FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots have mostly been conservative in recent NFL drafts, often moving down on the board or being content to search for gems in the undrafted player pool.
This year they don’t have that luxury with several holes to fill, including one behind 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady.
New England has plenty to work with. It holds two first-round picks and five selections in the first 95 picks. It shapes up to be a busy weekend that could go a long way in molding the post-Brady era.
Coach Bill Belichick said everything is on the table.
“We evaluate what our options are and try to do what we feel like is best, whether that’s stay and pick a player, move up for a player, move back and trade into next year,” he said.
“We’ve traded draft picks for players on the day of the draft; we did that last year. So, whatever the opportunities are, we’ll evaluate them as they come.”
With Brady under center, the quarterback position wasn’t a huge priority for most of his career.
Brady is coming off an MVP season, but backup Brian Hoyer is the only other quarterback on the roster.
New England most recently drafted Jacoby Brissett (third round, 91st overall) in 2016. But the Patriots haven’t selected a quarterback in the first two rounds since they picked up Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round (62nd overall) in 2014.
The last quarterback that New England selected in the first round? Drew Bledsoe in 1993.
Garoppolo seemed like Brady’s successor until his surprise midseason trade to San Francisco last season. That deal followed the preseason trade of Brissett to Indianapolis.
New England got a second-round pick in return for Garoppolo, which is one of the bargaining chips it could use to select one of the sought-after prospects in this year’s deep quarterback class.
Players such as UCLA‘s Josh Rosen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson could be targets if the Patriots move up. But so are players expected to be available later such as Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta and Toledo’s Logan Woodside.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he thinks New England will have to consider Jackson, but questions whether it would be too drastic a move away from Brady’s style.
“I think the Patriots are as comprehensive as any team I’ve ever been around. The homework they do is amazing,” Mayock said. “So I think they throw a wide net, and they look at a lot of people.”
The Patriots have 16 first-team All-Pro selections via the draft since 2000, which ranks behind only the Panthers (18), Cowboys (17) and Seahawks (17). In addition, the Patriots lead the NFL with 63 Pro Bowl selections via the draft since 2000. Next are the Cowboys (62) and Chargers (50).
While the quarterback position has gotten a lot of attention, New England has perhaps even more glaring needs on the offensive line, as well as at linebacker and cornerback.
The Patriots lost both of their starting tackles in free agency when Nate Solder signed with the Giants and Cam Fleming signed with the Cowboys. They also need another dependable option at linebacker to help Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.
The same need is there at cornerback following Malcolm Butler‘s mysterious Super Bowl benching and his subsequent free agency signing by the Titans.
UCLA’s Kolton Miller and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey are likely on New England’s wish list at tackle. Alabama’s Rashaan Evans is a name to watch early as a possible pickup at linebacker. UCF‘s Mike Hughes is a candidate at cornerback.
HITS, MISSES AND BARGAINS
The Patriots have had draft success on both sides of the ball recently. Garoppolo and 2017 Super Bowl star James White (fourth round, 130th overall in 2014) stand out on offense.
Defensively, safety Duron Harmon has been everything they hoped for when they took him in the third round in 2013. He’s appeared in 16 regular-season games each of the past four seasons and led the team with four interceptions in 2017.
New England also got a huge bargain in 2015 when it selected defensive end Trey Flowers in the fourth round (101st overall). An injury kept him sidelined for all but one game his rookie season, but he’s bounced back to have 13 sacks over the past two seasons.
But there have been high-profile misses. Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones has struggled to stay on the field after the Patriots used a second-round pick (60th overall) on him in 2016. He spent most of his rookie season in the doghouse because of five fumbles. Jones then missed the 2017 season after suffering a knee injury in the preseason finale.