When the Patriots took Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones with their first 2016 draft pick – No. 60 overall as part of Friday night's second round – it checked off arguably New England's biggest need at this point in the offseason team-building process.
But the rest of New England's trio of picks in the third round – after trading out of the No. 61 pick acquired in the Chandler Jones deal, this in a deal with the Saints that brought back the No. 78 and 112 picks overall – guard Joe Thuney, quarterback Jacoby Brissett and nose tackle Vincent Valentine, weren't quite as obviously tied to needs.
Heading into the draft most analysts looked at cornerback, running back, tackle and maybe an athletic defensive tackle in the Dominique Easley mold as New England's biggest needs. Well, with eight picks remaining for Saturday's third day of the draft, most of those perceived needs remain very much unfilled.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the best talent remaining at various spots that the Patriots might target with the team's remaining eight picks in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Running back – Only four running backs have been selected in the first three rounds, led by No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliot. That means New England has a lot of talent left to choose from on Day 3. That includes Utah's Devontae Booker, Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon, Indiana's Jordan Howard, Arkansas' Alex Collins, Arkansas' Jonathan Williams and, not to be forgotten, Navy's quarterback conversion Keenan Reynolds. Running back is a position that annually sees later-round picks have impact rookie seasons in the NFL and given the talent remaining on the board Bill Belichick's team could still be in line to add a productive young ball carrier to an uncertain backfield committee.
Tackle – Third-round pick Joe Thuney was an All-ACC left tackle at North Carolina State, but admitted that his NFL future is on the interior that's crowded with young bodies in New England. It would still make sense for the team to add a true tackle to a spot that sees both Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon heading into the final years of their contacts. The right guy could compete for a swing-job as a rookie and maybe be in line for the starting job on the right side down the road. The tackle spot, though, has been picked through far more than running back. Still, LSU's Jerald Hawkins, Western Michigan's Willie Beavers, North Dakota State's Joe Haeg, Stanford's Kyle Murphy, Nebraska's Alex Lewis and South Carolina's Brandon Shell are potential Patriots targets.
Defensive tackle – A year ago Malcom Brown was New England's top pick as a Vince Wilfork replacement. This offseason, the Patriots cut ties with former first-round pick Dominique Easley after just two seasons, released Chris Jones and lost Akiem Hicks in free agency. While there are plenty of big bodies on the depth chart at defensive tackle, there aren't many athletic options to turn to at the position at this point. That in mind, Texas' Hassan Ridgeway, who was the athletic counter to Brown with the Longhorns, might be a possibility. Maybe the best remaining fit, though, would be Notre Dame's Sheldon Day, a guy many expected to be gone by this point. But, with the addition of Vincent Valentine in the third round, it's looking more like Belichick isn't overly interested in adding an athletic defensive tackle to the mix, a role that New England had coveted for years.
Wild cards – With eight picks remaining, New England could address a number of spots. Maybe German football phenom Moritz Boehringer, a wide receiver project. Maybe Western Michigan slot option Daniel Braverman, a guy compared in various scouting guides to Wes Welker, Troy Brown, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Maybe a tight end option – a great position for camp bodies as well as an oft-targeted position by New England – like South Carolina's Jerell Adams, Harvard's Ben Braunecker or Vanderbilt's Steven Scheu would draw interest. At linebacker, Arizona's Scooby Wright III or West Virginia's Nick Kwiatkoski would seem to be guys who can play even if they lack more draftable measurables. And doubling up at the cornerback spot certainly can't be ruled out. You can never have enough cover guys, so Georgia Tech's D.J. White, Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez or Oklahoma State's Kevin Peterson can't overlooked simply because of the Cyrus Jones selection.