The Patriots head into the NFL Draft with needs on both sides of the ball.
As of Tuesday, they had 12 picks, which ties the New York Giants for the most selections in this year's draft. Six of the Patriots picks are in the first three rounds, which will be held Thursday and Friday night. The last time the Pats drafted six players in the first three rounds was 2009.
The Patriots biggest need this weekend remains at tight end, but it won't be the only focus. The Pats also have needs at wide receiver, defensive end, tackle and defensive tackle. Don't be surprised if the Patriots sneak in a safety, linebacker or quarterback by the time the draft ends on Saturday.
After Rob Gronkowski retired, the tight end position immediately became the top need.
The two names to watch are T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant -- both from Iowa. Hockenson is a talented 6-foot-5 pass-catching, in-line blocking tight end. He's a rare breed, which is why he's considered the top player available and expected to go in the first round. The 6-4 Fant won't be too far behind him. He's an ultra-athlete move tight end. He's not an in-line blocker, but a matchup nightmare. Either player would start immediately for the Patriots.
If both players are off the board by the time the Patriots pick, there are other options in Alabama's Irv Smith Jr., Mississippi's Dawson Knox and Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger. Fant and Sternberger visited Gillette Stadium this month.
It will be fascinating to see how the receiver position unfolds this weekend. The Patriots have never drafted a receiver in the first round in Bill Belichick's reign. If that trend is going to end, look at someone like Mississippi's A.J. Brown, Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf, Arizona State's N'Keal Harry or Oklahoma's Marquise Brown, who is Antonio Brown's cousin.
The Patriots have also been connected with Ohio State's Parris Campbell, Stanford's JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Georgia's Mecole Hardman, South Carolina's Deebo Samuel, UMass' Andy Isabella and Notre Dame's Miles Boykin. Players that visited Gillette Stadium this month include Brown, Samuel, Harry, Hardman and Boykin.
This year's draft is considered very strong on the defensive line front. Although most of the top defensive ends will be off the board early, the Patriots have done homework on the likes of Boston College's Zach Allen, Louisiana Tech's Jaylon Ferguson and Iowa's Anthony Nelson.
Defensive tackle, however, could provide the Patriots at a chance of an instant starter. Clemson's Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are first-round prospects with Patriots ties. The Patriots are also connected with Notre Dame's Jerry Tillery, whose potential at 6-6 would make a solid Day 1 pickup and early contributor.
The Patriots have also done their due diligence on the quarterback position. They hosted first-round prospect Daniel Jones of Duke. They might have to trade up to get him, but the fact they were at his Pro Day and hosted him at Gillette is noteworthy. The Patriots also hosted West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, who is considered a Day 2 prospect.
With Tom Brady turning 42 in August, the Patriots will need to prepare for the future at the quarterback position. I
Speaking of Brady, the Patriots need to protect their quarterback. With Trent Brown off to Oakland, there's some uncertainly at left tackle. Last year's first-rounder Isaiah Wynn is coming off an injury, and the Pats have been linked to several tackle prospects. Keep an eye on Ole Miss' Greg Little, Kansas State's Dalton Risner and Washington's Kaleb McGary. McGary came to Foxboro for a predraft visit.
But as always, expected the unexpected with the Patriots. No one predicted they would draft a running back in the first round last year, but Sony Michel became an important offensive piece. With a dozen picks, the Patriots have the ammo to move up and down the draft board.