Yesterday, we published a three-round mock draft by ESPN analyst Todd McShay – a draft that was dubbed a dream-scenario for the New England Patriots: The team was able to bolster all three levels of its defense while also getting the top offensive tackle prospect and a developmental quarterback to work with behind starter Tom Brady. All in all, a draft New England would likely be happy with.
McShay's colleague at the self-proclaimed “world-wide leader of sports”, Mel Kiper Jr., recently released a three-round mock himself – and while it has only one overlap in terms of player, it still addresses the Patriots' biggest current needs:
New England Patriots
Round 1 (23): Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
Round 1 (31): Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
Round 2 (43): Brian O’Neill, OT, Pitt
Round 2 (63): Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
Round 3 (95): Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
Kiper starts his mock draft with the Patriots taking Leighton Vander Esch: The 6'4, 255 lbs linebacker fits the what the team is looking for at the position and would come with plenty of versatility to line up both on and off the line of scrimmage, play in coverage and downhill. Coming off a breakout season in 2017, after which he was named the Mountain West Conference's defensive player of the year, the Boise State defender is quickly rising up draft boards.
With the Patriots' second selection in round one, Kiper has them pick Mike Hughes. The Central Florida product would add depth on defense and special teams: He was named to the first All-Conference team at cornerback in 2017 and to the AAC’s second team as a returnman. Hughes would add talent, athleticism and playmaking ability to the perimeter of New England's secondary.
Early in round two, the Patriot address what is currently their biggest hole: offensive tackle. Kiper sees the team pick Brian O'Neill to fill the hole created by Nate Solder's departure – at least in the long run. At 6'7, 300 lbs, the Pitt product has prototypical size for the position and comes with plenty of athletic upside. However, he would likely not serve as a day one starter as he needs to refine his technique and work on his strength.
While McShea had the Patriots pick Kyle Lauletta in round three, Kiper sees the team select him one round earlier: The senior quarterback, who completed 63% of his attempts at Richmond, is coming with a clean throwing technique and very good footwork and would fit New England’s offense due to his accuracy and high football IQ. While he is a work in progress, Lauletta would be a high-upside mid-round pick.
The final pick of Kiper's mock draft is also an offensive one: running back Kalen Ballage. A bigger back at 6'1, 230 lbs, the Arizona State product is coming off a solid albeit unspectacular college career. He would likely push Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill for playing time and a roster spot but has to be considered a work-in-progress especially in terms of pass protection and play diagnosis.
While Kiper's mock draft may lack the potential day-one impact of McShea's, it still has some intriguing players coming to New England: While Vander Esch and Hughes are projected to see plenty of playing time from day one, O'Neill, Lauletta and Ballage all come with plenty of upside and long-term potential. This would be a solid draft from the Patriots' perspective.