With the 2023 NFL Draft fast approaching, it's finally time to unleash the 13th edition of my Top-50 Big Board, highlighting players from this year's class who I feel are the best fits for the Patriots. Once again, there is plenty of talent from top to bottom and with 11 overall picks the Patriots should have all the ammo they need to target the players they want.
The team's needs are highlighted at offensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver, with free safety, tight end and edge lurking as pending needs in the coming seasons that could be addressed early. This year's draft class offers some intriguing choices at all of those positions, with tight end, edge and cornerback being among the deepest groups with good players available in all three days.
How will it all play out as the Patriots try to inject their team with another crop of promising young playmakers? Where will the needs and value all come together? With last year's 0-for-10 hanging over my head, the first time in 12 years that I failed to hit a single prospect, here are this year's favorite 50 to land in Foxboro.
1. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon - Unless they trade up the Patriots probably have no shot at Christian Gonzalez and this is just a burnt spot on my big board, but he's a player I've enjoyed watching too much this spring to leave off. He does almost everything the Patriots defense could ask of him... man, zone, tackling, ball skills, size, smarts... he's the full package and would give the defense that needed piece against the best offenses to match up against the best receivers.
2. Broderick Jones, T, Georgia - Georgia's left tackle is more likely to make it to 14 and would be a great addition to an offensive line room that has done enough in free agency to not be forced to fill a need but still has long-term concerns. Jones is still raw but his ceiling is through the roof, he's a road grater who loves to finish and moves with impressive fluidity for a big man. It might take a beat before it all clicks in pass protection but then you can plug him on the blind side for the foreseeable future.
3. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College - Okay, now we're talking. Flowers is an explosive receiver who can do it up and down the field and would provide an element of excitement sure to ignite a renewed buzz for the offense's potential in 2023. The Patriots have spent plenty of time with the receiver who played his college ball right in their backyard, then got an up-close look at the Shrine Bowl, as well as his Pro Day and finally with an official visit. Flowers should be there at 14, or the team might even be able to drop a few spots and still get him depending on how things unfold. He edges out JSN by a hair because there feels like a groundswell around him.
4. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State - There really isn't much drop-off from Flowers to JSN, mostly in the long speed category, but he'd still give a jolt of life to the Patriots passing offense in the middle of the field. There also might be a bit of a jump from JSN that we're discounting because he only played three games last year. Again, like Flowers, Smith-Njigba figures to go somewhere in the 20s. If the Pats could drop down a few spots and still get a top receiver they should have plenty of ammo for Day Two to get their guys.
5. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State - I know, I was scared of the name at first too but after getting a full dose of Joey Porter Jr. on the field and at the Combine, there's so much to like about his potential in the Patriots defense. His length and smarts would make him an easy fit where he'd make life tough on the bigger outside receivers that litter the competition. He should be in the conversation at 14.
6. Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia - Washington is one of this year's absolute freaks and while he's far from the most naturally athletic pass-catching tight end in this class, his combination of size, length and immediate blocking ability is an easy fit for the Patriots' needs. By the end of Day Two I expect the Patriots will draft a tight end, but the need isn't that immediate and some of the best might be the raw ones with better passing game ceilings than Washington that you'll meet a little further down the Big Board. Still, he's a freak who has to be highlighted.
7. Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee - A nasty, ready-made right tackle, Wright was All-SEC in his final season and has the kind of demeanor and brute strength that seems to consistently intrigue the Patriots when they're selecting their offensive lineman. Wright does have some versatility to his game, perhaps he'll move inside to guard or be able to fill in at left tackle if not make an eventual move to the blindside. There's a lot to like about his game and what he would bring to the Patriots but with some veteran right tackles to consider on the roster, the biggest question might be if the value lines up with their need, especially on the right side.
8. Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma - If the Pats are looking for more of a left tackle potential prospect, Harrison might be a better fit than Wright as he's just 21 years old and has plus athletic talent that can be harnessed. He had 23 career starts on the left side at Oklahoma and could be an ideal candidate to develop for a potential 2024 starting gig.
9. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina - If the Patriots miss out on the top group of wideouts, Downs could be a heck of a consolation prize on Day Two as a tough inside option who is a savvy route runner that knows how to get open, at least at the college level. Like the other slots, size is a concern, but that's a tradeoff the team might be willing to get as they look to round out their receiver room with a youthful presence inside who could develop into a reliable go-to guy. Downs is one of my favorite fits in this entire class for who he is and what the offense needs.
10. Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland - I'd be surprised if Banks made it out of the first round, he's been a riser for me and even here on the Big Board I feel like he's probably too low. Size, strength and aggressiveness in press man are what stand out most and those things can get him in trouble but a little refinement could make Banks the best corner of the class in my view. He's an excellent Patriots fit and along with Downs, one of my favorites.
11. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama - Any player as explosive as Gibbs coming out of Alabama who has already played for Bill O'Brien has to make the Big Board, even if running back isn't a major need position with two draft picks invested there last year. Gibbs might be considered more than just a running back though, instead a moveable chess piece for O'Brien to continue to play with. While I prefer a quick slot receiver from this class, Gibbs could fill some similar needs because he can do it all.
12. Jordan Addison, WR, USC - Addison was my original mock 1.0 first-rounder but obviously, he's fallen down the rankings a bit since then. He could still provide much of what Flowers or JSN would but lacks some of their high-end traits. But he's another savvy inside receiver with a lot of college experience playing with NFL-caliber quarterbacks.
13. Brian Branch, DB, Alabama - Like Gibbs, Brian Branch just has to be on here even if the defense is stacked with players of similar profiles. Listed as a cornerback, Branch played more like a strong safety in the slot for Alabama, but it's not much of a stretch to see how easily he'd fit into the Patriots defense. It's just hard to bang the table for him because of Dugger, Phillips and Peppers already on the roster, not to mention Josh Bledsoe.
14. Derick Hall, DE, Auburn - A leader who topped Auburn in tackles-for-loss and sacks the last two seasons, Hall has well-rounded potential as both a pass rusher and an edge setter, and could fit in nicely behind Matthew Judon, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings on the edges of the defense. This is a difficult need to project getting filled, and perhaps it's one we're all undervaluing. It's just tough to get a read on what they'll look to add. Ideally, it would be a potential mix of Uche and Jennings like Hall, but he's a top-100 type player that they'll have to pounce on early.
15. Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State - Brents first caught my eye in Senior Bowl practices where he was sticky in one-on-ones, which was a question area for him coming out of his final season. He's got ideal size and length and 32 career starts that gave him plenty of experience. His athleticism could make him an appetizing option on Day 2 at a position of need that he could potentially fill as an outside cornerback.
16. Isaiah Foskey, Edge, Notre Dame - Durable, experienced and highly productive, Foskey is somehow still ascending and the Patriots defense could be the perfect place for him to reach his ceiling. Foskey was a playmaker at Notre Dame with seven career forced fumbles, and 26.5 sacks in 41 career games. He could be an ideal developmental edge player to work into the rotation as a rookie before taking on a bigger role next year. There's some Trey Flowers to his game, perhaps with more physical upside.
17. Tyler Scott, WR, Cincinnati - I came to Scott late in the process but found him to be a nice option for the slot just behind Downs, offering a bit more explosiveness but in a similarly undersized package. Some might argue Scott offers more downfield potential than Downs will and that's something to consider as the Patriots offense seems philosophically focused on attacking defenses deep.
18. Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State. - Given the team's appreciation of Trent Brown's mammoth size, it's impossible to ignore the similarly built Dawand Jones. At 6-foot-8, 374 pounds, Jones will likely stay on the right side where he could be a road grader in the running game. Jones was dominant in a brief Senior Bowl practice appearance, showing all that he needed to secure his place as a likely top-50 selection.
19. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina - Smith is another in a collection of potential outside corners with the kind of length that would make them unique amongst New England's current crop. Smith is highly athletic and plays with the kind of anticipation that would fit nicely into the Patriots scheme. He'd need some time to develop and that's why he's likely a Day 2 prospect, but his pedigree and traits are intriguing.
20. Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse - Like Smith and the others, Williams has the length and experience to have outside corner potential for the Patriots but injuries have derailed his development, lowlighted by an ACL tear that held him to just seven games in 2023. If the Patriots miss out on corners in the top 50, Williams could be a later developmental option to consider.
21. Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State - Musgrave shares the injury concerns that Williams has, but has an immense ceiling given his slick athleticism that showed up repeatedly during Senior Bowl practices after he was held to just two games in his final season for the Beavers. His projections are all over the place, with some having him as the top TE in the class and others seeing him as a late Day 2 option at best. In my view, he could be a steal if he lasts that long. It feels like the Pats must tap this class of tight ends and Musgrave is an earlier option with a high developmental upside.
22. Cody Mauch, OL, North Dakota St - Mauch is a small school prospect that is hard not to enjoy with his long red hair, missing front teeth and edgy play style. He's likely headed inside to guard at the next level as he looks to make the jump from FCS, but he has excellent size and an old-school work ethic that matches many former Patriots OL. He might not fill a true need with where he'll need to be selected but he's just one of those guys in this class that anyone should love to add both on and off the field.
23. Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan - Schoonmaker made an appearance in one of my mock drafts this spring and for a good reason, he's perhaps my favorite of the developmental Y tight ends in this class that should be available after the first two rounds but still fill a significant long-term need. He's not an explosive athlete but he's got a big catch radius and is a reliable target who will have some time to develop his blocking to an NFL level. He has all the tools to be an every-down tight end and one who could possibly emerge full-time in 2024 in the Pats offense.
24. Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa - LaPorta isn't far behind Schoonmaker for me and certainly offers a higher ceiling as far as a pass catcher goes but might not have the fully rounded blocking potential. But maybe given the direction of the league, Laporta is preferable for that reason, he'd make an instant impact in the passing game. He plays tough and while he won't overwhelm anyone with his athleticism, he can get the job done at a plus level.
25. Christopher Smith, DB, Georgia - With the need at free safety following Devin McCourty's retirement, Christopher Smith represents a high-level potential replacement on the back end of the defense. Praised for toughness and leadership by Kirby Smart, he's experienced having played all over Georgia's defense. He's got the ball skills to match as well and would be an easy fit into New England's secondary.
26. Tucker Kraft, TE, South Dakota State - According to The Athletic, Alabama and Bill O'Brien tried to lure Kraft away from South Dakota State before this past season, which only reinforced his spot here on the big board. His jump from FCS makes him a bit more of a projection than Schoonmaker or LaPorta, but he has all the tools he needs to become a versatile tight end who can play in any situation.
27. Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State - Honestly, I should probably have Reed higher than this because, for a mid-round guy, I love so much about his game. With most attention going to Zay Flowers and JSN, I wonder when it's all said and done if Reed might not be as reliable as any of the potential slot types in this class. Explosive? Maybe not, but he's a high-level competitor who plays with an edge that stands out. He's a dynamic returner too which provides some bonus depth.
28. Blake Freeland, OT, BYU - A giant athletic tackle in the mold of Nate Solder, Freeland provides a mid-round option as the Patriots look to fill a long-term need at the position. His length and athleticism are his best traits but he's raw. If the Patriots miss out on one of the top tackle options Freeland could be a nice consolation but one who might require some patience.
29. Sydney Brown, S, Illinois - Brown is another of my favorites this year, he plays the game with his hair on fire and is a plus playmaker, not to mention a special teams standout and captain. He might be more of an in-the-box safety and special teamer in the NFL, which aren't huge Patriots needs but he's just one of those college football players that screams Patriots play style to me.
30. Tyler Steen, OT, Alabama - There's no way we can ignore an Alabama tackle this spring for the Pats, as Steen might be an ideal developmental tackle in the mid-round range. He's an ascending prospect who had a strong Senior Bowl that raised his stock. His projected versatility makes him stand out above some of the other options that could be confined to tackle. Steen is an easy slam dunk to develop even if he's never played inside, he has the skill to likely handle that kind of move in a pinch.
31. Riley Moss, DB, Iowa - Moss is highly athletic and experienced as an outside cornerback and has the kind of range that could ultimately land him at free safety. Either way he checks a lot of boxes when it comes to two big Patriots positional needs. With 11 career interceptions, 26 pass breakups and a knack for physicality he's an easy Foxboro fit.
32. Colby Wooden, Edge, Auburn - The other edge from Auburn is similarly intriguing as Wooden was tough and dependable, starting every game of the last three seasons, leading the team with three forced fumbles in 2022. He has less upside as a pass rusher than Hall does but could provide some early down answers along the edge along with the potential to shift inside during passing downs.
33. Keondre Coburn, DT, Texas - With an older group at defensive tackle, Coburn is the first of a few interior DLs that could provide a jolt of youthful toughness to the position in New England. He's really experienced with 45 career starts and at 332 pounds, has Wilfork-ian size to dominate the middle of the line whether he's two-gapping or trying to get into the backfield. He would immediately compete for time against vet Carl Davis, who's held down the NT role for the last couple of seasons.
34. Byron Young, DT, Tennesee - Young's had an interesting road to this point, supporting himself with retail jobs as he found his footing. That experience has formed a driven player who played both hand-down and standing as an edge for the Vols. His bread and butter would be as a pass rusher as he could fill a similar role to Uche. His 4.43 40 at 250 pounds jumps off the stat sheet.
35. Byron Young, DL, Alabama - That's right, both Byron Youngs are on the Big Board and this one from Alabama is the more obvious choice considering the defense he played for the Crimson Tide. One of the team's leaders, Young is already well-versed in multiple roles within the defensive front. He's not explosive but he has good size and length and could play a similar role in Foxboro as what he did for Nick Saban.
36. Charlie Jones, WR, Purdue - Jones surprised some with his explosive traits measured at the Combine (4.43 40), which match a savvy slot receiver who has some plus speed. He's coming off a breakout 1,361-yard season after limited production with stops at Buffalo and Iowa before he landed with the Boilermakers. It's pretty clear who Jones would be in New England and might have enough speed to make him more than just a Day 3 developmental flier.
