RB Jeremy Hill, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, WR Jordan Matthews, TE Troy Niklas, OT Trent Brown, OT Matt Tobin, C Luke Bowanko, DE Adrian Clayborn, DT Danny Shelton, CB Jason McCourty.
Early Draft Picks:
OT/G Isaiah Wynn, RB Sony Michel, CB Duke Dawson, LB Ja'whuan Bentley. Patriots Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Dion Lewis, WR Brandin Cooks, TE Martellus Bennett, OT Nate Solder, OT Cameron Fleming, OT Antonio Garcia, DE/OLB James Harrison, OLB Shea McClellin, CB Malcolm Butler, S Johnson Bademosi.
2018 New England Patriots Offense:
There was some drama concerning Tom Brady and Bill Belichick late last season when the team removed Brady's personal trainer. This prompted an ESPN article and lots of speculation that Brady and Belichick would separate, but that wishful thinking for the other three teams in the AFC East has not come to fruition. Brady, 41 as of August, will once again quarterback New England under the best coach in the NFL.
There has to be some level of concern with Brady's age, as no 41-year-old quarterback has enjoyed a high level of success in the pros. However, Brady outworks everyone, so it's not impossible for him to enjoy yet another MVP-caliber campaign, especially given the high level of talent he's able to work with. Brady will once again target Rob Gronkowski heavily. Gronkowski discussed the possibility of retirement this offseason, but he'll play in 2018. Health is always an issue with Gronkowski, who missed half the season in 2016. He was on the field for all but two contests last year, as his willingness to take his training regimen more seriously has paid off.
Brady won't have Brandin Cooks at his disposal this year, as the troubled, but talented receiver was traded to the Rams for the 23rd-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Playoff hero Danny Amendola is gone as well, but that's not a big deal because Julian Edelman will return from injury. Edelman has been suspended for four games for PEDs, but considering that he was out all last year, his absence for just a quarter of the season isn't a big deal. Once he returns, he'll play alongside Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell, who also missed all of this past season with a knee malady. The Patriots brought in Jordan Matthews for some competition; Matthews is a decent possession receiver who caught 73 passes in 2016, but had issues producing last year because of various injuries.
In addition to Cooks and Amendola, the Patriots also lost Dion Lewis, who was their best running back last year. They compensated by using their own first-round selection on Georgia's Sony Michel. The Bulldog product has drawn favorable comparisons to Alvin Kamara, so he should be able to fill the void left by Lewis' defection for Tennessee. Michel will be part of a crowded stable of backs, which includes the jack-of-all-trades Rex Burkhead, third-down specialist James White and disappointing Mike Gillislee.
The Patriots had two first-round choices as a result of the Cooks trade, and they used the Rams' selection to obtain another Georgia product, Isaiah Wynn. The athletic blocker was announced as a tackle during the draft, so there was some speculation that he would play on the blind side despite his short arms. That, apparently, will not be the case in the wake of the Trent Brown trade. New England acquired the talented Brown from the 49ers during draft weekend, and the plan is for him to replace the departed Nate Solder at left tackle, so he'll bookend Marcus Cannon, who missed the second half of this past season with an ankle injury.
As for Wynn, he's likely to start at left guard. He's a good fit there, as he'll share the interior responsibilities with center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason, both of whom are coming off solid seasons.
2018 New England Patriots Defense:
The Patriots' stop unit was a mess last year, as it led to early, ridiculous speculation that they would have a very difficult time reaching the playoffs. Stopping the pass proved to be impossible for them in the early stages of the season, as they surrendered a ridiculous 32 points per game in the first four weeks. Things improved after that, but part of the reason for that was that New England played a soft schedule. The defense's ineptitude reared its ugly head in the Super Bowl when the Patriots couldn't do anything to stop Nick Foles.
It wasn't expected that the Patriots would struggle so much on this side of the ball heading into 2017, but some injuries played a part in the demise of New England's defense. The primary player to go down was Dont'a Hightower, who suffered an injury in the season opener. Hightower returned to play a few games later, but it was clear that he wasn't anywhere close to being healthy. The heart and soul of the defense, Hightower was very much missed, as the linebacking corps struggled mightily without him. He'll be welcomed back with open arms because the rest of the unit is pretty pedestrian. Marquis Flowers and Kyle Van Noy are good at specific things, but both are sub-par players overall.
