It’s April and in the NFL it means that the big wave of free agency is over and teams start turning their attention to the NFL Draft. The NFL Draft is scheduled to begin on Thursday, April 29th.
So for the next three weeks it becomes mock draft season. Once again every single NFL analyst is putting out their own version of what he or she believes NFL teams should be doing with their draft picks.
I am not plugged in or presumptuous enough to try and understand the thinking of all 32 NFL teams. However, observing and studying the Robert Kraft/Bill Belichick pairing of the past two decades gives me an idea of what direction the team could potentially address in the NFL Draft.
As with any mock draft, having an idea of the players available and potential trades that can be made helps the mock draft process. Fortunately, a fantastic tool is available from our friends at Pro Football Network. The PFN Mock Draft Simulator is a boon to mock drafts.
There are some limitations as there are 350 players available (Bill Belichick has been known to grab an unknown or two) and trades can only include 2021 and 2022 draft picks. No player trades are allowed.
However, the simulation will have teams make trade offers throughout the draft. Keep your copy of our pal at Pats Pulpit, Rich Hill’s Draft Trade Value Chart handy. It is an updated version of the Jimmy Jones draft trade value chart. I bookmarked the version over on DraftTek.
Also, the mock draft simulator is free to use as often as possible. There is no paywall and no limited trial required to sign up and enter a credit card.
Some background on this version 1.0 of the mock draft. I’ve run dozens of these mock drafts for the Patriots in the past week. They are incredibly addictive.
Some of the earlier mock drafts I conducted are comical in hindsight. I had one mock draft where I traded down and walked away with an additional nine draft picks in 2022 and drafted eight players. That was a little extreme. There were many potential impact players passed up.
I had another where I forced myself to stay in position and make no trades at all. I have to admit, I may have been in physical pain not being able to trade down and accumulate mid-round picks or try and trade up for a player who inexplicably remained on the board. Eleven draft picks are unlikely for the Patriots with a roster filled up via free agency.
I had an extreme trade-up mock draft as well where the simulation had the Jets passing on a quarterback and Justin Fields dropped to eighth overall. Caroline parted with the pick for number 15 overall, number 46 and a 2022 second round pick. Trade-ups continually going from eleven picks to five picks and sending out a couple of 2022 draft picks. Again, not a scenario I imagine would happen, but it was a fun exercise.
Most important is that all mock drafts are wrong. They all deserved to be mocked. No one is going to agree with someone else’s mock draft. Heck, no one is going to agree with Bill Belichick’s drafts and the guy is a football genius.
A large part of the mock draft process is figuring out what to do with Mac Jones, the Alabama quarterback. There is a contingent online that is locked in on San Francisco picking him at third overall. I find that ludicrous. Jones is a second-tier quarterback. I cannot see New England picking him if he is available at their pick in the first round if he is available.
Finally, the NFL draft is about drafting for need. Anyone that tells you otherwise is pulling your leg. The Patriots, who long were held up as the standard-bearer of “next best available player” camp, have ALWAYS drafted for need. Every NFL team does.
So, before getting into Mock Draft Version 1.0, a quick look at the team needs for the Patriots:
- Quarterback: Tom Brady is still in Tampa Bay. Time to find a long term answer.
- Inside Linebacker: Last year showed how desperate the need is here. Run-support, speed, coverage, all are needed.
- Wide receiver: Anyone here thinking N’Keal Harry’s breakout year is 2021? Me neither. Julian Edelman is close to the end as well.
- Defensive tackle: Depth is an issue here, as it was last year. A pass rushing interior rusher would be a nice addition.
- Cornerback: Right now, neither Stephon Gilmore nor J.C. Jackson is under contract in 2022.
- Safety: Patrick Chung is retired and Devin McCourty is nearing the end.
- Interior Offensive line: Ted Karras is back for a one-year contract only. Depth is in short supply.
- Offensive tackle: Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn are set as the starting tackles for 2021, but what about next year?