37. Zach Kuntz, TE, ODU - Kuntz has eye-poppping athleticism and that makes him an intriguing potential player to develop. If he can even get his NFL game up to the level of his testing numbers his team might just be adding one of the biggest freaks of the entire draft class. At 6-foot-7, 255 pounds he has plus size to go with his movement skills, but is coming off a torn ACL and is facing a jump from CUSA. Learning to be an inline blocker will be his biggest hurdle.
38. Brenton Strange, TE, Penn State - Strange doesn't have the ideal size for a tight end and might be more of an H-back in the NFL, but he has a skillset that can be highlighted in the pro game that could be useful to New England. He can do some lead blocking and be a core special teamer, while also offering some plus athleticism with the ball in his hand. He has his limitations but he's a solid all-around football player.
39. Cameron Young, DL, Miss. St - Young is 300 pounds with 34 1/2-inch arms, making him another solid interior defensive line fit for the Patriots. He's played 25 games over the last two seasons, illustrating his availability at a high-contact position, while also playing a high volume of snaps that would exceed what he'll likely be asked to do in the pros.
40. Cameron Latu, TE, Alabama - The Alabama crew continues to dominate the big board, and Latu is yet another developmental tight end who could emerge in the coming years as the position looks headed toward turnover. He doesn't have the high-end ceiling of those likely to be taken in the first two days, but he has enough athleticism to offer potential while his connection to Bill O'Brien cannot be ignored.
41. Brandon Joseph, DB, Notre Dame - Joseph is a late-round deep safety/special teams option who has the intangibles and feel for the game to fit in well with the Patriots secondary group. His production in three seasons at Northwestern offers hope of a higher ceiling, but he's a swiss army knife that has multiple avenues where he might be able to contribute.
42. Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State - He's about the same size as JJ Taylor, but Deuce is a versatile and electric playmaker who has enough skill to potentially overcome his stature and emerge like a Darren Sproles-type. It's hard to put Vaughn in a box of being a third-down back, he's more of an every-down piece to play with in the right offense. Maybe the Patriots can't afford to take a shot on a player like that but he'd be a lot of fun to inject into Bill O'Brien's attack.
43. Kenny McIntosh, RB, Georgia - With 76 career receptions, McIntosh could be a mid-round option to consider if the Pats are looking to find a developmental third-down back in the mold of James White. Ty Montgomery or Pierre Strong could fill that need, making this a questionable need but he has some traits that could fit in nicely with the current backfield crop.
44. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA - DTR was a Patriots mock draft darling this spring and for good reason, he played for four seasons under Chip Kelly and played under the Patriots offensive coaching staff at the Shrine Bowl. He's undersized but is an athlete with a cannon arm. There's a lot to like about having that kind of player developing as QB3.
45. Gervarrius Owens, DB, Houston - The Pats should be familiar with Owens after drafting Marcus Jones last year, as he's a physical safety with a high motor. He made plays all over the place during his career, 7.5 TFLs, two FFs, two blocked punts and four interceptions. Like all at this point on the Big Board, it's hard to say he has a high-level ceiling but there are a lot of traits to work with, including special teams skills.
46. Jerrod Clark, NT, Coastal Carolina - Clark is a local Boston kid who has the measurables to be a developmental nose tackle in the Patriots system. He has a huge frame and long arms that will help him two-gap in the Patriots system with a dash of surprising athleticism for a guy his size.
47. Isaiah Moore, LB, NC State - Moore is just a few pounds light of being a Ja'Whaun Bentley clone as a three-time captain who's an aggressive downhill tackling machine. He's a throwback mike linebacker and one the Patriots got a close look at during the Shrine Bowl. He's an easy player to slide onto the Big Board here in the 40s.
48. Brayden Willis, TE, Oklahoma - Described by coaches as one of the key leaders at Oklahoma, Willis is a versatile H-back projection and one with a ton of special teams experience to go with it. He's the perfect Day 3 prospect, one who plays with a finisher's attitude who has the potential to serve a number of roles.
49. Alex Forsyth, IOL, Oregon - The interior offensive line isn't in need of a starter but there should be some depth added and Oregon's smart, tough center is a good fit to add some. After playing under Adrian Klemm, Forsyth is a player that cannot be ignored, he checks a lot boxes for the Pats at center.
50. Adam Korsak, P, Rutgers - The Patriots are likely to take a shot on a punter and Korsak might be one of only a couple who are draft-worthy. Rutgers jokes aside, his versatility as a punter along with impressive accuracy and touch are big checkmarks in his favor.
DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer