It's never too early to start looking at mock drafts. And with the Patriots eliminated from the playoffs, why not start now?
Dan Kadar and Matthew Fairburn of Mocking the Draft have released a collaborative mock draft this morning, and they have the Patriots targeting a receiver with the 29th overall pick. Specifically, they have the Patriots taking West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin:
Although Wes Welker is again approaching free agency, a player like Tavon Austin shouldn't be viewed solely as his replacement. Instead, Austin should be looked at as an advanced version of Julian Edelman. Austin can be used in a variety of ways. He can line up outside or in the slot, line up in the backfield and play on special teams.
Austin is the type of playmaker that would provide some much needed explosiveness to the Patriots' receiving corps. Even if Wes Welker were to return next year, the Patriots could certainly find a way to use Austin, and he could likely take Deion Branch's snaps as a rookie. He could also be a factor in the return game.
The biggest question with Austin is his size (he stands at just 5'9"), and if he'd be able to play outside consistently. The Patriots need a receiver that could play multiple spots. Austin certainly has the explosiveness to play outside, but the NFL is a different game than college, and whether he could actually play outside is a wild card.