As the NFL season comes to a close to the usual tune of a New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victory, a whole new season comes to fill the void. Sorry, AAF fans, it’s NFL Draft season. Highlighting the upcoming months are NFL scouts and general managers reviewing film and filling in draft boards in hopes of landing their franchise’s future cornerstone.
The majority of NFL teams have gotten an early start on the process due to missing the playoffs. For a team like the New England Patriots, however, the process is just starting. Often getting a delayed start on scouting due to deep-postseason runs, the front office must move quickly with the NFL Combine approaching.
The Patriots, however, are in an unusual position entering the draft season. The team holds three picks in the first two rounds and is projected to receive multiple mid-round compensation picks from last season’s free agency losses. In total, the team is projected an astounding 12 selections through the draft, not typical of a Super Bowl winner. On top of that, the team has seemingly endless possibilities with their high selections. The most prominent positions of need — such as pass-catchers or front seven help — can be filled in nearly any round of a deceptively deep class. For the first time in many years, the Patriots have seemingly endless options coupled with a plethora of draft capital.
While the front office is only beginning their research, draft junkies across the country have been hard at work. In the spirit of draft season kicking off, it is time to delve into the first edition of the New England Patriots’ mock draft.
Primary Needs: WR, TE, DL
Secondary Needs: LB, DB, QB
Round 1: Pick 32
Round 2 (via Chicago): Pick 56
Round 2: Pick 64
Round 3 (Via Lions): Pick 73
Not included: Two projected third-round picks, one projected fifth-round pick, and one projected seventh-round pick from 2018 free agents departures. Since these picks are not yet official, they are not included in this mock draft.
*Official pick numbers will be determined post compensatory pick assignment
Even before compensation picks are awarded, the Patriots have no shortage of capital at the top of the draft. While the team’s needs may change after free agency runs its course, Bill Belichick and company have the ability to fill their primary needs with top-tier talent. However, since predicting Belichick’s every move is impossible, it’s easier to dive head-first into this mock draft and pray for accuracy.
Round 1: Pick 32
The Pick: T.J. Hockenson (TE, Iowa)
Other Fits: D.K. Metcalf (WR, Ole Miss), Christian Wilkins (DL, Clemson)
Rob Gronkowski is not getting any younger. While that may hurt for fans and the team to accept, the Hall of Famer’s career is nearing its conclusion (or may have already reached it). However, there is a silver lining, as this year’s tight end group is one of the deepest in recent memory. Headlining this group is Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson. As a do-it-all tight end prospect, Hockenson could slide seamlessly into Gronkowski’s role in New England.
Hockenson has quickly climbed draft boards across the league, primarily for his versatility. He has showcased exceptional versatility during his time at Iowa, flashing a dynamic route tree along with an unexpected second gear with the ball in his hands. Hockenson could step in immediately as a key contributor in the New England offense, as his sure hands and large catch radius could mesh perfectly as Brady’s next safety blanket.
However, that is only one aspect of Hockenson’s game. Part of what makes Gronkowski so valuable in New England is his ability to block on any given play. Hockenson shares this trait, as he has taken on both defensive ends and outside linebackers with ease in the past. He is a very balanced blocker with exceptional footwork and a nasty competitive drive, all of which only adds to his value.
Hockenson is no Gronkowski, but he is the closest the Patriots can get this offseason. Make no mistake, this is not the Patriots settling for a tight end, but adding a potential superstar to fill the void of a retiring one.
Round 2: Pick 56
The Pick: N’Keal Harry (WR, Arizona State)
Other Fits: Deebo Samuel (South Carolina), Taylor Rapp (S, Washington)
Here comes the world’s worst-kept secret: the Patriots need wide receivers. Shocking, but with the uncertain future of Josh Gordon and aging of postseason hero Julian Edelman, New England needs to get their aging quarterback some receivers, and fast.
Arizona State receiver N’Keal Harry looks like the perfect project receiver for Josh McDaniels to develop. Harry’s physical traits are what stand out on tape: a 6’3”, 216lb receiver with superb route running abilities. Flashing potential with and without the ball in his hands, Harry has shown he is more than a simple downfield player. He has the athletic ability to beat defenders at any level and can effectively box out on jump balls. CLNS’s own Evan Lazar has recently broken down Harry’s play in-depth, which can be found here.
However, Harry is not the perfect receiving prospect. His ability to make contested catches has been excessively demonstrated due to his inability to separate down the field. He plays hard, but his release needs refining in order to beat corners off the line.
Harry has a chance to show improvement during the drafting process. If he flashes improved play speed, Harry likely won’t be available for New England in this spot. However, if he is on the board with this pick, Harry could join New England and provide a downfield gadget-type player with incredible size. Fans across New England need to watch Harry with great interest.
Round 2: Pick 64
The Pick: Dexter Lawrence (DL, Clemson)
Other Fits: Dre’Mont Jones (DL, Ohio State), Will Grier (QB, West Virginia)
With Danny Shelton and Trey Flowers set to enter free agency, the Patriots have no reason to avoid defensive linemen in the draft. While this need could be resolved by resigning one (or both) players, or via external options, the team should not pass on a gifted chance to at least replace Shelton.
Enter Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence could slide into Shelton’s role in New England as an interior defensive lineman, specifically at nose tackle. While his potential — similar to Shelton — is capped by a limited ability to rush on passing downs, Lawrence was a tackling machine in the interior at Clemson. He exhibited solid hand technique and footwork, able to occupy gaps, flow, and find the ball carrier.
