The New England Patriots lost several important pieces in free agency and trades early in the offseason, but their depth chart isn’t exactly in dire shape.
Outside of one glaring hole, the Patriots could probably field a fairly competitive roster if the 2020 season started tomorrow. (Note: it doesn’t).
Here’s what the Patriots are looking at right now:
LT Isaiah Wynn
LG Joe Thuney
C David Andrews
RG Shaq Mason
RT Marcus Cannon
Interior O-line backups:
Offensive tackle backups:
P Jake Bailey
LS Joe Cardona
ST Matthew Slater, Brandon King
Outside of tight end and kicker, the Patriots at least have starting-caliber players at every position. The Patriots’ next-biggest starting needs are at linebacker, quarterback and on the edge. The Patriots seem content at quarterback for now, however.
We’re assuming Andrews’ health in this thought experiment. If Andrews, who dealt with blood clots in his lungs last season, isn’t healthy for the 2020 season, then center becomes one of the team’s biggest needs.
So, with all of this in mind, how could the Patriots improve their depth chart in the draft? Let’s look at some best-case scenarios:
In an ideal world, Wisconsin outside linebacker Zack Baun would still be there when the Patriots are picking 23rd overall. There is not a tight end worthy of a first-round pick, so the Patriots would turn to their next-biggest need.
Here’s how their linebacker depth chart would change:
Baun, Copeland and Bentley would suddenly be competing for what is likely two of three starting linebacker spots. Baun can play linebacker and on the edge. He would instantly boost a position of weakness on the Patriots’ roster.
The Patriots also could take Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray in that spot, though he’s not as good of a fit as Baun.
If the Patriots took an edge defender in that spot, then Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa or Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos would be potential picks. Here’s how the edge depth chart would shake out:
A.J. Epenesa/Yetur Gross-Matos
In that scenario, Simon and Winovich would be competing for snaps behind the first-round pick. We can’t imagine a defender being selected in the first round and not immediately starting.
The Patriots’ next picks, however, come in the third round at Nos. 87, 98 and 100 overall. That means the Patriots would not be able to address their biggest draft need until, essentially, midway through the event.
According to CBS Sports’ draft rankings, Cole Kmet, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Bryant and Adam Trautman all could be off the board by the 87th overall pick. FIU’s Harrison Bryant and Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam would be the top tight ends available at that point.
Bryant is undersized and probably not the greatest fit in the Patriots’ offense, so we’d go with Okwuegbunam, who’s 6-foot-6, 258 pounds with 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed. Still, He’s a late-third round pick, and quite frankly, not a guarantee to start. Here’s how the depth chart would probably look at the beginning of summer, assuming no further additions:
Okwuegbunam could vault up that depth chart, but it’s no guarantee, and that’s not ideal.
Let’s say the Patriots take Baun in the first round, then they could take Notre Dame edge defender Khalid Kareem at No. 98 overall. He’d slot in behind Simon, Winovich and perhaps Wise.
They could take Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. at No. 100 overall. Here’s where he’d likely fit in:
Lynn Bowden Jr.
We’re not going to explore the depth chart ramifications beyond the third round. Mid-to-late round picks have certainly started games as rookies for the Patriots, but it’s unlikely they would enter training camp as presumptive starters.
(If the Patriots needed a center, they could grab Temple’s Matt Hennessy with the 87th pick.)
If the Patriots trade back, we’d like to see them pick up two second-round picks. Let’s say they trade with the Miami Dolphins and send the 23rd and 100th overall picks for the 39th and 56th overall picks plus a future sixth-round pick. That’s roughly equal in the trade value chart.
With the 39th pick, the Patriots could grab edge defender Terrell Lewis out of Alabama. He has some injury concerns, but he could have been a potential first-rounder without them.
He would probably enter camp on a roughly level playing field with Simon and Winovich.
The Patriots would then get to pick between Hopkins, Hunter Bryant and Trautman at tight end. Let’s say they take Trautman out of Dayton. Then he would likely enter camp above LaCosse on the Patriots’ depth chart as a mid-second round pick.
The Patriots could take Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison at No. 87 overall. He’d compete with Bentley and Copeland for a starting spot. And then Bowden could be the pick at No. 98 overall.
(Hennessy, once again would be the pick at No. 87 if Andrews isn’t healthy. The Patriots would then have to decide between Harrison or Bowden at No. 98 overall.)
That’s pretty good, right? The Patriots would get three potential starters in Lewis, Trautman and Harrison rather than one in Baun.
The biggest issue here is that the Patriots’ biggest need is at tight end where there’s not a first-round prospect. The Patriots could reach for Kmet out of Notre Dame, but that’s not the best strategy in the draft to reach for a need.
While a player like Baun, Epenesa or Gross-Matos could wind up being huge-impact players, we’d prefer to trade down to fill the team’s biggest needs.