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Patriots Mailbag: With the Draft Days Away, What Will the Pats Do in the First Round?

Here's what we think the Patriots plans are in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. Plus, answering your draft questions. 

4-23-mailbag

After months of speculation about the Patriots most highly anticipated NFL draft in decades, it's finally draft week. We've made it.

Patriots personnel chief Eliot Wolf will make the final decision on the draft pick for New England. Last week, Wolf held a pre-draft press conference with a clear message: the Patriots are "open for business" in the trade market as a draft and develop team where "the more picks we have, the better." On the surface, that sounds like trading down from the third overall pick is on the table.

However, my belief is that it's more complicated than receiving a king's ransom to move the Pats off their original draft slot, so here's what I think I think about the Patriots at No. 3 overall (this is not a report. Just my gut feeling):

The Patriots are taking a quarterback with their first pick in this draft. It's a great quarterback class, and they desperately need one. That's been the plan since the scuttlebutt began in February, and there's no reason to believe it's changed. Organizationally, it's the right move.

The league-wide consensus has the quarterbacks ranked in this order: Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy, Michael Penix, and Bo Nix. My gut feeling is that the Patriots feel similarly to the consensus and would be happy with either Daniels or Maye. But what if they see it differently or another team sees it differently? That's when it gets interesting. What I think I think is the Patriots are entertaining the possibility of a Jayson Tatum-like trade down.

For those who don't cross Boston sports, here's a summary: In 2017, the Celtics held the number one pick in the NBA Draft, with the consensus being Washington's Markelle Fultz was the best player in the draft, followed by UCLA guard Lonzo Ball. However, Celtics GM Danny Ainge correctly identified Duke forward Jayson Tatum as the best player in the class. Boston rolled the dice with intel that Philly would take Fultz and the Lakers would select Ball second overall, so Ainge swapped the No. 1 pick for the No. 3 draft choice with the Sixers. He read the board perfectly, and the C's got Tatum plus a future first-round pick from the 76ers.

In the end, Tatum is a three-time All-NBA superstar for the Celtics, and Fultz was a major bust in Philly. As for Ball, he's an NBA player but nothing special. Simply put, Ainge nailed it. He got the right guy while adding another first-round pick in 2019 -- a coup for Boston.

Bringing it back to the Patriots, I think they'd entertain a trade-down if they'd still get their Jayson Tatum. If their board or someone else's is different from the consensus, then they could trade down, let that team take the other guy while New England still gets their quarterback and extra picks. For first-time decision-makers Eliot Wolf and head coach Jerod Mayo, that's a major risk. The most likely trade partners are the Giants (No. 6) and Vikings (No. 11), so there would be a gap to wait for their guy to fall into their lap. They could always trade back up like the Cardinals did last year, but now there are a lot of moving parts.

Ultimately, the safe assumption is the Patriots will stick and pick their quarterback. But if they can manipulate the board to add assets while still getting the quarterback they'd pick at three, we could be in for a wild first round on Thursday night.

With two days to go until draft weekend, let's empty the Patriots Unfiltered mailbag:

Q: I see the Patriots hosted QB Michael Penix Jr. on a 30 visit late in the process. Is this just due diligence, or does it indicate we are willing to trade down? - Badax33 M

The Patriots reportedly hosted Washington quarterback Michael Penix on a 30-visit in the final days that visits were permitted. According to the MMQB's Albert Breer, the visit wasn't planned in advance, indicating it was a last-minute addition to the schedule. My read on Penix's visit is that the interest there is real, and he could be their Jayson Tatum, likely with the 11th pick in the draft from the Vikings.

One of the hot rumors is that Penix won't make it past QB-needy teams such as the Broncos (No. 12) and Raiders (No. 13). Both AFC West teams have done their homework on Penix, who led the nation with 43 big-time throws last season. Penix's pinpoint deep-ball accuracy, arm talent, and intangibles would be worthy of a top-15 pick. However, his extensive injury history with two significant knee injuries and advanced age (24 years old in May) as a six-year college player profiles more as an early second-round pick. Still, the QB tax could push him into the first round, where the Patriots might view his toughness, leadership, and pure passing ability as their best bet in this draft (along with adding picks).

