New England Patriots: Updated Draft Big Board After First Wave of Free Agency
It has been anything but a quiet offseason for the New England Patriots thus far in 2017. Thankfully, the most pressing story of the offseason—Tom Brady's missing Super Bowl jersey—has been solved. Now the NFL champions can get back to the construction of next year's team.
Bill Belichick and Co. have wasted little time in laying the foundation for the 2017 Patriots. The team has traded for tight end Dwayne Allen, wide receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Kony Ealy while signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a big-time deal.
These moves have left the Patriots with few legitimate holes on the roster, which is a good thing because New England is without a first- or second-round pick in the draft. The Patriots still have seven total picks in the 2017 draft, but they won't pick until Round 3 (72nd overall)—at least for now.
With potential trade chips like Jimmy Garoppolo and Malcolm Butler on the roster, the Patriots could easily end up back in the first or second round before draft weekend. Therefore, their current draft board still probably features some of the draft's top prospects.
We're here to examine what that draft board might look like, based on positions of need and team fits for New England. We'll run down the top 100 prospects for the Patriots and also take a look at five possible picks at each position of need.
Top 100 Big Board
The following draft board is based on fits and needs for the Patriots, not on player potential in general. For example, New England probably isn't focusing too much on anything more than second-tier receivers or tight ends after trading for Cooks and Allen—and the team certainly doesn't need a quarterback in its current state.
Positions the Patriots realistically should address include cornerback, edge-rusher and running back.
We will, however, include some of the draft's top prospects on the big board because of the trade chips New England holds. We'll bypass the guys expected to go at the very top of the draft, but players perceived as mid-first-rounders or later will be considered. These are the players the Patriots may rate highly enough to trade a guy like Butler in order to obtain.
Here are the Patriots' top 100 overall prospects, ranked in descending priority order:
|Rank|| Player|| Position||School|
|1|| Marshon Lattimore||CB||Ohio State|
|2||Gareon Conley||CB||Ohio State|
|3|| Taco Charlton||EDGE||Michigan|
|7|| Dalvin Cook||RB||Florida State|
|9|| Forrest Lamp||G||Western Kentucky|
|11|| Takkarist McKinley||EDGE||UCLA|
|13|| Haason Reddick||LB||Temple|
|17|| Obi Melifonwu||S||UConn|
|19|| Jarrad Davis||LB||Florida|
|21|| Adoree' Jackson||CB||USC|
|24||Justin Evans||S||Texas A&M|
|25||Malik McDowell||DL||Michigan State|
|27|| Evan Engram||TE||Mississippi|
|29|| Desmond King||S||Iowa|
|31|| Cordrea Tankersley||CB||Clemson|
|35||Carlos Henderson||WR||Louisiana Tech|
|36||Chris Godwin||WR||Penn State|
|37|| Dion Dawkins||G||Temple|
|41|| Raekwon McMillan||LB||Ohio State|
|45||Bucky Hodges||TE||Virginia Tech|
|47|| Jourdan Lewis||CB||Michigan|
|49|| Rasul Douglas||CB||West Virginia|
|50||Curtis Samuel||WR||Ohio State|
|51|| Kevin King||CB||Washington|
|56||John Johnson||S||Boston College|
|57|| Jordan Willis||EDGE||Kansas State|
|59|| Dalvin Tomlinson||DL||Alabama|
|61|| Carroll Phillips||EDGE||Illinois|
|63||Taywan Taylor||WR||Western Kentucky|
|67|| Amara Darboh||WR||Michigan|
|69|| Roderick Johnson||T||Florida State|
|70||Pat Elfein||C||Ohio State|
|71|| Wayne Gallman||RB||Clemson|
|73||Marlon Mack||RB||South Florida|
|75||Isaiah Ford||WR||Virginia Tech|
|77|| Cameron Sutton||CB||Tennessee|
|79|| Taylor Moton||G||Western Michigan|
|81|| Jeremy McNichols||RB||Boise State|
|83|| Donnel Pumphrey||RB||San Diego State|
|84||Carlos Henderson||WR||Louisiana Tech|
|85|| Jarron Jones||DL||Notre Dame|
|87|| D.J. Jones||DL||Mississippi|
|89|| Nico Siragusa||G||San Diego State|
|91|| Kareem Hunt||RB||Toledo|
|93|| Kendell Beckwith||LB||LSU|
|94||Travis Rudolph||WR||Florida State|
|95|| Ethan Pocic||C||LSU|
|97|| Isaac Asiata||G||Utah|
|98||Mack Hollins||WR||North Carolina|
|99|| Shaquill Griffin ||CB||Central Florida|
The Patriots have running backs who fit their offense. They have James White, Dion Lewis and the recently signed Rex Burkhead. What the Patriots don't have is a proven workhorse at the running back position.
