The excitement has nearly reached a climax in Patriot Nation.
It feels like years since Bill Belichick and the Patriots have had a first-round pick because…well … it's been years since Bill Belichick and the Patriots have had a first-round pick.
Now, as the final hours count down to what promises to be an eventful 2018 NFL Draft for both New England and the rest of the league, the Patriots are as well stocked with picks as almost any team other than the eternally-rebuilding Browns.
The draft is the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure tale. Each decision has ramifications – both payoffs and pitfalls. With two first-round selections, two more in the second and five of the top 95 picks in the three-day affair, trader Bill has more options than Netflix.
From Cleveland's top selection straight through the Eagles (booo!!!) final pick of the first round, the 2018 NFL Draft promises to be must-see TV.
No one really knows how things will play out, but the staff of Patriots Football Weekly is back again to do its best to preview and predict just how it might all unfold from a New England perspective. Weeks and months of research and scouting footage lead up to this one big weekend, both for the teams and the media alike.
The time for mock drafts is done. Now, it's the real deal.
But before Roger Goodell opens up the action from Jerry's World in Dallas, enjoy PFW's stab at predicting how Mr. Unpredictable, aka Belichick, may handle his latest, (hopefully) greatest shot at the NFL Draft.
What do you consider to be the Patriots biggest needs, in order, heading into the 2018 NFL Draft?
Fred Kirsch:Outside linebacker/edge rusher -- I never want to see a quarterback like Nick Foles have time ever again. Cornerback -- we need a No. 2 at that position. Left tackle -- not sure it's coming through the draft, however.
Paul Perillo: For a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance the Patriots have no shortage of needs. I'd rank them as follows – edge rusher, left tackle, linebacker, cornerback, tight end, quarterback, interior OL.
Andy Hart: Nate Solder's free agent departure made left tackle the Patriots biggest need, by far. After that I think it's wide open. I still see big time needs at defensive end and linebacker. Then you get to the developmental needs at quarterback, cornerback, tight end, running back and maybe even guard or wide receiver. Lots of room for "best player available" picks.
Erik Scalavino: Been saying it for years now, but it remains true: New England desperately needs a quality pass rusher. Offensive tackle is my second-biggest concern, although in what's considered a relatively weak class at that position, I don't necessarily want them to reach for someone in the first round. A solid cornerback to start opposite Stephon Gilmore and linebacker talent/depth are my third and fourth priorities.
How will the Patriots make use of their two first-round picks? Trade up? Trade down? Stand Pats
FK: The Patriots will use the 23rd pick and trade out of the first round at 31, picking up picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds.
PP: I think we may see a trade up the board, especially if the expected early run on quarterbacks leaves a desired player available in the mid-to-late teens. The Patriots have the capital to basically do whatever they want.
AH:I think Belichick ends up swinging a deal using No. 23 to move up in the first round. Then I think things will be wide open for No. 31, with the decision to pick or move one way or the other based on the prospects left on the board.
ES: While I'd like them to trade from both spots, it might be more practical to stand pat and select at 23 and 31. Too many roster holes to fill.
Will the Patriots draft a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft? If yes, who?
FK: Possibly in the second round. It seems the Patriots have been associated with every QB in the draft and down to the Pop Warner level. I'll say they choose Mike White from Western Kentucky.
PP: The answer is yes and I could see Western Kentucky's Mike White being the man in the third round.
AH:Yes indeed. Like the other guys, I've been on the White bandwagon since the very beginning of this pre-draft process. So I'll mix it up and say Mason Rudolph ends up being the guy.
ES: Yes, Western Kentucky's Mike White in Round 2.
Regardless of where selected, name one player you believe will become a Patriot on draft weekend?
FK: Ronald Jones II, running back from Southern Cal.
PP: South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst.
AH:Pittsburgh left tackle Brian O'Neill. In a weak tackle class he'll represent the best value at the position, probably in the second round
ES: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State, a nice pass-catching complement to Rob Gronkowski.
Will New England make a trade involving a veteran player on draft weekend?
FK: No but 10 years from now we will find out they tried to trade Gronk but Cleveland wouldn't pick up the phone.
PP: Few teams make deals involving players more than the Patriots, so I'll say yes.
AH:Yes. As Belichick moves around the board, at some point it involves a player. Rob Gronkowski would be the biggest name to consider, but others could be in the mix. Mike Gillislee? A wide receiver? A defensive back? Nothing is ever really out of the question with Belichick.
ES: Not anymore. Prior to his Instagram post on Tuesday evening, I thought Gronk was angling to get out of town, but he seems recommitted to "The Patriot Way," which may end up being the best news to come out of draft weekend.
Which of the top four QB prospects – Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield – will have the best NFL career?
FK: Baker Mayfield. Others might have better seasons but Mayfield will be the most consistent winner.
PP: If this was coming off 2016 my answer would be easy – Sam Darnold. His struggles in 2017 leave me less confident but I'll stick with the USC quarterback.
AH: While I think Allen has by far the highest upside, the safest of the four is Rosen. He may not be a legend, but I feel confident that Rosen is going to have a long NFL career as a starter.
Who will end up being the best player from this year's draft?
FK:The one sure blue-chipper is Saquon Barkley from Penn State and he will live up to the billing.
PP: I'm torn between N.C. State's Bradley Chubb and Georgia's Roquan Smith but I'll go with Chubb due to his pass rushing ability.
AH: Barkley is certainly a prime option. So, too, are Quenton Nelson and Chubb. But I'm going to go with Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. He's a three-down, sideline-to-sideline playmaker with plenty of trips to the Pro Bowl in his future.
ES: In all likelihood, someone NOT taken in the first round.
Who will end up being the biggest bust in this year's draft?
FK: If Minkah Fitzpatrick is drafted by the NJ Jets he is doomed.
PP: Sometimes a guy has all the measurable but they just don't translate to the field. UCLA T Kolton Miller looks like one of those guys.
AH: I may be out on a limb here that's ready to snap, but I just don't see all the fuss about Florida State safety Derwin James. He's a great athlete but I don't think he's going to be a great NFL player. He's going to get overdrafted and fail to live up to the high-end hype.