Q: Would the Vikings actually offer three first-round picks and one of Justin Jefferson or LT Christian Darrisaw to the Patriots for No. 3? Is that the bag the Pats want? - D Favreau

Although it's a great idea to follow Chicago's lead by including a veteran starter in the deal, like the Bears did when they acquired D.J. Moore from the Panthers last offseason, my sense is Minnesota hasn't offered that kind of package to New England. Based on reports, there are rumblings that the Vikings are trying to avoid including their second first-round pick, No. 23, in a deal. Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell indicated Minnesota is serious about trading up for a quarterback, but it could be a smaller trade-up, where the compensation would be less significant.

For the Patriots, the offer in the question would certainly qualify as "the bag" that head coach Jerod Mayo was referring to at the league meetings last month. However, my guess is Justin Jefferson is off limits. Darrissaw is an interesting idea since it would solve New England's left tackle issues. Still, the feeling here is the Vikings are aiming to make more of a skip than a jump to possibly secure Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy by trading up to No. 8 with Atlanta. If the final offer from the Vikings is three first-round picks plus Darrisaw, I think the Patriots would seriously consider taking that deal.

Q: Who do you see that could be available at No. 34 or later in the draft at wide receiver? - Richard B

Another interesting draft-related topic is the order of operations for the Patriots to address their other two major needs at wide receiver and offensive tackle. From this perspective, the answer is simple: the 34th pick should be the best player available at either tackle or receiver. In other words, don't lock yourselves into one position.

There are a handful of intriguing day-two options at wide receiver in a very deep class. However, a comment from Wolf looms large about the type of receiver the Pats could target: "We have players who can line up and play at X receiver. Do we have players that on a 3x1 [formation] can beat the backside coverage every single time? I'm not sure we have that yet," Wolf said.

The Patriots personnel chief indicated the Patriots could target an X receiver who can beat backside coverage or tilt the coverage toward his side of the field. The Pats need that game-altering playmaker and shouldn't pigeonhole themselves to one type of receiver – just draft the best receiver. That said, the Pats pursuit of Calvin Ridley, who measures in at 6-0 and 189 pounds, indicates they may favor a route-running technician more than a size-speed prospect. Although he has a thicker build, OC Alex Van Pelt had a similar separator in Amari Cooper playing the X receiver spot in the Browns offense over the last few seasons.

My board in the Cooper/Ridley outside receiver mold: Ladd McConkey (Georgia), Troy Franklin (Oregon), and UCF receiver Javon Baker. If they want a more physical outside receiver, that list could include Keon Coleman (FSU), Xavier Legette (South Carolina), or USC wideout Brenden Rice. There's also some appeal to pairing Drake Maye with college teammate Tez Walker and the Adonai Mitchell pipedream.

Q: Who do you think will be available at No. 34 at offensive tackle, or could they trade back into the first round to get someone they covet? - Dwight F

There's an interesting conversation about how the offensive tackle board could fall for the Patriots. As of now, the consensus is that the second wave of OT prospects, including J.C. Latham (Alabama), Amarius Mims (Georgia), and Tyler Guyton (Oklahoma), will happen in the 20s. That would leave the Patriots in no-man's land between the projected top tiers and the day-two tiers, where prospects such as Jordan Morgan (possibly a guard) and BYU's Kingsley Suamataia (could need a redshirt year) would be the top options at No. 34. There's also some buzz that Houston's Patrick Paul, a mammoth left tackle prospect (6-7, 331, 36" arms), could go higher than expected.

As a proud member of the Suamataia fan club, I'd take the chance on his athletic traits (9.40 RAS) and NFL bloodlines (Penei Sewell's cousin). Suamataia's hand technique is already NFL-ready, and his athleticism pops off the tape on his zone blocks, climbs/pulls, and space blocks. However, he can lose his technique in the run game, while he needs continued development to sniff out post-snap line movement. Overall, Suamataia is on the raw side. But he's not as far away as some think technique-wise, and it's hard to see him failing long-term with his athleticism and pedigree. Suamataia will be a good pro, even if it takes some time.