Based on the contract given to Burkhead—$3.1 million for one year—he might get to compete for the starting job. However, this doesn't mean New England cannot use a replacement for LeGarrette Blount or an eventual replacement for White and Lewis.
Both White and Lewis are slated to hit free agency next offseason.
It feels like former LSU running back Leonard Fournette will be off the board within the first few selections, so we won't spend any time on him here. Here are five other top backs the Patriots could target.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
The Patriots aren't likely to have a crack at Stanford product Christian McCaffrey unless they regain a first-round pick. However, there isn't a back in this year's draft—or any other recent draft, really—that feels like a more perfect fit for New England.
McCaffrey can be a strong runner, a shift slot receiver or a dynamic return specialist, and he excels in each of these roles. Even NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock believes this would be a tremendous match for the team.
"I am in 100 percent agreement with you," Mayock said, when presented the pairing by Peter King of The MMQB. "The NFL's become a matchup league, and Christian McCaffrey is a matchup player. You can line him up anywhere."
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Florida State's Dalvin Cook is another guy the Patriots probably won't be able to grab without getting back into the first round. However, like McCaffrey, he is a versatile player who could change what the Patriots are able to do on offense.
Cook is a dangerous home-run hitter who can make plays both on the ground and in the passing game. Just last season he produced 1,765 yards rushing and 488 yards receiving.
There is some risk involved with Cook, as he has multiple arrests and injury issues on his resume. However, the Patriots might be able to provide him with the right kind of environment in which to succeed.
Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
Former Tennessee runner Alvin Kamara might be a guy the Patriots target if they can get back into the second round. The 5'10", 214-pound ball-carrier has the size and the tools to play an early-down role in New England.
Because of injuries and off-field issues, Kamara never really produced eye-popping numbers at the big-time college level. However, he did produce an impressive 6.5 yards-per-carry average in 2016 and 5.8 yards per carry last season.
The Patriots could be drawn to Kamara's potential and personality. According to NFL Media's Bucky Brooks, he was one of the big winners at the scouting combine because of "high football IQ and great personality."
D'Onta Foreman, Texas
Now we're getting into the running backs who might actually fall into New England's current draft range.
Texas' D'onta Foreman has the size and the proven production to be an early-down replacement for Blount. At 6'0" and 233 pounds, he is definitely a bigger back, but he doesn't lack the ability to take a carry to the house. Last season alone, he racked up over 2,000 yards on the ground.
Questions do exist, however, about Foreman's receiving ability. He caught just seven passes in 2016 and 12 over the past two seasons combined. He would likely be an early-down back only in the Patriots offense.
Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Pretty much everyone is now familiar with the past incident in which Oklahoma's Joe Mixon punched a woman and sent her to the surgery room. From a pure on-field standpoint, though, he is an elite talent. Pro Football Focus (PFF College) rated him second overall among all running backs last season.
"This is a three-down back whom some scouts have rated as a top-15 or top-20 type of talent," Tom Pelissero of USA Today recently wrote. "Somebody is going to get him at a discount. If you decide you can stomach all that comes with drafting Mixon."
Pelissero also reported that some teams have already taken Mixon off their draft boards entirely. We're not sure if the Patriots are one of them, but we do know they are a team that is willing to weather controversy in the name of results.
Upgrading the offensive line isn't a major priority for the Patriots right now. They have a quality left tackle in Nate Solder and appear to have found their full-time right tackle in Marcus Cannon.
While it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Patriots preemptively target Solder's replacement—his contract expires after this season—tackle isn't a major need.
Overall, the Patriots line was rated third in run blocking and 11th in pass blocking by Pro Football Focus last season.
There is, however, one spot on the line the Patriots might look to upgrade should the opportunity present itself.
