BOSTON (CBS) — For the first time in three years, Patriots fans have a reason to watch the first round of the NFL Draft.

Yes, the Patriots actually have a first-round pick this year. In fact, Bill Belichick missed making a selection on the first night of the NFL’s annual circus so much that he even traded for a second one (or something like that). The last time the Patriots had a pair of first-round selections, they drafted Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones to help inject some youth on their defense. They’re hoping to do the same this time around with eight picks overall.

The spotlight has been on the Patriots ever since they fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, and mostly for the wrong reasons. There were questions on in-fighting between Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, and there was even some fear that two of their stars wouldn’t be wearing a Patriots uniform when the 2018 season kicks off. But both will indeed be back, and now our sights are set on who the team will be adding over the next three days.

The Patriots have five of the first 95 picks, a great opportunity to add some youth at important spots on their depth chart. It’s something they weren’t able to do the last two years, with Cyrus Jones highlighting an underwhelming 2016 draft class (Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell still carry a lot of promise) and the Pats adding just four players in 2017 (Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr. battled injuries but could be great).

The mockers have made their predictions, but it’s hard to guess what Belichick will actually do. Many believe the Patriots will take UCLA tackle Kolton Miller with one of their two first-round selections, meaning he probably won’t be on the Patriots at the end of Thursday’s first round. There is also a lot of rumbling that they could package some of those picks and move up, with many believing the Patriots could be one of the busiest teams over the next three days. But really, no one knows until the picks start flying off the board.

Here’s a quick breakdown of everything you need to know heading into this year’s draft regarding the New England Patriots.

Where & When

The Cleveland Browns will make the first selection on Thursday night, beginning at 8 p.m., and the seven-round festival will run through Saturday night. All the fun will take place at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, making it the first draft to be held inside an NFL stadium.

Thursday will only feature the first round, with each team getting 10 minutes to make its pick. The second and third rounds will be held on Friday, starting at 7 p.m., with each team getting seven minutes to make picks in the second round and five minutes in the third.

Round 4-7 will take place on Saturday starting at noon, with five minutes to make a selection in rounds 4-6 and four minutes in the seventh round. In the end, 256 kids who love to play football will have an employer.

You can watch the draft (and all of those guys pretending to know everything about everyone) on ESPN and NFL Network, and CBS Sports HQ will also have live coverage of the draft throughout the weekend.

New England’s Picks

1st round — 23rd overall (from L.A. Rams via Brandin Cooks trade)
1st round — 31st overall (assigned selection)
2nd round — 43rd overall (from San Francisco 49ers via Jimmy Garoppolo trade)
2nd round  — 63rd overall (assigned selection)
3rd round — 95th overall (assigned selection)
6th round — 198th overall (from L.A. Rams via Brandin Cooks trade)
6th round — 210th overall (from Oakland Raiders via Cordarrelle Patterson trade)
7th round — 219th overall (from Cleveland Browns via Jason McCourty trade)

The Patriots probably won’t make their first pick until late Thursday night, so brew an extra pot of coffee if you want to see it live.

That is, unless they move up…

New England’s Needs

1. Linebacker

The Patriots need an injection of youth in the middle of their defense, someone to provide some insurance if Dont’a Hightower can’t finish the season again. Hightower is set to return from a torn pectoral muscle, and though he’s a stud when on the field, he’s often off the field with various bumps and bruises.

With Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Robert and Marquis Flowers making up the depth chart, the Patriots need a young and athletic linebacker in their rotation, preferably one who can play all three downs. And after that, add another linebacker. They could also use someone who can get after the quarterback, perhaps a linebacker/defensive end hybrid.

2. Left Tackle

Nate Solder is gone after signing a four-year, $62 million deal with the New York Giants, leaving a vacant spot where someone should be protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. They have LaAdrian Waddle, Matt Tobin and Cole Croston currently filling out the depth chart, but could certainly use another Solder-like prospect at the position.

3. Tight End

Rob Gronkowski will probably go down as the best tight end ever to play in the NFL, and we now know he will indeed be back to catch passes from Tom Brady (odds are slim Belichick will trade away Gronk this weekend, but you never know will Bill). But it couldn’t hurt to have another young playmaker on the roster at that position, especially given Gronk’s past injuries.

4. Running Back

The Patriots lost Dion Lewis to free agency, and could use another playmaker out of the backfield. They currently have Rex Burkhead, James While, newcomer Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden on their depth chart.

5. Quarterback

You may not know this because it’s barely ever mentioned, but Tom Brady is 40 (and will be 41 when the season starts). Brian Hoyer is his lone backup at the moment.

Brady may play for another 3-4 years, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Patriots to draft his successor if the “right” guy is available when one of their eight picks comes up. Based on reports, they appear to be extremely interested in Louisville quarterback and former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.

6. Secondary

Malcolm Butler is gone after playing just about every defensive snap throughout the regular season and in two of New England’s three playoff games (just not the Super Bowl, as you may have heard). The Patriots brough in veteran Jason McCourty to fill the void, but that is no upgrade and it will likely only be temporary.

McCourty and Eric Rowe are entering the final year of their contract, so drafting a capable corner to play alongside Stephon Gilmore for the foreseeable future should be on New England’s radar.


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