The Patriots exit the initial wave of free agency with mixed feelings about the roster heading into a crucial draft for the organization.
New England is going on a half-decade now where we look at their offense on paper and say, "they don't have enough," and you can't expect different results while shopping at the same price point. Eventually, head coach Bill Belichick has to end the rut by investing his top assets in the draft into upgrading quarterback Mac Jones's supporting cast.
The Patriots need "Tuesday players" at the top of their roster. In particular, an offensive playmaker who opposing defensive coordinators must craft game plans around. Who scares you on the Pats offense? A question that hasn't had a good answer for far too long.
Although the Patriots have potential day-one needs at offensive tackle and corner, assuming they're sticking with Jones at quarterback, nothing will increase their ceiling more than an instant-impact receiver. With how the game has evolved, those players are now the most valuable commodity on your roster outside of quarterback.
In this mock draft, we are operating under the assumption that the Patriots aggressively try to put an end to their weapons problem. We'll stick to players they're hovering around in the process and keep it realistic, but the buck stops here.
TRADE: Patriots trade No. 14 to the Seahawks for No. 20 and No. 83
My theory is that the Patriots will miss out on the top-tier talents at corner (Gonzalez, Porter, Witherspoon) and offensive tackle (Paris Johnson, Broderick Jones), making a trade down more likely. It also wouldn't hurt to add a top-100 selection to improve their odds of finding starting-caliber players at positions of need. As for the Seahawks, head coach Pete Carroll loves to run the ball, and the lack of balance was a big topic last season in Seattle after finishing 23rd in rush DVOA. Long story short, the Seahawks are moving up to draft Texas running back Bijan Robinson, who many believe is a generational prospect. This could also be a spot for a team like Tampa Bay (No. 19) to trade into if one of the top quarterbacks falls.
First Round, 20th overall: WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. The Patriots don't have the best track record at the top of the draft at wide receiver. But they must try to find a true difference-maker to establish a proper pecking order in their passing offense, give defenses someone to fear, and help third-year quarterback Mac Jones reach his potential by elevating his supporting cast. Allowing past whiffs to dictate future decisions would be a mistake.
Although this is a "down" year for wide receivers, there are still four day-one talents that are worthy considerations in the first round. Who's your favorite flavor between Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jordan Addison, Quentin Johnston, or Flowers? Flowers is my pick as the draft's best downfield separator. His ability to create explosive plays using his jitterbug quickness on catch-and-run chances and vertical double moves will inject immediate big-play potential. As steady as JSN would be in this offense, Flowers has a top gear missing from the current group while still offering quick hitters in the slot. After working with him at the Shrine Bowl, New England has an excellent feel for Flowers, the person, and the player.
TRADE: Patriots trade No. 46, No. 107, and No. 184 to the Rams for No. 36
Second Round, 36th Overall: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
The theme of this mock draft is taking every avenue possible to upgrade offensively. New England took small steps forward in free agency, but it's not enough to move the needle in a division where they'll need to out-score Josh Allen, Miami's arsenal of weapons, and likely Aaron Rodgers. If the Pats hope to compete in the AFC East, they need to invest significant resources to improve quarterback Mac Jones's supporting cast.
New England drafted Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Graham, and Ben Watson with top-50 picks once upon a time, and Washington's alien-like athletic profile seems like vintage Belichick. The beauty of this pick is that it also gives the Patriots size in the passing game after selecting the smaller Flowers on day one, while Washington is immediately the best in-line blocker on the roster. The Georgia product also has excellent body control, an enormous catch radius, and is a handful to bring down after the catch. With Hunter Henry in a contract year and Mike Gesicki, who is more receiver than tight end, signing a one-year deal, Washington steps in as a blocking tight end while refining his game as a receiver to take off in that phase in 2024.
Third Round, 76th Overall: OT Blake Freeland, BYU
The Pats could see a Nate Solder clone with the BYU left tackle. Freeland comes in at nearly 6-foot-8 and a shade over 300 pounds. He has the athleticism, play demeanor, and power that projects nicely on the left side. Despite concerns about pad level and leverage due to his height, Freeland is a people-mover in the run game, generating movement on double-teams, can combo up to the second level, and use his 9.82 relative athletic score to block on the move. He'll need to work around his height against bendy speed rushers, but Freeland has the experience (41 starts, Senior Bowler), foot speed, and strength to start at left tackle.
