The 2020 NFL Draft is rapidly approaching. And there's no doubt that this year's event will be a critical one for the New England Patriots.
After a disappointing first-round playoff exit, the Patriots are looking to re-tool without Tom Brady for the first time since 1999. The veteran quarterback left the team in free agency to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And Brady wasn't the team's only loss. Guys like Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Duron Harmon, Ted Karras, Elandon Roberts, and Danny Shelton, among others, have also left for greener pastures or bigger contracts. So, the Patriots are going to have to replace a handful of starters and quite a bit of depth.
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The good news for the Pats is that the 2020 NFL Draft class has strength at some of their biggest needs including quarterback and wide receiver. They are armed with a boatload of mid-round picks and should be able to add some talent that will fill some of the gaping holes left on their team after free agency.
But just who are they going to target? And who are some of the best players available in this year's draft class? To answer some of those questions, we created a top 150 prospect Big Board and separated it into tiers based on where certain players are projected to go.
While the draft is an inexact science and player values are highly subjective, this should give fans an idea of some of the players that the Patriots could be considering at various points during the 2020 draft.
Here's a look at our top 150 prospects for this year's draft class. And for more information on a specific player, click the player's name.
Top 10 prospects
1. Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
2. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
3. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
4. Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
5. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
6. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
7. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
8. Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
9. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
10. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
There is a fair balance of offensive and defensive talent in the top 10 this year, but the big names are, of course, the quarterbacks. Joe Burrow was college football's biggest name in 2020 as he led LSU to a 15-0 season that culminated in a National Title and Heisman win in his final collegiate season. Tagovailoa comes in at No. 6 here, but he could've challenged Burrow for the No. 2 spot on this board had he stayed healthy.
Though the quarterbacks will get more attention and Burrow is a virtual lock to be the top overall pick, Chase Young has him beat in terms of talent. Young recorded 16.5 sacks last season and has the potential to be one of the NFL's best pass rushers. He'll be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate right away and is heavily favored to be the second overall selection in this year's draft.
Other notes about the top 10: Lamb and Jeudy are separated by very little in terms of talent and it will be interesting to see who comes off the board first. Right now, Lamb has an ever-so-slight edge in that race. The same can be said for Wirfs and Becton in the race to be the first tackle off the board. Wirfs seems to have the edge currently, though watching Becton manhandle guys is insanely fun.
Potential first-round prospects
11. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
12. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
13. Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
14. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
15. Jedrick Wills, OT, Alabama
16. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
17. Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
18. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
19. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
20. K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
21. Austin Jackson, OT, USC
22. Josh Jones, OT, Houston
23. Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
24. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
25. Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
26. Grant Delpit, S, LSU
27. Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
28. A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
29. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
30. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
31. Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
32. Isaiah Wilson, OT, Georgia
33. Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
34. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
35. Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
36. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
37. Cesar Ruiz, G/C, Michigan
38. A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
These represent the players that are most likely to be on the board for the Patriots when they make the 23rd overall pick (that is, if they keep that selection). And there are a number of players who would make sense for the team.
Josh Jones is a big-bodied blocker at 6-foot-5, 319 pounds and his length and athletic ability could intrigue the Patriots. If they want to upgrade the blocking for Jarrett Stidham and have a replacement ready for Joe Thuney, who is playing on the franchise tag this season, Jones would make sense in the first round.
Another option could be a player like A.J. Epenesa. One prominent draft analyst thinks he'd be a fit for the team with the 23rd pick. The Iowa product didn't have a great combine -- he lacks top-tier athletic ability -- but he had 10.5 and 11.5 sacks in his final two collegiate seasons and was well-coached by the Iowa staff. Belichick has a good relationship with Kirk Ferentz and perhaps he will target Epenesa to be a long-term and versatile complement to Chase Winovich.
Finally, Jordan Love is a player who has frequently been "mocked" to the Patriots. And he's one that the team has "done serious homework" on. Could they bring in the raw talent to compete with Stidham for the starting job? It's a possibility though it seems unlikely that they'd use a first-round pick on a passer. Nonetheless, Love had flashes of brilliance at times amid struggles, and his cannon of an arm clearly shows up on his highlight reel.
Likely Day 2 prospects
39. Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn
40. Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah
41. Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
42. Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
43. Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State
44. Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
45. Antoine Winfield, S, Minnesota
46. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
47. Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M
48. KJ Hamler, WR, Penn State
49. Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State
50. Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
51. Lloyd Cushenberry, G/C, LSU
52. Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
53. Josh Uche, EDGE, Michigan
54. Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
55. Matt Peart, OT, UConn
56. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
57. Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
58. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
59. Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC
60. Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
61. Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin
62. Robert Hunt, G, Louisiana-Lafeyette
63. Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
64. Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
65. Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State
66. Jon Greenard, EDGE, Florida
67. Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
68. Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
69. Marlon Davidson, DE/DT, Auburn
70. Matt Hennessy, C, Temple
71. Bradlee Anae, EDGE, Utah
72. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
73. Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
74. Zack Moss, RB, Utah
75. Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame
76. Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton
77. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
78. Damien Lewis, G, LSU
This group has plenty of talented receivers in it, and it just goes to show the Patriots what they could've had if they didn't sacrifice a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu ahead of the 2019 NFL trade deadline. Perhaps the team will see one fall into their laps at pick 87, but they'd have to get lucky to see that come to fruition.
