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Patriots big board: The 50 best fits for New England in the 2023 NFL Draft

Let’s take a look at the best fits for the Patriots in the upcoming draft.

Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images/Edit by Pats Pulpit

The 2023 NFL Draft is just around the corner, and by now you probably have absorbed every bit of information you could find. We here at Pats Pulpit have also not shied away from throwing a lot your way, from positional previews and in-depth profiles, to weekly mock drafts and our up-to-date contact tracker.

Frankly, it’s been a lot. In order to make all of this a little easier to digest, we went into the kitchen to come up with a pre-draft aperitif: a New England Patriots big board looking for the best fits from the first round all the way to rookie free agency.

Let’s get to meet the 50(-ish) players who we believe are the best fits for New England this year. At the very least, they are who we think live right at the heart of the availability/need/fit Venn diagram. So, if you expect to see Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter on his list, you’re out of luck (because we don’t believe either will drop into the Patriots’ lap even with a trade up).

All that being said, let’s dive straight in, shall we?

Round 1

1. CB Christian Gonzalez (Oregon): Gonzalez should be an easy top-10 selection in this draft, making him a home-run selection if he somehow fell into New England’s range. He’s a tall, long corner who is also a strong athlete that helps him blanket receivers outside. Gonzalez has all the traits and upside to be a premiere cornerback in the NFL.

2. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State): He may not be a size and speed monster at the wide receiver position, but Smith-Njigba has all the tools to become a highly productive player in the NFL. If he is available at No. 14 overall or in a reasonable trade-up range, the Patriots would have an opportunity to add true difference-making potential to an offense currently lacking just that at the receiver positions.

3. OT Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State): Johnson Jr. was built in a lab to play left tackle in the NFL, check all the required measurements at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds with 36 1/8 inch arms. After playing right guard for the Buckeyes in 2021, Johnson returned to his natural left tackle spot in 2022 and allowed just two sacks and was penalized only once. Inexperience could lead to some natural growing pains in the NFL, but he has what it takes to develop into a high-level starter.

4. OT Broderick Jones (Georgia): The left tackle on Georgia’s back-to-back national championship teams offers a unique blend of athleticism and physicality - that is extremely noticeable when he’s blocking in space. While picking a tackle in the first round that has only 19 career starts on his résumé would be an outlier for Bill Belichick, Jones’ ceiling speaks for itself: he has serious All-Pro potential.

5. CB Devon Witherspoon (Illinois): Coming from Bret Bielema’s Illinois program, Belichick likely has all the intel he needs on Witherspoon. A sticky man-to-man coverage corner, Witherspoon always seems to be around the ball. But, at 5-foot-11, 181 pounds he may not have a premiere role along the boundary.

6. WR Zay Flowers (Boston College): Flowers is a Z/slot receiver that would be a perfect stylistic fit in New England’s current receiving room. A true three-level threat with elite separating ability is exactly where the team is currently lacking. While his 5-foot-9 frame may be concerning, New England has done plenty of homework on him leading up to the draft.

7. S Brian Branch (Alabama): A three-year starter and do-it all safety in Nick Saban’s defense, Branch moved around from the slot, to in the box, to deep safety. At 6-foot-0, 190 pounds, Branch should be in store for another versatile role in the NFL due to his combination of athleticism, instincts, and awareness.

8. EDGE Nolan Smith (Georgia): The former Bulldog dominated the Scouting Combine recording the top 40-yard dash, 10-yard split, and vertical among all front-seven defender. That athleticism certainly stands out on film as well. While hr had limited production as a pass rusher, notching just 11.5 sacks in 46 career games, Smith is a force against the run. Between the talent, Combine performance, and scheme he played, Smith offers exactly what the Patriots may be looking for along the edge.

9. OT Darnell Wright (Illinois): Wright has experience playing at the highest level of college football, fits the size requirements -despite a relative lack of length, has a blue-collar attitude, looked very good at the Senior Bowl, and would address a major need. Long story short, he checks plenty of boxes.

10. CB Deonte Banks (Maryland): A four-year starter along the boundary for the Terps, Banks has the size (6-0, 197), athleticism (4.35 40) and physicality needed to succeed in the NFL. He had some issues grabbing and needs to be more consistent with his technique, but has legit upside and may be the best press man corner in the draft.

Missed the cut: TE Dalton Kincaid (Utah), OT Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), CB Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State), RB Bijan Robinson (Texas), QB Will Levis (Kentucky)

Round 2

11. OT Anton Harrison (Oklahoma): Harrison has impressive foot speed that flashes in pass protection: in 447 pass snaps last year for the Sooners, he allowed just one sack and nine pressures. He has all the tools to be a long-term NFL starter and could even hear his name called in the back half of Round 1.

