The Patriots rush the passer well right now, but two of their top three edge defenders, Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich, will be free agents in March 2017. Here's a pass-rusher who could start in his second season if both players move on.
Rd. 3, Pk. 32
Denver Kirkland, OT/G, Arkansas
Considering the poor pass protection Tom Brady has endured this season, Bill Belichick may want to spend an early selection on a blocker.
The Patriots are winning, but I think a weakness at corner could be exposed more as the season progresses. Plus, New England has never been shy about drafting defensive backs early.
In 2015, Sanchez has 38 tackles, six interceptions and five passes broken up. The junior has ball skills and can make big plays, but he can be a gambler as there have been a few games where he had some issues in coverage.
Sanchez was awful in 2013 as a freshman, and teams constantly picked on him for big plays, but he was vastly improved in 2014 for the Sooners. Sanchez was an all-conference pick last year and held up well when teams targeted him. He had 43 tackles with six interceptions and eight passes broken on the season. As a freshman, Sanchez picked off two passes and batted away 13. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder could stand to fill out his frame.
Rd. 3, Pk. 32
Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
The Patriots could use some wide receiver depth and competition with the injuries to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Cooper (5-11, 207) is a quick slot receiver who is dangerous after the catch. In 2015, he has 62 receptions for 887 yards and seven touchdowns. Cooper was a dynamic play-maker for the Gamecocks in 2014, making 69 receptions for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns. He also ran the ball 27 times for 200 yards and two scores.
Yes the Patriots can win while throwing 85% of their passes to just 2 guys (exaggeration, but you get my point), but with high volumes of targets comes high potential for injuries. Deep down, Tom Brady still misses the days of having both Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Higgins isn't that caliber of receiver, nor should that necessarily be expected of him; however, having more than 2 receivers to rely on when it's time to throw the ball allows for the defense to concentrate on someone other than Gronkowski or Edelman.