We are officially less than three weeks away until the 2023 NFL Draft kicks off, so we’re doing something new in this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. Instead of the usual questions, we will be going through submitted mock drafts where we hopefully will comment on a vast majority of prospects, trades, and all sorts of scenarios.
Before we jump in, just a quick PSA to remember that it is also officially smokescreen season with the draft around the corner. Don't believe every rumor or report you read, and take into consideration why certain teams/players/agents/etc. may want certain news out into the public.
With that, let’s get into some New England Patriots mocks.
We’ll kickoff with Curt, who starts off strong with Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. JSN is the top wide receiver in this class despite concerns about his straight line speed. He is a technician of a route-runner that has elite quickness (6.57-second three cone). He’d be a great fit in the Z/slot roll for the Patriots.
From there, I like the positions you choose to target but not thrilled with the prospects. Bergeron seems to be one of those tweener types that may be better moved inside to guard. At cornerback, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is extremely talented, but at 5-foot-8 with 29-inch arms he does not exactly fill the need for size in New England’s cornerback room. Similarly goes for Garrett Williams who measured in a 5-foot-10.
We get started with a trade with Seattle to move down six spots, but the return seems like a massive overpay from the Seahawks. According to our colleague Rich Hill’s trade chart, New England sends out 350 value points in return for 431 value points. As for the Jeudy trade, it seems Denver would have to lower their asking price on draft night for that price.
As for the prospects, Deonte Banks fits exactly what New England needs at cornerback with an excellent combination of physicality and athleticism. I like the idea of moving around in a Christian Barmore-esque move to add a tackle early in the second round. Ohio State’s Dawand Jones certainly a top projected target in that range.
Jordan Battle was a four-year starter for Nick Saban down at Alabama, so Bill Belichick will have all the information he needs on him. Battle moved around the secondary, but primarily played as a deep safety for the Crimson Tide — making him an intriguing addition to New England’s secondary post-Devin McCourty.
I like the pair of Shrine Bowl guys in the later rounds. WVU’s Bryce-Ford Wheaton has limited tape but is a physical freak. At 6-foot-4, 221 pounds he recorded a 4.38-second 40, 6.97-second three-cone, and a 41-inch vertical at the Combine. Jose Ramirez also impressed in the Shrine Bowl game showcasing his pass rushing ability.
Call me crazy shit at least you callin pic.twitter.com/VcFcZsbB6Q— FIFA King. (@ThisShitTrashx9) April 5, 2023
Another trade down with Seattle and deal for Jeudy. It again feels like a strong overpay from the Hawks and Denver hangs up the phone. But, if New England does move down into the 20’s, Anton Harrison feels like a realistic possibility. He checks all the measurement boxes for a prototypical left tackle and has plenty of collegiate experience.
B.J. Ojulari is another player that more people should familiarize themselves with in the second-round. New England has a need along the edge and has taken one within the first three rounds in four of the last six years. As for Ojulari, he is the type of rusher they’ve preferred in years past in the Uche, Winovich mold.
Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell was one of my favorite prospects as he drew comparisons to an offensive Marcus Jones. But, a weak showing at the Combine removed him from my radar.
Ronnie Hickman on the other hand is another player that should be getting more attention from a Patriots’ perspective. He is a physical safety that the Buckeyes used all over the field, recording 164 snaps in the slot, 379 snaps in the box, and 203 snaps deep last season. Sounds like a Patriot.
We just discussed Harrison, so we’ll move on to Downs. Downs is one of my favorite receiver prospects as a shifty slot receiver who was super productive in Chapel Hill. At 5-foot-9, he also is one of the best contested catch receivers in this class.
The double-dip at tackle is a move I like and BYU’s Blake Freeland is a strong second tackle to add. Freeland is a monster out at tackle (6-foot-8) and seems to just be an overall solid player. Nate Solder is a strong comp.
Capping it off with a handful of Shrine Bowl guys is always a strong ending for a Patriots mock. Moro Ojomo and Dante Stills flashed as interior pass rushers. DTR is my top choice for a late-round QB and based off the time New England has spent with him should be at the top of their list. Michael Turk and Mo Diabate also impressed on the Patriots Shrine Bowl team.
Two 2nd round picks for Jeudy and a slew of trades to build up the offense. pic.twitter.com/3D2WB8wPdn— Benjamin D. (@PatsFanBen) April 5, 2023
A slew of trades indeed, so let’s just stick to the prospects as there are some new faces here.
Darnell Wright is one of my favorite tackle prospects and believe he could seriously be in play at pick 14. He has plenty of collegiate experience, played both tackle spots, was SEC tested, and was a Senior Bowl guy. That’s a Patriots offensive tackle.