OK, enough preamble. Let’s get to the New England Patriots 2021 NFL Mock Draft version 1.0:
15 – Ja’Marr Chase – WR – LSU
Is this for real? I seriously thought Chase had no chance to drop from the top ten of the NFL Draft. Quarterbacks went one through four as expected in the simulation and Mac Jones went to Philadelphia at number 12 overall. Miami grabbed DeVonta Smith at six overall and Detroit grabbed Jaylen Waddle at seven. Kyle Pitts was off the board at eight to Carolina.
Denver passing on Chase at ninth overall? The Giants passing him up at eleven? The Chargers going for defense over Chase at thirteen? It seems unlikely, but I think even Bill Belichick would crack a smile to see Chase at fifteen overall.
Three trade offers were received from Washington, Philadelphia and Cleveland. All included 2022 draft picks. None were considered for long with Chase on the board.
Chase did not play in 2020, deciding to opt-out. He is strong, explosive, a big play receiver who is a legitimate number one and future Pro Bowl caliber pass catcher. He has all the skills and just needs to play. He would be the best receiver since Randy Moss in New England and give the offense a huge boost no matter who is at quarterback.
46 – Traded to New Orleans for pick number 60, 98 and 218.
Houston and Tennessee made offers for this pick as well. A package of a drop of 14 picks in the second round and additional third and seventh round picks seemed to be something the Patriots brass would consider. For me, there were a number of factors for trading back.
One, this draft is very deep in the 50 to 150 range. There are a ton of prospects, and with limited games played in 2020 and players opting out, teams are going to have wildly varying grades on these players. Draft boards could be all over the place in the second through fifth rounds.
Also, some key players I would have jumped at with this pick went off the board (I was kicking myself for not being able to work out a trade up). The Giants grabbed Carlos Basham, the Wake Forest edge rusher at number 42 overall. Although not a need, all teams need pass rushers and Basham checks all the boxes.
Finally, cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. went to Jacksonville one pick prior at 45 overall. That was a tough loss of a legacy player at a position of need. The cornerback talent took a drop after Samuel. Trading back and getting a few extra picks seemed appropriate since many players at positions of need would still be available 14 picks later.
60 -Jay Tufele – DT – USC
Speaking of needs, defensive tackle as a position and Tufele was sitting there at sixtieth overall. Tufele is a solid run defender already and still growing as a pass rusher. He is a perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end and fits the defense perfectly.
Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon was also still available. Nixon offers more pass rush potential but limited tape as a starter. However, the three-technique penetrator is not the type of player Bill Belichick jumps at for his defense. Nixon does not have the run-stopping chops of the slightly smaller Tufele. Tufele is a better fit than Nixon, at least in New England.
It was a difficult choice to choose between Tufele and Alabama center Landon Dickerson. Dickerson could move to guard and offers great depth for the interior offensive line. He is big and nasty and loves run blocking. That said, mobility is a question and pulling is vital in this offense.
Wide receivers Elijah Moore (Purdue) and Rondale Moore (Mississippi) were both available. Both are smaller home-run hitters who would add additional speed to the offense. However, with the need at defensive tackle and Chase on board already, the choice was made to go for the less sexy pick and grab someone who can contribute in 2021 on defense.
Houston and Tennessee made offers for the pick offering a move back for an additional 2022 mid round draft pick. Neither team was open to counter-offers that were made and so the pick was kept.
96 – Amari Rodgers – WR – Clemson
There was no set plan to double-dip at wide receiver in the first three rounds, but Rodgers is just too good to pass up at this spot. For an offense so dependent on the smaller quick and explosive slot wide receiver (Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman with some Danny Amendola sprinkled in), Rodgers gives the Patriots the next generation of that player.
I’ve had a few mock drafts trading down in the first round to grab Kadarius Toney, the slot wide receiver from Florida. Toney is dynamic, slippery and has a highlight reel of jukes and shakes that make him a round one talent. Rodgers is less sizzle and may have a lower ceiling, but is bigger and has the same production from the slot.
Rodgers should have been long gone by this pick (he is a top 60 or top 75 player in my opinion) but slot wide receivers can be undervalued. Once Rodgers dropped past pick 80, the trade up efforts began, but teams in that range were either asking too much back or offering future picks. I skipped the AFC East teams to make it realistic.
