The New England Patriots’ roster has seen some change since the beginning of free agency. Past Super Bowl hero and starting cornerback Malcolm Butler signed a long-term contract with the Tennessee Titans, something the Patriots continually refused to offer him. Long time left tackle Nate Solder signed with the New York Giants to become the highest paid tackle in the NFL. Additionally, starting slot wide receiver and consistently clutch performer Danny Amendola signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins. Dion Lewis, who worked his way into the starting running back role during New England’s run to the Super Bowl, joined Butler with the Tennessee Titans.
New England, attempting to keep pace with their personnel losses, has made additions to their roster in the forms of Danny Shelton, Jason McCourty, Adrian Clayborn, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Both former Cleveland players are talented and fill needs on the Patriots’ roster. Shelton, the former 12th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, should start as a run stuffing defensive tackle next to incumbent Malcolm Brown. McCourty, the twin brother of Patriots free safety Devin McCourty, brings experience (104 starts) to the Patriots’ secondary. He will be 31 years old by the start of the season, and at this stage of his career is probably best suited as a team’s second option at cornerback. Clayborn is a solid edge rusher who should be a contributor immediately. With some talent and developing rookie pass rushers, the unit as a whole should be better in 2018. Patterson has always been more of a talent than a producer, but is a movable piece and an excellent ball carrier and return man.
Round 1 Pick 31 (31st Overall) – Kolton Miller – UCLA OT
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) March 16, 2018
With Solder heading to the New York Giants and 2017 third round pick Antonio Garcia still recovering from blood clots, left tackle is probably the most glaring need on the Patriots’ roster. Miller has gotten Solder comparisons as a prospect, as a tall and lean left tackle with technique issues in pass protection. Miller is very athletic for a left tackle, with great mobility in the run game and potential as a pass protector because of his elite athleticism. If anyone can get the most out of Miller, it’s Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Round 2 Pick 11 (43rd Overall) – Quenton Meeks – Stanford CB
With pass coverage already a glaring need entering the offseason, coupled with losing Malcolm Butler to Tennessee, a cornerback is almost guaranteed to be taken by New England in the first two days of the NFL Draft. Quenton Meeks has excellent size for a cornerback, has good change of direction skills, stays in phase against vertical routes, and is able to locate and track passes quickly. New England has been linked to Meeks during the pre-draft process and have dipped into the Stanford well before, taking a Cardinal player in two of the last four drafts.
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) February 26, 2018
Round 2 Pick 31 (63rd Overall) – Uchenna Nwosu – USC EDGE/LB
The Patriots covet versatility, and Nwosu has that in spades. Nwosu projects as a standup linebacker, but can rush off of the edge on third downs. At USC, Nwosu had 9.5 sacks with his elite first step off of the edge. He also flashed ball skills with 13 pass deflections and 1 interception, showing that he has potential as a rangy player. With the Patriots lacking a dominant pass rusher and in need of linebacker help, Nwosu can be a chess piece and contribute to the group effort of getting after the quarterback.
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) February 26, 2018
Round 3 Pick 31 (95th Overall) – Justin Jones – NC State DL
I’ve often talked about how good McGlinchey/Nelson was for Notre Dame OL. Jones/Chubb duo at NC State is pretty damn good for a defense. Pay attention to the right side of the line. Chubb off the edge with a swim and Jones just blows up this RG (71). WHEW! pic.twitter.com/ZaPlfZwHDD
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) March 20, 2018
With Bill Belichick getting a firsthand look at the NC State defensive line at their pro day, and interior defensive line a potential need for the Patriots, expect them to target a player like Justin Jones. New England drafted two players from NC State in 2016, and their rapport with coach Dave Doeren seems strong. Justin Jones would fit as a rotational player with different playstyles from Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton, with his ability to rush the passer and play behind the line of scrimmage (22.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks in his time at NC State).
Round 4 Pick 36 (136th Overall – Comp) – Durham Smythe – Notre Dame TE
Rob Gronkowski has flirted with retirement this offseason, and Smythe could provide youth and upside at the position. Smythe is a well-rounded tight end with strong ability as a down blocker, and he shows great body control as a receiver. With Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly firmly in the Bill Belichick trust tree, Smythe seems like a future Patriot and would provide strong value at this point in the draft.
Notre Dame TE Durham Smythe seals top 10 pick Bradley Chubb on consecutive plays. Gets his hips in the hole with a good base, hands inside and continues to drive his legs pic.twitter.com/1slWjKnwlY
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) February 28, 2018
Round 6 Pick 36 (210th Overall) – Shaun Dion Hamilton – Alabama LB
The story of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban’s friendship is well documented, and depth linebacker is a potential need after Shea McClellin’s release. Shaun Dion Hamilton’s on-field play could have gotten him drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, but an unfortunate injury has derailed his stock. At this stage in the draft, if Hamilton is able to regain his form post-injury, this selection would provide tremendous value. Hamilton has the coverage skills needed from the modern NFL linebacker, and he projects perfectly as a sub-package player at the next level.
Round 7 Pick 1 (219th Overall) – Sean Welsh – Iowa IOL
New England has two depth interior offensive linemen from Iowa in Cole Croston and James Ferentz (son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz). With New England potentially losing three offensive linemen to free agency, another depth selection could be in play and Sean Welsh would be strong value at the top of the 7th round. He is a “typical” Hawkeye offensive lineman, playing with good technique and pad level, despite being only an average athlete without dominating size.