneo Grissom are the only Patriots defensive ends under contract for next season.
New England currently owns the 32nd overall pick in this year’s draft. If pre-draft scuttlebutt is any indication, the Pats should be able to nab an impact pass rusher at that spot if they so choose.