Patriots

Patriots pick Alabama star in Mel Kiper's first 2020 NFL mock draft

Patriots pick Alabama star in Mel Kiper's first 2020 NFL mock draft

The New England Patriots' preparation for the 2020 NFL Draft is well underway.

Multiple members of the Patriots were in Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl, including head coach Bill Belichick. Patriots scouts reportedly were "gushing" over SMU wide receiver Jordan Proche, who plays at a position New England would be wise to upgrade through the draft.

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The Patriots have plenty of defensive needs as well, and ESPN's Mel Kiper has the AFC East champs bolstering their secondary in his first 2020 NFL mock draft of the season. 

Here's part of Kiper's rationale for slotting Alabama safety Xavier McKinney to the Patriots with the 23rd pick in the first round.

...They have a few other important free agents, though, including safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Jamie Collins, who had a resurgent season. That's why I like the fit of McKinney, my top-ranked safety after I took a closer look at his 2019 tape. He's a complete player and is versatile, which is a trait Bill Belichick values. McKinney also has another thing Belichick likes: He played for Belichick's buddy Nick Saban.

NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Phil Perry also had McKinney going to the Patriots in his first 2020 NFL mock draft.

McKinney played three seasons with the Crimson Tide and set career highs in 2019 with 95 total tackles, four forced fumbles and three interceptions. He also tallied five passes defensed and three sacks. One of McKinney's best games of the season came against No. 1 ranked and eventual national champions LSU, where he tallied 13 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in Alabama's 46-41 loss.

The Patriots have one of the league's most talented secondaries, but it's not a young group. Devin McCourty is an unrestricted free agent at 32 years old. His brother, Jason, also is 32 and has one more year left on his contract. Veteran safeties Duron Harmon (29 years old) and Patrick Chung (32 years old) are at the end of their primes. The NFL is a passing league, so it would behoove the Patriots to add some new blood to their defensive backfield.

McKinney is one of the top defensive backs in the 2020 draft class, and he obviously was well coached by Nick Saban and played in many big games as an Alabama starter.

Perry: LSU WR Jefferson movin' up draft boards

Patriots have the NFL's toughest schedule next season

Patriots have the NFL's toughest schedule next season

With or without Tom Brady at quarterback, those traditional complaints about the Patriots having an easy schedule will likely die down a bit next season.

Yes, there's still the AFC East for the Pats to feast on, but based on their opponents' records in 2019, New England has the NFL's toughest schedule in 2020. 

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Patriots opponents had a .537 winning percentage in 2019. Dates and times will be released as usual in mid-April, but the opponents have been known for a while and they include the two Super Bowl teams (on the road vs. the champion Kansas City Chiefs and hosting the runner-up San Francisco 49ers) and five other games against team who made the playoffs (the Buffalo Bills home and away, at the Seattle Seahawks, at the Houston Texans and home vs. the Baltimore Ravens).

The Pats are matched up with the AFC West and NFC West for non-division opponents, which throws some coast-to-coast trips in the mix. It also puts New England's AFC East rivals right up there with the toughest schedules as well, with the Jets second, the Miami Dolphins third and the Bills the fifth-toughest. 

The team with the easiest schedule next season? It's the one that won the most regular-season games (14) last season and earned the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the Ravens. Their opponents had a combined .437 winning percentage last season. 
 

Vikings WR Stefon Diggs' Instagram activity sparks Patriots trade speculation

Vikings WR Stefon Diggs' Instagram activity sparks Patriots trade speculation

One of the New England Patriots' primary focuses this offseason will be to add weapons to an offense that lacked its usual explosiveness in the 2019 season.

There are plenty of options on the free agent market that could help the Patriots in that regard, but they also could look to improve their roster via trade. In fact, one particular star wide receiver appears to be placing himself on the trade block.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Vikings star Stefon Diggs removed all Vikings-related content from his Instagram page. That means no Vikings photos or videos, and no mention of the organization in his "bio" section.

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Predictably, that sparked plenty of "Diggs-to-the-Pats" speculation on social media.

And there's much more where that came from.

Making a move to add a top-tier wideout like Diggs not only would give the Patriots' receiving corps a much-needed boost, it also could entice soon-to-be free agent Tom Brady to stay in New England. The 42-year-old quarterback is set to officially hit free agency on March 18.

As for Diggs, he has four years remaining on his contract and the Vikings' asking price would be reasonably high. The 26-year-old caught 63 passes for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns in 2019.

Is there a chance this is nothing and we're all reading way too much into social media? Of course. But it wouldn't be an NFL offseason if we didn't have this kind of drama to talk about.