I'll always perk up when NFL Network's Mike Mayock ever talks about the New England Patriots. He's one of the draft analysts that head coach Bill Belichick clearly respects and probably speaks to on a regular basis. Mayock played under Belichick from 1982-83 with the Giants and the two have remained in contact.
So when you read what Mayock says about the Patriots draft needs and potential fits, put it in the context that he knows his stuff. Mayock had interesting thoughts about the Patriots possible options at the end of the 2nd round.
"They probably have to be looking at some offensive linemen," Mayock opened. "And obviously they got beat up this year badly up front. They started or played -- they had three rookies play significant time in that interior offensive line, one of whom didn't even get invited to the combine last year, Shaq Mason. So they could be looking at a tackle in that spot.
"I think they have to be looking on the back end with the way they process through defensive backs. And I think the wide receiver position has got to continue to be upgraded. I mean, their best receiver is an inside receiver, and I think he'd really like to get a significant threat on the outside.
"So with all that being said, at wideout at the back end of the second round, would Will Fuller from Notre Dame be sitting there or Josh Doctson be there? They already have a great slot in Edelman, so they're looking for an outside guy that can be a difference maker in the second or third round.
"Rashard Higgins maybe from Colorado State in third round, and then when you start talking about defensive backs, the corners in the late two, late three range, I keep talking about this Jackson from Houston. I really like him, William Jackson. He can play off, he can play press. I think his value is going to begin to escalate the closer we get to the draft, but he's a long press corner that can play off, and I think the Patriots always value guys that are versatile.
"Xavien Howard from Baylor, another long corner with really good tape and really bad tape, but a gifted kid, maybe a late third -round pick. Jalen Mills from LSU has some versatility both inside and outside, corner and safety. I think all of those guys are kind of interesting conversations regarding the Patriots."
There's a lot to digest here, so let's break it down.
Mayock notes three big holes for the Patriots to fill are at offensive tackle, wide receiver, and cornerback. These happen to be the exact same three positions that ESPN's Mel Kiper highlighted in his press conference, so there's probably some league scuttle about New England directing the conversation.
Tackle isn't a surprise as Sebastian Vollmer ages and the line play was horrendous in 2015, and wide receiver is an evergreen suggestion for the Patriots that will always spark interest. Mocking an unheralded defensive back to the Patriots in the 2nd round is also now an acceptable trope that we have to accept.
But I think it's interesting that Mayock seems to be more open on the cornerback position than any other.
Jackson, Howard, and Mills are all regarded as possible 2nd round picks, which leads me to believe that Mayock is suggesting the following course of action for the Patriots.
1) Does a blue chip wide receiver fall down the draft board? Both Doctson and Fuller are in Mayock's top 5 positional rankings. If so, the Patriots would be happy to jump at the opportunity.
2) If a blue chip wide receiver isn't there, the Patriots will probably pick one up in the third round, and instead use their draft pick on a cornerback.
3) The Patriots will probably use a third round pick on a high-upside developmental offensive tackle.
So assuming that the Patriots will pick 60th (2nd round), 92nd (3rd round), and 97th (3rd round compensatory for Darrelle Revis), we can make the following mock draft:
60th: Houston CB William Jackson III - The 6'1, 195 lbs ball magnet seems to be the perfect fit in the Patriots secondary. He can press, he can play zone, he has a penchant for swatting the ball away, and he can turn his head. If he's the eventual replacement for Logan Ryan, should Ryan depart in free agency, then the Patriots will be in good hands. Other players like Louisiana State's Jalen Mills, Miami's Artie Burns, Baylor's Xavien Howard, and Southeastern Louisiana's Harlan Miller could fit. Howard and Miller are possible 3rd round names if a blue chip receiver falls.
92nd: Southern Mississippi WR Mike Thomas - Thomas also sits at 6'1, 195 lbs and he's a typical Patriots wide receiver pick. He's an athletic phenom, but he also runs great routes and can carry an offense. He's someone that could buck the Patriots trend of drafting wide receiver busts. Other players like Colorado State's Rashard Higgins, Tulsa's Keyarris Garrett, Michigan State's Aaron Burbridge, Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell, Southeast Missouri's Paul McRoberts, and Massachusett's Tajae Sharpe could fit.
97th: North Dakota State OT Joe Haeg - Haeg is a perfect high-upside tackle prospect that could do well with a year in an NFL program before assuming a starting role. He's a dominant player that's proficient in both pass protection and run blocking, but he could benefit from some time to adjust to a higher level of competition. Other players like Lousisiana State's Jerald Hawkins, Stanford's Kyle Murphy, Georgia's John Theus, Western Michigan's Willie Beavers, Baylor's Spencer Drango, and Cincinnati's Parker Ehinger could fit as well.
So, there you have it. A three round Patriots mock draft with players that fit with New England based upon Mayock's insight. I'm starting to like this draft a lot.