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2017 NFL Draft New England Patriots: Top needs, suggested picks, current outlook

By
Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com
New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have just reloaded for another strong run at a Super Bowl victory. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have just reloaded for another strong run at a Super Bowl victory. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

After their amazing comeback to win Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots kept the pedal to the metal with major transactions showing the ongoing threat that they are not done yet.

With the future home of cornerback Malcolm Butler in question, they signed Stephon Gilmore (Bills) to the largest free-agent deal in franchise history ($65 million, 5 years) and traded for speedy, young former Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Kony Ealy (Panthers).

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The Patriots traded their first round pick (No. 32 overall) and a third-round pick to the Saints for the two-time 1,000-yard receiver. Owner Bob Kraft compared Cooks' potential impact to that of former star Randy Moss.

The team also re-signed Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

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Meanwhile, Butler and backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continue to get as much attention by teams as well as the media. Butler, the former undrafted rookie who made perhaps the biggest defensive play in Super Bowl history, has not signed his restricted free-agent tender and has interest from the Saints, at least.

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Garoppolo, whose efficiency was statistically better than that of Tom Brady in his starts last season, is a potential free agent next year and is strong trade bait as teams look at a mediocre class of quarterbacks in the draft. But with Brady 39 years old, the Patriots may not be eager to let go.

One mitigating factor: Trades leave the Patriots with the No. 72 selection as their first pick -- for now.

Here is a closer look at where the Patriots are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, such as it is.

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THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 1st AFC East (14-2)

STATISTICS

TOTAL OFFENSE: 386.3 (4th)

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RUSHING: 117.0 (7th)

PASSING: 269.3 (4th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 326.4 (8th)

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RUSHING: 88.6 (T3rd)

PASSING: 237.9 (12th)

TEAM NEEDS

1. Defensive end: The offseason saw Jabaal Sheard (Colts) and Chris Long (Eagles) depart, while Rob Ninkovich continues to age and show a decline in production. New England could look to add another young edge playmaker with potential to pair with developing star Trey Flowers, who had a breakout second half of 2016 capped by an impressive Super Bowl. Many consider edge players one of the deepest groups in this year's draft.

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2. Tackle: With left tackle Nate Solder heading into the final year of his current contract and no logical replacement on the roster, New England could seek tackle depth on draft weekend to protect itself at the position moving forward. After adding to the youth movement on the interior of the line the last few years, the Patriots may need to dig into a tackle class that's not overly impressive.

3. Tight end/running back: The top of the depth chart at tight end is stocked, but Rob Gronkowski and newcomer Dwayne Allen certainly have injury histories. Adding a developmental No. 3 tight end might be enticing. At running back, the team could very well be in line for a young, big-bodied talent to replace LeGarrette Blount in the committee backfield, joining the likes of versatile newcomer Rex Burkhead and James White/Dion Lewis.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

DT Alan Branch: Unrestricted free agent; $8.45M/2 yrs, $2.5M SB/$3M guaranteed.

CB Justin Coleman: ERFA; terms unknown.

FB James Develin: Potential UFA; $2.45M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.

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S Duron Harmon: UFA; $17M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$6.5M guaranteed.

LB Dont'a Hightower: UFA; $35.5M/4 yrs, $10M SB/$19M guaranteed, $2M injury only at time of signing.

TE Michael Williams: Not tendered as RFA; $540K/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

TE Dwayne Allen (trade Colts).

RB Rex Burkhead: UFA Bengals; $3.15M/1 yr, $1.1M SB.

WR Brandin Cooks (trade Saints).

DE Kony Ealy (trade Panthers).

CB Stephon Gilmore: UFA Bills; $65M/5 yrs, $18M SB/$40M guaranteed, , $9M injury only at time of signing.

DE Lawrence Guy: UFA Ravens; $13.4M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$4.9M guaranteed, $1.4M injury only at time of signing.

PLAYERS LOST

TE Martellus Bennett: UFA Packers; $21M/3 yrs, $6.3M SB.

DE Chris Long: UFA Eagles; $11.25M/4 yrs, $500K SB/$1.5M guaranteed (2018-2020 option years).

LB Barkevious Mingo: UFA Colts; $2M/1 yr, $500K SB.

CB Logan Ryan: UFA Titans; $30M/3 yrs, $2M SB/$16M guaranteed, $6M injury only at time of signing.

DE Jabaal Sheard: UFA Colts; $25.5M/3 yrs, $12.75M guaranteed; $7M injury only at time of signing.

T Sebastian Vollmer (released/failed physical).

MOCK DRAFT

NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 72 overall, 3rd round).

Rob Rang:

Trey Henderickson, DE, Florida Atlantic. Given their needs up front, an instinctive and relatively pro-ready edge rusher like Hendrickson -- the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and FAU's all-time leader in sacks (29.5), tackles for loss (41) and forced fumbles (seven) -- could be a target.

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Dane Brugler:

Ryan Anderson, LB, Alabama. Anderson is one of the most intense players in this class and his chameleon style fits whatever scheme Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick want to run in base and sub-packages.

Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?

Based on the team's current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see NFLDraftScout.com's full mocks and ratings.

Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.

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