Left guard Joe Thuney was able to start all 16 games for the Patriots in 2016, but he was a liability in pass coverage. Pro Football Focus rated him 138th among all guards and credited him with allowing 32 quarterback pressures.
Sure, Thuney could—and should—be better in his second year, but the guard position is still one the Patriots might want to improve if they can earn an early pick. Don't expect them to target a guard late, expecting him to be a clear upgrade over Thuney.
Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky product Forrest Lamp played primarily tackle at the collegiate level, but many scouts view him as a pro guard. He certainly has the size at 6'4" and 309 pounds, and Lamp has the athleticism to be a quality pulling guard at the next level.
Lamp ran a 5.0-second 40 at the scouting combine.
As a tackle, Lamp was rated fourth in the nation by Pro Football Focus for the 2016 season. He appears to be an elite guard prospect, and his versatility could make him a perfect fit for the Patriots.
Dan Feeney, Indiana
Former Indiana standout Dan Feeney is more of a pure guard. He also has the size (6'4", 305 lbs) and the ability to start at the pro level. Pro Football Focus rated Feeney 19th overall among guards in 2016.
While Feeney is likely a popular target on draft weekend, Lamp is the better fit for the Patriots' power-running game. Some believe he might only excel in a zone-blocking system.
"If he's a zone-only guard then what is his value? You can find those types of guards in the later rounds and not spend as much money on them," one AFC executive told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein.
Dion Dawkins, Temple
Temple's Dion Dawkins isn't as highly regarded as Feeney, but like Lamp, he may actually be a better fit for the Patriots system. The former tackle ran a solid 5.11-second 40 at the combine at 5'4" and 314 pounds.
As is the case with Lamp, versatility and athleticism could be big selling points for the Patriots with Dawkins. Pro Football Focus rated him 19th overall among tackles in 2016.
Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh's Dorian Johnson isn't as athletic as guys like Dawkins and Lamp, but he has the power and the size (6'5", 300 pounds) to serve in New England's power-run scheme. He's more explosive (produced a 114.0-inch broach jump at the combine) than fast (ran a 4.27-second 40, which shouldn't be an issue for the Patriots.
Pro Football Focus rated Johnson just three spots behind Feeney at guard in 2016.
Johnson is a better run-blocker than a pass-blocker, but the Patriots might choose to target Johnson if they feel he can be an upgrade over Thuney in pass protection.
Taylor Moton, Western Michigan
Western Michigan product Taylor Moton is yet another former tackle who could be a quality pro guard for the Patriots. He is a massive prospect (6'5", 319 pounds) with the versatility to serve at either guard or tackle.
Last season, Pro Football Focus rated Moton eighth overall among all collegiate tackles.
Adding a quality pass-rusher is the one real priority for the Patriots in this year's draft. While bringing back Dont'a Hightower and adding Kony Ealy will help New England bring pressure, this wasn't the Patriots' defensive strong suit in 2016.
As a team, the Patriots produced 34 sacks and were rated 24th in pass rush by Pro Football Focus last season. This might be the position they most consider trading up to secure—even if top guys like Myles Garrett are unavailable at any cost.
Taco Charlton, Michigan
There are plenty of reasons to like former Michigan defender Taco Charlton. The biggest for New England might be his fit on the defensive line. At 6'6" and 277 pounds, he would be a natural edge-rusher from the end position.
This would almost immediately make him the primary rusher opposite Trey Flowers when the Patriots are in a four-man front.
The Patriots will also love the fact that Charlton is more than just a sack-artist. He can pressure the quarterback, set the edge and pursue the ball-carrier with equal skill. Last season, he racked up 42 total tackles, 10.0 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss. He also had two passes defended.
Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Tennessee's Derek Barnett might not strike an imposing figure at 6'3" and 259 pounds. He doesn't possess elite athleticism either, as evidenced by a so-so 4.88-second 40. However, his production and technique should be enticing for a team like New England. Barnett is a high-motor player who knows how to use his hands to shed blocks.
Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller believes that "hand use" is one area in which Barnett is better than Garrett.
As far as that production goes, Barnett managed to produce at least 10.0 sacks in each of the past three seasons. He had 13.0 sacks last season to go with 56 total tackles.
