League evaluators seem to have reached a consensus: This draft class isn't loaded up on blue-chip talent.
That may be just fine for teams picking at the bottom of the first round. Their selections might not be all that different from an ability standpoint than those taken right outside the top 10.
But for the Patriots? This year? When they select at No. 14 overall? Not ideal. They may be just out of range of nabbing a player from the top tier. If they are, you can guess what Bill Belichick will want to do, dear Patriots follower.
Yup. This could be a trade-down kind of draft. And that's exactly what we have Belichick doing in our latest mock. Let's get right to the picks to see how things shook out for them...
1. Indianapolis Colts (via Bears): Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
The Colts are desperate to land a quarterback they can build around. Young is that guy, despite the concerns about his size. This is a no-brainer for Indy to move up from No. 4 overall if Chicago is shopping the pick.
2. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
It'll be fascinating to see how Nick Caserio handles this pick. He needs a quarterback. And Stroud is one of the most accurate in this year's class. He's a legit pocket passer, which is what Caserio grew up valuing in New England. But the physical tools Anthony Richardson and Will Levis bring to the table are also enticing ... They won't last long after Houston's pick.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
After back-to-back national titles, Carter looks poised to hit the NFL and run roughshod over opposing offensive linemen. New Arizona GM Monti Ossenfort knows how valuable an interior disruptor can be. He'll sprint this pick to the podium.
4. Chicago Bears (via Colts): Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
The Bears are going to roll with Justin Fields, so instead of going with a quarterback, Chicago goes with a sure-thing pass-rusher who -- even after a dip in production this year -- recorded a ridiculous 208 total pressures over the last three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.
5. Seattle Seahawks (via Broncos): Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds with tremendous length, Wilson is a little more raw than Anderson. But his tools are rare. Pete Carroll should be a very happy man no matter which of the top-three defenders falls to Seattle.
6. Detroit Lions (via Rams): Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Van Ness is a relentless pass-rusher who could kick inside for teams that need someone there in obvious passing situations. He's about to have a monster combine, the NFL expects, and adding him to a defensive front that already includes Aidan Hutchinson should mean big things for the fans in the Motor City.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Big human. Big arm. Tough. Strong processor of information. Josh McDaniels will appreciate all of those traits. But Levis' inconsistent performance in college will have to be something the Raiders sort through.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Gonzalez had four picks this year, and he may be the best height-weight-speed prospect at the combine. He's going to light it up in Indy this week. Add his positional value to the equation and you have a top-10 pick.
9. Carolina Panthers: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
In Richardson, the Panthers may feel as though they have a crack at the next Jalen Hurts. Only Richardson is bigger, faster and has a stronger arm. He may need a year to develop, but David Tepper finally might have his franchise quarterback. Let the Cam Newton comps begin!
10. Philadelphia Eagles (via Saints): Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Is this a little high for a player who was a zero-star recruit coming out of high school? Nope. That's how impressive Witherspoon has been over the last two seasons. A culture-builder for coach Bret Bielema -- an assistant in New England prior to taking the job at Illinois -- you can tell Witherspoon enjoys the physicality of the game.
He also has tremendous ball skills, and former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network has compared him to Asante Samuel.
11. Tennessee Titans: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
This one might sting in New England. Jones looks like a Patriots fit. Makes sense that Mike Vrabel would be interested. Jones is just coming off his first season as a starting left tackle, but if you're looking for hard-to-find tools, he's got 'em.
12. Houston Texans (via Browns): Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
It's taken a while. But, finally, a receiver comes off the board. The free-agent crop isn't dazzling, and neither is the top-end talent depth in this year's draft. But Johnston certainly has the ability to go this early.
His test numbers should be outstanding, and the Patriots with Caserio in the building always valued high-level athleticism at this position. C.J. Stroud has his partner in crime for the next five years.
13. New York Jets: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Skoronski looks like he has the chops to pass-protect effectively from Day 1 on the left side. That's where he spent his career in the Big 10, and it's where he excelled against top-flight pass-rushers like Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo last year. According to PFF, he allowed just six pressures on 474 pass-blocking snaps in his final season, including just one against Ohio State.
14. Los Angeles Chargers (via Patriots): Jordan Addison, WR, USC
- Chargers receive: Patriots' No. 14, No. 107 and No. 143 picks
- Patriots receive: Chargers' No. 21 and No. 53 picks
The Patriots just watched two of the top tackle options and the top "X" receiver in this year's class fly off the board during the previous three picks. Time to adjust.
There is still plenty of talent available, even if it may not be blue-chip caliber. Clemson edge defender Myles Murphy is around. Same goes for Alabama safety Brian Branch, USC receiver Jordan Addison, Ohio State offensive lineman Paris Johnson, Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Boston College receiver Zay Flowers, Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid.
That collection of players remaining on the board may make Bill Belichick feel comfortable that he'll land a player he likes at a position of need seven picks later at No. 21. He sends two of his three fourth-rounders to the Chargers as well, picking up an extra second-rounder in the deal.
Now Belichick has a first-rounder at No. 21 and two seconds (No. 46 and 53) to add real pieces to his roster for 2023 and beyond.
15. Green Bay Packers: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Not a bad option for Jordan Love over the middle of the field. (That is, if Aaron Rodgers ends up elsewhere this offseason.) Kincaid isn't a physically-imposing specimen at 240 pounds, but he has excellent hands and the kind of athleticism that will give defensive coordinators headaches.
