Patriots' seven-round mock draft
We have to have some idea of what it is the Patriots are looking for on draft weekend, right? Even now, a week before the NFL Scouting Combine, there should be a handful of players we can look at and say, "Yeah, I could see it."
There's obviously a significant track record Bill Belichick has compiled that should help us. He has 19 years of drafting under his belt as head coach of the Patriots, and every player he's taken can provide for us a handful of data points. Naturally, at this point in the year, we don't have a lot of that information just yet. We'll get it at the combine. But here we'll hack away with what we've seen from and know about players in this class to this point. We've already compiled a first-round mock draft, but in this exercise we'll go through all 12 picks (including compensatory picks) the Patriots are projected to have in Rounds 1-7.
No. 32: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
We had Hockenson going to the Patriots in our initial first-round mock, and we'll stick with that choice for now just to be consistent. We'll mix things up as the pre-draft process wears on. But for now, it's hard to fathom a better fit landing to the Patriots at No. 32. Proven to be a productive receiver with good athleticism, Hockenson also has the size (6-foot-5, 250) and aggressive demeanor to be an impactful blocker. That he learned to play under Kirk Ferentz and former Patriots tight ends coach Brian Ferentz can't hurt. There's a chance Hockenson isn't available at this point, but he wasn't widely mocked in the first round by experts until the last few weeks -- about a month after Iowa's last game of the 2018 season. Hockenson's teammate Noah Fant and Alabama's Irv Smith could also be options here if the Patriots are looking for tight ends at the end of the first round.
No. 56 (from Chicago): Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
The Patriots could clearly use some help at receiver, and Samuel would provide them a player who has played inside, outside and has proven to be an electric return man (three kick returns for touchdowns in his career). He's battled injuries in recent years, including a season-ending broken leg in 2017, but in some ways that makes him a classic Patriots second-rounder. There's some risk involved, but his upside is significant. It'll be interesting to see how the 6-foot, 210-pounder tests as his shuttle times could be key indicators as to just how well his quickness will translate in the pros. A productive career in the SEC and a 210-yard performance against Clemson in the fall may be indicators enough, though. Kelvin Harmon of NC State would be a tantalizing fit here, but he looks like a true No. 1 down the line and should be gone at this stage of the draft. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is another player who experts often have falling to the second round, but the Patriots might have to move up from No. 56 if they want Clemson's 355-pounder to help fill in for potential free-agent departures Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton.
No. 64: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, Florida
Notice there's a "DB" next to Gardner-Johnson's name above. That's because he looks like the kind of versatile weapon the Patriots like in their secondary. We know Belichick and Nick Caserio have appreciated what they've seen from Florida defensive backs in recent years. They drafted Duke Dawson, another versatile player, in the second round last year after scouting some of Dawson's teammates in years past. While Dawson played multiple spots in college, he looks like a true "star" candidate in New England. Gardner-Johnson could potentially chip in there, but he might be best-suited as a multi-purpose safety. The Patriots confused offenses last year by having multiple smart, well-rounded defensive backs on the field who could shift responsibilities from snap-to-snap. Gardner-Johnson could help them accomplish something similar for years to come. If Boston College defensive end Zach Allen — another player who is all over the map in terms of expert draft grades — lasts to this point in the draft, he'd make sense as a bull-rushing edge with some versatility to play multiple spots.
No. 73 (from Detroit): David Edwards, OT, Wisconsin
At 6-foot-7, 319 pounds, Edwards certainly has the size of an NFL-ready offensive tackle. But it's not just his size that would make the Patriots bite early in the third round. Dante Scarnecchia has said many times that he's looking for smart, tough offensive linemen who are "athletic enough." Edwards appears to have solid athleticism — he was a high school quarterback and entered the collegiate ranks as a tight end — and he seems to play with an edge. How smart he is will be up to the Patriots to decide, but he has good experience both as a pass-protector and a run-blocker coming out of a pro-style system that has produced its fair share of NFL talent. Even if Edwards projects as a right tackle, he'd provide valuable depth as the Patriots could lose both Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle to free agency in the offseason.
Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State
Another play-him-anywhere type of receiver, McLaurin would give the Patriots an additional pass-catcher to help them round out their receiver room with Samuel, Julian Edelman and second-year slot Braxton Berrios. A competitive blocker and a someone who can uncover quickly at the line of scrimmage, McLaurin comes from a program Belichick respects and has experience in a conference where he saw good competition on a week-to-week basis. The 6-foot-1 wideout was a two-time captain for the Buckeyes. The Patriots are projected to receive a third-round compensatory pick for Nate Solder, per Nick Korte of Over The Cap.