Charles Harris, Missouri
Missouri product Charles Harris is about the same size as (6'3", 253 lbs) as Barnett, and these two may be edge-rushing specialists in the Patriots system. However, Harris is perfectly capable of chasing down the ball-carrier is he has to. He had 61 total tackles in 2016.
Harris had just 16.0 sacks over the last two seasons, but it's worth noting that he is still developing as a football player. He didn't play the sport until his junior year of high school.
Harris was rated 28th overall among all edge-defenders by Pro Football Focus last season.
Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Former UCLA defender Takkarist McKinley is more of a speed-rusher the Patriots would probably consider playing at outside linebacker. He has both the size (6'2", 250 pounds) and the quickness (he ran a 4.59-second 40 at the combine) for this role in New England.
"He was my sleeper headed into the season, but that went out the window with the season he had this year. I think he's a second rounder who needs time but he'll probably get overdrafted," one AFC scout told NFL Media's Lance Zierlein.
While the Patriots probably aren't going to be the team to drastically overdraft McKinley, he could be a target if the team ends up with a pick near the bottom of Round 1 or the top of Round 2.
McKinley was rated 15th among edge-defenders by Pro Football Focus last season.
Tim Williams, Alabama
If the Patriots are willing to take a risk on Alabama's Tim Williams, they could get themselves one disruptive defender. The risks with Williams are that he has a history of off-field issues, and he is a bit one-dimensional.
However, Williams has the potential to be a ferocious situational edge-rusher in the Patriots defense. Pro Football Focus rated him 14th overall among edge-defenders last season.
"He's like the Predator. When he's allowed to do just one thing—get the quarterback—he is really good at it. Don't ask him to do much more than that, though," one NFC scout told NFL Media's Lance Zierlein.
The Patriots do not have a glaring hole in their linebacking corps, especially since Hightower is now back in the fold. However, having a group of versatile, athletic linebackers the team can rotate is a big part of what they do on defense.
It's not like finding another player in the mold of Hightower is going to hurt this team. Plus, while the team found a way to patch the hole created by trading away Jamie Collins, the team might be able to permanently fill it here.
For this list, we'll be looking at linebackers who possess the ability to play the run and to cover potential pass-catchers. Sure, the ability to occasionally get after the quarterback would be nice, but we've already addressed edge-rushers.
Reuben Foster, Alabama
If the Patriots could somehow land Alabama's Reuben Foster and pair him with Hightower, they'd probably soon have one of the top linebacker duos in the NFL.
At just 6'0" and 229 pounds, Foster would probably be limited to the middle in New England's 4-3 alignments and the weak side in 3-4 alignments. Yet, his potential in those roles is impressive. Foster racked up 115 tackles, 13.0 tackles for a loss and 5.0 sacks in 2016 alone. Pro Football Focus rated him first in the nation among inside linebackers for the season.
There are some questions with Foster, though, like why he only had one standout year of production. The Patriots will likely want to weigh his maturity after he was sent home early from the scouting combine.
Haason Reddick, Temple
Temple's Haason Reddick is a bit bigger than Foster (6'1", 237 pounds), though he projects in a similar NFL role.
Reddick played primarily outside linebacker at Temple, and he was quite disruptive in the role. Last season, he amassed 65 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss. Pro Football Focus rated him ninth among 3-4 outside linebackers.
While Reddick can be disruptive, the Patriots would likely rely on his quickness (he ran a 4.52-second 40 at the combine) to defend the pass rather than to pressure the quarterback.
Jarrad Davis, Florida
Former Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis is another sideline-to-sideline linebacker who could fit right into the Patriots' multi-scheme defense. He can defend the pass just as well as he can chase down ball-carriers.
Last season, Davis produced 60 total tackles, four passes defended and 2.0 sacks.
While Davis might not be as physical and as disruptive as some teams want from their linebackers, others appear quite excited about what he could add to their defenses.
"He's good. I don't care about some of those holes you are talking about. Kill him so maybe somebody will listen to you and he can fall to us. We'll take him," one NFL executive said of Davis, per NFL Media's Lance Zierlein.
Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham is much like Foster in the fact that he has a drive and a motor perfect for piling up tackles. In 2016 alone, he produced 125 of them to go with three passes defended and 16.5 tackles for a loss.
