Given how the Patriots' 2023 season has unfolded, the only silver lining that appeared was their pending highest draft pick in over 30 years. Before Sunday's matchup with the Broncos, they were locked in with the second overall selection, giving them nearly an entire draft class to choose from in hopes of turning the franchise around.
With just games in Denver, in Buffalo, and at home vs. the Jets, most believed the only win left on the schedule was against the Jets. For one, it's the last home game of the year, and two, because it's the Jets. If anyone will make sure they beat the Jets, it's Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
Because of that, the second overall pick seemed like a near guarantee, with the chance of taking the first pick still in play, even if it was leaning more doubtful than probable. Considering the dramatic makeover the team needs this upcoming offseason, particularly the offense, it has been the perfect time for the Patriots to have such a poor season, allowing fans to dream about drafting one of the two projected top quarterbacks of the class.
But a lot of that hope came to a crashing halt on Sunday Night, which wasn't exactly the Christmas gift some fans were hoping for.
When the Patriots went on an exciting run by scoring 20 points in the third quarter, it felt like a jolt of reality for those solely focused on the draft. This game was expected to be a dominant showing by the Broncos, mainly because they had gone on a five-game winning streak and convinced people they were a good team. But New England brought the fight early and often, with an impressive defensive performance that kept Denver out of the end zone for most of the game.
That changed in the fourth quarter when Russell Wilson led the offense down the field on back-to-back drives, ending with a touchdown, succeeding at two-point conversions to tie the game. After exchanging punts, the Patriots surprisingly hit a 56-yard field goal to put them ahead with just two seconds remaining, sealing the unlikely but hard-earned win to bring their record to 4-11.
Typically, it would be a win worth celebrating. But because it moved the Patriots from the second pick to the fourth, many began to grow concerned about how it would ultimately impact their draft needs and how it would be ultimately dictated by how the fare was in the final two games.
Since the top-2 picks seem out of reach now, NESN's Dakota Randall outlined what the results of the last games would mean for the Patriots' draft positioning.
- If the Patriots lose one of their final two games (at Buffalo Bills; home vs. Jets), they’re guaranteed a top-seven pick.
- New England is guaranteed a top-four selection if it loses out.
- The Patriots essentially are guaranteed to win a tiebreaker over the Cardinals, but they now need at least one win from Arizona to still have a chance for the No. 2 pick.
- The Patriots and Commanders are neck-and-neck in strength of schedule. With Washington finishing against the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, New England might need to lose to the Jets in the season finale to have a chance for a top-three pick.
- New England can’t finish any lower than the 10th pick.
So, not all hope is lost, right?
A top-seven pick is certainly not ideal when a top-2 pick has been at play for much of the season, but some of the teams at the top of the board may be willing to trade down, given what positions they will and won't be looking at.
For example, the Bears and Cardinals, the first and second picks, may not be in the mix for a quarterback since Justin Fields and Kyler Murray have been performing much better as of late. Caleb Williams and Drake Maye will be available as late as the third pick if that's the case.
But if the Patriots want to guarantee they get one or the other, they could get on the phone and make a call to Arizona or Chicago to inquire about a trade-up. If they are set on sticking with their current quarterbacks, why wouldn't they trade out of their pick, pile up even more picks, including another first-rounder in 2025, and move down just a few spots?
It would be an uncharacteristic move for the Patriots, who are historically known for trading down no matter where they are in the first round. But with basically everyone's job on the line this offseason other than Robert Kraft's, it seems like the perfect time for them to go against their norm and go all out to get a franchise-altering player if they believe he's there.
Just the thought of that ever being a reality is difficult to believe. However, Kraft has made his disappointment about how the Patriots have fared since Tom Brady's departure very clear and public, so allowing Bill Belichick (or whoever the GM may be) to do what it takes to get a guy that could make them a contender again doesn't feel out of the question.