12. RB Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama): An explosive athlete with true breakaway speed, Gibbs is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. He led the Crimson Tide in rushing yards, receptions, and receiving yards in 2022 while Bill O’Brien used him all over the field. He would give New England’s passing attack a dynamic chess piece while also being a high-quality spell back for Rhamondre Stevenson.

13. OT Dawand Jones (Ohio State): Jones is a mammoth of a man, and might become Trent Brown 2.0 in New England. Measuring in at 6-foot-8, 374 pounds at the Combine, he also recorded an 89 1/2-inch wingspan at the Senior Bowl. His size and surprisingly solid movement immediately translate to the game field, where he is best at right tackle.

14. WR Josh Downs (North Carolina): Downs was super productive during his time at Chapel Hill recording back-to-back seasons with 101 and 94 catches. He’s an elite separator and one of the best contested catch receivers in this class despite his 5-foot-9 frame. He also fits what the Patriots like to do on offense schematically and personnel-wise, and with some time in an NFL strength program might develop into a true chain-mover.

15. EDGE Keion White (Georgia Tech): A walk-on at Old Dominion as a tight-end, White is a very natural athlete at his size. He is still developing his pass rush repertoire, but flashed strong production in his two years as a healthy starter on the defensive side of the ball (one at ODU, one at GT) with 33 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 24 games. He has the physical tools to be a difference maker along the edge.

16. CB Cam Smith (South Carolina): The next talented cornerback to come from South Carolina, the 6-foot-1, 180 pound Smith has good length to play the boundary. His ball skills were on display in ’21 when he led his team with 14 pass deflections, but recorded just six the past year. Smith had some penalty issues being flagged double-digit times over 11 games last year, but is a strong athlete that is not afraid to get physical in the run game.

17. TE Darnell Washington (Georgia): Bill Belichick has always preferred his tight ends to be capable blockers as well as impact pass catchers. Washington size and elite physical traits make him the perfect combination of both. With Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki already on the team, Washington would have an immediate role as the best blocker of the bunch and the ability to ease into more of a pass-catching role.

18. TE Sam LaPorta (Iowa): At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds LaPorta plays with outstanding quickness — he ran a 6.91-second three-cone time — and looks more like a big slot receiver than a traditional tight end. LaPorta, who projects as a move tight end, is also strong after the catch, forcing 20 missed tackles last season. He could challenge to be the first tight end off the board behind Mayer and Kincaid.

19. EDGE B.J. Ojulari (LSU): Ojulari has impressive get-off speed, is bendy around tackles, and has strong build up speed to chase down ball carries. While je recorded just 16.5 sacks as a two-year starter at LSU, he did combine for 103 pressures the past two years (4.3 per game). A team captain for the Tigers, Ojulari is also regarded as a high character individual.

20. CB Kelee Ringo (Georgia): The No. 1 corner for most of the college football season, Ringo has seen his stock drop due to some question marks. While has an exceptional physical frame and is an elite athlete p running a 4.36 40 at 6-foot-1, 207 pounds - Ringo has serious issues changing directions. A move to safety could be in his future, but he has all the physical tools to stick in the NFL somewhere.

Missed the cut: CB Emmanuel Forbes (Mississippi State), LB Jack Campbell (Iowa)

Round 3

21. WR Marvin Mims Jr. (Oklahoma): Mims would be a strong addition to New England’s receiving room due to his speed — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds (90 percentile) — and his ability to play along the boundary and in the slot. He is strong against man coverage and has tremendous ability to haul in passes outside of his frame. He is pretty good.

22. CB Julius Brents (Kansas State): The Kansas State corner measured in at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds with 34-inch arms. But, unlike some of the bigger cornerbacks New England have added in years past Brents can also move at his size. He was the best cornerback at the Combine during the agility drills with a 6.63-second 3-cone and 4.05-second short shuttle.

23. S Jordan Battle (Alabama): Battle primarily took on free safety duties for Saban while Branch moved around the secondary, but was not a-one-trick-pony by any means. An extremely smart player, Battle possess good size (6-1, 209) at the safety position. He is extremely reliable in the backend and was voted an Alabama team captain in ‘22.

