New England looks to fill sev­eral needs af­ter los­ing Gronk

The News-Times - - NFL -

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Pa­tri­ots are the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons.

That’s the good news in New England.

The bad news is they lost one key player to re­tire­ment and have oth­ers that are wind­ing down their ca­reers as well.

Rob Gronkowski’s de­ci­sion to hang up his cleats last month didn’t come as a to­tal sur­prise af­ter he hinted at it fol­low­ing each of the past two sea­sons. But it did cre­ate yet an­other need to ad­dress as New England prepares for the NFL draft.

With holes on both sides of the ball, un­like in re­cent years it could mean a busier than usual three days for Bill Belichick and his staff. They have 12 picks over­all, in­clud­ing four in the first seven rounds.

Belichick is be­ing pre­dictably coy about his plans for them.

“We have a lot of draft picks as we sit here to­day. I don’t know that that nec­es­sar­ily means that they will or won’t be there on draft week­end,” he said. “We’ll see how all of that goes. Just eval­u­ate sit­u­a­tions as they come up and try to make the best de­ci­sions, we can for the foot­ball team.

“There’s no set goal in mind as to how many picks to have or what to do with them. We just want to try to make good de­ci­sions at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity we can to im­prove our team in what­ever way is pos­si­ble and that in­cludes ev­ery­thing.”

The of­fense has some big holes at both re­ceiver and at left tackle.

Re­ceiver Ju­lian Edel­man is Tom Brady’s most trusted and ex­pe­ri­enced pass catcher. But the reign­ing Su­per Bowl MVP will be 33 when the reg­u­lar sea­son starts.

Chris Ho­gan signed with the Pan­thers in free agency, leav­ing Brady with Phillip Dorsett as his No. 2 re­ceiver on the depth chart be­hind Edel­man.

Dorsett was much more com­fort­able in his sec­ond full sea­son with New England, catching 32 passes and three touch­downs. But with Josh Gor­don still suspended, the Pa­tri­ots need some other op­tions. The sign­ing of vet­eran De­mary­ius Thomas was cer­tainly a start, though an ad­di­tion of youth couldn’t hurt.

The same is true de­fen­sively. New England took the first step in fill­ing the void left by edge rusher Trey Flow­ers’ de­par­ture to Detroit by trad­ing for vet­eran Michael Bennett. The Pa­tri­ots also need to re­place the pro­duc­tion of defensive tackle Mal­com Brown as well as add some gen­eral depth on the defensive line.

Some other things to know about the Pa­tri­ots head­ing into the draft:

RE­PLAC­ING GRONK

The Pa­tri­ots did sign vet­eran tight end Austin Se­fe­rian-Jenk­ins to join a group to re­place Gronk that also in­cludes young­sters Ja­cob Hol­lis­ter and Matt LaCosse. Though con­sid­er­ing how in­te­gral the tight end is to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Josh McDaniels’ schemes, it’s very likely they will use a high pick to snare one of the top prospects.

Some pos­si­ble names to watch in­clude T.J. Hock­en­son and Noah Fant, both for­mer stand­outs at Iowa known for their block­ing and pass-catching abil­i­ties.

PRO­TECT­ING BRADY

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive off­sea­son New England is in the mar­ket for a left tackle. Trent Brown left in free agency for a big pay­day with the Raiders. And the Pa­tri­ots can’t af­ford not to have a ca­pa­ble replacemen­t guard­ing the blind­side of Tom Brady, who will be 42 when the 2019 sea­son kicks off.

BRADY’S SUC­CES­SOR

While he’s not back­ing down from his de­sire to play un­til age 45, the Pa­tri­ots could use this draft to again to try to iden­tify Brady’s suc­ces­sor.

Pa­tri­ots scouts are very high on for­mer Duke quar­ter­back Daniel Jones. Other pos­si­ble names to watch for in­clude Will Grier (West Vir­ginia) and Brett Ryp­ien (Boise State).

Cur­tis Compton / TNS

Coach Bill Belichick man­ages a smile dur­ing the New England Pa­tri­ots’ me­dia avail­abil­ity at the Hy­att Re­gency At­lanta on Jan. 30 in At­lanta.

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