The New England Patriots just got done completing the most improbable comeback in Super Bowl history. The five-time title winners will turn right back around and start their journey to do it all again, however, come the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Pats remain as loaded as ever, but surprisingly do have several key holes to address. Their offensive line has left a lot to be desired over the past few years, LeGarrette Blount and Martellus Bennett could both depart in free agency and they’ve lost some serious defensive talent with trades involving Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins over the last year.
As good as the Patriots are and as impressive as their Super Bowl 51 was, they still have work to do. Barring a classic Bill Belichick trade down and out of round one, it should begin with the final pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. If New England doesn’t move from that spot, here are six tantalizing talents we think they could consider plucking off the draft board:
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Is running back New England’s biggest draft need? With Dion Lewis and James White being so versatile and effective, probably not. However, the Pats tend to add to strengths and LeGarrette Blount is headed for free agency. If Blount is intent on following the cash, the Pats could be open to adding an impact player in their offensive backfield.
McCaffrey makes sense as an exciting addition and in New England he could wear many hats. McCaffrey could develop into a true feature back, excel on kick returns, play receiver in the slot or simply rotate in as a third down receiving back. The point? McCaffrey is extremely versatile and an explosive threat, meaning he can be used anywhere at anytime. That’s kind of the Patriot way, so even if running back isn’t a huge need, the Pats could view him as an insanely valuable addition.
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
Why deviate from that trend? Peppers has seen his draft stock plummet in recent months, largely because some scouts aren’t sure he has a true position and others think he’s a slightly above average safety, and nothing more. Peppers potentially not having a concrete position wouldn’t be an issue for the Pats, who love adding pure football players who can do a little bit of everything.
Peppers is an elite athlete with a highly versatile skill-set and elite athleticism. If he lasts to the 32nd pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, it’s pretty doubtful Belichick and co. let him slide past them. Peppers could be a safety, linebacker, cornerback or even a running back. It’ll be up to the Patriots to figure that out and that could be a fun problem for them to have.
David Njoku, TE, Miami
Rob Gronkowski continues to have injury issues and Martellus Bennett figures to price himself out of New England in free agency. If the Pats decide not to chase him with big money, they could (and should) just look for more help in the draft. That could come in the form of Njoku, who has the tantalizing size and athleticism Bennett would provide, but actually is the higher upside option.
Njoku already can change the game with his athleticism as an offensive weapon, but he also has the size, strength and natural tools to be an effective blocker down the road, as well. For now he’d really be brought in as an elite second option for Tom Brady and that’s just fine.
Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
More glaring holes present themselves than tight end, running back or defensive back, and a big one is New England’s outside pass rush. Chris Long was Rob Ninkovich are fine, but the Pats traded away two talented pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. Adding more explosive talent for the edge is crucial for prolonged success, and when adding to the #1 scoring defense in the league, it won’t take much.
Williams certainly qualifies as a strong addition, as he can be a terror on the edge and has the ability to change games as a pass rusher. In New England’s versatile scheme, he could be an elite addition.
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
The story is similar with Lawson, who is another high level pass rushing talent that could be available late in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He might have a little more natural strength and upside than Williams, however, so it may be less likely to see him last to pick 32. Regardless, he’d certainly be a guy the Patriots could make good use of in their pass rush.
Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
One other spot the Patriots badly need to address is their offensive line. New England got by and won the title last year, but they’ve really struggled with high level pass protection over the past few years. That stems from losing or trading away top notch offensive lineman and it’s high time Bill Belichick and co. address this huge need.
Luckily there are a handful of strong offensive line prospects that could slide to the bottom of round one and on the surface, Utah’s Bolles seems like one that is likely to slide to the bottom of round one.