FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) — Most of the New England Patriots’ shortcomings last season can be traced back to the experiments they tried on offense that simply didn’t pan out.
Entrusting that side of the ball and the pivotal second year of quarterback Mac Jones’ development to coaches with non-offensive pedigrees in Matt Patricia (defense) and Joe Judge (special teams), proved to be a mistake that coach Bill Belichick quickly addressed this offseason.
The draft is part of what the Patriots hope will be a reset of sorts in 2023.
Former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is back, along with new coaches, including offensive line coach Adrian Klemm.
While it would seem that a change at the quarterback position won’t be part of New England’s course correction, the party line this summer is that everything is on the table.
“I think the big thing for us is everybody is starting with a clean slate,” O’Brien said. “I think every year is different. I think this year is no different from any other year.”
O’Brien will have his old title and take over as quarterbacks coach. Belichick also spent some money on beefing up the talent around Jones, letting last season’s top producing receiver Jakobi Meyers walk in free agency in favor of signing veteran JuJu Smith-Schuster to a three-year deal that could be worth as much as $33 million.
It means that they will be able to go in a lot of different directions with their draft.
New England is positioned well to bring in some good young talent to fill in its gaps, holding three picks in the top 76 selections, including the 14th overall in the first round. If they address the O-line or receiver early, former Northwestern tackle Peter Skoronski is a possibility, as is former Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman.
Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh said O’Brien’s previous experience as an NFL coach with Houston and most recently at Alabama in the Southeastern Conference has been valuable as he and his staff evaluate the college talent that’s available.
“To be able to pick his brain on things — look, I certainly don’t have all the answers,” Groh said. “We’re trying to find as much information about these guys going into the draft as we can. Coach O’Brien, he’s a wealth of knowledge and he’s been a friend and resource for myself.”
The Patriots will have plenty of picks to play with— 11 total in every round except for the fifth. How many of those picks they actually use is to be determined. New England has made at least one draft-day trade every year under Bill Belichick except 2004.
The Patriots could look locally to add some more athleticism around Jones, with former Boston College receiver Zay Flowers someone they have scouted a lot. New England’s staff served as coaches during the East-West Shrine Game that Flowers participated.
While it’s unclear whether the Patriots see Flowers as slot receiver or deep threat in the league is unclear, but Groh said his speed and size allow them to just view him as an athlete.
“Depending on the offense, you’ve got to be able to move these guys around, especially a player like Zay that can do a lot of things,” Groh said. “It’s easy to pigeonhole these guys. … I don’t think Zay would want to be typecast as an inside or outside guy. So I’d just say he’s a really good wide receiver.”
After finishing with just the third losing record of the Belichick coaching era, the Patriots are picking 14th in the first round.
The Patriots have added some other players on the offensive line (Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff), while also choosing not to bring back veterans such as receiver Nelson Agholor, tackle Isaiah Wynn and running back Damien Harris. Other potential points of emphasis could include the secondary, where there’s an open spot at safety following Devin McCourty’s retirement.
Running back, quarterback and defensive tackle.