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 a month away. Dozens of mocks get published each year, with varying levels of eventual success. Today, we will specifically look at the most accurate mock drafters of 2019 to find out what they have to say about the New England Patriots’ first-round selection this year.
In order to do that and to find out who last year’s most successful predictors were, we take FantasyPros.com’s ranking published shortly after last year’s draft. While the top five from last year have all published mocks already during this offseason, one of them — Evan Silver of Establish The Run — has not updated his since before free agency. We therefore also include Sport Illustrated’s Kevin Hanson who ranked as the sixth most accurate in 2019 and also correctly predicted the Patriots’ selection of wide receiver N’Keal Harry last year.
With that said, let’s find out what the six mock drafters had New England do in their latest versions:
Charlie Campbell, Walter Football: S Xavier McKinney, Alabama
Walter Cherepinsky, Walter Football: LB Patrick Queen, LSU
Evan Silva, Establish The Run: OT Austin Jackson, USC*
Ben Standig, The Athletic: S Grant Delpit, LSU
Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz, USA Today: QB Jordan Love, Utah State
Kevin Hanson, Sports Illustrated: DE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
*pre-free agency mock draft
What can be seen right away is that there is no consensus among last year’s top mock drafters about what the Patriots will do: one quarterback, one offensive tackle, one edge defender, one linebacker and two safeties are the picks for the team with the 23rd overall selection. This shows that New England is in position in which a lot of options will be available, but also that the club has some needs to fill on both sides of the ball.
The biggest of which is of course quarterback. After the departure of Tom Brady in free agency, the team has a void to fill at the most important position in the sport. While second-year man Jarrett Stidham appears to be the favorite to earn the job, the Patriots could opt to go after one of the better passer prospects available this year. Jordan Love is one of them, and arguably the best second-tier quarterback behind the top trio Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert.
“Bill Belichick might have a difficult time bypassing a passer with Love’s considerable gifts if the quarterback were to fall to this point,” Middlehurst-Schwartz wrote about the Utah State product. “With easy arm strength to attack downfield and mobility to throw defenses off balance, the 6-4, 224-pound signal-caller would open up a new world of possibilities for Belichick following the many years of Brady’s quick-trigger approach.”
Patriots fans, however, are not in favor of the team using its first-round pick on a quarterback. This is no surprise considering that a) Stidham has shown some promise during last year’s training camp and preseason, and b) the team has holes to fill elsewhere as well. The other selections mentioned therefore appear to be more likely from New England’s perspective, especially as they relate to the defensive side of the ball.
Even though the Patriots fielded the NFL’s number one scoring defense in 2019, the unit had to suffer some losses in free agency. Gone are linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, and safety Duron Harmon. While New England did bring some players on board as potential replacement options, all three positions impacted by the departures could benefit from additional upgrades via the draft.
Safeties Xavier McKinney and Grant Delpit are two obvious options given their versatility and proven playmaking abilities at Alabama and LSU, respectively.
“McKinney had 95 tackles with three interceptions, three sacks, five passes defended and four forced fumbles in 2019,” wrote Campbell, last year’s most accurate mock drafter, about McKinney. “The 6-foot, 201-pounder played strong safety in 2018, but he displayed the versatility to play free safety in 2019. McKinney has the speed to run with receivers and tight ends downfield with the size to handle bigger targets and tackling ability. He is a well-rounded safety who can do it all.”
Despite the high upside both defensive backs have, the Patriots’ additions of Cody Davis and especially Adrian Phillips indicate that the team may not be in the market for a first-round safety (although the board will eventually dictate what the club will do). The other two selections mentioned above — linebacker Patrick Queen and edge defender A.J. Epenesa — might therefore be the most realistic targets from the current perspective.
“I’ve been mocking Jake Fromm to the Patriots in this spot or quite some time, but given how much Fromm struggled at the combine, New England might be able to obtain him in the third round. If Bill Belichick believes that to be true, he could opt for a linebacker” wrote Cherepinsky in his mock draft about the team potentially selecting Patrick Queen — a high-upside player and potential Day One starter that already met with the Patriots for an interview at the scouting combine.
“Epenesa isn’t a speed rusher, but he could remind Bill Belichick of one of his former players (Trey Flowers),” added Hanson about his first-round selection, Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa. “The former Hawkeye wins with a blend of power, length, technique and heavy hands and has the versatility to rush from the inside as well. While he started the 2019 season slowly, Epenesa closed the season strong with eight sacks and four forced fumbles over his final five games.”
What can be seen, though, is that the Patriots appear to have plenty of options at Number 23 — from addressing the offense or defense, to moving down the board to acquire additional selections and potentially fill their 63-pick gap between rounds one and three.