Even though the New England Patriots will enter the 2016 NFL draft without their first-round pick, there's little reason to believe the Patriots won't come away with one of the most talented draft classes yet again.
Every year, the Patriots find several "diamonds in the rough" in the draft to fuel their perennial status among the AFC's elite teams. Just look at the seven Pro Bowlers that New England produced this past season.
We all know about Tom Brady and his infamous sixth-round wait. Stephen Gostkowski was a fourth-round selection, and Matthew Slater was a fifth-rounder. Jamie Collins and Rob Gronkowski were both second-rounders, and Malcolm Butler wasn't even drafted.
Only Chandler Jones was a first-round selection, but teams even overlooked him for the likes of fellow defensive ends Quinton Coples and Shea McClellin.
The bottom line is this: The most successful teams consistently find talent in all rounds of the draft, and the Patriots adhere to this as well as any other team in the league.
So who will the Patriots draft to become their next Pro Bowl steal?
For the sake of this list, the term "early round" refers to Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2016 NFL draft. Due to the fact that the Patriots frequently trade draft selections—as well as the fact that the Patriots are expected to receive a third-round compensatory selection for losing Darrelle Revis last offseason—the specific potential pick for the Patriots will not be explicitly stated, although the target round will be.
With that in mind, let's take a look at several early-round targets for the Patriots.