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2020 NFL draft: Utah State quarterback Jordan Love remains a popular mock draft pick for the Patriots

Related: The Scho Show Episode #93: Mock Draft Monday 10.0

NCAA Football: Arizona Bowl-New Mexico State vs Utah State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Trying to guess what the New England Patriots will do in the draft is a fool’s errand: too unpredictable are head coach/general manager Bill Belichick and the team’s scouting department, too willing to take risks or make moves that do not fall in the traditional “need” category. That said, every spring dozens if not hundreds of journalists and bloggers still try to predict the Patriots’ selection as part of the ever-popular mock draft game.

SB Nation’s Adam Stites took a close look at 49 of the most prominent mock drafters — from newspaper journalists, to TV personalities, to former NFL executives, to bloggers and professional analysts — and compiled their results in his mock draft database: a collection of first-round picks based on how often their names popped up. In the Patriots’ case, the following three prospects were most frequently selected by his target group.

  • Utah State QB Jordan Love: 28.6%
  • Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa: 10.2%
  • Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos: 8.2%

Out of the 49 mock drafts that were analyzed by Adam, 14 had the Patriots go with Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round. Love is a high-upside passer and might just be the third best option at the position behind Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa — two players who are expected to come off the board within the first five selections in the first round — but New England investing in him is far from a sure thing even if he is still available when they are on the clock 23rd overall.

There are three main reasons for that: 1.) Love would benefit from not starting right away but rather beginning his pro career learning behind a veteran quarterback. 2.) Second-year passer and projected Patriots starter Jarrett Stidham has shown some promise during last year’s training camp and preseason. 3.) New England has plenty of holes to fill across its roster and might opt not to go after a QB in round one.

The other two selections mentioned therefore appear to be more likely first-round targets from New England’s perspective.

Both Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa and Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos would help a defense that has lost some considerable talent along its defensive front seven in free agency, after all: gone are outside linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, who both rarely left the field during the 2019 season. While neither Epenesa nor Gross-Matos brings the same versatility to the table, they could both help replace the production of Van Noy and Collins and fill their primary roles.

Epenesa was the Patriots’ pick in five of the 49 mock drafts looked at by Adams, Gross-Matos in four. A case can be made for both at the 23rd overall pick: they are both long defenders, who are best suited to serve as ends in 4-3 defenses but could also see some standup snaps as more traditional outside linebackers. And while both are still developing, they offer some proven production as well as intriguing athletic skills and high ceilings.