It's more likely that the Patriots would trade down and possibly out of the first round to grab two players in this tier. That's what Phil Perry had them doing in one of his most recent NFL mock drafts.
Elsewhere, Cole Kmet is the first tight end to be ranked on our big board. He comes in at 75. That just goes to show how weak this year's class of tight ends is. And though Kmet is probably the Patriots' best tight end target (though Adam Trautman may have something to say about that), they may have trouble getting either given the lack of quality tight ends in this class and the demand at the position league-wide.
Late Day 2/Early Day 3 prospects
79. Ben Bartch, OT, St. John's (Minn.)
80. Ashtyn Davis, S, California
81. Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA
82. Lynn Bowden, WR, Kentucky
83. Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
84. Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois
85. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
86. James Morgan, QB, Florida International
87. Anfernee Jennings, EDGE, Alabama
88. Troy Pride, CB, Notre Dame
89. Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming
90. Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
91. Jordan Elliott, DT, Missouri
92. Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue
93. Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama
94. Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF
95. Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
96. Hunter Bryant, TE, Washington
97. Thaddeus Moss, TE, LSU
98. Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech
99. Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
100. Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty
101. Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State
102. Jason Strowbridge, EDGE, North Carolina
103. Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State
104. D.J. Wonnum, EDGE, South Carolina
105. James Lynch, DE/DT, Baylor
106. Shane Lemieux, G, Oregon
107. Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
108. Terrell Burgess, S, Utah
109. Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
110. Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina
111. Anthony McFarland, RB, Maryland
112. DaVon Hamilton, DT, Ohio State
113. Solomon Kindley, G, Georgia
114. Netane Muti, G, Fresno State
115. Brandon Jones, S, Texas
The Patriots will likely be doing most of their draft shopping at this level. They have four picks from the 87th to 125th selections in the 2020 NFL Draft, and they should have a chance to grab many of these players if they should desire.
James Morgan is yet another quarterback the Patriots could target. They have been among the teams linked to him throughout the draft process, so perhaps they're considering him as a mid-round option to compete with Stidham.
There are a couple of receiving options with Patriots connections on this list as well. Van Jefferson is the son of Shawn Jefferson, who played for the Patriots from 1996-1999. Meanwhile, Thaddeus Moss is the son of Hall of Famer Randy Moss, who had an excellent four-season stint with the Patriots during the prime of his NFL career. Both could fill needs for the Pats and both have characteristics that the squad likes, especially Jefferson with his versatility.
Likely Day 3 prospects
116. Charlie Heck, OT, North Carolina
117. A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College
118. Jack Driscoll, OT/G, Auburn
119. Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
120. Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
121. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
122. Essang Bassey, CB, Wake Forest
123. Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU
124. Leki Fotu, DT, Utah
125. Javelin Guidry, CB, Utah
126. Nick Harris, C, Washington
127. Geno Stone, S, Iowa
128. Darrell Taylor, EDGE, Tennessee
129. Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt
130. Reggie Robinson, CB, Tulsa
131. KJ Hill, WR, Ohio State
132. Trey Adams, OT, Washington
133. Casey Toohill, LB/EDGE, Stanford
134. Jon Runyan, OT/G, Michigan
135. Joe Reed, WR, Virginia
136. Kenny Robinson, S, St. Louis Battlehawks (XFL)
137. K'Von Wallace, S, Clemson
138. Josiah Scott, CB, Michigan State
139. Michael Ojemudia, CB, Iowa
140. John Reid, CB, Penn State
141. Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa
142. Steven Montez, QB, Colorado
143. Hakeem Adeniji, OT/G, Kansas
144. Jake Luton, QB, Oregon State
145. Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
146. Anthony Gordon, QB, Washington State
147. Kamal Martin, LB, Minnesota
148. Jabari Zuniga, EDGE, Florida
149. Devin Asiani, TE, UCLA
150. J.R. Reed, S, Georgia
This tier has some local flavor in it with running back A.J. Dillon of Boston College and former UMass-turned-Auburn offensive lineman Jack Driscoll being among the leaders of the likely Day 3 talent.
There are plenty of guys who could fit in with the Patriots as prototypical role players. Geno Stone stands out as a well-coached versatile safety who can also play special teams. Kenny Robinson is another intriguing player at that position, though his draft stock is a bit more fluid considering that he played in the now-defunct XFL instead of playing one more season at the college level.
Another player that could be a perfect role player for the Patriots: Leki Fotu, a 6-foot-5, 335-pound defensive tackle who could help replace Danny Shelton. Even if the Ute is not much of a pass rusher (he had four sacks in his two years as a starter), he'll still be of value to Belichick who loves big run stuffers who can play on the early downs.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of the NFL Draft. This Wednesday at 5 p.m., stream the NBC Sports On the Clock: NFL Mock Draft special on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBoston.com.