Pro Football Focus rated Cunningham 31st overall among inside linebackers for the 2016 season.
Like the rest of the linebackers on this list, Cunningham is a bit on the lighter side (234 pounds). However, he stands 6'3", which should help him to cover taller backs and tight ends at the NFL level.
Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
Ohio State product Raekwon McMillan is a bit bigger (6'2", 240 pounds) than the other linebackers listed here, and he may be limited to a rotational run-defender for the Patriots.
"I see him as a backup early on who will become a starter at SAM (strong side) for a 4-3 team. He's been pretty productive but I don't see anything special," one NFC scout told NFL Media's Lance Zierlein.
Production is what the Patriots would be looking at with McMillan. He had 102 tackles, 2.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for a loss in 2016. While McMillan may never be more than an intimidating thumper on running downs, it's a role New England should love for him to have.
Cornerback isn't an immediate need for the Patriots. However, this could soon change if the team parts ways with Malcolm Butler.
Butler isn't happy with the fact the Patriots paid big money to Stephon Gilmore while only giving him a restricted free-agent tender. Therefore the Patriots may be willing to let Butler go, either via trade or by not matching a tender offer.
The New Orleans Saints are interested in acquiring Butler, but the Patriots aren't engaging in trade talks at this time, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport. If the Saints sign Butler to an offer sheet and the Patriots don't match, New England would receive the 11th overall pick in the draft.
The possibility of grabbing that 11th pick is the only reason these highly-rated cornerbacks are on New England's draft board.
Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Former Ohio State standout Marshon Lattimore is widely considered to be a top-10 selection this April. However, it would fit the theme of the Patriots' offseason for the team to move Butler and then turn around and grab Lattimore.
Lattimore does have a history of hamstring injuries, but there's no denying his on-field potential. In fact, he'd probably make Patriots fans forget about Butler pretty quickly—especially if New England decided to use him and Gilmore in more man coverage.
"I've studied the top cornerbacks coming out and he's the best I've seen. He's so athletic that he can just post up under the receiver's chin and shadow him all over the field. And he's tough, too. He'll be one of the top cornerbacks pretty quickly," one AFC executive told NFL Media's Lance Zierlein of Lattimore.
Gareon Conley, Ohio State
If the Patriots can't land Lattimore, his teammate, Gareon Conley, would be a nice consolation prize. He has the size (6'0", 195 pounds) and the quickness (ran a 4.44-second 40 at the combine) to succeed in New England's defense.
The Patriots would really like his ability to play the football—Conley had eight passes defended and four interceptions in 2016.
According to Pro Football Focus, Conley allowed just 33.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, while limiting quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 14.0.
Tre'Davious White, LSU
Former LSU corner Tre'Davious White isn't quite as physical as the Patriots typically want in their defensive backs, but he's one of the better cover corners in this year's draft class. In fact, Pro Football Focus rated White first among all corners in pass coverage for the 2016 season.
White defended a total of 14 passes in 2016 and came away with two interceptions. He projects as a solid running-mate for Gilmore in a man-based defense.
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
Alabama's Marlon Humphrey seems to better fit the mold of cornerback we've seen the Patriots utilize over the past couple season. He is a big (6'0", 197 pounds) and physical cornerback who has no issues playing in run support.
Last season alone, Humphrey produced 36 tackles, 3.0 tackles for a loss, five passes defended and two interceptions.
Humphrey possesses adequate speed for the position (he ran a 4.41-second 40 at the combine) and has above-average coverage skills as well. While he is a notch below Lattimore, White and Conley in this area, Humphrey was rated 22nd in coverage by Pro Football Focus last season.
Teez Tabor, Florida
Former Florida corner Teez Tabor might not be a truly elite prospect, but he does possess two traits the Patriots are likely to covet; he's solid in run support and seems to have a knack for the football.
Pro Football Focus rated Tabor 71st against the run last season among corners. This is higher than the other four cornerbacks on this list were rated. Tabor also racked up 20 passes defended and eight interceptions over his past two seasons combined.
While Tabor would probably only be a target after these other corners are off the board, he might be a nice fit for the Patriots' zone packages.
*All advanced stats and player rankings via PFF College.
**All prospect measurements via NFL.com.