Patriots' 2018 draft picks: Lamar Jackson firmly in play with two first-rounders

If you think the Patriots have had a wild offseason since NFL free agency began, just wait until they're on the clock in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Patriots draft picks 2018: Lamar Jackson firmly in play with two first-rounders

Patriots draft picks 2018: Lamar Jackson firmly in play with two first-rounders

Gone from the reigning AFC champions are notable names like cornerback Malcolm Butler, left tackle Nate Solder, right tackle Cameron Fleming, running back Dion Lewis and wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks. The notable arrivals so far include cornerback Jason McCourty, wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson and defensive linemen Danny Shelton and Adrian Clayborn.



After one blockbuster trade last season (Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers) and a the surprise move this offseason (Cooks to the Rams), the Patriots are up to eight draft selections later this month, with half of them coming in the first two rounds.

MOCK DRAFT 2018:
Patriots land new QB in Round 1

With Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still around, New England maintains its status as a strong Super Bowl contender for 2018, even with the big veteran changes. But the team is also in semi-rebuild mode as it prepares for near-future life without Brady. It also has pressing needs at other key positions, especially for the now Matt Patricia-less defense.

Here's a look at how things might play out for the Patriots as they sit on another arsenal of picks in their NFL Draft war room.


Patriots draft picks in 2018


Round 1 No. 23 (from Rams)
Round 1 No. 31
Round 2 No. 43 (from 49ers)
Round 2 No. 63
Round 3 No. 95
Round 6 No. 198 (from Rams)
Round 6 No. 210 (from Raiders)
Round 7 No. 219 (from Browns)

Patriots draft needs in 2018


Offensive tackle: The Patriots suddenly are shaky in blindside pass protection without Solder, as their best options now are the re-signed LaAdrian Waddle, free-agent flyer Matt Tobin and 2017 third-rounder Antonio Garcia. They could afford to let Fleming walk because of the projected healthy return of stud right tackle Marcus Cannon from his season-ending ankle injury. So look for New England to target a big, athletic presence who can complement Cannon.

Linebacker: Dont'a Hightower had his 2017 season cut short by a torn pectoral. Kyle Van Noy often struggled after signing an extension in September. Marquis Flowers was re-signed, but he's not a real starting option. Versatility, depth and playmaking upside are all lacking at this position; it's something Belichick will address now that he has his hands more on the defense without Patricia.

Quarterback: Before Garoppolo was moved, so was Jacoby Brissett. Behind Brady, there is only Brian Hoyer. With Brady turning 41 in August, the team needs to add a developmental prospect somewhere in the draft.



Edge rusher: Clayborn was a good get, but he did most of his sack damage for the Falcons in a situational rotational role. Returning end Trey Flowers led a productive committee with 6 1/2 of the team's 42 sacks, but New England's pass rush overall last season was inconsistent.

Cornerback: McCourty replaces Butler in the short term, but he becomes a 31-year-old free agent in 2019. Behind Stephon Gilmore and McCourty, there's Eric Rowe, also in a contract year, and not much else. That makes corner a priority position for multiple selections.

Wide receiver: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are all coming off injury-marred seasons. The shot on Matthews in the slot helps restore some depth with Amendola and Cooks gone, but the Patriots should look to add a pass-catcher who can make big plays at either wideout or tight end.

NFL DRAFT BIG BOARD:
Top 50 players in 2018 class


First-round plan


No. 23: Lamar Jackson QB, Louisville or Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
No 31: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

The Patriots have gone from having no first-rounders in the previous two drafts to having a pair of them for the first time since 2012, when they landed Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones. As much as the Pats need help at those positions again, the Cooks deal puts them more in the wheelhouse of early values for the offense.

These selections are reversed in Sporting News' latest mock draft, with Miller going No. 23 and Rudolph at No. 31. But the stock of the two QBs "behind" USC's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield keeps rising. Garoppolo and Brissett with their athleticism developed well behind Brady, and both Jackson and Rudolph fit the same profile.

Adapting to Jackson's speedy, quick skill set would take patience, and returning offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can get the most out of him. Jackson also has a growing edge over Rudolph, because what he did at Louisville translates better to the Patriots' playbook. It makes sense for New England lean that way at No. 23, especially with the chance to also get Miller several picks later.



Second-guessing that plan


Because this is unpredictable, never-desperate New England, it could blow up that plan and go defense back-to-back with its two first-rounders.

At linebacker, based on where the Pats are picking, Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch and Alabama's Rashaan Evans will present appeal. At cornerback, based on another Belichick college connection, Iowa's Josh Jackson will get consideration should he remain available, with UCF's Mike Hughes as another reasonable option.

Should the Patriots go offensive line in Round 1, the idea of taking Miller could go out the window if Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey is available at No. 23. At defensive line, Ohio State end Sam Hubbard is their type of guy they could take at No. 31. At wide receiver, SMU's Courtland Sutton would be preferred over Maryland's D.J. Moore.

The only certainty about New England's first round is there will be a dramatic twist, whether that's selecting Jackson or something completely different with both picks.


Don't be surprised if ...


The Patriots trade up twice. This happened in 2012, when they slid up from No. 27 to No. 21 to land Jones, and then from No. 31 to No. 25 to get Hightower. There's a feeling the Patriots might pull off another blockbuster to reach the top 10 and take Mayfield, but they are more likely to make more subtle moves if there are one or two players they like at quarterback or a defensive position.

NFL POWER RANKINGS:
Where Patriots stand entering NFL Draft


Day 2 plan


Pick Nos. 43, 63 and No. 95 give the Patriots a ton of flexibility. For their top second-rounder, of the players mentioned above, Rudolph and Hubbard are most likely to be available. Stanford safety Justin Reid, South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert and Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington also would be solid picks.

A little later, Clemson wide receiver Deon Cain and Georgia running back Sony Michel would be the offensive cogs to covet, while two edge rushers, Florida State's Josh Sweat and Wake Forest's Duke Ejiofor, stand out for their second second-rounder.

Going into the third round, USC defensive tackle Rasheem Green and Louisville edge rusher Trevon Young are appealing. If New England does not take Jackson or Rudolph early, the best quarterback targets to close Day 2 are Washington State's Luke Falk and Richmond's Kyle Lauletta.


Day 3 sleeper


Rlley Ferguson, QB, Memphis. Ferguson at 6-4, 215 pounds has prototypical, Brady-like size with the natural accuracy and efficiency from the pocket the Patriots demand. He's a little thin and needs to improve his footwork, mechanics and delivery, but those are coachable aspects of his game. Although other positions would provide the Patriots more short-term help, all eyes will be on who New England tabs as Brady's new successor.


MORE:
What teams need QB most, least in 2018 NFL Draft?

Patriots NFL Draft 2018: Final thoughts


The Patriots of late have not gotten much of an impact from the draft, as they haven't had the necessary picks to manipulate the board exactly how Belichick would like. They wield that great power now, and everyone knows it comes with great responsibility. Don't expect anything less than amazing when we look back on this transition class for New England five years or so later.

Back To Top