23. Justin Reid, S, Stanford. I expect the Patriots to either move up or stay put at 23 and get the top player on their board. Reid has the athleticism to play both CB and safety, but he’ll play more of the latter and be more of a coverage specialist vs. RBs, TEs, and slot receivers early on while Duron Harmon plays the traditional free safety role. With Devin McCourty being a potential cap casualty in the next Spring, the Patriots have their replacement in house in case that event happens.
Other Players Considered: WR DJ Moore, CB Mike Hughes, RB Derrius Guice
Patriots Trade 31 to Denver for 40, 106, and 149 then trade 40 and 149 to Indianapolis for 37. With Mike Hughes, Lorenzo Carter, and Leighton Vander Esch off the board, the Patriots don’t have a guy they like at 31 and trade back for a 4th and 5th rounder. Then anticipating that Tampa Bay could beat them to getting Sam Hubbard, they leapfrog them by trading with Indianapolis.
37. Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State. Hubbard would be my pick if the Patriots couldn’t find a trade partner at 31. The Patriots initially trade back 8 picks into the 2nd while acquiring Denver’s 4th (106) and 5th (149) round picks. Using the 5th rounder in the trade, the Patriots trade up with Indianapolis to 37 to leapfrog Tampa Bay. Hubbard reminds me of another former Ohio State edge rusher who went on to have a big career in New England in terms of versatility against the run and pass as well as a non-stop motor and playmaking abilities. While he lacks the athleticism to be an elite pass rusher, no one outworks him on the edge. The Patriots will certainly have to teach him a couple counter moves because they don’t want their rushers running the arc on early downs.
43. Josh Sweat, EDGE/LB, Florida State. Sweat has a pretty lengthy injury history, but is a bonafide 1st round talent. The Patriots will likely move him more off the ball to take advantage of his ability to move in space. Sweat doesn’t have any good moves as a rusher unlike Hubbard, who is more technique proficient, so moving him into a chase role at LB may be better for him and utilize him as a blitzer on 3rd downs. Sweat has 4.5 speed and tested well in the two main jumps and the 5-10-5 shuttle, so I do believe he has the athleticism necessary to make the transition from edge rusher to an off-the-ball linebacker. With all the top OBLBs taken before the Patriots even picked at 23, the Patriots had to go more creative to get someone at the position.
Other Players Considered: OT Brian O’Neill, OT Tyrell Crosby, LB Christian Sam, EDGE Rasheem Green
63. Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond. The Patriots pick up a development piece at the QB position. None of the Power 5 QBs interest me that much in terms of the draft, with the Patriots only realistic option being Lamar Jackson at 23 or 31. Lauletta throws with good anticipation, stands very calm in the pocket, and sees the play develop well. The biggest concern is arm strength and being able to make tighter window throws at the NFL level. In order to overcome that issue, Lauletta will need to develop his footwork on intermediate and deeper throws to compensate for the fact he doesn’t have the arm talent to make those throws without a great base. Give Lauletta a couple years behind Brady and I think he can push for a starting role.
Other Players Considered: DL Breeland Speaks, DL Da’Shawn Hand
95. Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin. Nelson tore his meniscus during his Pro Day workout, which will lower his stock a bit. In the Patriots case, they can afford to be patient with Nelson and let him heal up in 2018 before playing him as a slot or CB2 in 2019. Nelson skipped the 5-10-5 shuttle and 3-Cone at the Combine but ran 4.08 and 6.84 on the Pro Day to go on top of a 1.60/2.65/4.52 10/20/40 at the Combine. He has enough size to play on the boundary at a shade under 5’11” and 200 pounds. On top of that, Nelson gets his hands on a lot of passes even though the interception numbers are unimpressive. He also has special teams value as a punt returner as well as kickoff and punt coverage, which should have the Patriots calling on Day 2.
Other Players Considered: EDGE Duke Ejiofor, QB Mikey White, DL BJ Hill, RB Nyheim Hines
106. Justin Jones, DT, NC State. The Patriots have a need to add bodies inside against the run even with the addition of Danny Shelton in the trade market. BJ Hill has more upside than Jones in terms of being a disruptive player in a 1-gap scheme, but Jones fits the Patriots 2-gap scheme better. Jones could use a bit more weight to his 6’2” 310 frame to better anchor against double teams against the run. Jones doesn’t offer much more upside than a rotational DL piece although the Patriots have been utilizing that approach the last few seasons anyway.
Concluding Thoughts: The Patriots of late have drafted players that they’ve brought in for official visits. They’ve been connected to Reid, Hubbard, Sweat, Lauletta, Nelson, and Jones in the pre-draft process in some way, shape, or form. The Patriots attempted to bring in Justin Reid for an official visit, but a scheduling conflict prevented it. Sweat was also brought in for an official visit. Hubbard and Lauletta were combine interviews while the team worked out Nelson and Jones on their Pro Days. I was initially thinking about adding a tackle to the mock, but I also get the vibe the team really likes both Tony Garcia and Cole Croston enough to not prioritize the position in the draft. The draft will be more wild than the mock draft that I put up for the other 31 teams, so I’ll be happy if I nail just 1 player of this group although a repeat of 2016 would be awesome as well.