Sorting through medical questions will impact Patriots' draft

If he is still on the board at No. 23, linebacker Rashaan Evans would be a safe pick for the Patriots. Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire

Exploring some hot New England Patriots topics in mailbag form:

Steve, if linebackers Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch are still on the board at No. 23, I'd put my chips on Evans because he is probably a little safer from a medical perspective. On Friday, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Vander Esch: "A lot of people really like [him] as a potential top-20 player. One of his issues is going to be medical. He wears that neck brace for a reason. He's got a cervical issue, and teams around the league right now are having the conversation about how bad or good is it really and at what level should we draft him?" If the Patriots could come away with a defender like Evans, then follow up with a higher rated left tackle, that would seem like a job well-done by them. But as is always the case, it's hard to project how it will unfold in front of them and the goal is to maximize the opportunity regardless of position.

The Patriots, as I understand it, have done (and continue to do) extensive work on this year's quarterback class. Between the scouts, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski, they've been aggressively thorough, so they have a strong feel for basically the entire quarterback class. Specific to their thoughts on UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, I'm not aware of how they view him. But the more I've dug into the class, I'm wondering if it's as deep in the Patriots' eyes as some of the media analysts believe it is, and how that might affect the team's approach.

Good thought, Will. If they decide that they like Jackson and believe he's worth making a move for, that 14th pick might be where they have to get to. They easily have enough draft capital to do so and likely wouldn't have to sacrifice a ransom to get there. I've been thinking more about Jackson over the last week, and he's one of the draft's most compelling storylines because he has franchise-quarterback potential, and yet his style of play requires some coaches to think outside the traditional box. That's a Bill Belichick specialty, so I'm interested to see if the Patriots make a move should Jackson fall into their range -- or if Jackson simply falls to them and then it becomes a decision of whether to pick him.

Hi, Matt. When I went through the other predictions from ESPN NFL Nation reporters, the Patriots still won the AFC East by three games and finished tied atop the AFC with Pittsburgh, Houston and Jacksonville. So that would come down to tiebreakers. I always like to point out that those win-loss predictions should be taken lightly, and it's more of a fun exercise to look closer at the path each opponent will be taking leading into its game with the Patriots. Also, it's a good reminder that it's hard to win in the NFL.

Jon, I think it has generally been challenging to get a good read on the first part of the schedule in recent years -- especially with the Patriots, because they are often still making significant changes to their roster at that time. That can mean taking a short-term hit of sorts, with the hope of a long-term gain. That's why I'd say the Texans, Jaguars, Lions and Dolphins could make a case that playing the Patriots in September is the best spot for them. From a Patriots perspective, the way I look at the start of the season is that the team needs to stay afloat in the first quarter of the year and be careful of digging itself too big of a hole. Things usually start to settle down after that.

David, the workouts are voluntary, so I'd be surprised if they lose their captaincies because of their lack of attendance. Players vote on the captains each year, and I don't see the majority of them changing their opinions based on this.

Jeff, usually when Tom Brady was one of the first through the door of the voluntary offseason program, it was basically his announcement that he was coming back and all-in. That hasn't happened this year, and couple that with what he said in the final episode of "Tom vs. Time," and the team might naturally have some questions with how Brady views his future at this time.

Bret, the main thing the NFL is looking at with kickoffs is the injury rate. So limiting kickoff returns has been a goal of sorts for the league. That is what is driving this discussion.