Before the surprising release of Jack Jones last week, drafting a cornerback didn't seem like a priority for the Patriots in next year's draft. They just took Christian Gonzalez in the first round, who looked every bit the part and more before his season-ending injury.
On top of that, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, and Shaun Wade will still be under contract, filling out an impressive CB room for the 2024 season. But because there may be questionable depth at the position now and Belichick's continued priority of building a stellar defense, selecting a cornerback in a mid-round seems like the likeliest scenario.
Round 4 - Pick 103: Nehemiah Pritchett, CB, Auburn
"Pritchett missed some time earlier this year due to injury and is flying under the talent radar. He has good length for an outside cornerback at 6-foot-1. He is also allowing a catch on just 35.3% of the targets into his coverage. After the Patriots drafted Christian Gonzalez in the first round last season, cornerback won’t be a Tier 1 need, but getting another defensive back in the middle rounds wouldn’t be a bad idea."
Round 5 - Pick 140: Will Shipley, RB, Clemson
Now that the running back roster has dwindled to be just Rhamondre Stevenson next season unless Ezekiel Elliott is re-signed, there is a big need to add a competent RB2 to the roster through the draft.
Maybe it's a position some feel should be prioritized more than waiting until the fifth round, but it's important to remember free agency begins over a month before the draft, allowing the Patriots to bulk up their roster with a veteran. Game-changing backs will be available to sign, like Saquan Barkley, Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry, or Josh Jacobs, just to name a few.
Other prominent names could be available as well. Although it seems unbelievable that Belichick would dish out the kind of money it would take to bring any of them to New England, they are slated to have nearly $100 million in cap space next season, making it more possible that they will be willing to spend far more than they have in the past to get the team back on track.
That makes waiting until the fifth round to take Will Shipley out of Clemson a bit easier to accept, and he could be worth the wait.
"Shipley was considered a Day 2 pick coming into the season and may end up still being that, but he has posted career lows in missed tackles forced and yards after contact in 2023, two important stats that help separate a running back’s individual ability from their offensive line.
That doesn’t mean the all-purpose back isn’t a good player, but his draft stock might be that of a mid-rounder. Still, as a talented receiver, Shipley has seen more than 30 targets in each of the past two seasons, a role that could pair well with Stevenson."