Time to get fully invested, everyone. The Super Bowl has come and gone. Now we focus on the Super Bowl for football nerds obsessed with team-building and prognosticating. (Hand up!)
That's right. It's officially draft season.
2023 NFL Power Rankings: Where each team stands after Super Bowl LVII
How the Patriots handle the 2023 NFL Draft, of course, will depend on how their roster looks following the initial phases of free agency. But as things stand right now, they have some very clear needs. We'll go about addressing them -- and addressing them early -- in our first seven-round mock draft of the offseason.
Without further adieu, using the mock-draft simulator from our friends at Pro Football Focus, let's see what's available to the Patriots when they're on the clock at No. 14 and beyond.
First Round, No. 14: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Suffice it to say, things fell nicely for the Patriots here. The top 12 picks were loaded with quarterbacks. Offensive tackles, too, which the Patriots need. But they're also interested in adding receiver help this offseason. And Johnston is arguably the most physically-gifted in this year's draft class.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and with speed to burn, Johnston had 1,067 yards receiving and six scores for the Horned Frogs last year. He's a true "X" with all the physical tools you could want. He might last this long because he doesn't always make the most of his imposing frame. But with Johnston in the fold, the Patriots would have someone who would allow DeVante Parker to be more of a situational player, while the rookie would be the one to consistently threaten safeties and draw two sets of eyes on a snap-to-snap basis.
Mac Jones would have a do-it-all boundary threat to grow old with, and the New England running game would benefit from having a player who forces defensive backs out of the box. Force-multiplier pick here. The kind of player they haven't had in ages. And need.
Second Round, No. 46: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Will a big-bodied tackle who succeeded in the SEC and at the Senior Bowl last this long? Players with Wright's final-season performance often don't get 10-plus picks into the second round. But he did here, because there are real questions about Wright's athleticism and over-aggressiveness.
It showed up early at the Senior Bowl when he came out a little too set on being one of the most violent players on the field and got himself out of position. But he settled down and looked dominant at times later in the week, evaluators will tell you. He was eventually named the American team's offensive line practice player of the week down in Mobile, Ala. (voted by his Senior Bowl teammates on the defensive line and in the linebacker room).
With that kind of showing under his belt, and a special performance last season against arguably the nation's best pass rusher (Alabama's Will Anderson), Wright would be the kind of player Bill Belichick would take a chance on. He could slot opposite left tackle Trent Brown and immediately provide the Patriots a tackle upgrade.
Third Round, No. 76: Steve Avila, G, TCU
This is a sneaky need for the Patriots. They should be set in the starting lineup along the interior with center David Andrews and guards Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu. But injuries happen, and they're thinking about depth here. Having James Ferentz has been a nice option for them for years, but they have little in the way of dependable options outside of their top three. With Avila, they'd get a powerful option who could play either guard spot.
He's a much different-looking kind of player than Strange, who was brought in to help run the zone schemes the Patriots wanted to lean on last year. But if they go back to more of a gap system in 2023, New England's second Horned Frog in three picks -- they've never been afraid of doubling up from one school before, and they'll do it again later in this mock -- would be an ideal fit.
Mac Jones should feel a lot better about his offensive line situation with a new coach there, a new tackle and more depth along the interior. He needs a sturdy pocket, and he should have one.
Fourth Round, No. 107: Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford
Is Kelly going to be the kind of thumper along the boundary that Devon Witherspoon -- whom we've linked to the Patriots in the past -- will be? Nope. Not his game, seemingly. But he can cover. Take a look at how he did against one of the best receivers in the country, Jordan Addison from USC, who has quickness and route-running savvy that's atypical for the college game.
Smooth. Good stop-start quickness. Not many wasted steps. Comfortable at the line of scrimmage while pressing. He's not the perfect Patriots corner. He won't be considered a starting option off the bat, in all likelihood. But he brings enough to the table in terms of size -- 6-foot-1, 190 pounds -- athleticism and play demeanor to draw consideration here.
Fourth Round, No. 117: Atonio Mafi, G, UCLA
Another Pac-12 player off the board here to the Patriots. As would be the case with the Avila selection, this would be an indication that the Patriots are planning on playing a different style than the one they started out with in 2022.
