The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off later today, and the New England Patriots will have 12 selections to work with. The team has a sizable pick gap between its highest (23) and second highest (87) selection, so we should see some trades going on to try to shrink that gap. With a bunch of free agents scheduled to hit the market next season, I believe it would be prudent for the Patriots to trade down from the 23rd selection to grab at least a third- and maybe a fourth-round pick as well.
For me, the top needs are:
- Interior offensive line: David Andrews and Joe Thuney are unrestricted free agents next off-season, while the former’s availability for 2020 is still in doubt due to a blood clots in his lungs that sidelined him for all of 2019.
- Linebacker: The team lost two players from their starting linebacker corps and could lose another one — Dont’a Hightower — in free agency next year.
- Tight end: The Patriots got pitiful production from the position last year and didn’t make any moves to shore up the position in free agency.
- Edge rusher: John Simon and Shilique Calhoun will both be free agents next off-season.
- Defensive tackle: Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler will both be free agents next off-season
The team could stand to improve at almost every position other than their secondary, but the overall best spots to improve are the players at the line of scrimmage. I also considered which positions the team could stand to lose multiple starters/rotation players next off-season because Bill Belichick prefers to have a guy with a year of experience in his system fill some of those holes instead of looking towards adding another player from another system.
Without further ado, let’s get to the mock!
(All trades were calculated using Rich Hill’s draft pick value chart)
Patriots trade the 23rd selection to the Carolina Panthers for the 38th and 69th selections and a 2021 3rd-round selection
With the need to accumulate more selections in the draft, the Patriots pick up a late third-rounder while moving back six selections in the draft. At this point, A.J. Epenesa had gone to the Miami Dolphins with the 18th pick in the draft and all the top receivers were long off the board by No. 23. With no other first-round players on their board, the Patriots decide it would be better to have two selections on Day Two and also add a pick for next year. The Panthers will use this pick to beef up their offensive line by taking Joshua Jones out of Houston. At the same time, the Patriots cut their gap from 64 to 31 picks while adding a pair of third-round selections.
2nd round, 38th overall: Patriots select Malik Harrison, ILB, Ohio State
After losing two starting linebackers to free agency and their defensive signal caller in a contract year, getting a competent linebacker is a huge need for the Patriots. Harrison fits the Patriots’ mold of a big, physical presence in the middle that is more effective attacking the line of scrimmage than in coverage. With the Dolphins, Lions, and Titans all picking at least once between 38 and 69, I slotted Harrison here because I didn’t think he’d last to 69. Other options I considered were Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk, who fits the mold of a classic Z receiver and Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet at this pick, but I felt like the need at linebacker superseded TE and WR.
Harrison tested very well at the combine, running a solid 4.66 with a 4.32 5-10-5 shuttle and 6.83 3-Cone at 247 pounds, which aren’t too dissimilar to Jamie Collins’ speed and agility numbers from 2013. Harrison profiles like a classic Mike Linebacker who can attack the line of scrimmage and take on blocks from guards and centers, although I think he could play well both on or off the ball. Coverage isn’t a strong suit for him, especially if trying to cover receiving backs one-on-one (how many linebackers can?) but is capable of dropping into zone well and reading the quarterback’s eyes. In New England’s system, Harrison will be attacking the line of scrimmage as a blitzer almost as often as dropping into coverage.
As a rookie, he’ll see rotational action inside with Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley while being a core special teamer. Harrison comes from a special teams background at Ohio State before becoming the team’s starting Mike. The ability to impact the game from all three downs on defense and also a major contributor on special teams is a value worth taking in the second round. Eventually Harrison will take over the starting Mike role from Hightower, even as early as next year if the latter walks, and share the inside with Bentley with Bentley getting the green dot.
3rd round, 69th overall: Patriots select Matt Hennessy, C, Temple
I believe this is the sweet spot for the Patriots to try to draft an interior lineman. With David Andrews’ future in doubt and Joe Thuney still on the franchise tag, the Patriots will have to decide if they want to address the center or guard position on Day 2. The Patriots spent a 4th round pick on Hjalte Froholdt and the Patriots don’t have a clear answer at center, so I leaned with addressing the center position with some solid guard prospects available to draft on Day 3.
Hennessy fits the Patriots mold for interior offensive linemen, earning praise for his toughness, athleticism, and intelligence. He tested very well at the combine, putting together a 5.18 40, 7.45 3-Cone, 30” vertical, and 9’2” broad jump at 307 pounds. Physical strength is the one weakness in his profile, but not enough to overshadow the other positive traits.
Despite coming from a small school program, Hennessy was a finalist for the Remington Trophy, the award for the top center in college football. He’s capable of starting at center as a rookie, but ideally has a year to develop behind the scenes. He’ll need to add more muscle and strength to be able to handle some of the bigger and stronger defensive tackles in the game. Like the man he could be replacing, I believe in two years that Hennessy should develop into one of the better centers in the NFL.
3rd round, 87th overall: Patriots select Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
Cole Kmet and Adam Trautman are both long gone by the end of the second round, so the team has slim pickings at the TE position. At this point, you’re looking at undersized players and/or move TEs like Harrison Bryant, Thaddeus Moss, and Brycen Hopkins that will get snatched up around this range. The team could also take a shot at perhaps the biggest boom/bust pick at the position in Albert Okwuegbunam in the 4th round, but his red flags should be a major concern for teams despite perhaps drafting a guy who has the physical gifts to be an elite receiving tight end.
Bryant was the 2019 John Mackey Award winner, given to the top tight end in college football. Bryant profiles more as a move/F tight end than the inline/Y role due to his undersized frame and abilities as a pass catcher. As a rookie, he’ll be more useful as a latter, especially if he can run routes detached from the strength of the formation. The Patriots were able to successfully create match-ups for Rob Gronkowski in the slot or isolated wide to great success over the past decade, so they’re capable of designing those plays for Bryant as well.
He won’t displace Ryan Izzo or Matt LaCosse from the roster, as both profile as Y TEs, but could lighten the load at the TE position from a pass catching standpoint. He’ll need to add more weight and strength to be able become a useful blocker at the line of scrimmage later on. He’ll be the #3 TE on the roster as a rookie and develop his way into the #2 or #3 overall option in the offense as a middle of the field threat and create favorable match-ups when lined up away from the formation.
3rd round, 98th overall: Patriots select Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
The Patriots don’t necessarily have a big need for the receiver position in the draft, having taken N’Keal Harry in the first round last year and undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers flashing at times last year. Both players are expected to take a sizable leap in their second year in the system. The Patriots will likely give Mohammed Sanu a chance to showcase what he can do now healthy from a high ankle sprain that he tried to play through last year. Free agent acquisition Damiere Byrd gives the Patriots a potential speed option to complement a receiver room that is primarily focus on guys who are more quick than fast.
Jefferson is more of the latter, a player who can run the full route tree from both the inside and the slot. His strong route running skills makes him a candidate to see action as a rookie, although the lack of special teams fit could make him a healthy scratch against some teams. Jefferson profiles best as a Z receiver, moving around the formation and taking advantage of his ability to comfortably run routes from multiple spots. He’ll be competing with Meyers for that role the next couple of years, with the other likely headed for the slot.
Patriots trade the 100th and 204th Selections to the Jacksonville Jaguars for the 116th Selections and a 2021 4th Round Selection
The Patriots move back 16 picks and pick up another high 4th round selection for the 2021 Draft.
4th round, 116th overall: Patriots select Anfernee Jennings, EDGE/LB, Alabama
Jennings gives the Patriots another versatile edge rusher who can set the edge, rush the passer, and drop into coverage. Coming out Nick Saban’s defensive scheme, Jennings should have an easier transition into Belichick’s defense and can contribute right away. He’ll need to work on improving his pass rushing skills off the edge, but can set a physical edge in the run game on early downs. The Patriots will move Jennings around, similar to Kyle Van Noy, to create match-ups against guards in obvious passing situations to generate pressure. Even if he’s an average pass rusher at the NFL level, the overall versatility package is a solid investment for an early 4th round selection.
Patriots trade the 125th selection to the Detroit Lions for the 149th selection and a 2021 4th Round Selection
The Patriots will move back 24 spots in the draft while picking up the Lions’ 4th round selection, which projects to be in the 110-115 range next season.
4th round, 139th overall: Patriots select Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU
Lawrence isn’t a high upside option due to average size and athleticism, but has a very high floor as a 2-gap run stuffer and being able to push the pocket a bit. The traits that stands out are leadership and effort, as Lawrence plays with the junkyard dog mentality on the defensive line. Being only 6’2” but also possessing 34” arms will allow Lawrence to get a lower center of gravity than the man lining up across from him while also having the length to be able to stack and shed. He’s best utilized in a scheme where he’s playing a rotational role.
5th round, 149th overall: Patriots select JaMycal Hasty, RB, Baylor
Hasty profiles more as the James White type back who will be a bigger weapon as a receiver than runner. With James White entering the final year of his contract, the Patriots will ensure they have a capable in-house replacement for next year. Hasty is an exceptional route runner out of the backfield with a solid understanding of how to attack leverages in coverage. It’s unlikely he suits up in 2020, but could be a breakout weapon in 2021 when he gets the opportunity to play. He also offers kick return versatility, which could be a means to get him on the field early as well.
5th round, 172nd overall: Patriots select Rodrigo Blankenship, PK, Georgia
The 5th round is where the Patriots typically make their special teams picks with Jake Bailey, Matthew Slater, and Joe Cardona being notable examples. Blankenship would be the first kicker off the board in the draft and gives the Patriots a strong and accurate leg to replace Stephen Gostkowski after 14 solid years. There is some concerns about his ability to adjust to the cold weather as well as a couple missed pressure kicks the last two years, but I do think there are a lot more positive than negatives. Blankenship would handle all the placekicking duties, both field goals and kickoffs.
6th round, 195th overall: Patriots select Dalton Keene, H-back, Virginia Tech
Keene is more noted for versatility than anything else and profiles more as an fullback/H-back than tight end. Overall, I think he’s more likely to end up at the fullback spot and competing for that role with free agent signing Dan Vitale. Keene is a guy I’m hoping the Patriots can sneak through waivers, as his versatility would be useful for the practice squad and a year of development should give him a shot at earning a role in 2021.
6th round, 212th overall: Patriots select Kyle Murphy, G, Rhode Island
Murphy would compete for a backup role on an interior offensive line that is in a state of flux with David Andrews’ health and Joe Thuney’s contract negotiations being major wildcards for the position. Murphy is a 3-year starter in college that has the versatility to be a back-up guard or center at the NFL level, not too dissimilar to Ted Karras.
6th round, 213th overall: Patriots select Evan Weaver, LB, California
Weaver is a similar prospect to Elandon Roberts, an undersized linebacker (6’2” 237) who is a high quality backup and core special teams player. Weaver has a nose for the ball, accumulating 182 tackles (103 solo) in his senior year. Weaver has fairly average athletic ability overall, which limits his ceiling to what I described above.
7th round, 230th overall: Malcolm Perry, QB/WR/KR, Navy
Perry would be an interesting player for Belichick to have as a potential slot receiver and return man. His career arc through college is not too different from Julian Edelman, an option QB who could be a receiver and return man in the NFL, although Edelman is a stronger, faster, and more elusive athlete than Perry.
To recap, the Patriots were able to address what I thought were their top needs in the draft with their best draft picks, adding more young talent and depth to their offensive line and Front 7. On top of that, they were able to pick up some intriguing and versatile receiving weapons in Jefferson, Bryant, and Hasty to develop in the system. After addressing their kicker issue, the Patriots went to go grab players who might not be athletically gifted, but produced results at the collegiate level for an extended period of time. On top of that, they were able to add a trio of picks to their 2021 stockpile, a third and a pair of four round selections.