Splashy moves in free agency? Big contracts? Acquiring big names? None of this seems like the Patriots we know and love. However, to the pleasant surprise of many New England fans (and to the disgust of the rest of the league), the Patriots have made plenty of moves this free agency. The Pats have just come off of the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history and opened up free agency with a bang. Of course, non-Patriot fans hate the team even more now. The Patriots have signed and traded for big names including Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks. Not to mention the Patriots also traded for solid players like Kony Ealy and Dwayne Allen.
So the Patriots must be perfect, right? They just won the Super Bowl and are making great moves. There can’t be anything left to improve on, right?
That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo. While the Patriots are good, there are still 4 major weaknesses I see. New England could address these weaknesses either in free agency or in the draft. Let’s take a look.
Pressuring the quarterback was easily the Patriots biggest weakness this season. After Bill Belichick traded Chandler Jones, the team never really developed a successful pass rush. Clearly, the rest of the defense suffered due to the lack of sacks. During the beginning of the season, the defense had plenty of troubles before settling into a good rhythm. Many believed that if you fixed the pass rush, the rest of the defense would follow. After all, a cornerback can’t cover a wide receiver forever.
The Patriots traded for Kony Ealy, however, but that is not enough. I expect the Patriots to draft an edge rusher early in the draft. Possibly with their highest draft pick.
Potential Draft Choices:
Jordan Willis, Edge, Kansas state, with pick #72.
Deatrich Wise, Edge, Arkansas, with pick #183
The Jamie Collins trade surprised everyone from fan to reporter. No one saw it coming and many questioned Bill Belichick. Questions circled around the trade and people wondered how would the Patriots defense manage without one of its elite talents.
However, at this point I’ve learned better than to question Bill anymore. Any time Bill makes a move like this, things turn out for the better. In place of Collins, Bill used rotational linebackers to get the job done. The Patriot defense relied on the newly acquired Kyle Van Noy, rookie Elandon Roberts, and former first round pick Shea McClellin. Individually, none of the 3 are as good as Jamie Collins, yet together they managed to fill the void left behind.
While the Patriots defense eventually clicked, they need another stud linebacker to pair with Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots arguably had the best linebacker duo in the league with both Hightower and Collins on the field.
I would expect New England to address this in the draft as well. Bill loves his versatile players. As such, I could see this linebacker double as an edge rusher.
Potential Draft Choice:
Tyus Bowser, LB/Edge, Houston, with pick #131
Side note: Bowser is just an awesome last name. Definitely some great nickname potential here.
Power Running Back:
Belichick usually likes to have a a few different kind of running backs that do different jobs. Recently, LeGarrette Blount has filled the role of power back. However, it is unclear if Blount will return to New England. Regardless if Blount returns, Bill should be looking for a replacement. After all, Blount is already 30 years old.
In free agency, the Patriots signed former Bengals running back Rex Burkhead. Rex was more of a power back coming out of college, but so far has played more of a 3rd down back kind of a role. Could Bill be looking at Rex to be the workhorse back? With 3 other pass-catching backs on the team, it is unclear what Rex’s role will be. It is possible that Burkhead is only going to be used on special teams, and as a replacement for Brandon Bolden.
With all that in mind, I feel that Bill is most likely going to draft a power running back.
Potential Draft Choice:
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh, with pick #163
Last season the Patriots had one of the worst offensive lines in the league. This season the Patriots really turned things around. However, once the playoffs rolled around, it became apparent that bringing pressure up the middle of the line was very effective. The Texans, Steelers, and especially the Falcons all gave New England fits when targeting the interior.
So what’s the issue? I say center David Andrews. Andrews is a good snapper, but not as great of a blocker. While I wouldn’t want to get rid of Andrews, there is definitely room to upgrade.
Left guard Joe Thuney was also a bit of an issue at times. However, Thuney is only a rookie and has plenty of time to develop. Even then, as a rookie, Thuney performed admirably. I would even say Thuney was great, especially at the beginning of the season. Down the stretch Joe struggled but that is common with rookies.
This position is a bit harder to determine what will happen. There is a very real chance that Bill does little to nothing to address the vastly improved offensive line. Especially since this draft class is very weak on offensive line talent. Not to mention, not many teams will be looking to trade away a good center.
Potential Draft Choices:
Ethan Pocic, Center, LSU, with pick #96 or #131
Pat Elflein, Center/G, Ohio State, with pick #96 or #131