- The biggest need, the hidden need and what else the Patriots should be looking for in the 2019 draft.
Two weeks ahead of the NFL draft, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling are breaking down draft needs for all 32 teams. You can also see every team in a single post here.
Biggest Need: Tight End
You may have heard that Rob Gronkowski retired. Even as he started to decline last year (and the decline was much more minor than people perceived), he was invaluable because his versatility gave the offense its daunting flexibility. Gronk allowed the Patriots to align in any formation out of any personnel package. New England doesn’t need to find the next generational tight end to replace Gronk, but they do need one who can catch passes from any receiver location and block effectively in all facets. A tight end like that who is also ready to contribute right away (the Patriots, being built around a soon-to-be 42-year-old quarterback, need him to be) can only be found in Round 1.
Hidden Need: Defensive Tackle
The Patriots won Super Bowl LIII by hammering L.A.’s high-powered offense up front. Unsung stud defensive tackle Malcom Brown was a big part of that. With Brown now a Saint, the Patriots need a new plus-sized “dirty work” guy to pair with incumbent plus-sized dirty work guy Lawrence Guy.
Also Looking For: Wide Receiver
All of New England’s wideouts are playing on expiring contracts. Plus, aside from Julian Edelman and maybe—but only maybe—Phillip Dorsett, none are of starting caliber (assuming Josh Gordon remains unavailable).
Who They Can Get
Iowa's T.J. Hockenson is the best-case scenario for replacing Gronk in 2019, but New England would almost surely have to trade up to get him. If they stay at 32, Hockenson's Iowa teammate Noah Fant is a dynamic receiver, though considering Fant butted heads with a Hawkeyes coaching staff led by Belichick friend Kirk Ferentz (not to mention his underwhelming blocking), Fant might not be their guy. Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. (from a program run by another Belichick friend) will never match Gronk receiving prowess but does have a well-rounded game. Dawson Knox of Ole Miss is also a name to watch—he's overlooked due to a lack of production playing in an offense with three draftable wide receivers, but Knox is a chess piece as far as formationing and will mix it up as a blocker. They could also opt for a big receiver who blocks well on the perimeter, making A.J. Brown of Ole Miss, N'Keal Harry of Arizona State, and Iowa State's Hakeem Butler potential targets. Massive Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence might also make it to the end of Round 1 due to his underwhelming pass-rush skills, but he's a Patriots-style interior lineman.
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