The New England Patriots have been a remorseless winning machine for the better part of 20 years now under Bill Belichick’s rule. How they have won has evolved over the years though. Their trio of Super Bowls in the early part of the 21st century were built around a strong defense and an offense that had a knack for scoring at the most important moments.
Their most recent two were achieved on the arm of Tom Brady. His fourth quarter comebacks against Seattle and Atlanta broke the hearts of two fanbases that were sure they had already won.
This offseason there was some worry that neither formula would be viable for them. The 2017 defense was a mess, and then the Malcolm Butler situation unfolded during Super Bowl LII and the hero of Super Bowl XLIX walked away in free agency, further damaging the unit. Left tackle Nate Solder, who had been one of the most consistent and reliable pieces of the Patriots roster since he was drafted in 2011, was offered an enormous contract by the New York Giants and left town, leaving Brady’s blindside exposed.
Two problems to solve, two first round picks. Sounds like a simple solution really, but the Patriots are never simple.
Building the line
The Patriots used their first pick, #23, on Georgia’s tackle Isaiah Wynn. Perhaps the most technically savvy and versatile lineman in the class, Wynn’s short arms had many projecting him as a guard at the pro level, but his remarkable foot speed and performance at college suggest he could well be a viable left tackle in the NFL.
So Wynn is in the building and ready to roll, but one man does not rebuild an offensive line. Solder wasn't the only tackle the Patriots lost in free agency, and there is plenty of worry about their right guard spot as well.
Before the second round even got under way Belichick had added another tackle in freshly replaced 49ers OT Trent Brown. Coming off shoulder surgery there was some risk, but after the 49ers drafted Mike McGlinchey the asking price was very little.
Two new tackles, or maybe a tackle and a guard. That's the kind of chess pieces an offensive line guru like Dante Scarnecchia can create havoc with. But what about the defense?
Defensive question marks
The Patriots used their second first round pick, #31, on running back Sony Michel. They traded out of the #43 and #51 picks in the second round before eventually selecting Florida cornerback Duke Dawson.
He will certainly help fill a spot, but the Patriots have a miserable record when it comes to day two defensive backs, so fans shouldn't get too excited about him. They traded out of their third round pick too, and then traded out of the fourth round three times.
Maneuvering around the draft is a Belichick specialty, and there is very little actual difference between a fourth round prospect and a seventh rounder, but after taking Dawon at #56, New England didn't pick again until #143 when they added Ja'Whaun Bentley, a Purdue linebacker. They doubled up on linebacker with Christian Sam at #178 and took CB Keion Crossen at #243, but that was it for the Patriots defensively.
While they added players like Jason McCourty, Danny Shelton, and Adrian Clayborn before the draft, the lack of high investment, especially in the likes of Harold Landry and Josh Jackson available at the end of the first round has seen many scratch their heads.
The Patriots lack of defensive playmakers, especially when it comes to pressuring the passer, makes them entirely reliant on stellar offensive production, and even when they get that they are still vulnerable. It looks like the same weaknesses that plagued them in 2017 will do so again in 2018. But at least they still have Tom Brady.
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