How Patriots Can Address Biggest NFL Draft Needs After Free Agency


With the dust now settled on NFL free agency, it’s time to examine the New England Patriots’ lingering positional weaknesses and how they might address them in the 2020 NFL Draft.

New England currently owns one first-round pick (No. 23), three third-rounders (Nos. 87, 98 and 100), one fourth (No. 125), a fifth (No. 172), four sixths and two sevenths. Given Bill Belichick’s affinity for draft-day dealing, it’s likely they’ll swing some sort of trade to close the 64-spot gap between their first and second selections.

Tight end was the Patriots’ biggest need entering this offseason, and so far, they’ve done nothing to address it. In fact, they’ve actually gotten worse at the position with top 2019 option Ben Watson retiring. There might not be a tight end in this draft class worthy of a first-round pick, but there are a number of potential Day 2 targets. Dayton’s Adam Trautman and Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet look like the best Patriots fits, with Washington’s Hunter Bryant, Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant, Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins and Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam also piquing our interest. Given the Patriots’ current lack of depth — Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo are the only tight ends on their roster — it wouldn’t be surprising to see them double up at the position, as they did with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010.

Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts all fled in free agency, thinning out a position group that was one of the Patriots’ deepest in 2019. Veteran newcomer Brandon Copeland will help offset those losses, but more reinforcements are needed, both at inside linebacker and on the edge. Options at outside ‘backer include Wisconsin’s Zack Baun and Alabama’s Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings. (NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein compared both Baun and Jennings to Van Noy.) Off-the-ball types New England could target in the first few rounds include Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, Ohio State’s Malik Harrison and Wyoming’s Logan Wilson.

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The Patriots struggled to get consistent production out of their receiving corps last season, and that group’s best player, Julian Edelman, turns 34 in May. Fortunately for them, this year’s crop of rookie receivers is one of the best — and deepest — in years. If New England opts to go wideout early, it could target someone like LSU’s Justin Jefferson, Clemson’s Tee Higgins or Baylor’s Denzel Mims. If it waits until Day 2 or early Day 3, Florida’s Van Jefferson, Ohio State’s K.J. Hill and Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden could be on Belichick’s radar. This draft has options aplenty at receiver.

At the moment, the Patriots’ swing tackle is either Yodny Cajuste, who has yet to take part in his first NFL practice, or Korey Cunningham, who appeared in just one game last season. Given Isaiah Wynn’s injury history and Marcus Cannon’s age and 2019 struggles, New England needs a solid No. 3 with future starting potential. Georgia’s Andrew Thomas or Houston’s Josh Jones would be good fits if either is available at No. 23. Further down the board, we like Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland and UConn’s Matt Peart.

The Patriots very well could roll into Year 1 of the post-Tom Brady era with a depth chart of Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer and Cody Kessler. Stidham performed well during his rookie preseason, and the organization seems to be high on him. But there’s undeniable uncertainty at this position for the first time in a generation. Would New England make a play for Justin Herbert or Jordan Love if either falls to the latter half of the first round? If not, it might be better off waiting until Day 3 to draft a developmental signal-caller, though Jalen Hurts could be an intriguing dual-threat option on Day 2.

Simple: The Patriots don’t have a kicker on their roster after cutting veteran Stephen Gostkowski. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship is the top prospect in this year’s class.

If David Andrews is unable to return from the blood clot scare that cost him all of last season, the need for a new center would vault toward the top of this list. But even if Andrews is good to go, the Patriots need more interior depth after losing top backup Ted Karras in free agency. Hjalte Froholdt is unproven, and Jermaine Eluemunor disappointed last season. If they plan on investing a high pick here, Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz would make sense. Temple’s Matt Hennessy is a Day 2 option.

After struggling to defend some of the NFL’s more formidable rushing attacks last season, the Patriots should look to beef up their D-line. Ohio State’s Davon Hamilton would fill their need for another big body behind Lawrence Guy and newcomer Beau Allen, and Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa — Todd McShay’s Patriots pick in his latest ESPN mock draft — would be an upgrade over defensive end Deatrich Wise.

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