New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

  • At this time last year, the Patriots had a pretty obvious plan of attack when it came to the NFL Draft. After spending big at a number of different positions in free agency, quarterback was clearly the most immediate need. They responded in turn, taking Mac Jones with their first pick. They used their next two picks to add to the front seven after struggling to both stop the run and pressure quarterbacks in 2020.

    This year’s team again has needs, but none jump to the forefront the way quarterback did last year. That’s as much about the overall value of the specific position as it is the current state of the Patriots’ roster, but either way this year’s approach is more of a mystery.

    When it comes to team needs, they generally fall into two categories – we’ll label them as immediate needs and luxury needs. Immediate needs are spots where a team simply don’t have the number of NFL-caliber players necessary to fill out the depth chart. Luxury needs are positions that are filled out with NFL talent, but could be upgraded without a blockbuster investment.

    As things stand now, the Patriots have positions that fit into both categories, as well as some where they’re deep enough to not be considered needs at all. We’ll start there as we take a look at the team’s position-by-position needs heading into Thursday night. Keep in mind this doesn’t reflect the order in which the Patriots should draft, but is just a look at the overall depth of their roster.

  • 13. Tight end/fullback

    Oct 10, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) makes a catch during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 10, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) makes a catch during the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots bring back Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith after signing both players to sizable contracts last year. Although Smith didn’t play up to expectations, it’s too soon to completely abandon the idea of him being a contributor. When it comes to starters at the position, the Patriots are set.

    When it comes to depth, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene were top-101 picks just two years ago. They should still be expected to contribute if needed in a reserve role, at least to the point where expending any serious draft capital at the position would seem out of place. If the Patriots feel like neither can contribute if called upon, they’re still far enough down the depth chart where it’s not a pressing issue. This would be a position best addressed in the UDFA market or in the second stage of free agency. For instance, Matt LaCosse remains unsigned.

    As for the fullback position, the current expectation is the Patriots won’t use a traditional fullback this year. Assuming that is indeed the case, them not having one on the roster is a non-issue. If things have changed, it could push this position further up the list.

    MORE: Tight end/fullback draft preview

  • 12. Quarterback

    Jun 16, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham (4) and Brian Hoyer react during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 16, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham (4) and Brian Hoyer react during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Starting quarterback? Very much not a need. Mac Jones has that covered. Backup quarterback is a spot the team could address though.

    Brian Hoyer has the veteran de-facto QB coach role on lock, but his status feels year-to-year at this point. Jarrett Stidham is younger, but is in the final year of his contract. The Patriots have generally been aggressive in keeping their QB room stocked, so given the current makeup of the group behind Jones, it wouldn’t be out of character for them to use a late pick on a QB or bring in a priority UDFA at the position as a potential future long-term backup.

    MORE: Quarterback draft preview

  • 11. Punter

    Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots punter Jake Bailey (7) punts the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots punter Jake Bailey (7) punts the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Any need the Patriots have at the punter position is financially based. Jake Bailey took a step back in 2021, but was still one of the best punters in the league. However, he’s due just over $4 million in the final year of his rookie deal which will make him the second-highest paid punter in the league. By cutting or trading Bailey, the Patriots would eliminate most of that contract and be left with a cap hit of $100K. At the same time, the team could extend Bailey and readjust his salary that way as well.

    Still, if they decide it’s time to move on, this is an unusually deep draft at the punter position. Three or four punters are expected to get drafted, highlighted by San Diego State’s Matt Araiza.

    MORE: Special teams draft preview

  • 10. Kicker

    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 31: Nick Folk #6 of the New England Patriots kicks a field goal in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 31: Nick Folk #6 of the New England Patriots kicks a field goal in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

    Nick Folk is back, and after three successful seasons in New England it feels as though is job security should be relatively high. Even at 38 years old, there’s nothing wrong with counting on him for the 2022 season.

