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Pat Lane’s 7-round mock draft 3.0: Patriots address their biggest needs early

New England grabs a potential star cornerback as well as several players who can contribute right away.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the first week of free agency is in the books, and we have a little glimpse into the plan for the New England Patriots for the 2023 season, I thought it is the perfect time to drop another mock draft. I decided to go with some high-upside guys to fill some of the remaining areas of need the team still has.

So, with that said, let’s get right into it.

Round 1

1-14: CB Christian Gonzalez (Oregon): Gonzalez is the top cornerback on my board, and I think there is a realistic chance his is not available at No. 14. In this mock he is, however, and so the Patriots pounce. They brought back Jonathan Jones, and have some young talent at corner, but with Jalen Mills release picking the Oregon product here makes plenty of sense to fill one of the biggest needs on the team.

Gonzalez has the speed, size, and skill to be a true No. 1 cornerback in this league. That is something the Patriots are currently lacking.

Round 2

TRADE: 2-46 to Jacksonville Jaguars for 2-56 and 3-88: With a good number of talented players on the board, you can move back and still get someone that you like. The Patriots move down 10 picks here in the second round, and pick up another top-90 selection in the process.

2-56: TE Darnell Washington (Georgia): The Patriots just signed Mike Gesicki, and already had Hunter Henry on the team, but Washington is a different player than either of them. He is almost a third tackle on the field, which would give the Patriots an actual blocking tight end especially with Jonnu Smith — who blocked on a majority of his snaps in 2022 — traded to Atlanta.

What Washington also offers is elite athleticism for a person his size. He doesn’t have the polish of some of the other tight ends in this class, but he might be able to develop some of that while working alongside the more experienced Henry and Gesicki. It also can’t hurt to have a 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end in the red zone.

Round 3

3-76: OT Blake Freeland (BYU): The Patriots have shown the last few years that they are starting to value elite athleticism even when it comes to the offensive line. Freeland is probably the most athletic of the tackles coming out of college this year.

He may not be quite ready to play on Sundays yet, which is why he is still available at No. 76, but there are definitely flashes. Learning for a year behind experienced options such as Trent Brown and Riley Reiff could really help him develop into a starter. With the tackle position seemingly having a good amount of depth, getting a player with as much upside as Freeland makes sense for the Patriots.

3-88: EDGE Karl Brooks (Bowling Green): The Patriots have a solid edge group right now, but this is where games are won and lost in the NFL right now. Getting more depth is therefore a great thing, especially with Josh Uche set to enter a contract year.

Brooks has shown the ability to get after the quarterback, and solid strength against the run as well. He isn’t the elite pass rusher that some might be looking for, but he should be able to play more consistently on early downs because of his work against the run. Even though he wasn’t invited to the combine, his ability to play multiple positions along the line pushes him into the top 100 for the Patriots.

Round 4

4-107: WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton (West Virginia): The Patriots have added to their receiver room by picking up JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency, but they don’t have a player like Ford-Wheaton. He’s big and physical at 6-foot-3, 221 pounds, but he’s also fast, which makes him tough to stop.

Of course, he is a bit raw, but taking a shot on the upside makes a ton of sense with the offense the Patriots currently have. They passed on DK Metcalf, but I’m hoping they don’t pass on a player similar to him again.

4-117: S Ronnie Hickman (Ohio State): Continuing the trend of the Patriots adding depth to their secondary, they take Hickman, who has the ability to play the deep safety spot previously occupied by Devin McCourty. He is not the most athletic player in the draft, but he has enough to get by and could end up being a good player for the Patriots in the back end — similar to Duron Harmon, back in the day.

4-135: P Michael Turk (Oklahoma): The Patriots need a punter, and they have already placed a premium on special teamers this offseason. Turk is the best punter in the draft, so they bring him in a little earlier than people might expect.

Round 5

TRADE: 6-184, 6-192, and a 2024 7th to Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 5-153: The Patriots own 12 picks after trading back in the second round, so they have some selections to spare to move up and take a guy that they want.

5-153: DT Moro Ojomo (Texas): Ojomo is another defender that has a ton of versatility along the defensive line. He has a really quick first step, which helps him against both the pass and the run. He is also strong enough to play inside, but has enough juice to play on the outside as well.

Having a bunch of versatile players along the D-line is something that made the Philadelphia Eagles so effective last year. The Patriots could be able to do the same thing this year, and Ojomo would certainly help.

Round 6

6-187: RB Keaton Mitchell (Eastern Carolina): The Patriots drafted two young guys at running back last year in Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris, and they also signed James Robinson in free agency. Getting a back who is as good a receiver as Mitchell and also has his speed and athleticism, however, could be great for them.

He would address a need and could take over as the team’s new third-down back, either this year or next.

6-210: C Ricky Stromberg (Arkansas): David Andrews is getting up there in age, and the Patriots are always looking for more depth along their offensive line. Stromberg is a tough, physical player who could eventually become a starter when Andrews decides to walk away.

Round 7

7-245: LB Ben VanSumeren (Michigan State): How do you feel about taking a seventh-round flyer on a ridiculous athlete at a position where the Patriots have been looking for athleticism? Yeah, I like it a lot, too.

VanSumeren put on a show at his Pro Day, running a 4.40 40-yard dash with a 42.5-inch vertical, 131-inch broad jump, and 29 reps on the bench, while coming in at 6-foot-3 and almost 240 pounds. He is raw as a prospect, and he might never turn into a dependable player, but I love the idea of betting on athleticism, especially at a position where the Patriots are lacking just that.

The Patriots end up making 11 selections in this draft, and come away with some intriguing talent at positions of need. They pick a Day 1 starter at the cornerback position, add high-upside developmental players at tight end and offensive tackle, and bolster their depth across the board. Oh, and they finally add another punter to the mix.

So, with all that said: What do you think?


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