The final exam has nearly arrived for the Patriots as the 2023 NFL Draft's three-day extravaganza begins Thursday night in Kansas City.
Starting at the top of the draft, this is not a top-heavy year, with many teams having fewer than 15 players with first-round grades, a small number compared to other drafts. Furthermore, this class has little consensus beyond the first overall pick (Alabama QB Bryce Young), and many view prospects in the 25-125 range as close to equal talents.
For the Patriots, I also wouldn't expect them to use all 11 draft selections they currently have with 75 players already on the roster. That would leave only four open spots for undrafted free-agent signings. They could cut players to make more room for rookies, but downsizing their draft haul to under ten players seems more realistic from this point of view.
Lastly, to set up the mock, we need to read between the lines a little bit with Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh's pre-draft press conference. Although it's lying season, and Groh could've been throwing out smokescreens about New England's intentions, his remarks make sense. If we take him at face value, the Patriots like their veteran depth at offensive tackle and see day two as the sweet spot for this wide receiver class. Most around the league are of the opinion that Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the only true first-rounder, making this a down year for wide receivers in the first round.
With that in mind, this draft is setting up for the Patriots to target a defensive player in the first round, tapping into a cornerback class that Groh gushed about or a stacked edge rusher group. Although you don't want to be too reactionary, New England's 2023 schedule and the AFC East are now loaded offensively with Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking the Jets, and Belichick's answer to that could be selecting a building block on defense.
Here is our fourth and final attempt at a seven-round Patriots mock draft:
TRADE: Patriots trade No. 14 and No. 76 to Tennessee for No. 11
Although it would be shocking to some for Belichick to trade up in the first round, we outlined the thought process behind it above. The Patriots might need to be aggressive to come away with a true blue-chipper in a class short on high-end talent, and they desperately need game-changers. They have enough depth. Plus, as we said, they don't need all the picks they're currently slated to have, so parting with one of four selections from No. 76 to No. 135th is not the end of the world. For Tennessee, I see two scenarios where this makes sense. Either they're targeting Texas RB Bijan Robinson to replace Derrick Henry (who is on the trade block), or they move down three slots to select Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker.
First Round, 11th Overall: EDGE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Taking an edge rusher would be a surprising development for those who aren't paying attention, and I was tempted to take Smith-Njibga here. However, I can't see Belichick trading up for a receiver. Instead, the Pats have hosted Wilson, Georgia's Nolan Smith, Iowa EDGE Lukas Van Ness, and Clemson's Myles Murphy on top-30 visits. They like this edge group, while sub-rusher Josh Uche is in a contract year, and Pro Bowler Matthew Judon is entering his age 31 season. Plus, they now have to face Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and Miami's high-powered offense six times a year.
My gut says that Belichick would absolutely swoon over the physical tools and three-down versatility that Wilson brings to the table to the point where he might be one of the top prospects on New England's board. But his lack of first-step explosiveness and bend could turn some teams off picking in the top ten. The Texas Tech product has absolutely dominant playing strength with the ability to ragdoll blockers like its varsity against JV. He converts speed-to-power to dent the edge, has excellent size (6-6, 271, 35 ⅝" arms) and upper-body twitch to be an impact run defender, and can reduce inside in the Pats third-down package to get all their dynamic rushers on the field. Imagine a rush package that includes Judon, Uche, Christian Barmore, Deatrich Wise, and Wilson.
TRADE: Patriots trade No. 46 to Jaguars for No. 56, No. 121, and No. 127
After making a rare move to trade up in the first round, the Patriots replenish their mid-round picks by trading down ten spots in the second round. In a reverse of their usual trade-ups early on day two, New England gets two fourth-rounders from Jacksonville for more ammo.
Second, 56th Overall: WR Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss
As Groh said last week, there are good receivers in this draft outside of the first round and only one consensus first-round talent. Furthermore, this draft is filled with undersized slot receivers who lack inside-outside versatility and the size to play on the perimeter. After adding JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki in free agency, the Pats could balance out their passing attack by getting an outside presence. Plus, DeVante Parker is in a contract year, and Tyquan Thornton's slight frame might make him more of a Z receiver than a true X.
New England selects a toolsy prospect in Mingo, who we compared to a discount version of A.J. Brown. Mingo has a similar athletic profile as the Eagles star at 6-1, 220 pounds, with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash. He has the play speed to win down the field, maxing out at nearly 22 MPH, according to on-field tracking metrics, and is more versatile than most receivers in this class, projecting as a potential matchup weapon as a big slot or even a flex tight end. The need for shifty separators is also there, but the Pats have been all over Mingo in the pre-draft process.