By pick 90, I figured there would be an opportunity to get either Rodgers or Louisville’s Tutu Atwell at 96 overall. Patience paid off. Atwell went to Buffalo at 93 overall, though, giving Josh Allen another offensive weapon.
Offers came in from Buffalo (uh, nope, not helping out the AFC East division champions) and Seattle, but neither offer was of equal value and involved 2022 late round draft picks. I had to be overwhelmed with Rodgers available and these two could not offer equal value, let alone offer more value.
98 – Traded to Denver with pick 218 and 242 for Picks 114, 152 and 191
Trading up did not work, but plenty of trade down offers. Minnesota made an offer as well, but Denver was offering 2021 draft picks. It took a couple of counter offers to get to the final trade, but moving down 16 picks in the third round allowed a move up 66 spots from the sixth to the fifth round and another 51 spots from the seventh round to near the top of the sixth round.
Denver grabbed edge rusher Elerson Smith from Northern Iowa. Any fans of third round graded quarterback Davis Mills from Stanford and one of my favorite players in the draft, linebacker Chazz Surratt, saw both go off the board between picks 98 and 114. Mills to the Vikings and Surratt to the Jets (ouch, that one hurts a lot). Running back Trey Sermon from Ohio State went to Cleveland at 110.
114 – Deonte Brown – G – Alabama
Brown is huge and a developmental prospect on the interior offensive line. He is huge and a mauler. That said, a little weight loss and increase in agility would be a huge help in his development. He struggled a bit at the Senior Bowl, but at six-foot-three and close to 350 pounds, he is worth taking a chance on drafting and getting him to the next level athletically.
Brown fills a need with Joe Thuney cashing in during free agency and joining the Chiefs to block for Patrick Mahomes. Offensive line is a need and the Alabama senior at least offers the opportunity to grow into a starting role in either 2022 or 2023.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask was on the board and I really thought of pulling the trigger on him. However, he is a statue in the pocket and his arm strength fails to impress. If the Patriots are looking at a quarterback in the NFL Draft, the first question to answer is whether he is a better option than Jarret Stidham. Trask does not move the needle.
120 – Stone Forsythe – RT – Florida
Staying on the offensive line, there is going to be a need for a developmental prospect with Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn both on short-term contracts. Wynn should be the left tackle for the future, but his string of injuries has made it difficult to count on him. Brown is in on a one-year deal, so there is no guarantee he comes back next year.
Forsythe is a developmental project for the right tackle position (although he played on the left side at Florida). He has size but needs to refine his technique with hands and feet and can use a year at what used to be called “Camp Scar”. Dante Scarnecchia is retired, but his protegees Carmen Bricillo and Cole Popovich were outstanding last season getting this line to be a strength despite opt outs and injuries.
122 – Ambry Thomas – CB – Michigan
Thomas is another one of the many college players who opted out of the 2020 season. I like Thomas’ fit for the Patriots as he is press-man cornerback who likes to get his hands on the receiver. He should fit right in with J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore with that profile.
Thomas is not a big corner, so his future may be inside as a nickel cornerback. However, Bill Belichick has used outside cornerbacks with less than ideal size in the past. He is also a special teams contributor and played some wide receiver and returned kicks as a true freshman.
139 – Monty Rice – LB – Georgia
Fourth-round draft pick number four of this deep draft nabs the Patriots linebacker Monty Rice. Rice was a Butkus Award finalist despite playing much of 2020 with a foot injury. He is not a Dont’a Hightower as he is smaller (six-foot even and just under 240 pounds) but he has plenty of tape making plays in the running game.
He can play on special teams, can blitz, and he has some coverage skills. He can compete with Ja’Whaun Bentley, Anfernee Jennings and free agent Raekwon McMillan for playing time inside. Those three (and Hightower) are all the same profile of linebacker. The Patriots lack the lighter linebacker who can play against the run and stay out on the field on passing downs.
151 – Victor Dimukeje – EDGE – Duke
Yes, edge rusher is not a priority. But if you can get a guy who can get after the quarterback, you take a chance on him. Dimukeje is a bit of a tweener, which lowers his value and makes him a great fit for the New England defense.
