Mock drafts are increasingly popular this time of the year, with free agency getting quieter by the day but the NFL’s annual player selection meeting still more than a month away. Dozens of mocks get published each year, with varying levels of success. Today, we’ll specifically look at the most accurate mock drafters of 2018 to find out what they have to say about the New England Patriots’ first-round selection.
In order to do that and to find last year’s most successful predictors were, we take FantasyPros.com’s ranking published shortly after last year’s draft. While the top-ranked mock drafter — RotoViz’s Scott Smith — has yet to publish a mock this year, the next four did. Together with the leader in 2017, Draft Network’s Joe Marino, we’ll come up with some realistic options for the reigning world champions at #32.
Let’s find out what the five mock drafters had New England do in their latest versions:
Joe Marino, The Draft Network: TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Walter Cherepinsky, WalterFootball: DT Jefferey Simmons, Mississippi State
Ken Zalis, Press Box Online: TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Kevin Hanson, EDS Football: WR N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Evan Silva, Rotoworld: DT Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame
What jumps out right away is that T.J. Hockenson is projected to fall to the Patriots in two of the scenarios, despite being seen as the consensus top tight end in the draft. Getting the Iowa project at #32 would certainly be a coup for a New England team that might see Rob Gronkowski ride off into the sunset sooner rather than later — maybe not this year, but the option does still not appear to be off the table yet.
“Hockenson would provide value with or without Rob Gronkowski, and when Gronkowski moves on to acting or wrestling or whatever he plans to do after football, Hockenson is better equipped to fill in his role without significantly changing the framework of the offense,” wrote Pats Pulpit’s own Ryan Keiran recently about the draft’s most complete tight end. “If you are in the camp of wanting the Patriots to go tight end in the first round, hope for T.J. Hockenson.
“With Gronk’s status up in the air every season, New England would be wise to snatch up Hockenson,” argues Joe Marino. “He combines all of the qualities found in a throwback tight end that can block and catch with the versatility to serve as a modern day weapon that is moved across the formation. Every team wants to have a good tight end but very few are actual difference makers. Hockenson has the upside to be a game-changing presence to take over for Gronk and be a high quality TE2 should he keep playing.”
Counting on Hockenson to be available at the end of the first round would be quite the gamble, though. If he is indeed off the board once the Patriots are on the clock, seeing Jefferey Timmons or Jerry Tillery become their pick would not be all that surprising either. The two are among the best interior defenders to enter this year’s draft, after all, and would add plenty of upside to a group primarily consisting of Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and free agency addition Mike Pennel at the moment.
Tillery’s versatility and technique are what make him a potential target for New England, while Simmons would probably have been a top-10 selection if not for a recently torn ACL that will likely cost him most if not all of the 2019 season. This in combination with assault charges the Mississippi State product faced following a 2016 incident could disqualify him from the Patriots’ perspective. There is not denying his talent, though.
The fourth and final player named, Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, is one of the top wide receiver options — and one that would add size and big-play ability to New England’s present receiving corps. A versatile X-receiver in the physical mold of Josh Gordon, Harry would fit in nicely in the Patriots’ offense. The question is whether the club would prefer a trade-down in a scenario like this and to go after a wide receiver like South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel in the second round.