The defending AFC Champion, and the current Super Bowl 53 favorite, the New England Patriots traded WR Brandin Cooks to the L.A. Rams last week for the No. 23 pick in the NFL Draft. The trade gives the Patriots a couple of first round picks.
Some believe New England packages the two picks to move up in this year's NFL Draft. By moving up, the Patriots could select one of this year's top quarterback prospects: Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, or Baker Mayfield.
Is that the strategy? Or, are the New England Patriots thinking of a different strategy with their picks in this year's NFL Draft?
NFL Update: A Deep Dive Into New England’s Draft Strategy
For the heavy favorite to win the 2019 Super Bowl, the New England Patriots sure must address a lot of needs in the draft. The Pats must replace LT Nate Solder. Solder took a huge contract to bolt to the New York Giants. Yes, the Giants are probably over paying Solder. In that respect, New England made the right decision by not trying to retain Solder.
Then again, Seattle showed what can happen if you don't replace your left tackle. Money is meaningless if your QB is running for his life on every play. The Seahawks offensive line has been a mess 3 years running. New England mustn't allow what happened to Seattle to happen to them.
In addition to needing a left tackle, the Patriots must find the heir apparent to Tom Brady. They also must find a wide receiver to replace the departed Brandin Cooks, a cornerback to replace the departed Malcolm Butler, and a linebacker because nobody knows if Dont'a Hightower bounces back from his season-ending injury in 2017.
Round 1 – No. 23, No. 31
Most NFL analysts feel that if the Patriots don't trade up to draft a quarterback, they go for QB Lamar Jackson with No. 23 and whom they believe is the best offensive tackle on the board with pick No. 31. Jackson makes some sense with pick No. 23. One of the things I don't like about it is that New England might not want to draft a QB that, for the most part, is a running quarterback.
New England's offensive system is based around drop back, quick thinking, quarterbacks. That's not Lamar's game. He's got a cannon for an arm, but Josh McDaniel is likely to take over for Bill Belichick when Bill calls it quits. McDaniels will have a say as to which QB he wants to take over for Tom Brady.
No. 23 might be too soon for New England to draft Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph. I believe if the Patriots can't package the picks for Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, or Josh Allen, they might decide to draft a QB in Round 2.
What, then, will New England do with pick No. 23? If they're not sold on OT Orlando Brown, he had an awful combine, they won't reach for an offensive tackle. Instead, they'll draft the best defensive player on the board. That could be a linebacker, a cornerback, or even a safety.
If Brown's around with No. 31, Belichick might pull the trigger on Oklahoma's giant offensive tackle. The reason is because Belichick has never been one to spend too much time on what happens at the NFL Combine. If Bill sees something he likes in Brown's game, he'll draft him.
Round 2 – No. 43
Unless the Patriots picked up an offensive tackle in Round 1, Round 2 is when they'll pull the trigger on their new starting LT. That player could be Brown, if Belichick feels he'll be around at pick 43, UCLA's Kelton Miller, Texas' Connor Williams, Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchy, or Western Michigan's Chukwuma Okorafor are all possible at pick No. 43.
My guess is that Belichick goes for Miller if he's around. If he isn't, but McGlinchy is, McGlinchy will be the pick. There's also a great chance that Belichick decides to grab McGlinchy or Miller with the 31st pick in Round 1.
Round 3 – No. 95
This is where the Patriots could go for Tom Brady's heir apparent. Plenty of quarterbacks should be left on the board at No. 95. Granted, Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Rosen, Allen, Rudolph, and Lamar Jackson most likely won't stick around until Round 3.
But, quarterbacks like Washington State's Luke Falk, Texa Tech's Nic Shimonek, Toledo's Logan Woodside, and Richmond's Kyle Lauletta might be around at pick 95. The thing is, New England didn't draft Jimmy Garoppolo until Round 2. They drafted Tom Brady in Round 7. Who's to say that Shimonek, Woodside, Lauletta, or Falk doesn't turn into the next Garoppolo, or, maybe, even the next Tom Brady?
Josh McDaniels does know how to get the most out of quarterbacks. He made the playoffs as the head coach of the Denver Broncos with Tim Tebow as his starting QB. If McDaniels could pull off that miracle, he could do wonders with someone like Falk or Shimonek.
Round 6 – No. 198, No. 210
Round 7 – No. 219
At this point in the NFL Draft, most teams will look to find players that can serve as insurance if a starter gets hurt. The New England Patriots haven't been the most dominant franchise in the NFL since 2000 by being like most teams. The Patriots, no doubt, will look to package these 3 picks and move up in the draft. Once there, they'll look for an impact player. That impact player could take all sorts of forms.
My guess, is that New England has already circled Middle Tennessee State WR Richie James. James is in the mold of those slot receivers that McDaniel covets. He's a faster version of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. The fact that the Patriots traded Brandin Cooks means that they're comfortable leaning on Edelman. That doesn't mean they can't use another slot WR that can take it to the house. James can do that.
Not only can James excel in the slot position, he can also run the wildcat offense. Just having James on the field, even at his 5'9″, 178 lbs. size, could force defenses to make tough decisions. My guess, is that the New England Patriots know all about underrated Richie James. Don't be surprised if New England has a plan to draft James somewhere from Round 4 through Round 6.
No matter what the New England Patriots do, the 2018 NFL Draft promises to be the most exciting for the Patriots and their fans in a long time.