The New England Patriots addressed most of their 2016 needs while being surprisingly active in free agency and trades. They now must look toward 2017 and beyond in this month’s NFL draft.
Let’s look at the Patriots’ depth chart and their level of need at each position on a scale of 1 to 10:
Starter: Tom Brady
Reserve: Jimmy Garoppolo
The Patriots are all set with their starter and backup, but they need a third passer for offseason workouts and training camp. That need increases if Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension is reinstated. The Patriots likely will fill this need with a low-level free agent, late draft pick or undrafted free agent.
Starter: Dion Lewis
Reserves: Brandon Bolden, James White, Donald Brown, Tyler Gaffney, Joey Iosefa
Lewis, the Patriots’ prospective starter, tore his ACL five months ago, and none of the team’s reserves are ideal candidates to take over the No. 1 role if he has any delays in his rehab. The Patriots should look to sign a veteran free agent and/or spend a high pick in the draft on a big running back.
Starter: James Develin
Reserve: Clay Harbor, Joey Iosefa
Develin is coming off of a broken leg suffered last summer. Harbor and Iosefa are fine reserves.
Starters: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola
Reserves: Nate Washington, Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper, Matthew Slater, DeAndre Carter
Edelman, Hogan, Amendola and Martin are signed through at least 2017, but Amendola’s salary-cap hit already is a problem in 2016, and it rises to $7.866 million in 2017. The Patriots need an injection of youth at receiver and should look to draft a future starter relatively high.
Starter: Rob Gronkowski
Reserves: Martellus Bennett, Clay Harbor, Michael Williams, A.J. Derby
Bennett, Harbor and Williams only have one year remaining on their contracts, but the Patriots haven’t shown a reliance on having two starting-caliber tight ends since 2012. New England is stacked at this position for now.
Starters: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer
Reserves: Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming, Keavon Milton
For now, Solder, Vollmer, Cannon and Waddle are expected to make the 2016 roster. Vollmer and Cannon will be free agents after the season, however. The Patriots should look to draft a player to replace Cannon at swing tackle in 2016 and Vollmer as a starter in the future.
Starters: Josh Kline, Shaq Mason
Reserves: Jonathan Cooper, Tre’ Jackson, Chris Barker
The Patriots don’t need any more youth at guard, since the average age at this position in 24.4. They must just hope they see some improvements out of Mason, Cooper and Jackson while learning under new (old) offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Starter: Bryan Stork
Reserve: David Andrews
The Patriots could use another player to snap the ball during offseason workouts and training camp, but Kline or Cooper could serve that role.
Starters: Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich
Reserves: Chris Long, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, Rufus Johnson, Eric Martin, James Vaughters
Sheard, Ninkovich and Long are only signed through 2016, while the rest of the Patriots’ pass rushers are unproven. Depending on how the Patriots feel about the future of Grissom and Flowers, they could either add another defensive end early in the draft or stand pat. Ninkovich and Long are both over 30.
Starters: Malcom Brown, Alan Branch
Reserves: Terrance Knighton, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Joe Vellano
The Patriots’ need for another young defensive tackle decreased when they signed Knighton to a one-year deal. Only Brown and Easley are signed beyond 2016, however, so they could look to draft another starting-caliber defensive tackle for the future.
Starters: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin
Reserves: Jonathan Freeny, Jon Bostic, Ramon Humber, Brandon King, Kevin Snyder
Assuming the Patriots are able to extend Collins and Hightower, there isn’t a big need at linebacker. If the Patriots can’t re-sign either player, however, they could look to draft a young linebacker with upside.
Starters: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan
Reserves: Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers, Rashaan Melvin
Only Roberts is signed beyond next season, so unless the Patriots can extend Butler and Ryan, they should be looking toward the future at this position. Butler, Ryan, Coleman and Roberts are young with high upside. The Patriots should look to add another big, young cornerback with starting potential.
Starters: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung
Reserves: Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner, Brock Vereen, Cedric Thompson
McCourty, Chung, Richards and Ebner are signed long term, so the Patriots don’t need to draft a safety. Bill Belichick loves his safeties, though, so they probably still will.
Starters: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Ryan Allen, LS Joe Cardona
The Patriots are all set with specialists.
Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Sep 26, 2015; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Indiana Hoosiers running back Jordan Howard (8) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports