Was talking to a league source earlier today and what he said recalibrated me when it comes to the Patriots and Bill Belichick in the draft: "When it doubt, Bill goes defense or the offensive line in the first round. He's looking for a sure thing there."
Yes, there have been exceptions. The past two seasons, Belichick went against his tendencies and drafted a running back (Sony Michel) and receiver (N'Keal Harry) in the first round. But other than that, it usually holds up:
OT Isaiah Wynn
DT Malcom Brown
DT Dominique Easley
DE Chandler Jones
LB Dont'a Hightower
OT Nate Solder
DB Devin McCourty
This would seem like a draft where the Patriots would go back to their tried and true. And considering it's been five years since they invested high in the defensive line — and the lack of depth at that position hurt them in the playoff loss to the Titans — it would not be a surprise if the Patriots drafted early for the defensive line.
Even though I think it's much more likely they trade down from No. 23 to plug the drought until their second pick at 87 — there will be a lot of good players that go in that stretch — if the Patriots get on the clock and can't find a taker for No. 23, they could default to a defensive line pick.
The Patriots could use the help. Lawrence Guy was terrific at strong-side end, but nose tackle Danny Shelton is gone and replaced by Beau Allen. Outside of those two players, the Patriots only have fifth-round pick Byron Cowart — but they're not sure what he is at this point. Adam Butler is a sub rusher. Deatrich Wise gets pushed around in the running game. So depth is definitely a concern.
There are some talented players in this draft along the defensive line that could make sense for the Patriots.
Our rankings of the top ends and nose tackles from a Patriots perspective in this draft: