Hannable: Ranking Patriots’ draft needs ahead of NFL combine

Ryan Hannable
February 25, 2019 - 11:20 pm

The NFL combine officially gets underway Tuesday with the real activity getting going on Wednesday when most head coaches and general managers speak with the assembled media.

But, what the combine is really about is getting to know the prospects who will be targeted in April’s draft. 

Each prospect will go through a number of tests, both on and off the field, as well as interviews with almost every team. At the end of the week, teams will hope to have a better sense of each player to narrow down who they want to focus on at pro days, official visits, etc.

Even though the Patriots are coming off a Super Bowl victory, they still have needs that need to be addressed via the draft.

Here are their five top needs, as we stand now going into the combine.

1. Tight end

With Rob Gronkowski contemplating retirement for the second straight offseason, even if he doesn’t, this seems like the right time to add his replacement. Not only from a timing perspective, but because of the selection of players coming out in the draft. This draft is said to be very good at the top when it comes to tight ends, so if the Patriots go that route early they have a good chance of potentially getting someone who one day can be an impact player. It’s important to realize no one will ever be Gronkowski, but getting someone who can both block and catch passes at a high level is something the Patriots will be seeking.

2. Wide receiver 

The Patriots don’t have much at all at the position as it stands now. There’s just Julian Edelman and Braxton Berrios, with Berrios spending all of last season on injured reserve. Wide receiver needs to be addressed not only via the draft, but also in free agency. Overall, the offense needs to get younger and receiver is a good place to start. Historically, the Patriots haven’t had much success with receivers in the draft, especially high, but the good news is this draft is said to be stocked with mid-round talent. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Patriots target a receiver or two in Rounds 2-3.

3. Defensive line

Assuming Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown do not re-sign, there certainly will be a need here. According to all the draft experts, this year is loaded with solid defensive tackles. The Patriots could approach it a couple ways. No. 1, use one of their top picks on a player who likely will make an impact from Day 1. Or No. 2, wait until the middle rounds and get a quality player, but one who isn’t as close to a lock to contribute. Either way, it seems likely a defensive tackle will be selected.

4. Defensive end

A lot of this depends on what happens with Trey Flowers. If he departs via free agency it absolutely is a need, but if he returns it just isn’t as high of a priority. There’s Deatrich Wise already on the roster, but other than that there really isn’t anyone. The Patriots ask their defensive ends to be contain the pocket more so than go after the quarterback, so they are looking for things at the position that are different from most other teams. It does seem like a fairly deep position, so a talented player can be had.

5. Safety

Even with Devin McCourty announcing he’s returning in 2019, it doesn’t impact the need all that much. Besides McCourty, there’s Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, all of which are likely closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Now feels like the proper time to get a younger player into the system to learn from these three so they are ready when the time comes.

Note: We did not have quarterback on this list. The Patriots certainly need to have an eye for the future at the position, but they don’t absolutely need to draft one this year. Tom Brady has at least a few more years left in him, and it isn’t completely known what Danny Etling will be. If there’s a QB that absolutely blows the Patriots away and they have strong feelings about him as their future then they should take him, but it is not as big of a priority as these other positions — at least this year. It's also worth noting this QB class isn't very strong, so it's not worth forcing a selection.

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