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Brian Hines’ 7-round mock draft: Putting on our Bill Belichick cap for one final Patriots projection

Putting on our Bill Belichick cap for one last mock draft.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Kansas State at Alabama Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, it is officially draft day.

After four months of All-Star Bowls (Shrine, Senior), Combines, Pro Days, meetings, and everything else that comes with draft season, it is officially time for the real deal.

Before we get going for real, though, it's time to take everything we've learned and put together one final mock draft for the New England Patriots. So, let’s put on our Bill Belichick cap and do our best to predict what paths he will take over the next few days.

Round 1

TRADE: 1-14 and 6-187 to Seattle Seahawks for 1-20, 3-83, and 5-154. In a draft that is considered of lacking top-end talent, the Patriots start with a slight trade back to pick up an additional top-100 pick. They send over No. 14 and No. 187 to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for No. 20, No. 83., and No. 154. According to our colleague Rich Hill’s trade value chart, New England sends out 330 value points in return for 332.

1-20 (via SEA): S Brian Branch (Alabama). While many would look for Belichick to look add a splash playmaker at cornerback or wide receiver in the first-round, he pivots and takes the versatile Alabama safety Brian Branch.

Branch was a three-year starter and do-it all safety in Nick Saban’s defense. He primarily played the “star” position last year as an elite slot defender and was the only FBS player to record 90-plus tackles, 14.0-plus tackles for loss and at least two interceptions. However, he he may project as a better safety prospect in the NFL due to his combination of athleticism, instincts, and awareness. Either way, it’s another versatile and talented piece for Belichick in the secondary.

Round 2

TRADE: 2-46 and 4-107 to Las Vegas Raiders for 2-38. Another trade. For the sixth straight year, New England moves up in the second-round to secure its guy. Here, the team sends No. 46 and No. 107 (160 value points) to old pals Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler for No. 38 (157).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2-38 (via LV): EDGE Keion White (Georgia Tech). After the move up, Belichick addresses an under-the-radar need along the edge. White fits the mold of a Patriots’ edge defender at 6-foot-5, 285 pounds and is a very natural athlete as a converted tight end. Relatively new to the position, his pass rush repertoire is still developing but he flashed his upside last season with 14 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks in 12 games. He has all the physical tools to be a serious contributor at the next level.

An addition like this would also open the door for Belichick to explore trades for Josh Uche, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, for additional draft capital or other another asset.

Round 3

3-76: OT Tyler Steen (Alabama). After playing three seasons in the SEC at Vanderbilt, Tyler Steen was sought-out by Nick Saban and Bill O’Brien in the transfer portal. He then transferred to Alabama and served as the Crimson Tide’s starting left tackle last season, allowing just two total sacks.

He is a fluid athlete at 6-foot-6, 321 pounds and flashed play strength in the run game. While his frame and ability should allow him to handle either tackle spot, some teams might view him as more of a guard due to his sub-33 inch arms. He impressed at both tackle spots and along the interior during the Senior Bowl.

3-83 (via SEA) TE Luke Schoonmaker (Michigan). The Patriots finally dip into the talented tight end class and nab the former Wolverine Luke Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker would be a strong addition to the current tight end group of Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki due to his well-rounded game.

While he showcased his blocking ability in Michigan’s run-first offense, Schoonmaker flashed an impressive athletic profile at the Combine (9.86 RAS) which should allow him to be more of a receiving threat at the next level as well. He feels a tad underrated in this highly-regarded tight end class.

Round 4

TRADE: 4-117 and 6-184 to Denver Broncos for 4-108. With 75 players already on the roster, it feels unlikely New England uses all 11 picks they enter the draft with. So, they move up nine spots here and send an additional pick to the Broncos — who themselves enter the draft with just five selections. The teams swap an even 31 points worth of picks.

4-108 (via DEN): OT Nick Saldiveri (Old Dominion). Entering the 2022 draft, cornerback was regarded one of the Patriots’ biggest needs. They did not address the position until the third round (Marcus Jones), but then quickly double-dipped at the position in the fourth-round with Jack Jones.

