NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
So I lied. I said late last week that I would be starting on scouting reports. Don’t worry, I am working on those as well, but I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the team from a needs standpoint before going into the players the Patriots will be looking at in next year’s draft. We are just past the quarter point in the season, and the Patriots are sitting at their usual spot on top of the AFC East. That does not mean the Patriots are perfect. In fact, they are far from it. Before we get into the nitty gritty of scouting reports, lets identify what positions the Patriots may need to address when they are on the clock in the 2017 NFL Draft.
I don’t think we could have asked for much more from Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett over the first four games of the season, but it sure is nice to have Tom Brady back. That feels really good to say-Tom Brady is back! As we sit here today, I am very comfortable with the position. Obviously, if Jimmy G were to be moved this off season, another young guy could be brought in. I think the team has to like what they saw in a limited capacity from the rookie Brissett and Brady still shows no signs of wearing down. For me, this position will take a low priority in my scouting evaluations once again this year.
I have made my thoughts on Blount very clear on this site. I am no fan. I will never understand why a guy his size runs the way he does. He jumps around laterally way too much for my liking and he really struggles to pick up the tough yards needed. I feel he goes down way to easy and needs to use his physical gifts more to his advantage. This team does not need an electric runner in the backfield, but a guy who can consistently pick up 3 to 4 yards. I think James White continues to develop as a pass catcher and has shown he can make plays when given some space. DJ Foster has had a limited role, but he looks explosive with the ball in his hands and could be another change of pace weapon. We are still waiting to see what Dion Lewis will be when he gets back.
I think the Patriots have good talent and depth at the smaller, shiftier type runner. What they need is that reliable bigger back who can grind out tough yards between the Tackles. Again, I don’t think it needs to be a marquee type player, but a guy the team can rely on to do his job and consistently get positive yards. This will be a position I look at very closely again this year, and if you have followed the draft at all over the past year, you have heard that this Runningback class is supposed to be very deep.
This is a position I find myself on the fence. There is no denying the talent of the group. Edelman, Amendola, and Hogan fit the system perfectly and rookie Wide Receiver Malcolm Mitchell looks like the real deal in his limited time. However, there is a good chance Amendola is gone after this season and Edelman is getting a little older and the injuries are starting to pile up. I do not see this as a major need in the short term, but it is a position I will keep an eye on.
I think we can all see how important and how effective the Patriots offense can be with 2 very talented Tight Ends on the field at the same time. Gronk is arguably the best Tight End to ever play the game, but the injury concerns are real. Martellus Bennett has come in and played great so far for the Patriots, but he is getting older, is on his last year of his contract, and has a track record of wearing out his welcome in other places. Right now, things look great, and I like what AJ Derby has shown as well, but Belichick has wanted this two Tight End set since it was so effective many years back and seeing it be effective this year again may make him think long and hard about getting another young, talented guy in the fold. This Tight End class probably has more talent in it than in the last five years, so I could see the Patriots use a pick on one of them, so this is another position I will be keeping my eye on.
This has been a nice surprise so far this season. While the group has not been dominant by any means, they have more than held their own. Seeing a guy like Cameron Fleming fill in at both right and left Tackle and not become a major liability is a testament to the work Scar has done with the group. The young Guards and Center have also done a nice job on the interior. I also feel like Solder is playing some of his best football from the past 2 years. I do think that an infusion of young talent at the Tackle position is needed and might be my top priority right now.
This is position I need to see more of before I decide how big of a need it is. I think we all know that Malcom Brown will be a staple along that line for awhile and a guy like Vincent Valentine has played way more than I thought he would to start the season and has done pretty good. I also like what I have seen from Trey Flowers with his expanded role and getting back Ninkovich should help Chris Long stay fresh and effective. The veterans on this team have played well, but I could see the team wanting to get younger, especially at Defensive End. The pass rush has not been consistent so far this season, and bringing in someone to disrupt the passer off the edge may require a higher draft pick. I don’t see this as a high priority, but something I want to look at closer.
This is a very interesting position. The group has arguably one of the best tandems in the NFL. Collins and Hightower create a 1-2 punch that can do a lot of different things and their games compliment each other very well. The problem is, neither of them are under contract after this year. Now, I have all the confidence in the world that at least one of them will be back next year and hopefully a deal can be worked out with both of them to remain on the team. Behind those two, the Linebacker corp is pretty bare. They did give Freeny a contract extension and it looks like the team likes what they have in Elandon Roberts, but neither of those two guys have the athletic ability to be play makers. This is a position that has to be looked at, but it may not be until later in the draft process when we know the final outcome of the Collins and Hightower situations.
It is my personal belief that a Cornerback should be drafted every year, so I will give this position a good hard look no matter what. I think with the way the secondary has played and the contract situations of the teams starting Corners, the team will be looking hard at this position as well. I have not loved what I have seen out of Logan Ryan this year and rookie 2nd round pick Cyrus Jones has struggled in every aspect of the game so far. Malcolm Butler has played decent this year, but I was hoping for another jump in his progression, and I just have not seen it. This is another position that I think needs to be addressed early in the draft. As far as the Safety position, I have been underwhelmed by their play as well, but not to the extent of the Corners. It would be nice to get a play maker at the Safety position, but the team has invested a lot of resources to the position with very little positive results.
There is a lot of season left to be played, but my initial thoughts on this team have pretty much played out the way I thought they would. Right now, my main. focus will be on Offensive Tackles, Corners and Runningbacks. I also want to keep an eye on the Tight End prospects as well as Linebackers and Defensive Line. Now that I have identified what I think the team needs, I can start to focus my attention on the college prospects at each of the positions.
As always, follow me on twitter @midwestpatsfan