Another player lost to injury was third-round rookie defensive end Derek Rivers. Much was expected from the Youngstown State product, who had a very impressive training camp, but he tore his ACL in the middle of August. He'll be back to compete for a starting job on a defensive line that had to be revamped because it couldn't generate any sort of pass rush outside of Trey Flowers, who led the team with 6.5 sacks. The two will work in conjunction with newly acquired Adrian Clayborn, who is coming off a big year with the Falcons. A funny fact is that Clayborn had more sacks in one game last year than every single member of the Patriots, save for Flowers.
Clayborn won't be the only new face on the defensive line, given that the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton. The former Brown is a tremendous run-stuffing presence, so he'll help a defense that was gashed against the rush late in the year. Shelton will start next to Malcolm Brown, who also specializes in clamping down against the run. The Patriots lack an interior pass-rusher, but the team will get to the quarterback more effectively this year.
The Patriots' inability to put any heat on Foles was one of the primary reasons they couldn't stop Philadelphia's offense in the Super Bowl. Another was the inexplicable benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler. It still hasn't been fully revealed why Butler didn't play at all in the biggest game of the year, but the Eagles were certainly able to take advantage of his absence. Butler signed with the Titans this offseason, so the Patriots had to fill the hole across from the prolific Stephon Gilmore. They ended up acquiring Jason McCourty, who had a solid season for the Browns last year. The two will start on the outside, while second-round rookie Duke Dawson will have a chance to be the team's primary slot corner.
Jason McCourty's brother, Devin, will return as the top safety on the roster. The Patriots utilize three-safety formations very often, so the other two primary players at the position will once again be Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung. Harmon, a third-round pick from the infamously dreadful 2013 NFL Draft class, has developed into a fine player. Chung is still a liability, but he should be the lone weak link in the secondary unless there are injuries.
2018 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
Since 2003, the Patriots are 118-21 at home. They've been a near-perfect 42-6 as hosts in the past 48 games, with two losses coming against the Bills without Tom Brady.
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the better kickers in the NFL, but he had a terrible 2016 campaign. He managed to rebound this past season, however, going 37-of-40. He hit all four of his tries from beyond 50.
Ryan Allen was a middling punter last year, finishing 18th in net average.
New England dominated on special teams this past season, beating its opponents easily on punt and kickoff returns. There could be an even greater disparity in the wake of the Cordarrelle Patterson acquisition.
The Patriots have three somewhat difficult games to start the year, as they host the Texans, then play at Jacksonville and Detroit. Other difficult opponents include the Chiefs (home), Bears (road), Packers (home), Titans (road), Vikings (home) and Steelers (road).
2018 New England Patriots Rookies:
Go here for the Patriots Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2018 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2018 New England Patriots Analysis: Tom Brady is now 41 years old. He could finally regress this season, but given how hard he works, the chances of that happening aren't very great. If there's no drop-off in his level of play, the Patriots have to be considered the favorite to represent the weak AFC in the Super Bowl once again.
Projection: 14-2 (1st in AFC East)
2017 Projection: 14-2. 2017 Actual Result: 13-3. 2016 Projection: 12-4. 2016 Actual Result: 14-2.
Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Patriots have plenty of holes for a Super Bowl runner-up. They have issues on the offensive line; they have no pass rush; their linebacking corps is in shambles; they must replace a starting cornerback; and to top it off, they'll be looking to find a successor for 41-year-old Tom Brady.
2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: There was plenty of speculation that the Patriots would pick Lamar Jackson or trade up for Josh Rosen, yet Bill Belichick appeared to mock the media, refusing to select a signal-caller until the seventh round. Given that this was an underwhelming quarterback group, it's understandable why Belichick eschewed all of the players at the position.
That said, Belichick made a couple of questionable decisions. The first occurred at No. 23 when Isaiah Wynn was announced as a tackle. Given his 32-inch arms, Wynn may struggle at the position, and he seemingly would be better off in the interior. After that, the Patriots traded up into the middle of the second round for cornerback Duke Dawson. The Florida product was considered a third-round prospect, so it was unnecessary to make a move for him. Dawson wouldn't have been a bad pick in a vacuum, but the trade is the negative part.
New England's worst choice was fifth-round linebacker Ja'whaun Bentley, a UDFA-caliber prospect. Belichick infamously will raise the white flag and take UDFA guys when no one remains on his draft board, and that is what he appeared to do at No. 143 overall.