24. TE Tucker Kraft (South Dakota State): Alabama tried to lure Kraft to Tuscaloosa last offseason, but he stayed put. Now, he might get the chance to finally join forces with Bill O’Brien. A three-year starter who lined up all over the field, he combines size (6’5”, 254 lbs) with speed (4.69-second 40-yard dash) and quickness (7.08-second three-cone drill). He has some work to do as a route runner, but has NFL starting potential written all over him.

25. OT Blake Freeland (BYU): Freeland has drawn comparisons to former Patriot Nate Solder throughout the pre-draft process. Much of that has to do with his measurements at 6-foot-8, 302 pounds with 33 7/8-inch arms. Freeland was a four-year starter at BYU where he logged 15 starts at right tackle and 27 at left. He has an impressive athletic profile for his size and despite being still raw as a blocker is worth a mid-round investment.

26. TE Luke Schoonmaker (Michigan): The Patriots love their Wolverines, which is one of many reasons why Schoonmaker is on this list. He met with New England at the Shrine Bowl, moves well for a 6-foot-5, 251-pound player, and also is a solid blocker coming from Michigan’s run-first offense. Schoonmaker would be a quality addition to pair with Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki.

27. EDGE Isaiah McGuire (Missouri): Missouri’s Isaiah McGuire has a sturdy frame along the edge at 6-foot-4, 269 pounds and 34.5 inch arms. He uses that arm length at the point of attack and in the run game where he recorded 31.0 tackles for loss over 35 games the last three seasons. McGuire was also voted a team captain his senior season.

28. S Jartavius Martin (Illinois): Depending where you look, Martin may be listed as a cornerback or safety. In New England, he’ll likely be viewed as a potential deep safety option due to his athletic profile. Martin led all safeties at the Combine with a 1.44 10-yard split, 44-inch vertical and 11-1-inch broad jump. He also should get a strong recommendation from head coach Bret Bielema who shouted out his intelligence and football-IQ.

29. OT Wanya Morris (Oklahoma): Anton Harrison received most of the attention along Oklahoma’s offensive line, and rightfully so. The man opposite of him was no slouch either, though: a one-year starter at right tackle who offers an exceptional frame and athleticism, Morris checks all the boxes to one day become a starting right tackle for the Patriots.

30. WR Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss): Mingo has legit 4.46-second speed at almost 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, and has experience playing both in the slot or outside for the Rebels. He does not have elite separation ability, but can win down the field with his speed and strength at the catch point.

Missed the cut: WR Cedric Tillman (Tennessee), CB Tyrique Stevenson (Miami), EDGE Zach Harrison (Ohio State), DT Siaki Ika (Baylor), OT Matthew Bergeron (Syracuse), OT Tyler Steen (Alabama), EDGE Derick Hall (Auburn)

Rounds 4-7/Undrafted free agents

31. OT Nick Saldiveri (Old Dominion): Saldiveri did not allow a single sack last season in 455 pass-blocking snaps. The Monarchs’ right tackle is not just strong in pass protection, though, but he also impressed at the Scouting Combine and Senior Bowl.

32. WR Charlie Jones (Purdue): Jones may be the best route runner in this class outside of first-round prospect Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He also ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine and has the chance to become a serious steal early on Day 3.

33. CB Cory Trice (Purdue): Trice offers elite height and length (6-foot-3, 32 3/8 inch arms) at the cornerback position to pair with plus athletic traits (9.67 RAS). A four-year starter at Purdue, Trice uses his physical traits well to mirror receivers along the boundary. For a small Patriots’ cornerback room, he could be a welcomed addition.

34. CB Terell Smith (Minnesota): New England got a first-hand look at Smith at the Shrine Bowl this offseason. An impressive athlete as a former high school track star despite being 6-foot, 204 pounds. He’s a physical press-corner with good length but did battle some injury issues during his time with the Gophers.

35. RB Tyjae Spears (Tulane): The Patriots do like their Senior Bowl standouts, which certainly makes Spears a player to watch. He ran for over 1,500 yards last season at Tulane and found the end zone 19 times. He averaged 7.0 yards per carry throughout his collegiate career and has big play ability due to his dynamic athletic profile, making him a potential interesting back to pair with Rhamondre Stevenson.

36. CB Riley Moss (Iowa): One of the top athletes at the position, Moss recorded a 9.90 RAS - led by a 4.45 40 and an elite 6.60 3-cone time - at 6-foot-1, 193 pounds. A four-year starter for the Hawkeyes, Moss could have a future at safety as well due to his high IQ and range. Being voted a senior captain and winning Iowa’s 2022 Team Hustle Award on defense and special teams only makes him seem more like a Patriot-type of player.

