With three weeks until the draft, the Patriots currently have 27 spots open on their 2017 offseason roster and only seven draft picks. That leaves 20 spots for undrafted rookies, trade targets, or remaining unsigned free agents. Bill Belichick will surely make some more changes to the current roster before the draft, and we as fans have demonstrated year after year that we are completely clueless as to what moves he will make. So instead of looking at which players Belichick will go after, I’ll focus on positions, going through every possible place on the roster.
Current depth: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
While there have been rumors surrounding a possible trade of Garoppolo (no matter how likely or unlikely there are, there at minimum have been rumors), it’s more likely that this position is set for the season. I think it is very improbable that Belichick even brings in a fourth arm for camp, unless one of the three gets injured.
Current depth: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster
LeGarrette Blount, he of 18 touchdowns last year, is still on the market, but the return of Bolden makes it more likely that New England sees Burkhead, to whom they gave a $3+ million contract, as a lead back. Still, the lack of depth at between-the-tackles runner makes it more likely that Belichick adds another rushing back, probably a rookie in the late rounds or after the draft. That said, we all expected the Patriots to add a running back in last year’s draft, and they passed. (No pun intended.)
Current depth: James Develin, Glenn Gronkowski
Develin inked a two-year extension before free agency began, and Baby Gronk provides depth behind him. No need here.
Current depth: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Devin Lucien, Matthew Slater
The 2017 receiving corps is shaping up to be one of the strongest in recent memory, even avoiding any hyperbolic Randy Moss comparisons, especially at the top of the chart. But New England usually carries at least 10 wideouts into the summer, usually 12, and both Edelman and Amendola are over 30. (Hogan will turn 30 in October.) I’d expect Belichick to add more bodies here, even if only UDFAs, and particularly in the slot.
Current depth: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel, Rob Housler, Michael Williams
Unusually, the Patriots’ five-man depth chart containsΒ no one who is completely raw; Lengel spent about half the season on New England’s roster, Williams spent a full season as a Patriot before spending last year on IR, and Housler had four seasons in Arizona. Before the Allen trade, tight end was considered one of the Patriots’ top priorities for the draft; now, they may be content with this grouping.
Current depth: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle
Solder’s contract expires after the coming season, so if the Patriots are looking to let him walk next year and choose a replacement, they will probably have to trade for a higher pick. But even if New England extends his contract, they could still look to upgrade from Fleming (who has been a serviceable lineman) and Waddle (who played one snap last year).
Current depth: David Andrews, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Tre’ Jackson, Chris Barker, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris
I’ve grouped these two positions together because of the Karras overlap: he is both the top backup guard and top backup center. While there are plenty of bodies at guard, including three from last year’s practice squad, there is no one other than Karras backing up Andrews. Should New England look to add to the interior of the line, I would say they are more likely to add a center, but they could acquire a guard as well if they think he could improve on the back of the depth chart.
Note that for the defensive front seven, I will use the more current position designations of DL, ED, and LB, instead of the traditional DT, DE, OLB, and ILB. I will not, however, use EDGE as the abbreviation for “edge defender.” “EDGE” is not an abbreviation; it’s accidentally leaving your caps lock on.
Current depth: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo
With the recent strong play of Branch; the growing youth of Brown, Valentine, and Hamilton; and the four-year contract given to Guy, the defensive front line looks solid. The Patriots could add more players at the position for competition or for a different role – for instance, if they look to add a pure interior pass rusher – but I would not be surprised if the aboveΒ is the primary depth chart at this position going into the summer, with possibly another player or more as camp bodies.
Current depth: Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kyle Van Noy, Kony Ealy, Shea McClellin, Geneo Grissom, Trevor Bates
By all accounts, the Patriots have heavily scouted this year’s rookie crop of edge defenders, and are likely to add multiple players at the position for the second time in three years. Flowers broke out last year, Van Noy proved a solid mid-season acquisition, and Ealy will have high expectations as a newcomer, but the other players on the roster are part-time, unproven, or have proven themselves to only be part-time players. The ED class in the draft has solid prospects into the middle rounds, so expect New England to delve here multiple times.
Current depth: Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Jonathan Freeny
Hightower is a stud, Roberts had bursts of talent, and Freeny is meh. This is another position that could use another body or two. However, if the Patriots draft an edge player with the flexibility to move to linebacker, they may not go after a pure LB.
Current depth: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler (has not signed tender), Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones
It’s unknown if Butler will remain a Patriot in 2017, but it’s clear New England is looking for a pair of #1 corners on both sides of the field, given their interest in Richard Sherman. Rowe played well as an alternating #2 with Logan Ryan last year, but behind him are players who may or may not break out. Regardless, I think it’s likely Belichick adds to this depth chart before May.
Current depth: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner, Brandon King
The Patriots have very solid free safety depth after re-signing Harmon, but strong safety is more of a question mark. Chung is good, but Richards hasn’t really developed up to his second-round draft status, and Ebner and King are stars on special teams but have little defensive impact. If the Patriots do look to add a safety, which I thnk they will if a higher-ranked player drops to them, I suspect he will be of the “strong” variety.
Current depth: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
The only possibility for an addition is at kicker after Gostkowski struggled throughout 2016.