Third Round, 83rd overall: DB Riley Moss, Iowa
By now, you're probably wondering about cornerback. Although there are scenarios where the Pats could take a CB earlier, they like the Joneses trio and the flexibility they currently have on the backend. If one of the top corners falls to them in the first round, it's possible that Belichick could see a Revis or Gilmore-type impact coming from Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter Jr., or Devon Witherspoon. But the more likely outcome is that the Pats fill out their depth chart with specific body types and skill sets that are missing rather than a singular elite talent.
Although Moss brings more length to the group at 6-1, his instincts and experience (over 2,000 career snaps) stand out the most. The Iowa product has ball-hawking traits with 11 career interceptions and excellent anticipatory skills from off-coverage. Moss also understands his role in zone structures, effectively passing off routes and exchanging in match zones. He has the hip fluidity and long speed (4.47s) to carry outside verticals in press man, which showed up consistently when he went against Marvin Harrison Jr. last fall and held him to seven catches for 67 yards. Ultimately, Moss's range and nose for the football could lead to a McCourty-like transition to safety since he has some issues staying glued to receivers at the top of routes. But I'd try him at outside corner before moving him to safety. He'll also be a core special teamer.
Fourth Round, 117th Overall: OT Wanya Morris, Oklahoma
After selecting a left tackle prototype, the Patriots add a right tackle made to play in Foxboro. Morris uses excellent functional power, length, and initial quickness to create creases in the running game. He also has a strong inside hand and uses his length to lock out against edge rushers in his pass sets, making it difficult for pass rushers to go through him. Morris isn't as agile as teammate Anton Harrison, a projected first-rounder, and he needs less of a forward lean to play with better balance. Still, he checks nearly every box for a Patriots right tackle.
Fourth Round, 135th Overall: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson
The Patriots were impressed with the dual-threat quarterback at the Shrine Bowl due to his ability to absorb information, correct mistakes quickly, and improve throwing the ball. As a five-year starter for head coach Chip Kelly, DTR makes quick decisions with the football as an above-average processor. He has a great feel for staying away from help coverage, targeting out-leveraged defenders more than not, and working to his single coverage matchups with good timing. As a runner, Thompson-Robinson adds to the offense on designed runs or scrambles, where he's very slippery and has good straight-line speed (4.56s).
The concerns come from evolving mechanics as a thrower and decision-making under pressure and against zone structures. Thompson-Robinson has been working with quarterback guru Jordan Palmer to shorten his release and unlock his lower body to generate more zip on his throws. Based on his week in Vegas, Palmer's work is paying dividends. Although he still has work to do as a thrower, Thompson-Robinson is a perfect mid-round developmental pick with more physical upside than Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe.
Sixth Round, 187th Overall: CB Cory Trice Jr., Purdue
After the Patriots took a versatile culture fit in the top 100, they double-dip at corner with the size-speed prospect everyone is asking for this offseason. At 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, Trice is a press-man specialist who makes it challenging for receivers at the line of scrimmage by smothering route releases with his physical nature. He'll also use his length to challenge receivers at the catch point and tested well with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash for an elite relative athletic score of 9.65. Trice can serve as a matchup-based corner on the perimeter for the size-needy Patriots and seems like someone they'd take even higher. But he's a projected late-day three prospect because they'll need to manage his coverage matchups.
Sixth Round, 192nd Overall: EDGE Habakkuk Baldonado, Pittsburgh
The Patriots use a late-rounder on a high-upside prospect they worked with at the Shrine Bowl. Baldonado is originally from Rome, Italy, and is relatively new to American football. However, he is an above-average athlete with excellent first-step quickness and a high motor. The Pittsburgh product looked at home in New England's rush package, working stunts with the necessary rhythm and explosiveness to wrap around picks to apply pressure. There's some pass-rush upside here.
Sixth Round, 210th Overall: RB Evan Hull, Northwestern
With four running backs already filling out the depth chart, the Pats made this less of a hole by replacing Damien Harris with James Robinson in free agency. Still, they need some insurance in case the two day-three picks from a year ago, Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris, don't pan out, while Robinson is trying to bounce back now two years removed from a torn Achilles. Someone needs to step up as Rhamondre Stevenson's backup, as the team can't risk overworking Stevenson again, and there's a need for a James White successor. Hull shines in the passing game with reliable hands and quickness while adding a slasher between the tackles.
Seventh Round, 245th Overall: P Adam Korsak, Rutgers
New England might've fallen in love with Sooners punter Michael Turk at the Shrine Bowl. But Turk is projected to go higher on day three. Korsak is an Australia-born punter with multiple clubs in his bag to either punt the conventional way or Aussie-style, which seems like something the Pats would love. Plus, Schiano is back at Rutgers!
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