Tedy Bruschi knows how the Patriots operate. He understands how Bill Belichick approaches things. Not only was he one of the team's best and most respected players through the first iteration of its dynasty, but even in retirement -- he works as an analyst for ESPN these days -- he was at Gillette Stadium quite a bit during training camp to watch his old boss direct his old team.
He understands what winning the division means to the Patriots -- for years, we've heard players talk about how that's their first goal every season -- which is why his sights have already turned in that direction as Belichick and his front office approach the offseason.
"Offseason begins Patriots fans," Bruschi wrote on Instagram this week. "What’s your #1 priority? For me, find a way to stop this guy and compete with the Bills to win back the AFC East. Tough task."
That specific mission has merit. The Patriots have to play Josh Allen twice a year every year through the end of his contract in 2028. At least. To get back to being atop the division -- to get back to checking off that first stated goal -- and hosting playoff games, they'll have to have more answers for Allen than they did in the Wild Card Round.
It also wouldn't be a bad way to build simply because if you are built to beat the Bills, you'd appear built to handle most of the best teams in the conference. The Bills feature a wildly-talented quarterback who happens to be surrounded by a group of deep and highly-skilled passing-game weapons. The Chiefs have taken a similar path to the top. So have the Bengals. The Chargers didn't make the postseason, but seem to be knocking at the door with one of the most physically-gifted young quarterbacks on the planet. Save for the ground-and-pound Titans and Ravens, building to beat the Bills is simply building to beat modern NFL offenses.
How the Patriots go about accomplishing that kind of build isn't going to be easy. Patriots owner Robert Kraft spent like never before last offseason, and his team isn't flush with cap space. That space can (and will) be adjusted. How much? Impossible to know.
What we do know at this point is where the Patriots will be picking in the draft: No. 21 overall. Scouts will tell you that this is not a draft flush with top-tier talent, so perhaps the Patriots will do what they've done in the past in the back half of the draft and trade out for more picks.
But, for now, let's assume they stick where they are. If their goal is to knock off the Bills, who should they be after? Here's a quick preliminary look at some prospects who may be worthy of consideration:
Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Adding some speed at the second level of the defense could help the Patriots track down Allen in space. It may also help the Patriots run with Buffalo running back Devin Singletary and tight end Dawson Knox in coverage.
Lloyd has some juice as a former safety with real coverage ability. He may not last to No. 21 -- The Athletic's Dane Brugler has him coming off the board at No. 9 overall in his latest mock -- but if he did, he'd make some sense. ESPN's Jordan Reid told us he liked how Lloyd would fit with the Patriots on this edition of Next Pats.
Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Like Lloyd, Dean is a bit undersized relative to what the Patriots have typically drafted early at the off-the-ball linebacker spot. He's listed at 6-feet and just 225 pounds when the Patriots often like their 'backers in the 250-pound range. But with the tradeoff being a little more speed at the linebacker level? Dean could make some sense as an athletic 'backer with a high football IQ.
He may not be a Prototypical Patriot because of his frame, but it wouldn't come as a surprise to see him go off the board to New England either.
Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Patriots were lacking corner depth in the Wild Card Round and Allen made them pay for it. With Jalen Mills on COVID reserve and Jonathan Jones out for the year, that group consisted of J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Justin Bethel, and practice-squadders D'Angelo Ross and DeVante Bausby.
Gardner may be better suited to a secondary that favors zone coverages, but he has plenty of length and speed to provide Belichick with a quality coverage option against the Bills.
Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
If the Patriots are more comfortable going where they've gone in the past at corner -- SEC production, man-coverage ability -- then McCreary feels like a fit. He has the ability to play a variety of different roles and is tough enough to function in run support ... or in support of bringing down a quarterback built like a tight end.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Burks looks like a big play waiting to happen. And if the Patriots determine that their best chance of competing with high-powered offenses in their conference -- particularly the one in their division -- is to keep up on the scoreboard, then he'd make for a sensible addition.
At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds he's a big body with explosive athleticism, who has the speed to threaten deep but the versatility to work out of the backfield and humble opposing defenses from there. This clip of Burks out-running the entirety of Nick Saban's secondary, especially at his size, is the kind of clip that feels like it should earn him a long hard look at No. 21 overall if he's there.