37. OT Warren McClendon (Georgia): Georgia’s starting right tackle for the last three seasons, McClendon Jr. is on the smaller side at 6-foot-4, 306 pounds and might therefore be a tackle/guard convert at the next level. His experience against top competition in the SEC makes him a player to watch on Day 3, though.

38. EDGE K.J. Henry (Clemson): Henry sets a sturdy edge in the run game and led Clemson last season with 53 quarterback pressures. Beyond that, he played in the Senior Bowl, was a former five-star recruit, and is known for being a high character individual. He checks many Patriots boxes.

39. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA): Thompson-Robinson is one of the most intriguing prospects on Day 3 of this year’s draft. A five-year starter for the Bruins under Bill Belichick’s pal Chip Kelly, DTR was a true dual-threat weapon. Last season, he threw for 3,154 yards and 27 touchdowns while finishing sixth in the nation in completion percentage. He also added over 600 yards and 12 scores on the ground.

40. WR A.T. Perry (Wake Forest): Perry did not just have elite production for the Demon Deacons the past two seasons — hauling in a combined 152 catches for over 2,300 yards and 26 touchdowns — he also ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. He would add serious size and playmaking potential to the Patriots’ outside wide receiver group.

41. CB Mekhi Garner (LSU): Another cornerback New England saw at the East-West Shrine Bowl. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Garner projects as an outside cornerback at the next level. In 13 games with LSU last season he recorded 43 tackles and eight pass breakups.

42. EDGE Tyrus Wheat (Mississippi State): Wheat left a strong impression on New England’s coaching staff during the Shrine Bowl. He is a physical and sturdy edge defender at 6-foot-2, 263 pounds. Despite his size, Wheat also flashed some first-step burst and can play on or off the line.

43. CB Kyu Blu Kelly (Stanford): A four-year starter at Stanford, Kelly is strong in press coverage due to his solid size and length. While his foot speed is top tier, Kelly has just average long speed (4.52 40) which may make it difficult for him to recover when beat in the NFL.

44. WR Ronnie Bell (Michigan): Bell led the Wolverines in receiving in three out of the last four seasons. The 6-foot-0, 191-pound wideout projects as a complementary Z-receiver at the next level, and offers some solid athletic traits — including a 6.62-second three-cone drill at his Pro Day. We all know how much the Patriots love their three-cone numbers...

45. EDGE Habakkuk Baldonado (Pittsburgh): Baldonado is a physical presence along the edge who impressed in the East-West Shrine Bowl game. At 6-foot-4, 251 pounds he can wear down opponents with his strength and can be a pest in the run game. But, he does not provide much in athletic department.

46. K Jake Moody (Michigan): Moody earned the 2021 Lou Groza Award as the best kicker in the nation and knocked through 48 of his 52 attempts from within 50 yards over the last two seasons. New England got to work with Moody as the Shrine Bowl and the kicker earned the game’s MVP award after going 4-for-4 on field goals - including two from 51 yards. Coming from Michigan, he has experience kicking in cold weather which is usually something New England prefers at the position. He’ll likely be the first kicker off the board.

47. RB DeWayne McBride (UAB): McBride could find himself on New England’s late-round board due to his collegiate production — something they value at the position. The 5-foot-10, 209-pound back was second in the nation last year in both rushing yards (1,713) and rushing touchdowns (19).

48. TE Will Mallory (Miami): As opposed to a traditional Y-tight end, Mallory projects to be more of an athletic F option in the NFL. He has the acceleration to threaten second-level defenders and the speed — registering the top 40-yard dash of any tight end at the Scouting Combine (4.54) — to get behind safeties as well.

49. OL Alex Forsyth (Oregon): A three-year starter at center for the Ducks, Forsyth spent his senior campaign working under new Patriots assistant coach Adrian Klemm. While New England does have a pretty good center already, Forsyth’s experience at several positions might make him the new do-it-all backup along the interior line.

50. RB Travis Dye (USC): Because of a season-ending ankle injury he suffered in suffered in November, Dye will hear his name called later than once expected. However, he is one of the best receiving backs in the class and strong in pass protection. While his injury has held him out of pre-draft workouts, he was on New England’s roster at the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Missed the cut: CB Eli Ricks (Alabama), TE Zach Kuntz (Old Dominion), DT Jerrod Clark (Coastal Carolina), S Marte Mapu (Sacramento State), OL McClendon Curtis (Chattanooga), LB Isaiah Moore (North Carolina State), P Adam Korsak (Rutgers), TE Cameron Latu (Alabama), TE Jaleel Billingsley (Texas), LB Bumper Pool (Arkansas)

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