Q: So many mock drafts have them taking a right tackle when they need a left tackle. Is it reasonable to draft a right tackle and switch him to left tackle? - David F

My assumption is that many mock drafts predict that the Patriots will select Tyler Guyton, Amarius Mims, or, further down the board, Blake Fisher or Roger Rosengarten, who all mostly played right tackle in college. Suamataia, Patrick Pual (44 career starts at LT), and Jordan Morgan (37 career starts at LT) all played left tackle in 2023. Suamataia split time at left (10) and right tackle (12) across 22 career starts.

Anyway, I'd say it would be a smooth enough transition for Guyton and Mims to flip sides because those two have high-end athletic traits and measurables that fit at left tackle. Mims is an alien at 6-7, 340 pounds with 36-inch arms and a 9.59 RAS, while Guyton is a former basketball recruit with great size (6-7, 322, 34" arms) and athleticism (9.73 RAS). Those two are plenty athletic enough to be trusted as blindsided protectors, so there isn't much concern there.

As for Morgan, he made all 37 starts in his career at left tackle at Arizona. His issues aren't about which side he plays but rather sticking outside at the next level. Morgan has subpar arm length (32 ⅞") and choppy feet in pass protection, leaving him prone to opening his gate early. Morgan is so good on zone-reach blocks that he could stay at tackle in an outside zone-heavy scheme, but there are legitimate concerns about him staying outside in pass protection.

Lastly, Fisher and Rosengarten would be guys we'd predict to stay at right tackle, so maybe that would hurt their stock in the Patriots eyes. However, it's worth noting that Rosengarten played right tackle to protect his quarterback's blindside, with Penix being a lefty, so he has blindsided protector experience.

Long story short, I wouldn't get too caught up in left or right. It's not an easy transition, per se, but one a tackle can make if given the necessary time to develop, and the Patriots have time on their side. I'd also say the Patriots new offense could play a role here. With play-action and bootlegs/moving pockets being more prominent, it limits the 1-on-1 on an island exposures for both tackle spots, which is part of the system's appeal.

Van Pelt and O-Line coach Scott Peters will prioritize range and length at tackle, so as long as you check both those boxes, the Patriots can probably make it work regardless of sides.

Q: What do you think about trading for 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk? - Darryl B

First, I love Brandon Aiyuk's game and think he'd immediately solve the Patriots receiver problems at the top of the depth chart. Aiyuk is a complete receiver with excellent route-running burst and technique to set up devastating breaks. He plays fast, plays through contact, and is one of the best pure separators in the league – Aiyuk is excellent. That said, how do the Patriots construct a trade for Aiyuk, and why are the 49ers trading him?

The obvious answer to the latter question is money, but from this vantage point, the 26-year-old has surpassed Deebo Samuel and George Kittle in the 49ers offensive hierarchy. Aiyuk is simply a better player than them now, and he's also a more traditional outside pass-catcher than Samuel, giving him a longer shelf life. With Brock Purdy on a rookie contract, why wouldn't the 49ers prioritize a long-term deal with Aiyuk? He should be their present and future.

As for a trade with the Patriots, Aiyuk has two more years of team control with year four plus a fifth-year option as a 2020 first-rounder. The starting point would seem to be the deal the Titans got for AJ Brown from the Eagles, which was the 18th and 101st overall picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Pats aren't trading No. 3 in a deal for Aiyuk, then their next pick isn't until No. 34. So, that means the Patriots are likely giving up three picks in the trade to add up the value. Does it make sense for a rebuilding team to give up three draft picks for one player? Not really.

There are ways for the Patriots to get creative to acquire Aiyuk. Although anything is possible, it's a bit more complicated with so many factors to consider, including the talent in this year's draft class, which could lessen the value of veteran receivers to an extent.

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

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