For much of the offseason left tackle was a hot-button topic for the New England Patriots. With Nate Solder leaving in free agency for the Giants, that need may be even more critical now, but the team did find a way to re-sign LaAdrian Waddle.
Waddle could become a starter on the line if the Patriots want to address other needs early in the draft, and that is very possible. New England could look to nab a defensive end, linebacker, or even a cornerback with their 31st overall selection.
The Patriots need to replace Malcolm Butler at some point in the 2018 NFL Draft, but the pass rush may get a ton of the early attention. Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr. are great pieces to build around, and the addition of Adrian Clayborn will help, but the Patriots could become a force on defense with another homegrown pass rush power.
Still. it’s not clear what direction New England will head in to begin the draft, but these 5 players would be a great fit if they are available.
OT Kolton Miller, UCLA
If the Patriots want to add their new franchise left tackle in this draft, Kolton Miller will be their man. The tricky thing here though is that if New England doesn’t select him at 31, he may still be available when they pick early in the second round as well. It’s a risk they may be willing to take, but if they feel he’s too good of a talent to pass up he’ll be drafted here.
Miller had a great career at UCLA and he is a first-round talent, even though he’s not the top tackle in this class. The Patriots have to find a long-term replacement for Nate Solder at some point and it could be Miller, who would be given time to develop under Dante Scarnecchia.
LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Leighton Vander Esch seems to be the player that most Patriots fans want. He’s a great fit and addresses an immediate need for New England, but he may not be available at 31. Many mock drafts have Vander Esch going earlier in round one, and that does not bode well for his chances of playing in Foxboro.
Leighton is an explosive player that comes up clutch in big moments. At Boise State, his best games came under the bright lights and that would surely help him in New England.
DE Harold Landry, Boston College
If Harold Landry manages to slide down to 31 in the upcoming draft the Patriots should not be afraid to pounce. The local talent had a down year in his final season at Boston College, but he still projects as a first-round talent and he seems to have what it takes to excel in the NFL.
Landry would surely compliment New England’s current pass rush, as he had 16.5 sacks as a junior and 5.0 as a senior.
DE Arden Key, LSU
Arden Key had 20.0 sacks in 31 games for the LSU Tigers, but like Harold Landry, his best season was in 2016. He is viewed as a player that could go in either round one or two. Key is extremely long at 6’6″ and he is able to pass rush from both the inside and outside.
Key may be a liability in the run game, which is not ideal for New England, but they have other players to fill that role. His commitment to football is also in question, but that is something the New England coaching and scouting staff would be able to figure out through pre-draft meetings and interviews.
CB Mike Hughes, Central Florida
Malcolm Butler has signed with the Tennessee Titans and New England will have to replace him. If they choose to do so with their first pick, Mike Hughes from the undefeated UCF team makes so much sense.
A transfer player, Hughes played just one season at North Carolina and one at UCF. Last season, he played in all 13 games for the Knights and he racked up 49 tackles and 4 interceptions. Though his 5’10” size is not ideal, Hughes is one of the most physical corners in the draft and he has amazing ball skills.
With only one season as a starter in college Hughes is raw and would certainly be a player that needs practice and game experience to become the player that many believe he can be. The Patriots can afford to take that chance as they traded for Jason McCourty this offseason, who can step in as the #2 cornerback for the time being.
Clearly, the New England Patriots have a ton of options at the end of the first round with the 31st overall pick. They could find a longtime Patriot with that selection, it’s just a matter of where they want that player to line up. Defense seems to have the edge, but New England may want that new left tackle. It should become more clear as the draft approaches, but Bill Belichick will likely keep everyone guessing. A draft day trade up or down is of course not out of the realm of possibility either.