Amani Hooker, S, Iowa
Remember all that talk about the value in versatile defensive backs? Hooker appears to have the instincts to play multiple spots down closer to the line of scrimmage in the secondary. Patrick Chung's role is a difficult one to replicate since he can play everywhere from box safety, to the slot, to linebacker. But Hooker could provide a smart and physical presence to potentially help fill that void whenever Chung moves on. Even if the Hawkeyes safety doesn't contribute immediately, he looks like he could be a valuable special-teamer. The Patriots are projected to receive a third-round compensatory pick for Malcolm Butler.
ORIGINAL PATRIOTS PICK: Jonathan Ledbetter, EDGE, Georgia
It was only a matter of time before the Patriots went back to the Georgia well, right? Ledbetter doesn't have the name recognition of some of his teammates in this year's draft class, but he looks like an intriguing fit for what the Patriots do defensively. Deemed a "tweener" at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, he has the length, power and attitude to serve as a run-stuffing edge defender who could bump inside on occasion. For a defense that likes to two-gap and bull-rush the mobile quarterbacks they see week after week, Ledbetter makes sense in New England. He's not the flashy athlete off the edge that'll get early-round attention, but for a defense that could be without Trey Flowers (a fourth-round pick in 2015) and Adrian Clayborn next season, Ledbetter could fill a role. He was a captain for coach Kirby Smart in 2018.
COMPENSATORY PICK: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
In this scenario, the Patriots don't trade up for Kyler Murray. They don't trade up for Drew Lock. They pass on a quarterback who, on paper, looks like their type in Ryan Finley. Instead they go with a passer who is a little undersized compared to those they've drafted in the past (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) and who didn't play in a Power 5 conference. While Rypien didn't produce against the best of the best, he did rack up a 3-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in college, with a 64 percent career completion mark and a yards per attempt number of 8.4. He's not the next Jimmy Garoppolo, but Rypien has shown an ability to look off safeties, a willingness to throw into tight windows, and the fortitude to stand in the pocket and take a hit mid-delivery. He looks like he has traits worth working with as a Day 3 selection. The Patriots are projected to receive a fifth-round compensatory pick for Danny Amendola.
VIA PHILADELPHIA: Foster Moreau, TE, LSU
Given the uncertainty at the position in New England, it'd be no surprise if the Patriots doubled up at tight end. Moreau may be more blocker than receiver, but he might interest the Patriots because of his experience blocking on the run in the SEC. Should the Patriots need a fill-in at fullback, the LSU captain might be able to serve in that capacity as well. We know fullbacks and tight ends meet together for the Patriots because they have similar responsibilities. Also, size-wise, Moreau (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) is relatively similar to James Develin (6-foot-3, 255). If the Patriots would rather add a true fullback to their roster to add some depth at a position that became critical to their offense late last season, Wisconsin's Alec Ingold could be an option on Day 3.
VIA CLEVELAND: Albert Huggins, DL, Clemson
He ain't Christian Wilkins, the Clemson defensive lineman projected by many to be a first-round pick. He ain't Dexter Lawrence. But when Lawrence was suspended for the college football playoffs last season, Huggins started against Notre Dame and helped hold the Irish to three points. He started again in the national championship game and made five tackles against Alabama. At 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, Huggins doesn't have quite the same frame as Malcom Brown or Danny Shelton, but could he help plug things up on the interior of the defensive line for the Patriots? There's a chance. Had he played somewhere else, Huggins might've had more opportunities to get noticed. But if he lasts until Day 3 because of his relative lack of production, he could be a steal.
ORIGINAL PATRIOTS PICK: Bobby Okereke, LB, Stanford
The Patriots typically like to draft big-bodied linebackers to play off the ball, whether it's been Brandon Spikes, Dont'a Hightower or Ja'Whaun Bentley. So Okereke, at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds, doesn't necessarily fit that profile. But he's thought to be a smart player with a nose for the football and good athleticism, which should make him a candidate to contribute immediately on special teams. The Patriots have used several relatively-undersized linebackers as kicking game-only types, including veterans Albert McClellan (6-2, 235 pounds) and Ramon Humber (5-11, 232 pounds). Okereke, a captain at Stanford, could have an opportunity to fill a similar role.
COMPENSATORY PICK: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Love tore his ACL at the end of last season and could find himself off draft boards entirely, which would cap off a drastic slide for a player who was a Heisman finalist in 2017. He battled injuries throughout last season, making it feel as though the player who drew comparisons to Dion Lewis is but a memory. If that player is in there somewhere, though, he'd be worth a Day 3 flier. The Patriots are projected to receive a seventh-round compensatory pick for Cam Fleming.