The New England Patriots eked out an unlikely win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night football bringing their record to a less than imperious 3-10. With any mathematical hopes for a mystical playoff berth notwithstanding, this or a subsequent win or two would seemingly reduce the draft position of the team as it nears the end of its abysmal 2023 NFL season.
Alan Shane of patspulpit.com had this to say about the team's draft position,
"... the Patriots still hold the No. 2 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. They have a strength of schedule tiebreaker over the Cardinals, and Arizona is on a bye this week. So, nothing will change from a draft standpoint."
That's an interesting take, but should subsequent events change that situation and lower the team's draft position in the 2024 draft, it may just lead to a draft strategy that might be even more beneficial to the team's future than having one of the top two picks.
While this paradoxical statement might seem a bit far-fetched on its surface, there are reasons why, in the long run, and for draft purposes, having a pick somewhat lower, especially if it's in the top five to seven range, might be a better option for the New England Patriots.
The New England Patriots still need a quarterback
The nice performance of backup Bailey Zappe against Pittsburgh doesn't alter the fact that the team needs to draft a quarterback in the top two rounds of the 2024 draft. What falling a bit more in the draft does, however, is lessen the possibility that one of the top two quarterbacks, Caleb Williams of USC or Drake Maye of North Carolina, will be available when the Patriots select.
How can that be a positive when the higher the pick, theoretically, the better your outlook generally is?
Having had to acknowledge that the Mac Jones experiment has failed, the team has benched the former first-round pick, and while he may remain for his fourth year, barring a truly unforeseen eventuality, the team will not pick up his fifth-year option.
The Patriots' best move is to trade Jones for whatever 2024 draft value they can since they currently have only seven picks in April. Most observers would say that should their pick fall in at one or two; then they should take one of the top two quarterbacks right then and there. Should the team's scouting operation determine that the one available is a true franchise quarterback, then the decision is easy, you take him right there,
In two cases, however, that may not be what they do. First, if they don't consider the remaining QB at pick No. 2 to be a step above QBs available later, then a trade down to secure more picks makes perfect sense. Secondly, even if they feel the QB at pick No. 2 is a slightly better prospect than those available later, they could still pass and address another pressing offensive need early on and with the additional picks.
The risk of drafting a quarterback with a top-five pick is very high since the ensuing pressure on the young man to succeed right out of the box will be monumental. Taking a slightly lesser-rated, though still top QB, later on reduces that pressure dramatically.
The New England Patriots need lots of foundational offensive players
Unless the aforementioned Zappe is considered the starter of the future, they will probably take a quarterback in the second round. Since they waived Zappe in the pre-season, that would seem unlikely no matter his performances the rest of the season. The team can, therefore, trade down and draft one of the premier offensive tackles like Penn State's Oumuyiwa Fashanu or Joe Alt of Notre Dame.
Offensive tackles are the key to any offense and after the quarterback, the left tackle and right tackles are arguably the two most important players on the entire squad. Witness the Patriots' failures in both free agency and early season trades to see the results of poor tackle play.
With their only legitimate offensive tackle, Trent Brown, out of contract after the season, the need there is at the top of the list. Trading down for a top left tackle is a solid move, and securing extra picks is icing on the cake. Again, this makes perfect sense if the gap between either Williams or Maye and the next quarterback(s) available is not looked to be significant.
The additional picks and the Patriots' own picks can then be utilized to draft the quarterback in the second round (or trade back into the first round to get the preferred next option). Then, they can select at least two wide receivers, a tight end or two, and another tackle or two. The suggestion here is not revolutionary but evolutionary. The Patriots should devote all of their 2024 draft picks to the offensive side of the ball.
So, not taking one of the top two quarterbacks if they are available when the Patriots select in the first round could be beneficial in the long run. They could secure a top offensive tackle and then address the quarterback a bit later, easing the pressure on whoever is brought in to lead the team into the future.