Mafi is looking to punish people. He's the kind of puller who has bad intentions. And because the Patriots could be without Mike Onwenu after the 2023 season -- he's going into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract -- it's smart for the Patriots to load up on capable offensive line help.
Mafi had an outstanding Shrine Bowl and spent a lot of time with Patriots assistant offensive line coach Billy Yates as a member of the West team.
Fourth Round, No. 135: Trey Dean III, S, Florida
He won't be a Devin McCourty successor (if the Patriots need one), but he just might help fill in for Jabrill Peppers if the Patriots can't hold onto the free-agent-to-be box safety. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Dean has great size and stood out as one of the best defensive players during the week of practice out in Las Vegas at the Shrine Bowl.
Dean, who played for the Patriots on the West team, was named an All-Star from the week of practice -- an honor determined by NFL reps based on their on-the-field play as well as their interviews and their professionalism over the course of the week. Versatile player. SEC guy. Good size. Professional. Sounds like a Patriot.
Sixth Round, No. 184: Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
He's not as well-known as his cornerback teammate Cam Smith, but Rush had a tremendous week at the Senior Bowl. That matters to the Patriots. He ran routes for receivers in Mobile. He got his hands on the football consistently. And he showed up with great length -- 33-inch arms -- at 6-foot-1, 196 pounds.
The quarterback play at the Senior Bowl was lacking, but Rush's playmaking ability on display there would certainly make him worthy of a Day 3 choice.
Sixth Round, No. 187: Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Schoonmaker isn't one of these new-age receivers who just happen to be labeled a tight end. He knows how to use his size, and he's an impactful blocker, which the Patriots could use at the position.
He has enough in terms of hands and receiving chops to be used in the passing game, but he's a traditional "Y" option who can get downhill and move people on the edge. He also went to the Shrine Bowl but didn't practice as he dealt with a shoulder injury suffered late in the College Football Playoff.
Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith will continue to be among the team's highest-paid players in 2023, but they could use some depth behind those two. Schoonmaker may be able to help them on that front.
Sixth Round, No. 192: Michael Wilson, WR, Stanford
Another double-up from a Power Five program. Another All-Star Game standout. Wilson was arguably the biggest "winner" from the Senior Bowl this year. He ran polished routes and knew how to separate. Listen to our Next Pats interview with Ashley Adamson of the Pac-12 Network, and you'll hear a character description of Wilson that makes him seem like a fit as well.
While the Patriots spent their first-round pick on a wideout in this scenario, they could use a little more depth if Jakobi Meyers signs elsewhere in free agency. Wilson dealt with a number of injuries as a collegian, and the pre-draft medicals will have a huge say in where he ends up. But the Patriots have proven they're worth rolling the dice if it's the right spot in the draft, and Wilson looks like he's worth the gamble here, if not earlier.
Sixth Round, No. 210: Mohamoud Diabate, LB, Utah
According to NFL Media's Bucky Brooks, the Patriots were raving about Diabate during Shrine Bowl week. Why? At 6-foot-3, 229 pounds, he's probably not the kind of thumper the Patriots would plan on playing in the middle of their defense on a consistent basis. But he had an incredibly physical playing style for the Utes, and his lateral movement skills showed up in Vegas.
Snagging him as a special-teamer with upside to contribute defensively feels like a very Belichickian move here.
Seventh Round, No. 258: Jake Moody, K, Michigan
What's one more Shrine Bowler? That would make a whopping five in this year's draft class -- Moody, Diabiate, Schoonmaker, Dean and Mafi -- but that feels about right. Remember, the Patriots took four Shrine Bowl players a year ago and they didn't coach one of the two teams for an entire week. With more access to the players, one would think they'd feel more comfortable with a variety of prospects from their week of work there.
Moody, who made four field goals in the Shrine Bowl game to take home MVP honors, has experience kicking in cold weather and would be a sensible successor to Nick Folk if the Patriots feel they need some youth there. Folk has been Mr. Consistency for the Patriots, but 2023 is the final year on his contract.
The Patriots also could use a kickoff specialist if punter Jake Bailey, suspended to end the 2022 season, doesn't return.