Yes, they invested in Jennings and Josh Uche last year and have Kyle Van Noy back and Chase Winovich has looked like a solid pass rusher. He checks the first box necessary in New England: setting the edge. Dimukeje is a solid 3-4 outside linebacker who can play on early downs and has some pass rush power.
177 – Amen Ogbongbemiga – LB – Oklahoma State
Ogbongbemiga had a great 2019 but his play dropped off a little in 2020. He was an outside linebacker in a 4-3 who moved into the middle in 2020. Per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Ogbongbemiga met virtually with the Patriots (and other teams), so he is definitely on their radar.
Ogbongbemiga is another smaller linebacker. Like Rice he fills a need that is missing on the roster. The Patriots had safeties playing at linebacker last year and it showed the need for smaller linebackers with more athleticism who can play the run and have coverage skills as more teams are passing on early downs.
188 – Damar Hamlin – S – Pittsburgh
Hamlin is a bit of a tweener for an NFL safety. He plays his best nearer the line of scrimmage but lacks the size to be a thumper. However, he lacks the speed and quickness to play a deep centerfield as a free safety.
Hamlin is aggressive, explosive and has some length. He could be a great special teams player and add some size to be a serviceable back-up at strong safety. Adding a low-cost, high-impact special teams player is good value for the sixth round.
191 – Kary Vincent – CB – LSU
Vincent is another 2020 opt out who is hard to figure out where to fit in the draft. Vincent lacks size on the outside, but has blazing speed and a track background. He is likely to be a slot cornerback in the NFL but has positional flexibility with experience at free safety.
A trade request came in from Philadelphia looking to package three seventh round draft picks for the remaining two sixth round draft picks, which is a great deal for the Eagles but does not match-up with the value from the draft value chart. A more equitable trade was countered and rejected by Philadelphia.
197 – Riley Cole – LB – Southern Alabama
One last pick and one more linebacker. Cole had some injury issues, but played all over the place for South Alabama. He is one of those instinctive players and has some athleticism. He is a run stopper and stood out for his ability to shed blocks.
He also played on special teams while in college. He could use some bulk to play inside in the NFL, but he can be a depth player and develop while contributing immediately on special teams.
No draft picks.
Quarterback: No reaching for a quarterback this year in the draft. It looks like it is Cam Newton time in 2021.
Inside Linebacker: Loaded at this position now. Hightower and Van Noy are short term answers. Now to develop that depth.
Wide receiver: The draft will not drop Ja’Marr Chase into the Patriots’ lap–will it? A true number one and a slot receiver to develop makes for a great draft.
Defensive tackle: Tufele is not a great pass rusher, but he will instantly add to much-needed depth to work into the rotation and help out in 2022 and 2023.
Cornerback: A pair of developmental cornerbacks–one outside and one slot. Not a bad haul.
Safety: Jevon Holland from Oregon went at the beginning of round three (number 67 overall) in the mock. He was an option at number 60 overall and it may have been a mistake not to try to trade up to the end of the second or third round of the draft to try and grab him and groom him as a future replacement for Devin McCourty.
Interior Offensive line: Deonte Brown a good depth piece for the interior. A couple of times I was definitely tempted to try and grab a center as well.
Offensive tackle: Forsythe could be a potential replacement to groom for the eventual departure of Trent Brown?
Mock Draft Grade:
It does not really matter what my grade is for my mock draft, but what did you the reader think? Feel free to reach out and tell me where I screwed the mock up on Twitter @HalBent01. Or let me know about your mock draft. Or tell me you agree with adding an edge rusher even though it is not a big need. Or tell me if you think running back should be a need in the draft and I dropped the ball not identifying one.
I would give my pinch-hitting for Bill Belichick in the draft a grade of a B.
No quarterback was drafted and the position was the biggest need. Some big bodies came off the board in the first 120 overall picks that should help in the trenches. In retrospect, I may have gone a little linebacker crazy.
Having Ja’Marr Chase sitting at 15 makes for a huge win for the entire draft (Miami taking DeVonta Smith at six and Detroit taking Jaylen Waddle at seven and passing on Chase seems so unlikely).
–Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01