Moving on, if New England does pick a running back in the top-50 — which the buzz is growing — Jahmyr Gibbs in the second-round is my preference. Gibbs’ speed and acceleration is impossible to miss with the ball in his hands and Bill O’Brien took full advantage of his skillset at Alabama last season. That seems like a realistic possibility.
The Patriots should also dip into the extremely strong tight end market and the belief here is Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker is not getting the attention he deserves. He’s a reliable receiver who ran a 4.63-second 40 at 6-foot-5, 251 pounds. He also is a good blocker which New England could use at the position.
K.J. Henry is another fun prospect who screams Patriots. The former 5-star recruit is a sturdy edge defender who flashed his explosiveness at the Combine. Him sitting behind Anfernee Jennings and Uche for a year would not be surprising at all.
Planned to go Zay or tackle at 24 but they were all gone. Like how this ended up. Cam smith at 46 may be a bit unrealistic but you can sub brents there and it’s the same pic.twitter.com/8ARVx2171V— Dim0.eth (@dimo_crypto) April 6, 2023
Patriots fans, familiarize yourself with Nolan Smith, who was in Foxboro for a top-30 meeting on Thursday. If New England trades back or surprises us all with an edge player in round one, this is the guy. Smith obliterated the combine, played under Kirby Smart, and his play style is that aggressive speed-rusher they’ve look for at the position. He absolutely is on the short-list.
There’s some intriguing mid-round prospects in here as well. Cody Mauch can play on my football team anyway, but looks best suited for guard. Smith is what they need at cornerback and D.J. Turner is a fun player at corner with 4.26-speed. I’m not entirely sold on Jaylin Hyatt, however, due to his role in the Tennessee offense. Doesn't seem like a great fit with Tyquan Thornton already on the roster.
Zach Kuntz is one of the most interesting players in this draft, period. Kuntz has limited tape, but is a unicorn in terms of his size and athleticism. At 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, he ran a 4.55-second 40 and topped all tight ends in three-cone (6.87) and short shuttle times (4.12). He also became the tallest player since Combine data began being tracked in 2003 to record a 40-plus inch vertical.
On the opposite end of the size spectrum is Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn. The 5-foot-5 Vaughn is known for his quickness in the passing game and could help fill the James White role out of the backfield.
I really like Jack Campbell as a player. The 6-foot-4, 250 pound linebacker is a freakish athlete, recording a 9.98 RAS score at the Combine. But, New England has not taken an off-ball linebacker in the top-100 since Dont’a Hightower in 2012.
Brents at 76 would be a home run pick for the Patriots. He’s silky smooth at 6-foot-3 and impressed during the Senior Bowl. He could even be a Round 2 option. Carter Warren, another Shrine Bowl player, is intriguing as a strong pass protector but is coming off a season-ending injury and will be a 24-year old rookie.
New England has preferred running backs who produced at the collegiate level and Tulane’s Tyjae Spears fits that bill. Spears ran for over 1,500 yards last season 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.
We had to include one mock here that had New England going with Zay Flowers in the first-round. The Patriots have done too much work on Flowers throughout the draft process to not think there is a serious chance they take him at No. 14. He is exactly what New England needs at the receiver position.
Emmanuel Forbes is another intriguing prospect who New England reportedly brought in on a top-30 visit. It’s hard to ignore his college production — 14 interceptions, including six pick-sixes — but his size could be an issue. He has the length the Patriots need but measured in at 6-foot-1 and just 166 pounds.
In the later rounds, Cameron Latu projects as a tight end fit due to his familiarity with Bill O’Brien. You nail a pair of special teamers and a potential late-round running back that the Patriots worked with at the Shrine Bowl as well.
We’ll save my favorite for last. Zach, well done. The best part of keeping up with the Joneses is the fact that several of these players could end up in Foxboro.
While picking an offensive tackle with just 19 career collegiate starts in the first-round would go against the grain for Bill Belichick, Broderick Jones has some serious All-Pro potential. New England met with Jones at the Combine and on Thursday for a top-30 visit, so he certainly seems in consideration if he lasts until pick 14.
From there, Charlie Jones is one of my favorite wide receivers and maybe players in this draft. He might be the best route runner in this class not named JSN and broke out a somewhat surprising 4.43-second 40-yard dash. Projected to go in or around the fourth-round, it would not surprise me if we look back in several years and wonder how he made it that far.
The last Jones in this list to catch my eye is cornerback Nic Jones. He’ll either be a late Day Three selection or go undrafted, but has strong length that he showcased with a pair of pass breakups in the Shrine Bowl game. The NFL Network broadcast shared the New England coaching staff viewed Jones as the “most improved player” throughout the week.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!