FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When looking at the New England Patriots' history in the NFL draft under coach Bill Belichick, one theme often emerges: Their selections are often made not with the present season in mind, but the season after that.
One of the most notable examples came in 2011, when the club made offensive tackle Nate Solder its first-round selection (No. 17) despite having incumbents in Matt Light (left tackle) and Sebastian Vollmer (right tackle) on the roster.
Knowing that Light was on the cusp of retirement and his return in 2012 was unlikely, the Patriots figured it would be smart business to bring in his potential replacement a year early to groom in the system. That has worked out well for the team.
In general, Belichick prefers not to rely on rookies too quickly, which is reflected in how linebacker Jamie Collins was brought along in 2013 after he was the team's top pick (second round, No. 52 overall). Collins played in only 25 percent of the defensive snaps that first season.
So when considering how the Patriots might fill roster holes through the 2016 draft, it often helps to look ahead to 2017.
Running back is a spot that figures to draw attention. While top power back LeGarrette Blount was re-signed last Tuesday to be part of the short-term solution, there's still a need when projecting into '17.
Cornerback is another spot of note, as returning starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are both in the final year of their deals (Butler will be a restricted free agent, making it easier for the team to retain him).
Ditto at offensive tackle, where Vollmer and Marcus Cannon are in the same situation, and at defensive tackle, where No. 2 man Alan Branch and projected No. 3 man Terrance Knighton are scheduled for free agency after the season.
Some also put linebacker into the mix, as Collins and Dont'a Hightower are in contract years, although one would think they rank highly when it comes to prioritizing contract extensions.
Finally, receiver is one of the older positions on the roster, so bringing a high-upside younger prospect into the mix would make sense.
In ESPN analyst Todd McShay's three-round mock draft, he seemed to be thinking along the same lines, as he gave the Patriots a receiver, cornerback, defensive tackle and running back.
Such a scenario would improve the Patriots in 2016, with the likely more significant breakthrough really coming in 2017.