    In terms of the draft, it’s about looking beyond 2022. How much the Patriots need a kicker depends on how they currently view their 2021 UDFA, Quinn Nordin. If they believe Nordin has worked on the accuracy issues he showed in the preseason last year, then they have the player to follow Folk already on the roster. If not, they could look to add a kicker late on Day 3 or as a UDFA as a long-term investment at the position beyond Folk.

  • 9. Special teams coverage players

    Matthew Slater #18 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a missed field goal by the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Matthew Slater #18 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a missed field goal by the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    We’re now starting to enter luxury need territory. The Patriots’ investment in non-kicker/punter special teams players has been a punchline at times, but after struggling last year it’s clear the unit could use a boost. On top of that, core special teamers Brandon Bolden, Brandon King both left in free agency, and Matthew Slater likely isn’t far behind. It may be time to restock at the position.

  • 8. Safety

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 18: Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    ATLANTA, GEORGIA – NOVEMBER 18: Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    You may be surprised to see safety as high on this list as it is, but keep in mind we’re considering both the strong and free safety positions. The box safety spot is loaded with Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and now Jabrill Peppers.

    However, there’s not as much depth on the back end behind Devin McCourty. McCourty is also on a one-year contract and will turn 35 during training camp. Finding a player who can be his backup this year and potential successor in the future is something the Patriots should be focused on.

    MORE: Safety draft preview

  • 7. Running back

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back James White #28 of the New England Patriots runs the ball against cornerback Michael Carter II #30 the New York Jets in the second quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 19: Running back James White #28 of the New England Patriots runs the ball against cornerback Michael Carter II #30 the New York Jets in the second quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    In terms of early-down backs, this is a luxury need. The top of the Patriots’ depth chart is stacked with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. However, there’s no real depth behind those two at an oft-injured position, and Harris is also in a contract year. A Day 3 back could provide some depth and give the team an insurance plan if Harris leaves in free agency next year.

    Pass-catching back is a more immediate need. James White is back, but is returning from a serious hip injury. None of their other backs have caught more than 18 passes in a single season (Harris in 2021). White’s injury last year highlighted how important the pass-catching back role is to the Patriots’ offense. His replacement, Brandon Bolden, is no longer with the team. It’s possible White could return to form and/or Harris and Stevenson could contribute more as pass catchers, but adding a player more experienced in that role should be on the to-do list.

    MORE: Running back draft preview

  • 6. Wide Receiver

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 02: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown with teammate Kendrick Bourne #84 at Gillette Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 02: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown with teammate Kendrick Bourne #84 at Gillette Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    The Patriots have done just enough this offseason where wide receiver remains a luxury need. It may be their top luxury need, but it’s still a luxury need. DeVante ParkerKendrick BourneNelson Agholor, and Jakobi Meyers are all NFL-caliber receivers. To go back to where this group was two years ago, they’ve come a long way.

    Unless a guy like Chris Olave or Jameson Williams falls to 21, it’s highly unlikely the Patriots will be able to get an immediate upgrade on the outside. Both Parker and Bourne are under contract through 2023, so that structure should be in place for at least another season beyond this one.

    In the slot, it’s another story. Meyers is in a contract year, and there’s no depth or clear future replacement behind him on the roster. If the Patriots are going to invest a premium asset on a wide receiver in this draft, it may make more sense to look at a slot or hybrid receiver than a true ‘X’ player.

    MORE: Wide receiver draft preview

  • 5. Defensive line

    Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots nose tackle Davon Godchaux (92) looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots nose tackle Davon Godchaux (92) looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots have multiple spots they can look to improve along the offensive line. Last year, they ranked 25th against the run. They’ll have a chance to add a player who can help them there in what is a very deep nose tackle class. Davon Godchaux was brought in to fill that spot last year, but looked better as a three-technique end. If the Patriots can put together a big front of Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, and a new nose tackle on early downs, it would help them play some of the smaller linebackers they’ve brought in like Mack Wilson and Cameron McGrone within their current scheme.

