By Rohan Bommaraju — Sports Editor
The offseason is underway in Foxborough. After falling to the Bills 17-47 in New York, the Patriots can only look towards the future and next year. They have solidified their draft spot, owning the 21st overall selection in the upcoming draft.
Under Bill Belichick, The Patriots have possessed the 21st overall pick twice, trading for it both times. With those draft picks the NFL selected Vince Wilfork in the 2004 NFL draft and Chandler Jones in the 2012 NFL Draft. 98.5 Digital Producer and Writer Alex Barth says that it is early to narrow down specific names for players to use the pick on this year. “I’d expect a player at a high-value position like a cornerback, tackle, [wide receiver], maybe a safety if Devin McCourty leaves. [Tackle] Darian Kinnard from Kentucky is a player I’m a fan of in that spot.”
“And there should be a number of worthy cornerbacks on the board. Wide receivers that could be there include [Jahan] Dotson and Ohio State’s Chris Olave,” added Barth.
As for if the Patriots were to move the pick, Barth says that the Patriots had never traded away the 21st pick but he would not take it out of the picture. “I think [Belichick] absolutely would look to move the pick up or down. There are some intriguing trade candidates ahead of the Patriots – teams like the Eagles with 3+ first-round picks, but in a deep draft trading down is always on the table as well.”
If the Patriots do elect to draft a Wide Receiver, what would happen to the Patriots’ 2019 1st round pick N’Keal Harry? Barth says, pending any injuries, N’Keal Harry should get traded during training camp. “They can simply only keep so many WRs, and if they add a player or two this offseason they’ll need to cut the number down elsewhere.”
“I think Harry can have some success in a new system. Will he be a first-round talent? No. But he does have some exciting traits that weren’t focused on as much in New England. I think usage was a part of his struggles,” added Barth.
By trading Harry, that would leave an empty spot in the Patriots’ heavy personnel running formation. Barth says that the Patriots would not make a blocking wide receiver a specialty role in the offense. “I don’t think it’s a ‘replacement’ kind of thing with Harry. The Patriots value blocking ability highly when evaluating WRs, so any player they bring in is going to be at least decent at it.”
Whether or not the Patriots draft a wide receiver, there would be a hole in that depth chart. The Patriots do not have a true #1 wide receiver. Barth says that Belicheck and his staff should address that situation in the offseason. “Chris Godwin is a player I really like in free agency, but there are a number of intriguing options in the draft. Jahan Dotson from Penn State is a player that would make sense for them to target in the first round as a traditional home run threat. On Day 2, I really like Wan’Dale Robinson from Kentucky, who is more of a Deebo Samuel type and I think might fit their smashmouth style a bit better.”
After adding a high-profile pass rusher in Matt Judon during last year’s offseason, the Patriots’ D-line prospered for the first half of the season but simmered down towards the end, not being able to generate pressure and force bad throws. Barth says adding a pass rusher in free agency is always a possibility, but I don’t think they make another high-profile addition there this year. “They have too many other needs on defense, and Bill Belichick has always built his defenses from back to front.”
“After focusing heavily on the front seven last year, I think this year the secondary gets more attention – especially if they lose [JC] Jackson and/or [Devin]McCourty,” added Barth.
The Patriots have a long list of potential free agents on their hands. Barth says that Retaining J.C. Jackson should be the top priority for the Patriots’ internal free agency, whether it’s a long-term deal or the franchise tag, but there are other players they should also try to bring back. “Devin McCourty is another player who they should strongly consider bringing back given his level of play, his leadership, and lack of a replacement currently on the roster. His situation is a little more complex though, with retirement potentially on the roster. I’d like to see Trent Brown and Ted Karras back as well.”
“Brown has repeatedly spoken openly about how much he loves playing in New England, and there may be an opportunity for the Patriots to sign him to a hometown discount if they want him back. If he does return, and the team is assured to have at least one starting tackle back,” added Barth.