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Cornerback options aplenty for Patriots this draft

April 26, 2017 GMT

The Patriots shouldn’t need a cornerback in this weekend’s draft, but hey, here they are.

It’s looked more likely this week Malcolm Butler will remain with the Pats for the 2017 season, though it’s fair to be skeptical that people are straight-up lying to gain leverage in the immediate lead-up to the draft. But even if Butler plays out his contract, there’s a canyon between the Patriots and their Super Bowl hero in negotiations for an extension.

It’s debatable whether it should have ever gotten to this point with Butler, but it is what it is. This is an incredibly strong cornerback draft class, so the Pats will consider fortifying their depth chart this weekend.

They’re in good shape for the upcoming season with Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones and Justin Coleman under contract. Cyrus Jones has the physical ability to become a good cornerback if he can overcome the confidence issues that plagued his rookie season. Jonathan Jones was almost exclusively a special teamer last season, but the Patriots will at least give the speedster an opportunity to compete for a defensive role in camp.

Rowe progressed nicely down the stretch last season, but that coincided with an incredible surge from Butler and Logan Ryan. Rowe could be fine again in 2017 with Gilmore and Butler leading the way at cornerback, but can Rowe be a reliable starter for a full season if the Pats part with Butler, now or in the future? That’s an unknown at this stage in Rowe’s career.

So this leaves the Patriots with an interesting predicament. They could ignore the position in the draft, keep Butler, potentially have the best cornerback paring in the league in 2017 and then just figure it out with Rowe, Cyrus Jones and safety Duron Harmon in their nickel package. And then they can address the issue more thoroughly in 2018 if Butler departs in free agency.

Or the Pats could add more competition to the mix in the third round with a handful of intriguing targets. The best-case scenario would be to pounce on Washington’s Sidney Jones if he tumbles due to a torn Achilles, gifting the Pats a top-15 talent if he bounces back from the pro-day injury.

Otherwise these ought to cover the Pats’ needs: Iowa safety Desmond King, cornerbacks including Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, Florida’s Teez Tabor, Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton and Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin should be in the third-round mix. UConn’s Obi Melifonwu also has an interesting stock report, as some project him to go as high as the first round at safety while others view him as a third-round talent. So it’s tough to forecast the Pats’ chances of landing the local product.

The other possibility involves trading Butler. The Saints are happy with their board in the neighborhood of the No. 32 pick, but if they don’t nab a corner at No. 11 and watch the latter half of the initial round unfold unfavorably, maybe they’d be happy to call the Patriots to respark those trade discussions. That scenario would help the Saints get Butler, while the Pats would get first-round value for a player who might not be retained beyond 2017.

If that’s the case, the Pats should have their choice of at least one of the following corners: Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, Florida’s Quincy Wilson, Washington’s Kevin King, LSU’s Tre’Davious White or Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie.

With so many options at play and a strangely unpredictable scenario with Butler, the Patriots might not even know how their cornerback depth chart will appear after this weekend.