Sunday, April 23, 2017

Assessing The Patriots' Roster With Draft Looming

The New England Patriots have 65 players on their preseason roster, 25 short of the 90 man limit heading into offseason workouts and, ultimately, training camp - and what you see thus far is pretty much what Patriots' fans are liable to get when camp breaks in early September.
Hightower and Roberts in Super Bowl

After all, the Patriots have already had their "draft", per se, as they have traded their top draft capital to New Orleans and Carolina for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Kony Ealy, respectively - not to mention that in free agency they picked up another defensive end in Lawrence Guy, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and running back Rex Burkhead, leaving them with an early third-round selection as their first pick of the 2017 draft.

With so many camp spots left to fill, and with so few draft picks in which to fill them, there are many opportunities for undrafted rookies and marginal veteran talents to earn a surprise spot on the roster or on the practice squad.

Quarterbacks (3)

Tom Brady
Jimmy Garoppolo
Jacoby Brissett

Jimmy Clipboard isn't going anywhere, hammering home the notion that he is viewed to be the future of the franchise.  Many writers and fans find it curious that the team isn't willing to part with Garoppolo to gain value for him in the final year of his rookie contract, but all these folks have to do is look around the league to see teams that have everything else in place, but aren't as successful as they should be because they don't have a franchise quarterback...

Chances of drafting a quarterback: Zero

Candidates for draft if Garoppolo dealt: Central Michigan's Cooper Rush

Possible veteran signings if Garoppolo dealt: Matt McGloin (Oakland), 

Running Backs (7)

James White
Dion Lewis
Rex Burkhead
*Mike Gillislee
Brandon Bolden
D.J. Foster
James Develin
Glenn Gronkowski

With the only question mark being whether or not the Bills will match New England's offer sheet to Gillislee, this is a solid group that will be pared down to five players at final cutdowns - bad news for Gronkowski and possibly Foster...and anyone who had designs of being drafted by the team.

Chances of drafting a running back: If Gillislee stays, minimal.  If Gillislee remains with Buffalo, very good.

Candidates being Wyoming's Brian Hill, Pitt's James Connor, Wisconsin's Dare Ogunbowale, Boise State's Jeremy McNichols

Veterans that could be signed include LeGarrette Blount (NE), Adrian Peterson (Minn), Justin Forsett (Balt)

Wide Recievers (8)

Julian Edelman
Danny Amendola
Chris Hogan
Malcolm Mitchell
Brandin Cooks
Devin Lucien
Matthew Slater
De'Andrew White

How many receivers does a team actually need?  A better question for Patriots' fans may be, how many very good receivers does a team actually need?

The Patriots generally keep four receivers on the 53 man roster - not counting Slater who is a receiver by label only - but this season it looks like it's going to be six, because who do you cut?  Certainly not Cooks, whom Belichick gave up a first round draft pick for, not Edelman nor Hogan.  Amendola is as clutch as clutch can be and took a serious pay cut to stay with the team and Malcolm Mitchell qualifies as an emerging threat bordering on stardom...

Chances of drafting a receiver: Zero

Tight Ends (4)

Rob Gronkowski
Dwayne Allen
Rob Housler
Matt Lengel

Gronkowski is perhaps the greatest mismatch in the league today when he's healthy, while Allen has never lived up to his full potential as a hybrid, move tight end, and may not get the touches to do much more in Foxborough, as the pass catching talent on the roster is among the league's best, and certainly the most versatile...

...which is even worse news for Housler, who is a receiver only and never saw a man he could block.  Lengel has a chance to stick on the roster due to his blocking prowess, but given all of the aforementioned talent on the roster, his spot is nowhere close to being guaranteed.

Chances of drafting a tight end: 50/50, if the Patriots feel they need to develop a long-term player.

Candidates being Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges, Ashland's Adam Shaheen, Washington's Darrell Daniels.

Offensive Tackles (5)

Nate Solder
LaAdrian Waddle
Marcus Cannon
Cam Fleming
Michael Williams

Solder had a terrible first half of last season, but came on at the end, while Cannon had such a great season that he was named a second-team All Pro.  Solder's cap hit is enormous this season, and if his 2017 is anything like the second half of last season, he will be demanding huge dollars.  Cannon turned in an excellent performance and is under contract for the foreseeable future.

Fleming is invaluable as a swing tackle, while Waddle is apparently fragile, but a decent depth option if healthy.  Williams is actually a massive tight end converted to tackle - but none would be able to fill Solder's shoes in the event of emergency or attrition.

Chances of drafting an offensive tackle: Almost certain

Candidates being Troy's Antonio Garcia, Florida State's Roderick Johnson, Texas A&M's Avery Gennesey, Bucknell's Julie'n Davenport, Alabama State's Jylan Ware.

Available veteran tackles: Ryan Clady (Den), Sebastian Vollmer (NE)

Offensive Guards (5)

Joe Thuney
Shaq Mason
Chase Farris
Chris Barker
Jamil Douglass

Thuney was roughed up in pass protection in his rookie year, but Mason made great strides and was the most improved player on the team.  Behind those two are huge question marks and untested depth with the release of Tre' Jackson last week due to injury concerns.  This could be Barker's chance to finally ascend from the Practice squad, but the Patriots likely won't take any chances and are likely to pick up another guard through the draft or free agency.