16. Washington Commanders: Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State
Just a mountain of a man who some believe will end up measuring at 6-foot-7, Johnson fills a major need for Ron Rivera's club here. Johnson just needs to have a better understanding of how to play the position, but he has the ability to play multiple spots along the offensive line in Washington.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Wright also is a mountain of a man who just feels like a Steelers lineman based on his playing style. No nonsense. Physical. He made Will Anderson look like just another guy last season, and he was one of the best blockers at this year's Senior Bowl. Classic Pittsburgh pick.
18. Detroit Lions: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh
Dan Campbell is having some fun now. He's assembling a pack of knee-biters to play along his defensive front. Kancey is undersized but wildly quick and will give some folks flashbacks to another Pitt D-lineman who was undersized but a menace as a pass-rusher: Aaron Donald.
Kancey isn't going to be one of the all-time greats, but he doesn't need to be to give the Lions the kind of juice they're looking for in the trenches. Can't double everyone.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Another big ol' edge defender here. Murphy is in that classic mold of true hand-in-the-dirt pass-rushers at 6-foot.5, 275 pounds. He's a well-rounded player who could succeed in just about any task asked of him, and it's no secret the Bucs can use all the talent they can get.
They may be on the verge of stripping their roster of veteran players who cost too much. Safe choice here for a player who fell further than expected.
20. Seattle Seahawks: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
The Seahawks, like the Lions, also know where this draft class is most stacked: right along the defensive line. Here they get the next best thing to Jalen Carter in this year's draft. Quickness. Length. Strength.
Breese has all of the tools necessary to become an interior disruptor at the next level. He and Tyree Wilson paired together will be a formidable duo for NFL West offensive linemen.
22. New England Patriots*: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
This former five-star high school recruit lit up the Big 10 as a sophomore alongside future first-rounders Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. He had 1,606 yards and nine scores compared to 1,058 and 12 for Wilson and 936 and 13 for Olave.
Smith-Njigba (6-feet, 200 pounds) feasted with Wilson and Olave off the field at times that season, but he was also called the best athlete of the three by Wilson while they were teammates.
Smith-Njigba's test numbers will be fascinating coming off an injury-riddled 2022. He doesn't look like the same kind of speedster that Wilson or Olave is. But he is an excellent route-runner who is a bear to bring down after the catch.
Even if he is limited to being a slot receiver at the next level -- as he was in 2021 when he posted those gaudy numbers -- that carries huge value in the Bill O'Brien offense that will return to New England this year. Mac Jones could use a high-volume target who provides "layup" throws on a consistent basis. Especially if Jakobi Meyers ends up departing via free agency.
*Miami forfeited the No. 21 overall selection as punishment for tampering with Tom Brady.
23. Baltimore Ravens: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
No matter who is behind center, general manager Eric DeCosta is going to have to provide John Harbaugh's offense with more weaponry beyond Mark Andrews. Drafting Rashod Bateman early a couple of seasons ago was a good start. Can't stop there.
Flowers could do wonders for Baltimore as a dynamic athlete from the slot. Flowers would have been a smaller-but-faster slot option for the Patriots if they wanted to go that route at No. 21.
24. Minnesota Vikings: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
There are few better corners in this class for new Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Porter is long and loves to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
Here's another Prototypical Patriot. Branch played the "star" position in Nick Saban's defense as a slot defender extraordinaire. Could he play safety? Could he play outside? No one would get a better reference or a truer assessment than Belichick. Especially with Devin McCourty potentially moving on, Branch would be a fascinating pick.
Instead, he ends up in Jacksonville, where they need secondary help badly.
26. New York Giants: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Mayer has the ability to be a foundational player in any offense. Is he the world's greatest athlete at the position? Probably not. But he has hands. And run-after-the-catch ability. Brian Daboll, former Patriots tight ends coach, will approve.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
Campbell may turn some heads in Indy this week. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Campbell is one of the most instinctive and intelligent linebackers in this class. But he's also an eye-opening athlete.
Dallas may be intrigued by Campbell's processing ability and see a bigger version of another supercomputer Big 10 linebacker from back in the day: Sean Lee.
28. Buffalo Bills: O'Cyrus Torrence, OL, Florida
Josh Allen could use a little help. Maybe it's in the receiving corps, but there's time in later rounds to add there. Getting Torrence would provide coach Sean McDermott with an immediate starter along the interior. Allen can function as his own best protection, but the more he can work from the pocket unencumbered, the better off he'll be.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
The Bengals perhaps should look to solidify their offensive line before adding a running back. Especially since they still have Joe Mixon. But this feels like a smart play.
No. 1: Robinson is one of the best backs to come out of the draft in recent years. The only reasons he's lasted this long is because the position isn't valued the way it used to be. No. 2: Mixon has two years left on his deal with base salaries of $ 9.4 million and $ 9.7 million.
If they want to save some dough to keep Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins together ... Mixon will be a casualty soon. They can save over $ 7 million on the cap by trading him this offseason. Something to consider. And they'd be upgrading at the position.
30. New Orleans Saints (via 49ers): Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
Long. Strong. Athletic. Banks has every tool that head coach Dennis Allen could want. He just needs a little polish. He'll get it in New Orleans, where they love to invest in the secondary.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech
Not many edge players measure in at 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds these days. Philly, which loves to rotate in its pass-rushers, will figure out a way to maximize White's gifts on early downs and then in passing situations.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Talk about two ends of the spectrum when it comes to pass-rushers. Smith is light at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds. But he's explosiveness personified and could help get the best out of superstar defensive lineman Chris Jones by drawing eyeballs out to the edge opposite last year's first-rounder, George Karlaftis.
This move might allow Kansas City to move on from Frank Clark, whose base salary rockets from $ 3.73 million last year to $ 20.5 million this year.