TRADE: Patriots trade No. 107 and No. 117, and No. 210 to the Giants for No. 89
Yup, another trade. This time, the Patriots use two of their five fourth-round picks to get back into day two. This one is far from unprecedented for New England, as Belichick has traded back into the third round as recently as 2020 for tight end Dalton Keene (albeit not the best outcome).
Third Round, 89th Overal: OT Tyler Steen, Alabama
Here come the tackles. Similarly to corner last year, the Patriots wait until the middle rounds to address a glaring need. They have stable veteran stop-gaps for the 2023 season, and by double-dipping, one of these OTs hopefully develops into a long-term starter.
After only allowing two sacks in his lone season as the left tackle for the Crimson Tide, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien gets one of his guys. Steen uses a wide lower body and refined hand usage to maintain inside-out leverage consistently. He also shows the playing strength and timing in the run game to do his job in that regard effectively. Steen's build might push him inside, where he could take over for Mike Onwenu in 2024 if the Pats don't extend their right guard. But I'd bet on his rock-solid frame to fit the mold at right tackle as well.
Fourth Round, 121st Overall: OT Nick Saldiveri, Old Dominion
If there's a candidate to be this year's Cole Strange along the offensive line for the Patriots, it's the athletic right tackle from Old Dominion with first-round tape. Saldiveri's film, albeit at a lower level of competition, is outstanding, and he registered a 9.47 relative athletic score (out of ten). Saldiveri is incredibly smooth in pass protection with the foot speed and balance to handle challenging pass-rushing assignments on an island. He also uses that athletic profile to be positionally sound as a run blocker and is flexible enough to block on the move. Saldiveri has the traits to develop into a starting left tackle.
Fourth Round, 127th Overall: TE Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan
The Patriots need to plan ahead at tight end with Hunter Henry and Gesicki only signed through the 2023 season, and this is potentially a historic class. Schoonmaker would be one of my favorite picks in the draft as an underrated and well-rounded prospect. The Michigan tight end has the burst and athleticism (9.86 RAS) to be a receiving threat, while he'd likely be the best in-line blocker on the roster on day one. Schoonmaker's standout trait is his power, footspeed to create angles, and general awareness as a run blocker, either attached or detached from the formation. With that athletic profile, he'll be a better pass-catcher as a pro than in college, where he wasn't a focal point of the Wolverines' passing game.
Fourth Round, 135th Overall: CB Terell Smith, Minnesota
Before you get mad at me for waiting this long to take a cornerback, hear me out. It's an incredibly deep class, with starting-caliber players available into day three. If the Pats have a chance at Christian Gonzalez in the first round, I'd take it. But, if not, it's really about adding size at outside corner to round out the room rather than giving up on the second-year Joneses, who both showed promise as rookies and can play in this league.
The Patriots worked with Smith at the Shrine Bowl, where he was locking down big, explosive receivers such as Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Justin Shorter all week. At over six foot tall and 204 pounds with nearly 33-inch arms (91st percentile), Smith's length and foot speed (4.41s 40) to mirror receivers on the outside made him a practice player of the week candidate in Vegas. He's also a willing tackler who meets contact head-on in run support, a must to play for the Pats, and has the closing burst to challenge the catch point from off-coverage alignments. Another possibility here is LSU corner Mekhi Garner, who was also at the Shrine Bowl.
TRADE: Patriots trade No. 184 and No. 187 to 49ers for No. 155
Another pick-consolidating trade. With a run at running back likely beginning in the fourth round, the Patriots jump on the tail end to ensure they come away with a rotational back.
Fifth Round, 155th Overall: RB Kenny McIntosh, Georgia
I'm very skeptical about the reports that the Patriots might select a running back inside the top 50, but they will take a running back at some point. There are more dynamic pass-catching options, such as Deuce Vaughn or Eric Gray, but similar to cornerback, let's not give up on Pierre Strong that quickly. McIntosh is a typical "get what is blocked" early-down back who runs with good power and feel for work between the tackles. He's not going to jump off the film at you. But he'll run hard, producing 45 forced missed tackles with above-average contact balance and can serve as a short-yardage option with ten rushing touchdowns in 2022.
Sixth Round, 192nd Overall: C Alex Forsyth, Oregon
Although it's not fun to discuss a succession plan for 30-year-old center David Andrews, the reality is that Andrews, a tone-setter and future Pats Hall of Famer, won't play forever. The connection to Forysth is obvious, with new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm running Oregon's O-Line last season. Forsyth is a cerebral three-year starter with the initial quickness and nasty playing style the Patriots covet at the position. He's built more like Ted Karras than Andrews.
Seventh Round, 245th Overall: P Michael Turk, Oklahoma
The Patriots are taking a specialist. Although I wouldn't rule out Michigan kicker Jake Moody, the more immediate need is at punter, where the Pats will likely have an open competition with veteran Corliss Waitman and Turk in camp.