Super Bowl LI: NFL draft fits for Falcons, Patriots

The Patriots' Bill Belichick and Falcons' Dan Quinn are busy preparing their teams for Sunday's Super Bowl. Their thoughts are focused solely on the big game ahead of them. They would tell you, as they should, that they are only interested in going to battle with the players they have and aren't thinking about anything else.

As a draft analyst, however, I found it an interesting exercise to think about how some of the players in the 2017 draft would help each of the teams on Sunday, and beyond. I've identified five players for the Falcons and Patriots that are capable of filling roster holes for the teams in 2017. The five players come from the early and middle rounds to show how a draft can provide contributors from each of the draft's three days.


Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson: The interior of the Patriots' offensive line wouldn't get a break with Watkins joining Ra'Shede Hageman and Grady Jarrett up front. With veteran Jonathan Babineaux due to become a free agent, the Falcons could be looking for help up front on defense in 2017. Watkins' combination of strength and quickness off the ball netted him 10.5 sacks last fall and will earn him first-round grades.

DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State: Adding a strong-side end to complement Vic Beasley should be high on the Falcons' priority list in the draft. Walker's able to hold the edge and attack the quarterback when his matchup allows, skills the Falcons could use against the Patriots.

Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech: Atlanta already has plenty of offensive weapons, but Matt Ryan wouldn't complain about adding a rangy pass-catcher. Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo are free agents after the season, so Austin Hooper could use some help controlling the middle of the field. Hodges' height makes him a tough matchup even for smart, tenacious defenders like the Patriots' linebackers.

Taylor Moton, OG, Western Michigan: Some teams could project Moton to tackle, but he could also be a devastating guard. Veteran Chris Chester is due to become a free agent this offseason, and the team could look for a long-term starter at the position early in the draft.

Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State: The Falcons could use some more athleticism at the linebacker spot with Sean Weatherspoon and Philip Wheeler due to become free agents. Lee has nice movement skills, which allows him to chase and cover.


Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: Some scouts aren't sure if McCaffrey is an NFL running back or receiver. Either way, he's a very good football player when healthy. Already a fine route runner, he's been working on improving that part of his game in case a team wants to use him in a versatile role. If he's available, it wouldn't be surprising to see New England pick him up as a receiver and return specialist -- he's the type of weapon the Patriots would certainly love to have in their stable against Atlanta.

Carl Lawson, DE/OLB, Auburn: It's unclear where Lawson fits in a draft class with several highly talented pass rushers. Depending upon how teams ultimately view his overall athleticism and role at the next level, he could slide down in the second round a bit. Would the Patriots consider trading up in the round for him? (Yes, New England has traded up for players before -- twice in the first round of the 2012 draft, in fact.) His tweener end/linebacker status might actually be a plus for a team like New England that uses different base fronts every week based on the game plan.

Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss: Engram and Martellus Bennett would make a fantastic duo in the Patriots' offense on Sunday. Bennett's due to become a free agent, as well, so the team might need to find a partner for Rob Gronkowski (assuming he's healthy) in two-tight end looks next season.

Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU:LeGarrette Blount has been a great find for the Patriots, but his contract is up after this season. Williams is a powerful back with good enough feet to work through creases, as well. Adding Williams with McCaffrey and James White would give the Patriots some flexibility.

Nate Hairston, CB, Temple: Cornerbacks are always in demand, even for a team like the Patriots that already possesses decent depth at the position. They would probably feel better with even more talent outside against the Falcons' passing attack. New England might need a new starter on the outside next season if Logan Ryan leaves via free agency, and Hairston has the traits to rise to that level in time.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter _@chadreuter_.

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