Need rating: Eighth
What's missing? A clean bill of health for depth players Jonathan Jones (ankle/foot in January) and Cyrus Jones (torn ACL last August), and with Rowe and McCourty entering the final year of their contracts in 2018, a high-upside cornerback who is signed for multiple years into the future.
2018 draft class primer: With Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick falling into the “all-around defensive back” category, the corner class starts with Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, and media analysts project as many as four corners to go in the first round. In addition, the middle rounds have a crop of second-level prospects with some upside to develop as No. 3-type options. Overall, interior defensive line and off-the-ball linebacker are considered deeper positions on defense.
Key stat: In the regular season, Malcolm Butler played 98.8 percent of the defensive snaps in 2015, followed by 96.7 in 2016 and 97.8 in 2017. That’s a notable playing-time void that needs to be filled in 2018.
My take: The Patriots have more pressing needs, but depending on how things unfold in front of them they might find the best value to be at cornerback with their top pick. That would likely be the primary scenario that leads the team in this direction. In a sense, Ryan Lewis could be viewed as a late-round draft pick as he spent all of last season on the Patriots’ practice squad after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh with the Cardinals; the Bills attempted to sign him to their 53-man roster during the season but Lewis elected to stick around New England instead. With Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones coming back from injuries, the Patriots do need some depth and that should come at some point in the draft and undrafted free agency.