The Patriot run defense was always better with Shelton on the field, but his inability to rush the passer often reduced him to a limited or inactive role. While Lawrence is not at the top of the class in terms of generating third down pressure, he is nevertheless an upgrade over Shelton. By making this selection here, the Patriots replace Shelton with an upgrade on the inside and save money to resign Trey Flowers.
Round 3: Pick 73
The Pick: Dakota Allen (LB, Texas Tech)
Other Fits: T.J. Edwards (LB, Wisconsin), Clayton Thorson (QB, Northwestern)
The Patriots could go in many different directions with this selection. Due to compensation picks not having been announced, we are not including them in this mock draft. However, when the draft rolls around in April, the Patriots will have two more selections at the end of this round. This brings both “Other Fits” listed into consideration at a later time.
For now, the Patriots should only continue to add to a solid linebacking corps with speed and high football IQ. That’s the type of player Texas Tech’s Dakota Allen seems to be. He is a fiery competitor and a natural leader, with a knack for always being around the football. During his time in college, Allen made his mark with a high motor to the ball and laying down the hammer on any ball carrier he found. He has a quick processor and is able to stick with tight ends and running backs in coverage. Should Allen be on the board when New England on the clock with any of their third-round selections, he should be an easy choice.
Round 4: (Pick # TBD)
The Pick: Darnell Savage Jr. (S, Maryland)
Other Fits: Jalen Jelks (EDGE, Oregon), Hunter Renfrow (WR, Clemson)
After filling the holes at receiver, defensive line, and at linebacker, the Patriots are able to spend some of their mid-round picks to add youth to aging positions. With the possible retirement of Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty, as well as the age of Patrick Chung, the team should look to add youth into a defensive backfield filled with veteran talent.
Darnell Savage Jr., a physical, high motor safety from Maryland would serve as a perfect year-to-year backup for the aging Chung. Savage has been criminally underrated to this point in the draft process, but his tape speaks for itself. He always seems to be around where the ball is, often laying down brutal hits on whoever is holding the ball. Like Chung, he is not afraid to get physical with coverage assignments, matches up against tight ends and slot receivers alike. He takes great angles to the ball and possesses terrific upside as Chung’s eventual replacement.
Throughout college, however, Savage has allowed his intensity to lapse into mental errors on the field. He occasionally bites down on a crossing route before processing the play and is sporadic at times in pursuit of the ballcarrier. However, these issues can be tamed with a disciplined coaching staff such as Belichick’s. If the Patriots take Savage, he can learn from the talented coaches and players already on the team, and step in once he has lessened his mental errors.
Round 7: (Pick # TBD)
The Pick: Emanuel Hall (WR, Missouri)
Other Fits: Cece Jefferson (DL, Florida), Jaylen Smith (WR, Louisville)
In this instance, there is a long break between Patriot picks. However, this mock does not factor in compensation picks, which will add up to four more selections before this one. Come to the later rounds of the draft, the players left are almost impossible to predict. Even harder would be the task of predicting what team takes what player. The best bet is to select a sleeper player with a few promising traits, find a shooting star, and make a wish.
Missouri’s Emanuel Hall has a chance to stick on the Patriots, at least for the preseason. During his time at Missouri, Hall made his money through his blazing speed, solid hands, and mental toughness. He needs more work on his route running and has shown little potential as either a blocker or jump-ball target. He has a good frame (6’2”, 200lbs) paired with terrific downfield speed, and most importantly is a tireless worker. If the Patriots want one last-round flier, Hall would be an interesting candidate.
Round 7: (Pick # TBD)
The Pick: Keegan Render (OG/C, Iowa)
Other Fits: Bryce Love (RB, Stanford), Tyree Jackson (QB, Buffalo)
While many fans may view this selection as merely a training camp invite, Iowa’s Keegan Render could prove to be much more. With a solid frame (6’3”, 307lbs) Render is capable of playing filling any interior offensive line vacancy with efficiency. Render could offer the Patriots an interesting depth piece along their interior offensive line, with high football IQ and pro-system experience. If he is on the board this late, consider him a draft day steal for the Patriots.
Round 7: (Pick # TBD)
The Pick: Kendall Joseph (LB, Clemson)
Other Fits: Ryan Finley (QB, N.C. State), Chris Nelson (DL, Texas)
With their last pick in the seventh round, the Patriots should look to find players with serviceable traits but potential to develop. Kendall Joseph, a high IQ, coverage strong linebacker could prove a perfect flier. Joseph is one of the overshadowed names on the Clemson defense but shined in pass coverage assignments. He is a balanced tackler that takes excellent angles in pursuit, traits that look to translate well into the NFL. However, he is not a reliable gap-filling linebacker and lacks the size to take on offensive blockers effectively. If Joseph could add bulk to his frame, he could carve out a serviceable role on any NFL team. The Patriots should look to add more players with Joseph’s processor, especially this late in the draft.
In total, the Patriots have come out of this mock draft by not only filling their most prominent needs but adding youth to key positions.
Round 1: T.J. Hockenson (TE, Iowa)
Round 2: N’Keal Harry (WR, Arizona State)
Round 2: Dexter Lawrence (DL, Clemson)
Round 3: Dakota Allen (LB, Texas Tech)
Round 4: Darnell Savage Jr. (S, Maryland)
Round 7: Emanuel Hall (WR, Missouri)
Round 7: Keegan Render (OG/C, Iowa)
Round 7: Kendall Joseph (LB, Clemson)
It should be noted, however, that Belichick and company rarely follow a specific list of “team needs” come draft time. If a top-end prospect falls to a Patriot selection, he won’t make it past them. Regardless, they have plenty of early-draft capital to add premier talent to a Superbowl-winning team. Patriot fans, buckle up.
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