With only a few hours to go until the 2023 NFL Draft, the rumor mill continues to run overtime. This time, the New England Patriots are also involved in the fun to further muddy the waters when it comes to their first-round intentions.
Sitting at No. 14 overall and with several holes to be filled, the team appears to have multiple avenues to explore. What will happen obviously remains to be seen, but the rumblings that are swirling around add to the uncertainty — an uncertainty that obviously exists first and foremost outside the Gillette Stadium walls.
Nonetheless, let’s take a look at the latest pre-draft rumors.
The Patriots are being linked to two first-round prospects. The Patriots have needs at both wide receiver and defensive edge, and seeing them address one or both of those positions early in the draft would not come as too big a surprise. There is a chance they might even invest their first-round pick to bolster those spots.
If they do, Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers is a name to watch. As NFL insider Peter Schrager said during an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show on Thursday, “the name that I’ve heard for them is Zay Flowers if they stay at 14.”
Schrager added that the Patriots also like Lukas Van Ness, a high-upside edge out of Iowa. Regardless what they will do, however, the belief is that New England is aiming for a player capable of making an impact from Day 1.
“I would not be shocked if they get aggressive and make a move to get their guy,” Schrager said. “I don’t think this is the year that they just take ‘Offensive guard out of small school Drop to Us’ ... This is going to be someone that’s making an impact the next year right away.”
The Patriots have shown keen interest in both Flowers and Van Ness in the pre-draft process. Both were invited for visits, while Van Ness and the team also met at the Scouting Combine. New England and Flowers, meanwhile, spent time at the East-West Shrine Bowl together.
There are conflicting reports about Zay Flowers. Schrager claims the Patriots might see Flowers as a potential target at No. 14 overall, but there is a different opinion as well. Fox Sports’ Henry McKenna, for example, is not quite that enthusiastic about the wideout.
“I’m hearing he isn’t a player they like at 14,” he tweeted on Thursday. “He’s one of those players they would likely only take if they can trade back. And even then, it sounded like they’d prefer to target a different position.”
New England is not excited about the talent available in Round 1. As has been mentioned before, this year’s draft lacks many blue-chip prospects. The Patriots, according to McKenna, also do not “love what the first round has to offer” but recognize that this is a league-wide trend.
Trading back might therefore also not be easy, and the offers for pick No. 14 might not end up being overly exiting. For what it is worth, though, Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf recently said that he would have a different perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s draft.
“I hear there’s good drafts — deep at this position, good at this position,” he told patriots.com. “I don’t really look at it that way. I look at it more along the lines of, ‘If we do our job properly we should be able to get a good player at almost every pick.’ That’s really how I look at it: just trying to get a good player for the team.”
Deonte Banks has some fans at One Patriot Place. Up to six cornerbacks might hear their names called on Thursday night, with Maryland’s Deonte Banks a realistic candidate among them. Banks offers good size and athleticism, and would be a candidate to start Day 1 along the Patriots’ defensive boundary.
The team adding him in the first round is certainly a possibility, and, per veteran reporter Mike Giardi, Banks enjoys “a fair amount of love in the building.” Banks was also mentioned as one of the players to keep an eye on in Round 1 on our Patriots Big Board:
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.
For what it is worth, though, team and player have not had any reported pre-draft contact with Banks. That might just be a case of them playing their cards particularly close to the vest, but only time will tell whether the absence of smoke means that there has also been an absence of fire.
The Patriots have made calls about moving both up and down. New England has been active getting a feel for the trade market, with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer noting that the team has explored both moving up and moving downs. Obviously, though, that should in itself not be a surprise: teams are making plenty of calls to get a feel for where things are standing in regards to potential trades.
The Patriots aim to be prepared for any scenario, and if this latest wave of rumors is any indication they most certainly are.