Chances of drafting a guard: Certain

Candidates being Pitt's Dorian Johnson, LSU's Ethan Pocic, Western Michigan's Taylor Moton, Utah's Isaac Asiata, Texas A&M's Jermaine Eluemunor, TCU's Aviante Collins.

Available veteran guards: Mike Harris (Minn), Jahari Evans (NO)

Centers (2)

David Andrews
Ted Karras

Both players are mean scrappers.  No need to upset that apple cart.  In a pinch, both Mason and Thuney have experience at center, so the position should be set.

Chances of drafting a center: Zero

Defensive Tackles (5)

Alan Branch
Malcolm Brown
Vincent Valentine
Woodrow Hamilton
Darius Kilgo

Branch, Brown and Valentine represent one of the best interior rotations in the NFL, and Hamilton is a project with tremendous upside.  When New England goes into their three-man line in the Big Nickel variation ends Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy reduce down to become effective five-technique rushers.

Chances of drafting a defensive tackle: Slim

Available veteran tackles: Jared Odrick (Jac), Sen"Derrick Marks (Jac)

Defensive Ends (5)

Trey Flowers
Rob Ninkovich
Geneo Grissom
Kony Ealy
Lawrence Guy

Flowers is on the verge of superstardom, which means the Patriots need to extend him quickly to avoid the inevitable contract squabbles.  Ninkovich is a warrior with lots of miles on him, but still a capable edge setter while Ealy is young, but mostly a situational edge rusher.  Guy is an unknown and underrated five and seven technique end who graded out as PFF's number ten rated edge setter last season.

Depth is certainly a concern, and the best case scenario is for the Patriots to bring in an all-purpose end to compete for three-down duties.

Chances of drafting a defensive end: Certain

Candidates being Wisconsin's T.J. Watt, Florida State's DeMarcus Walker, Ohio's Tarell Basham, Youngstown State's Derek Rivers, Villnova's Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Available veteran edge defenders: none of consequence

Linebackers (6)

Dont'a Hightower
Kyle Van Noy
Shea McClellin
Elandon Roberts
Trevor Bates
Jonathan Freeney

The re-signing of Hightower augments the presence of Van Noy and McClellin to form an intriguing linebacking corps with plenty of interior depth with Roberts and Freeny.  If there is a need, it is for a cover backer, which always seems to be a need in New England, who typically drops a safety down onto the second level to handle those duties on passing downs.

Chances of drafting a linebacker: 50/50

Candidates being Louisville's Josh Harvey-Clemons, Houston's Tyus Bowser.

Available veteran linebackers: Perry Riley (Oak), Gerald Hodges (SF)

Cornerbacks (6)

Stephon Gilmore
Malcolm Butler
Eric Rowe
Cyrus Jones
Jonathan Jones
Justin Coleman

Gilmore, Butler and Rowe represent the best set of corners in the league - if they remain together.  At this point, it doesn't make any sense to break them up, giving Belichick a nice problem in finding enough playing time for all three, plus getting some dime work in for Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman.

Butler may or may not still be on the trading block after signing his very affordable tender, and if he does indeed leave, the unproven depth behind Gilmore and Rowe may be enough to make the Patriots look at corners in the draft.

Chances of drafting a cornerback: 50/50, depending on Butler's situation

Candidates being Michigan's Jourdan Lewis, Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley, West Virginia's Rasul Douglas, Houston's Howard Wilson, Central Florida's Shaquill Griffin, Temple's Nate Hairston, Michigan's Channing Stribling and Utah's Brian Allen

Available veteran cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis (NYJ), Alterraun Verner (TB)

Safeties (6)

Devin McCourty
Patrick Chung
Duron Harmon
Nate Ebner
Jordan Richards
Brandon King

McCourty, Chung and Harmon represent the best set of safeties in the league, and allow Belichick to run his Big Nickel without fear.  Ebner and King are special teams standouts, leaving only the thus-far disappointing Jordan Richards as depth, and with Chung reaching 30 years old during camp, the need for a strong safety is great.

Some of the corners already mentioned fir the Patriots need for a physical box safety with coverage ability - Tankersley, Griffin and Allen come to mind, but there are other candidates coming out of college as safeties.

Chances of drafting a safety: Good

Candidates include Louisville's Josh Harvey-Clemons, UConn's Obi Melifonwu, Florida's Quincey Wilson, Utah's Marcus Williams, Air Force's Weston Steelhammer

Available veteran safeties: Duke Ihenacho (Wash), Shamarko Thomas (Pitt)

Kickers (3)

Joe Cardona
Ryan Allen
Stephen Gostkowski

Cardona and Allen continue their steady play, and Gostkowski is decently reliable on field goals, but extra points seem to give him trouble - and being that he's missed extra points in championship games two seasons in a row has to be disconcerting to Belichick.  That said, it is still a longshot for the team to bring in any competition, though it is certainly possible.

Chances of drafting a kicker: Remote

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