That said, the Patriots had some positives in this class. Sony Michel is a dynamic running back who resembles Alvin Kamara, and he was an outstanding choice at No. 31 overall. Also, the Patriots obtained extra second- and third-round choices for the 2019 NFL Draft in trades with the Bears and Lions, respectively. Given that the 2019 NFL Draft class appears to be absolutely loaded, this was a terrific strategy that Belichick utilized.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
23. Isaiah Wynn, OT, Georgia C+ Grade
There were mixed thoughts on Isaiah Wynn in the pre-draft process, as some teams thought he could go in the first round, while others believed he would be taken early on Round 2. I think this is a fine choice because protecting Tom Brady, especially at age 41, is incredibly important.
What's interesting is that Wynn was introduced as a left tackle, and that's why I don't love this selection. Wynn has athleticism, but he lacks the length to be a successful tackle. Sure, there have been exceptions, but history is going against Wynn and his 32-inch arms.
31. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia A- Grade
This pick surprises me a bit. Bill Belichick hates when running backs fumble. Mike Gillislee fumbled last year and wasn't heard from again for months. Sony Michel's one weakness on the field is his fumbling. Maybe Belichick thinks he can fix that problem, but if he doesn't, Michel could be in the dog house.
That said, I still love this pick. Michel was my No. 2 running back, as he's a dynamic player with Alvin Kamara-type ability. With Dion Lewis gone, it made sense to bring in Michel.
56. Duke Dawson, CB, Florida C Grade
It feels wrong to question Bill Belichick, but it's not like he's been flawless in the draft. He's made some mistakes, and I believe this will be one. I don't dislike Dawson, whom we've seen third-round grades on, but I don't know why he felt the need to trade up for him. The Patriots may have gotten Dawson or another comparable prospect by staying put and even perhaps moving down a few spots. Still, the Patriots are at least filling a huge need, so that's important.
143. Ja'whuan Bentley, LB, Purdue MILLEN WOULD LOVE TO INSERT KIELBASAS INTO CHEWBACCA'S BACKSIDE Grade
And we've reached the point in the draft in which Bill Belichick mails it in and starts taking UDFA players. The Patriots notoriously have a small board, and Bentley certainly is a UDFA prospect.
178. Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State B Grade
Christian Sam has size and athleticism limitations, but he makes sense as a backup player and special-teamer on Day 3. Unlike the Patriots' previous pick, Sam is a draftable prospect.
210. Braxton Berrios, WR, Miami A- Grade
This pick makes way too much sense. Braxton Berrios is the quintessential Patriots receiver, and it's not a surprise that Bill Belichick is taking him here, as he needed to replace Danny Amendola. I actually mocked Berrios here in my 2018 NFL Mock Draft.
219. Danny Etling, QB, LSU B Grade
Bill Belichick has a good eye for quarterbacks, so it wouldn't be a big surprise if Danny Etling pans out. Etling was inconsistent at LSU, but finished the year well. His size and accuracy isn't great, but he could develop into a fine backup.
243. Keion Crossen, CB, Western Carolina C Grade
As mentioned earlier, Bill Belichick is not afraid to draft UDFA players because of his small board. Keion Crossen couldn't have been on too many draft boards. This late in the draft, this is not a big deal.
250. Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State B- Grade
Some insurance for Rob Gronkowski? Probably not. Ryan Izzo may not make the roster, but if he does, he'll contribute on special teams pretty well, much like another player named Izzo who used to play for the Patriots.
The Patriots were favored to win the Super Bowl. They trailed for most of the game, but had a chance to win on a final drive before Tom Brady lost a fumble. Brady turns 41 in August, but hasn't shown signs of slowing down.
Patriots sign WR Kony Ealy
Patriots sign TE Troy Niklas
Patriots sign C Luke Bowanko
Patriots cut OLB Shea McClellin
Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson from Raiders
Patriots sign OT Matt Tobin
Patriots sign RB Jeremy Hill
Patriots sign DE Adrian Clayborn
Patriots acquire DT Danny Shelton from Browns
Patriots cut TE Martellus Bennett
Defensive Tackle: New England's biggest problem is its inability to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. The team has no one in the interior who can generate a pass rush, so this could change with an early pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Traded for Danny Shelton
Linebacker: Repairs are needed all over the front seven. This includes the linebacker spot. The Patriots really missed Dont'a Hightower this past season, but even when he returns, another talented linebacker will be needed alongside him.
