Hannable: Patriots desperately need to add young talent, and that process begins this week


The Patriots have done an outstanding job over the years of turning over their talent to have success year-after-year.

Right now, that isn’t totally the case.

On the Patriots’ final 53-man roster to end last season, there were 10 players under the age of 25, but of those players only three true starters — J.C. Jackson (23), Sony Michel (24) and Elandon Roberts (24).

This needs to change, and it starts this offseason with the NFL draft. 

Fortunately, the Patriots have a league-high 12 picks overall, and six in the first 101. The opportunity to add talent is there, which is good because they need to make up for what’s happened in recent years.

It’s been a number of swing-and-misses at the top of the draft for the Patriots the last few seasons. It’s worth pointing out they did not have first-round selections in 2016 (Deflategate) and 2017 (Brandin Cooks trade), but they didn’t really make up for it with who they actually selected. 

Of the 12 players selected in the first three rounds the last three seasons, only five of those players are still on the roster, and three of them were from last year’s draft. Also, their first selections the past three years have been far from impact players. Cyrus Jones (Round 2, 2016) was released at the end of training camp last summer, Derek Rivers (Round 3, 2017) tore his ACL during training camp in 2017, missed the entire year and then didn’t contribute much this past season, and then Isaiah Wynn (Round 1, 2018) spent the entire season on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles during the preseason.

The lack of impact players coming from recent drafts is starting to catch up with them.

For instance, look at Trey Flowers this offseason. Obviously, the team would like to keep all their worthwhile free agents, but sometimes money gets in the way. This is where young talent comes in to replace them, and the Patriots don’t exactly have it at the edge position. Rivers hasn’t contributed at all, while Deatrich Wise (Round 4, 2017) has been decent, but not consistent enough to be classified as a viable replacement for Flowers.

This puts the Patriots in a position where they may be forced to overspend to keep Flowers, or also potentially spend more than they would like in potentially signing a replacement via free agency. 

Looking ahead to this offseason and the coming weeks, not only is it important to add youth to the entire roster, but especially to the offense. If Trent Brown departs via free agency, the team will then only have only three offensive active roster players 25 years or younger.

This process all starts this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis where all the top prospects will be for workouts, measurables and interviews. It’s likely the Patriots will have wide receivers at the top of their list of players they want to see.

Going into 2019, there’s just Julian Edelman (turns 33 in May), Matthew Slater (turns 34 next September and is primarily a special teamer), Braxton Berrios (23 years old, spent all last year on injured reserve) and Damoun Patterson (24 years old, spent last year on practice squad). Not only does the team need to acquire a receiver or two in the draft, but also in free agency, and age may play a role in that as well. Malcolm Mitchell was in the picture up until last summer, and this also goes towards the theme of the Patriots’ poor drafting in recent years as he could have been part of the position right now if he worked out.

Besides receiver, safety, defensive tackle, and defensive end are also positions that need to get younger.

With 12 picks overall, the Patriots really can do a lot to make up for their issues the past several drafts. It’s not just the 12 selections, it’s the ability to potentially package some of them to move up to ensure they get an impact player they like. If three or four impactful rookies are brought to New England this April, the organization did its job.

New England cannot afford another lackluster draft, but with its haul of selections, it shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.