After taking Tyler Steen in the third, they repeat last year’s process and take Old Dominion’s tackle Nick Saldiveri to start the fourth. An incredibly smooth pass protector who did not allow a sack in 455-pass blocking snaps last season. Saldiveri, who also attended the Senior Bowl, is a smooth athlete (9.48 RAS) at 6-foot-6, 316 pounds and a switch over to the left side could even be in his future.

TRADE: 4-135, 6-192, and 7-245 to New Orleans Saints for 5-146 and 5-165. If you haven't noticed by now, Bill Belichick likes to move around the draft board. In his 22 years with the Patriots, he has made a league-high 86 draft-day trades.

Entering Thursday with three fourth- and sixth-round picks, the Patriots strike a deal to close the gap between them. They send out No. 135, No. 192, and No. 245 (23 value points) to New Orleans for No. 146 and No. 165 (22).

UCLA v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

5-146 (via NO): QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA). It would not be a surprise to see the Patriots add a quarterback in this draft and they may do it earlier than some expect. During Belichick’s tenure, eight of the 13 quarterbacks they’ve drafted have come within the top-150 — including the past three (Jarrett Stidham, Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe).

Here, they snag a quarterback they have plenty of intel on in UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The Patriots worked with DTR during the Shrine Bowl and he was a five-year starter under Belichick’s pal Chip Kelly.

What makes DTR appealing for New England is his varying skillset from Jones and Zappe. He was a true dual threat weapon for the Bruins throughout his career. Last season he threw for 3,154 yards and 27 touchdowns — while finishing sixth in the nation in completion percentage — and added over 600 yards and 12 scores on the ground. He would be a good addition to the QB room and scout team due to his athletic ability and physical traits.

5-154 (via SEA): CB Terell Smith (Minnesota). Many project cornerback to be one of the first positions the Patriots address. But, perhaps Belichick views his current room higher than most due to the trio of Joneses. Plus, with the addition of Brian Branch, they add high-end talent to the backend which also frees Jalen Mills back up to play cornerback.

In a deep and talented cornerback class, New England waits until Day Three to add to the position but still find quality talent in Minnesota’s Terell Smith — who they got a first-hand look at at the Shrine Bowl this offseason.

Smith is a former high school track star (4.41 40-yard dash) and has the size and length New England needs at over 6-foot, 204 pounds with 32 7/8 inch arms (91st percentile). He’s a willing tackler and physical press-corner that New England can use as a match-up piece from the jump.

5-165 (via NO): P Ethan Evans (Wingate). With question marks at punter and kicker, it would be no surprise for New England to add at either spot during the draft. Historically, they’ve targeted those positions in the fifth-round.

While many project Shrine Bowl specialists and top prospects Jake Moody or Michael Turk — or Rutgers’ punter Adam Korsak — as fits, we have our Bill Belichick cap on. That leads us to Wingate’s Ethan Evans.

Evans is no stranger to New England as he was at the Shrine Bowl, although he was coached by the Atlanta staff. The Division-II product has a strong leg. having 30 of his 77 punts last year travel over 50 yards — and had 48 percent of his career punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Evans additionally served as the Bulldogs’ kickoff specialists (as well as kicking field goals in ‘22), a role that the Patriots also need to fill.

Round 6

6-210: WR Ronnie Bell (Michigan). Finally, a wide receiver. While it may not be the top-of-the-draft weapon many want, Belichick waits for an intriguing late-day fit. Bell played both inside and outside for Michigan and posted a career-year in ’22 recording 62 receptions for 889 yards — marking the third time in four years he led the Wolverines in receiving (he tore his ACL in the other year).

Bell’s short-area quickness will likely grab the Patriots attention as he clocked a 6.62 second three-cone (97th percentile) and 4.04 short-shuttle (94th) at the Combine. New England hosted the Michigan team captain for a top-30 visit as well.