FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are stocked on offense entering the NFL draft, which gives them the flexibility to go in a variety of directions on that side of the ball. Meanwhile, the defense isn’t as solidified across the board, and here is a breakdown:
Arguably the team’s No. 1 need, this spot had its ranks depleted with Jabaal Sheard (Colts) and Chris Long (Eagles) departing in free agency. The Patriots adopted a four-man rotation for most of the 2016 season, and thus, it’s a situation where demand and supply are aligned as the 2017 draft is considered deep at the position. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots double-dip at the position.
The team is well stocked at the heart of the line of scrimmage, where players at this spot generally aren’t on the field in obvious passing situations. Guy was more of a 3-4 defensive end in Baltimore and could play that role in New England’s multiple scheme, or fit more into the more traditional 3-technique role in a traditional four-man front. Lots of flexibility and options here.
Hightower is the one player in the group who wouldn’t come off the field on any down (assuming good health), and then the Patriots pieced it together with the rest of the group in 2016. Roberts was more of an early-down option, while McClellin and Van Noy factored more in sub packages, which is generally the majority of snaps. Freeny spent last season on injured reserve (shoulder) and would fit more into the early-down category.
With Butler entering the last year of his contract, and things looking more like he will be in New England in 2017, the short-term outlook is strong for the Patriots. A Gilmore-Butler combination has potential to be one of the NFL’s best. So any draft pick the Patriots make at this position would likely be with post-2017 in mind, when Butler is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
The entire position returns in 2017. One of the main questions is if Richards, a second-round pick from 2015 out of Stanford, progresses and works his way into the discussion as a possible Chung replacement in the future. If that isn’t on the radar, the need at the position grows a bit.