Defensive End: Here's another area where the Patriots can use an upgrade to their pass rush. Derek Rivers' return from injury will help next year, but another player to get to the quarterback would help considerably. Signed Adrian Clayborn
Offensive Tackle: Nate Solder is going to hit free agency in March. Can the Patriots trust him, given his injury history? A new blind-side protector will be needed if the answer is no.
Cornerback: Malcolm Butler is another player whose contract is set to expire. Losing him would really hurt the Patriots' secondary.
Running Back: Both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead happen to be impending free agents, so one of them will need to be re-signed. Re-signed Rex Burkhead; signed Jeremy Hill
Guard: New England can do better than Joe Thuney at one of the guard spots. The offensive line must be bolstered this offseason.
Future Quarterback: The Patriots traded both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett this season, so they'll need a new successor for Tom Brady.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Falcons. Age: 30. Signed with Patriots
Adrian Clayborn is a rock solid defensive end with no weaknesses. He logged a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017, though six of them came in one game where Dallas' inept coaching staff didn't adjust for Tyron Smith being injured.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals. Age: 25. Signed with Patriots
Jeremy Hill had an outstanding rookie campaign in 2014, gaining 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns. However, Hill has yet to average more than 3.8 yards per carry in a season since. He's been a big disappointment, but he has the talent to turn his career around.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Bills. Age: 26. Signed with Patriots
Jordan Matthews did not fare well in his first season in Buffalo. He caught 25 passes before getting knocked out for the year with injuries. Perhaps Matthews can bounce back in a better offense next year.
Troy Niklas, TE, Cardinals. Age: 26. -- Signed with Patriots
Luke Bowanko, C/G, Ravens. Age: 27. -- Signed with Patriots
Matt Tobin, G, Seahawks. Age: 28. -- Signed with Patriots
New England Patriots Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Malcolm Butler, CB, Patriots. Age: 28. Signed with Titans
Malcolm Butler went from being an undrafted free agent out of West Alabama, to an unknown guy who made a huge play in a Super Bowl, to one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. His transformation has been amazing, and he's only 28 in March. He deserves a huge contract.
Nate Solder, OT, Patriots. Age: 30. Signed with Giants (4 years)
Nate Solder isn't coming off his best year, as he dealt with early leg injuries and never recovered. However, he gutted it out and didn't miss a game. Solder has struggled with health in recent years, and he'll turn 30 in April, so he isn't going to be rated nearly as highly as he once was.
Dion Lewis, RB, Patriots. Age: 27. Signed with Titans
Dion Lewis has a horrible injury history, but he's a tremendous running back when healthy. He finally remained on the field the entire season in 2017, and it paid off. Lewis rushed for 895 yards on a 5.0 YPC clip and also caught 32 passes for 214 receiving yards.
Cameron Fleming, OT, Patriots. Age: 25. Signed with Cowboys
The Patriots lost Marcus Cannon for the season, yet didn't skip a beat because Cameron Fleming did a good job as a replacement. Just 26 in September, Fleming has a bright future ahead of him.
Rex Burkhead, RB, Patriots. Age: 28. Re-signed with Patriots (3 years)
Rex Burkhead is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none running back. He's decent at catching passes (30 receptions in 2017) and can plunge into the end zone effectively from the goal line. He also averaged 4.1 yards per carry behind an offensive line with some injury issues.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Patriots. Age: 31. Announced retirement
Martellus Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016, helping the Patriots win the Super Bowl. However, Bennett barely did anything in 2017 because of injuries. He's now 31 and should continue to regress, but he could have another decent season or two remaining in the tank as long as he stays healthy.
James Harrison, DE/OLB, Patriots. Age: 40. Announced retirement
James Harrison will probably retire after this season, but he could probably still play one more year. He showed that he still has some juice with two sacks against the Jets in Week 17.
Danny Amendola, WR, Patriots. Age: 32. Signed with Dolphins
Danny Amendola has a checkered injury history, but managed to stay healthy in 2017, catching 61 passes for 659 yards and two touchdowns. Amendola is 32 now, however, and with Julian Edelman coming back, he won't be needed going forward.
Johnson Bademosi, S, Patriots. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Texans (2 years)
Nate Ebner, S, Patriots. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Patriots
Matthew Slater, WR, Patriots. Age: 32. -- Re-signed with Patriots
LaAdrian Waddle, OT, Patriots. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with Patriots