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2019 NFL mock draft: Patriots pick a defensive tackle after losing Malcom Brown in free agency

New England goes to the interior line in SB Nation’s first mock draft since the start of free agency.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Mississippi State vs Iowa Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots’ defensive line is undergoing a transformation process after the first wave of free agency came and went and swept away two starting players: while defensive edge Trey Flowers joined the Detroit Lions on a five-year, $90 million contract, defensive tackle Malcom Brown signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. The moves did not stop there, though.

New England also parted ways with Adrian Clayborn, while bringing in free agent Mike Pennel to bolster the interior line — a position that also gets addressed in the latest mock draft created by SB Nation’s Dan Kadar.

32. New England Patriots: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State

It’s impossible to figure out where Simmons will land in the draft. If he were healthy and didn’t have off-field questions, he would absolutely be a top-10 pick in this draft. The dropoff from Quinnen Williams to him is small. The Patriots would be taking him with the 2020 season in mind.

As Kadar notes, Simmons is one of the most talented players to enter this year’s draft class: at 6’3, 300 lbs, he has the size to hold his own against the ground game and the explosiveness to penetrate up the field versus the pass — traits he showed time and again during his three seasons at Mississippi State, the latest of which ending with him registering 63 tackles (18 of which for loss) and 2.0 sacks.

“His tools are clear, as Simmons possesses the power, explosiveness and hand work to win 1v1 exchanges up front, despite the inconsistency that still plagues him at times,” writes The Draft Network’s Jon Ledyard about the 21-year-old. “While Simmons may never be the point-of-attack monster that others in the class are, he’s still more than capable in that area while providing outstanding penetration ability.”

“Mississippi State often had him playing from a square stance as an undersized nose tackle, which increased the amount of double teams he saw and didn’t give him many opportunities to fire gaps,” Ledyard continued. “In the NFL, Simmons will undoubtedly play more in the B-gap to get upfield and wreak havoc, while seeing far more 1v1 opportunities as a rusher. [...] I think his best football is still ahead of him.”

So how come a player of this caliber could be available at #32? Two reasons, both of which red flags: first of all, Simmons might miss considerable portions if not all of 2019 after tearing his ACL during a workout last month. Adding him would therefore be with 2020 in mind — something New England might be willing to do with the aforementioned Mike Pennel in the fold alongside Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler.

The second red flag, however, might be a disqualifier for New England: in 2016, Simmons faced assault charges after repeatedly punching a woman involved in a fight with his sister. He was later found guilty of malicious mischief and fined $475, while paying $886 in restitution — and naturally enters the draft process facing questions about the incident. How the Patriots answer them for themselves will determine whether or not Simmons ends up in New England if available at the end of the first round.