The 2023 NFL Draft is upon us. The three-day extravaganza starts tonight, and all 32 NFL franchises hope to ace the process. A good draft can transform a franchise’s fortunes. Conversely, a lousy draft can send a team down a doomed path. The draft is where championship teams are built, and front offices get fired. It is a pressure cooker situation. And one team is under considerable pressure ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
The New England Patriots last postseason win occurred on February 3rd, 2019. That night, the Patriots outlasted the Los Angeles Rams and won Super Bowl 53. Four long years have passed, and the Patriots are a superpower no more. With a division featuring the powerhouse Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins, and now Aaron Rodgers’ New York Jets, the path to success looks difficult for the Patriots.
Bill Belichick is trying to chase down Don Shula’s all-time wins record. Meanwhile, owner Robert Kraft is determined for more success. At the league meetings, Kraft said the following; “We’re about winning and doing whatever we can to win. And that’s what our focus is now. And I — it’s very important to me that we make the playoffs, which I hope happens next year.” That is a polite way of putting pressure on Belichick. The six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach is in the hot seat. Add that to the discord between Belichick and quarterback Mac Jones, and tension is high inside 1 Patriot Place.
The AFC is no longer a wasteland. The AFC East is loaded, and the rest of the conference features heavyweights. The Patriots must draft well. However, New England has drafted inconsistently over the last few years. Defensive backs like Kyle Dugger and Jack Jones have settled in nicely; others have not. N’Keal Harry and Chase Winovich are premium picks no longer on the roster. While 2021 day two pick Ronnie Perkins has yet to show his talent.
The Patriots own 11 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. No other team has more. And Belichick’s team has several positional needs; Cornerback, wide receiver, and tackle, are the most critical requirements. The current tackles are Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff, Trent Brown, Connor McDermott, and Yodny Cajuste. New England has not selected an offensive tackle with a top-100 since 2018. After the offensive line toiled last season, the Patriots need to improve in this area.
Wideout is another need. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyquan Thornton are the only receivers contracted after next season. Pair that with DeVante Parker’s ineffective play, and the Pats must find a legitimate WR1. In a conference sporting Stefon Diggs, Ja’Marr Chase, Garrett Wilson, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and others, the Patriots are in trouble in this receiver arms race.
The Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh said the following on drafting a rookie wideout; “There’s a lot of good wide receivers in this draft, and there’s a lot of good wide receivers in this league that weren’t just first-round picks. So, you can find these guys throughout the draft. Obviously, if you’re taking one in the first round, you better have some conviction about him.”
Groh also stated a desire to add speed to the offense. “I don’t think there’s a team in this league that’s saying, ‘We’ve got enough speed.’ If you can get faster, you’re going to get faster.” New England’s lack of speed and vertical threat has held them back in recent years. To keep up in the AFC, the Patriots need dynamism on offense.
And lastly, cornerback is another target. The draft class features several intriguing cornerback prospects. With Jalen Mills gone, New England’s depth at corner is light. With players like Deonte Banks and Cam Smith available, New England may dip into the cornerback stocks.
The Bottom Line
After Robert Kraft placed gentle pressure on Belichick at the league meetings, the Patriots’ draft got so much more intriguing. New England’s recent draft history is checkered. And with more teams rising in the AFC, the Patriots are now backed into a corner. With glaring needs at offensive tackle, wide receiver, and more questions at cornerback and tight end, the Patriots must ace this draft. It is clear now Robert Kraft will not tolerate another losing season.