    Another spot the team will need to address is the strong side edge opposite Matthew Judon. That role could be filled by either a defensive end or outside linebacker, but they need another pass rush threat on that side.

    MORE: Defensive line draft preview

  • 4. Linebacker

    Ja'Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots celebrates after tackling Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Ja’Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots celebrates after tackling Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Linebacker is right on the verge of the luxury and immediate need categories. That’s true for both the inside and outside spots. There’s simply too many unknowns to get a full grasp on the situation.

    At middle linebacker, Ja’Whaun Bentley is back and should be able to handle the early down duties at the position. The big question though – which has existed since late last season – is finding a three-down linebacker or a linebacker who can contribute in coverage. Mack Wilson has some upside there, but is relatively inexperienced having played progressively less and less on defense  over his three year career. Cameron McGroneRaekwon McMillan, and Terez Hall also have the base skillset to play that role, but are coming back from significant injuries. All three missed the entirety of the 2021 season.

    Matthew Judon has the weak side outside linebacker spot covered, but who lines up opposite him is still unknown following the release of Kyle Van Noy. Again, there are in-house candidates on the roster like Josh UcheRonnie Perkins, and Anfernee Jennings, but none of those three have played in anything more than a reserve role in their NFL careers. There’s upside there, but little NFL experience.

    MORE: Linebacker draft preview

  • 3. Interior offensive line

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 19: Mike Onwenu #71 of the New England Patriots walks off the field after the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 35-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 19: Mike Onwenu #71 of the New England Patriots walks off the field after the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 35-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    Both of last year’s starting guards are no longer on the Patriots’ roster. Ted Karras left for Cincinnati in free agency, and Shaq Mason was traded to Tampa. Michael Onwenu should be able to fill one spot (likely right guard), but the other remains wide open.

    James Ferentz is likely the favorite for the spot heading into the draft, but he’s been a depth player for most of his career. There’s some buzz around former CFL All-Star Drew Desjarlais, but he is pretty much an unknown at this point. If the Patriots take a guard in the top 150, there’s a chance he’s the favorite to win the job heading into camp.

    If Ferentz does become the starter, that leaves the team without a backup center. So either way, they’ll need to add at least one interior player before camp.

    MORE: Offensive line draft preview

  • 2. Tackle

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 27: Isaiah Wynn #76 of the New England Patriots looks on after the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Gillette Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 27: Isaiah Wynn #76 of the New England Patriots looks on after the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Gillette Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    On the surface, tackle doesn’t seem like as pressing of a need. The two starters from last year, Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown, are back with the team.

    That being said, neither started all 17 games last year and both have a history of injuries. Depth behind those two will be important, and the only other tackle on the roster with somewhat significant NFL playing time is Justin Herron.

    Bigger picture, Wynn is in the final year of his rookie contract. Pending an extension, the Patriots need a new starting left tackle to protect Mac Jones in 2023. Historically, the Patriots like to stay ahead of things at the position. Even though Wynn is still with the team for another year, they may view finding his replacement as a need this offseason.

  • 1. Cornerback

    Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) reacts after breaking up a pass during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) reacts after breaking up a pass during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Two years ago, the Patriots had one of the best cornerback groups in the NFL. Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson played opposite each other on the outside with Jason McCourty rotating in, and then Jonathan Jones in the slot. Now, only Jones remains.

    At boundary cornerback, the Patriots lack both top-end talent and depth. Jalen Mills had a strong season last year, but there’s not much in terms of proven players behind him. Malcolm Butler didn’t play last season, and after him the depth chart gets blurry with Terrance MitchellJoejuan Williams, and Shaun Wade. Special teamer Justin Bethel could also contribute. The team is multiple players away at the position.

    In the slot, things look a little better. Jones will be a welcomed return, albeit in a contract year. Myles Bryant is currently his backup, and Wade can play some in the slot too. Given the struggles at the position without Jones on the field last year though, adding a slot corner wouldn’t be the worst idea.

    MORE: Cornerback draft preview