The 2018 NFL Draft begins Thursday night, April 26th, and the New England Patriots are slated to make four selections in the first two rounds. It is possible, and probable considering Bill Belichick’s draft history, that the Patriots move around slightly in the draft order. Nonetheless, here are the best draft options for each of the first four picks that the Patriots currently hold.
Pick No. 23
The Patriots have two glaring holes on their current roster. The second linebacker spot alongside Dont’a Hightower was a weakness last season and was not addressed in free agency. Secondly, the departure of both Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming leaves the tackle spot quite empty. Both should be improved by the end of the first round.
There are two linebackers likely to be selected at the end of the first round: Alabama’s Rashaan Evans and Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. There is some skepticism regarding Vander Esch’s inexperience since he did not play much in his first two seasons and decided to forgo his senior year. Either way, both would be great fits in the New England defensive scheme.
This pick should be used on a linebacker and not a tackle. The Tennessee Titans hold pick No. 25 and the Pittsburgh Steelers hold pick No. 28. Both teams recently lost their starting inside linebackers (Avery Williamson did not return to the Titans after 2017 and instead signed with the New York Jets, while Ryan Shazier’s timetable to return from his tragic injury is unknown) and are expected to find answers in the draft this year.
Pick No. 31
The Patriots are likely to select an offensive tackle early on as well. The top two tackles in the draft are Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Texas’s Connor Williams. Both would enter training camp as the favorite to start at left tackle.
UCLA’s Kolton Miller is also projected to be selected late in the first round, but teams that are projecting him so highly are valuing his size and strength rather than his ability. His potential may be very high, but the Patriots do not necessarily have the time for him to develop. They need a plug-and-play lineman, and Miller is not that guy.
If neither McGlinchey or Williams are available, which is possible, they should select the best available corner. Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver, and Central Florida’s Mike Hughes are likely candidates.
Pick No. 43
Firstly, if the Patriots were unable to address offensive tackle in the first round, this needs to be an offensive tackle. Ohio State’s Jamarco Jones is the best candidate if available, followed by Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby and Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill.
If the Patriots snagged a big-ugly in the first round, the player they should have their eyes on for this pick is LSU defensive back Donte Jackson.
Jackson is fast. He clocked a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and was a member of LSU’s 4×100-meter relay team. Jackson’s natural position is along the sideline, where he spent most of his time at LSU. He is very versatile though with experience at nickel back and free safety.
Jackson would be an excellent nickel corner for the Patriots, allowing Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty to compete for the outside corner spot alongside Stephon Gillmore. He also has value as a returner, which the Patriots lost with Danny Amendola’s departure.
The second-team All-SEC defensive back would make a perfect fit with the Patriots, and could even be taken with pick No. 31.
Pick No. 63
Quarterback has not been addressed yet, and one may find it surprising if the Patriots wait until pick No. 63 to take one.
There have been countless stories about the Patriots working out Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and essentially every other top quarterback prospect. As a result, many analysts have predicted a trade-up by the Patriots in attempt to select their quarterback of the future. All this commotion may be true, but it may also just be Belichick up to his tricky self again.
Three of the teams in top contention for a quarterback are the Jets, the Miami Dolphins, and the Buffalo Bills. These three teams just so happen to face the Patriots twice each year. If the quarterbacks in this draft are going to playing in Belichick’s division for years to come, he’ll want to know their strengths and weaknesses. So, maybe Belichick is genuinely interested in drafting one of them, but he very well could just be doing some early scouting.
Regardless, quarterback will have to be addressed at some point, and Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta seems to have the smarts and skills to be groomed into a future NFL starter. Washington State’s Luke Falk is also a possible selection with this pick.
The ideal Patriots draft would look something like this:
Pick No. 23: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Pick No. 31: OT Connor Williams, Texas
Pick No. 43: DB Donte Jackson, LSU
Pick No. 63: QB Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
The Patriots could select a pass rusher in Day 3, but the trio of Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, and Adrian Clayborn may be enough to help Trey Flowers get to the quarterback.
Wide receiver and running back may also be improved in later rounds.
Jackson Haskins is an NFL writer for DYSTNow.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacksonHaskins1.