Patriots' Team Needs to Fill in 2021 NFL Draft
The New England Patriots' offseason roster overhaul isn't complete yet. They've been busy since the start of free agency on March 17, and they've greatly improved several areas that were among their biggest needs. But they're still not done.
The 2021 NFL draft is set to take place from April 29-May 1, and that will give the Pats another opportunity to add to their team ahead of the upcoming season. Not only that, but they'll look to select players who they can build around for many years to come.
New England's notable free-agent acquisitions have included tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, linebacker Matt Judon and safety Jalen Mills, among others. So after going 7-9 and missing the playoffs last season, the Pats could be looking to turn things around quickly in 2021.
And if New England has a strong draft, perhaps it will be successful in doing so.
Here's a look at the Patriots' biggest needs they'll need to address in the NFL draft this year.
For the second straight offseason, the Patriots signed quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year deal. Like last season, it's possible the former NFL MVP will be their starter in 2021. However, the 31-year-old may not be their long-term solution at quarterback, especially if he doesn't produce better results next season.
That's why it's still important for New England to add its potential future franchise quarterback during the NFL draft. At No. 15, the Patriots are likely to miss out on the top few quarterbacks in the class. It's possible that Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, BYU's Zach Wilson, Ohio State's Justin Fields and North Dakota State's Trey Lance could all go in the top five.
Perhaps New England could trade up to draft a top quarterback. Maybe Alabama's Mac Jones will still be on the board when the Pats are first on the clock. Or they could wait until a later round and try to find a potential steal (it worked in 2000, when they drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round).
Even if the Patriots believe Newton is going to have a bounce-back season, they need to start planning for the future. And then if Newton struggles, they'll have a young prospect to plug into their offense, perhaps accelerating the process.
Agholor and Bourne have the potential to make the Patriots' receiving corps a better unit than it was in 2020. That will especially be the case if Agholor plays the way he did last season, when he posted strong numbers (896 yards and eight touchdowns) in his lone year with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Still, this was one of the thinnest position groups on New England's roster last season. Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd showed glimpses of being solid players, while former first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry continued to not live up to potential.
Julian Edelman, who was limited to six games last season because of injury, will be back, but he's turning 35 in May and his best days are likely behind him. That's another reason why the Patriots could benefit from adding a younger receiver to the group via the draft.
New England's offense will be better with its quarterback having Smith and Henry lining up as tight ends, but it could still use another playmaker to build around. It may not be a position the Patriots address in the first round, but it could be wise to use an early-to-mid-round pick on a receiver.
This offseason, the Patriots' linebacker corps has already improved from 2020 with the signing of Judon and the return of Dont'a Hightower, who opted out of last season. But it can never hurt to have too much linebacker depth, especially for a team that runs a 3-4 defense.
New England added Raekwon McMillan as a low-risk signing, but there's a chance the former first-round draft pick will continue to not live up to his potential. So the Pats may want to try to add a middle linebacker during the middle rounds of the draft, giving them depth behind Hightower and potentially somebody to play beside him.
Plus, Hightower is 31 and hasn't played in an NFL game since the 2019 season. While New England hopes he'll return to form, there is a bit of uncertainty surrounding the two-time Pro Bowler.
Either way, the Pats could use another linebacker as they look to get better defensive production following a down 2020 season. And with them having addressed so many of their needs already during free agency, this is one they should turn their attention to at some point during the draft.