It's difficult to deny that there have been more eagerly anticipated drafts for fans of the Patriots.
While 31 teams will be actively involved in the 2016 NFL Draft on Thursday night, the Patriots are focused on Friday, when they are scheduled to make their first picks in this year's selection show.
Even though Bill Belichick's squad will be left out of the first-round fun (in all likelihood), his team still has 11 selections in the remaining rounds, as things currently stand. So, the Patriots will probably be as busy as they usually are over the annual three-day draft extravaganza.
And as always, the PFW staff is here to get you prepared for the festivities with our annual list of draft-centric predictions. If you're one of those fans who needs a pep talk prior to this year's draft, this will do the trick. If you're already pumped up, this will get you even more anxious to put your game face on now!
What do you consider to be the Patriots biggest need heading into the 2016 NFL Draft?
*Andy Hart: *Cornerback. New England needs to add a cornerback who can compete for playing time as a rookie, as the team is unlikely to skate by, both in terms of health and performance, with Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman and a total unknown in Darryl Roberts.
Fred Kirsch: Cornerback. There is a lack of quality depth underneath Malcolm Butler. I'd draft one (or two) and still keep my eyes open in free agency.
Paul Perillo: Cornerback. The Patriots lack depth at the position and were extremely fortunate that Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan remained healthy last season. They could use an upgrade.
Erik Scalavino: I thought cornerback was the top need heading into the offseason, and since the Patriots didn't really address it in free agency, it remains at the top of my draft list.
The Patriots currently own picks 60 and 61 in Round 2. Will they stay put or trade one/both? If the latter, will they move up or down in the draft?
AH: I could easily see the Patriots trading up from No. 60 should a player fitting their needs fall into the middle of the second round.
FK: They will trade down with one of the picks for a couple later round picks and a second next year. They will then trade up later in the draft.
*PP: *If they trade it will be to move up in the second round but my guess is they stay put and pick at 60 and 61.
ES: I'm always eager for upwardly mobile trades. Usually, Bill Belichick trades down, but he also doesn't like "the parade to pass him by," as he has said. Something tells me he won't wait for 59 other picks to be made before he makes a move, so, I'll say he trades up from 60 and 61 to get a higher choice in Round 2.
Regardless of where the Patriots select first, list in order the top three positions New England will target in this draft.
AH: CB, T, RB
FK: I reject the premise of "targeting" a position but they will wind up picking a combination of cornerback, defensive line and running back.
PP: Obviously this is completely dependent on what happens before they pick, but I'd like to see cornerback, tackle and running back.
ES: Cornerback, running back, and defensive line.
Hypothetically, if the Patriots could select any one player in this year's draft class, who would be the best fit for them?
AH: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida. While Jalen Ramsey may be a better defensive back, Hargreaves would be a better fit for the Patriots needs as a true cover man.
*FK: *This is like being a kid and your dad walks you into a toy store and says "Pick out anything you want." "Really, anything?" "Yup, anything." I'd have to say [Oregon DE] DeForest Buckner. He'd make us forget Chandler Jones real fast. Unfortunately my toy fantasy never happened nor will Buckner.
PP: Oklahoma wide receiver Sterling Shepard looks very much like the Patriots slot receivers that have been so productive for the team.
ES: FSU defensive back Jalen Ramsey is my choice. He fills the top need, can play corner or safety (versatility is paramount here in Foxborough), and has the rare compbo of blazing speed and great size. Put him anywhere you like in this defensive backfield and he'd make a positive impact.
What will be the most surprising pick/development of the weekend for the Patriots?
AH: New England will trade a veteran player, either for picks in next year's draft or a package that might include a veteran player heading to Foxborough in return.
FK: Patriots will choose no one from Navy, Rutgers or Florida State.
PP: The Patriots will not trade either of their second-round picks.
ES: If New England actually makes a pick in the first round.
Which projected first-round pick will be the biggest disappointment in this year's draft class?
AH: Sometimes the obvious answer is the right answer. Ole Miss DL Robert Nkemdiche has elite talent, but is lacking big time in drive, dedication and want-to. Major red-flag.
FK: I'll stay away from the quarterbacks likely going 1 and 2. I hate predicting disappointment but if I must, I'll go with Eli Apple, the corner from Ohio State. He's very grabby and that tendency might hurt him early on in his career. Has the raw talent but technique has a ways to go.
*PP: *Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. He operated in a system that is very different from what he'll need to do in the NFL.
*ES: *Mississippi D-tackle Robert Nkemdiche. I didn't like his lazy attitude at the Combine and apparently other teams didn't either. He's been dropping in most mock drafts, but is still considered a first-rounder. My instincts tell me he won't last long in this league.
Which first-round pick will have the best NFL career?
AH: Deforest Buckner, DL, Oregon. The big man has as much potential as any player in the first round. If he doesn't go to handfuls of Pro Bowls, something went horribly wrong.
FK: I'll go with my toy store fantasy and say Buckner.
PP: Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. He's a freak combination of size and athleticism and will dominate for 10 years.
ES: I'll stick with my earlier choice of Ramsey.
Name a sleeper pick you love and explain why.
AH: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma. Shepard reminds me a lot of Deion Branch. He might be the most game-ready receiver in this draft and wouldn't surprise me if he's the most consistent pass catcher in this group over a long career. Somebody is going to get a day-two steal.
FK: Miles Killebrew from Southern Utah has that killer instinct at the strong safety position. Can lay the big hit and is decent in short coverage. A great project for new safeties coach Steve Belichick.
PP: Indiana running back Jordan Howard. Solid, well-rounded back will enjoy a nice career.
ES: DeAndre Houston-Carson was a guy who impressed me at the Combine. Like Ramsey, he's big and versatile for a defensive back. Sure, he's not as quick, perhaps, as Ramsey and might lack the technical skill and experience against top-flight competition (he played I-AA-level football), but he's intelligent, well-spoken, and has raw talent.
Bledsoe/Mirer. Manning/Leaf. Luck/Griffin. Winston/Mariota. Three years from now, how will Carson Wentz/Jared Goff compare to these other notable top QB draft duos?
AH: Each of those classes had at least one stud, although it's still early with last year's duo. I don't think either Wentz or Goff will end up being elite. Goff looks pro-ready and may have a solid NFL career, but I don't see either of the QB prospects as, say, top 12 starters in the NFL at any point in their pressure-filled careers. There are No. 1 overall pick QBs and QBs that go with the No. 1 overall pick. These two fall into the latter category as they aren't worth it.
FK: I think both will have solid careers. Neither will be Manning and they won't bust like Leaf. As a combo they might actually top this list unless RGIII resurrects his career or Winston/Mariota take off.
PP: History tells us one will succeed, but I'm skeptical on both of these quarterbacks. Goff will be steady but unspectacular and Wentz will struggle.
ES: Neither will be franchise greats, but I don't think they'll be busts, either. They'll both be middling quarterbacks at best, maybe lead their teams to the playoffs eventually, but won't be Canton-bound at the end of their careers.